Do any of you have how-to books on meditation that you would recommend?
Working out. Usually, running alone with loud music, or practicing the same kata/form over and over again. Occasionally I can get into a serious groove during a long freestyle sparring match.
“Traditional” meditation has never worked for me. I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a waste of time, so I zen out doing things I’d be doing anyway.
I don’t meditate that often, preferring more active forms of prayer such as the Divine Office, but when I do, it’s usually a few hundred Jesus prayers said on a chotki (prayer rope) while standing, which is the default position for any spiritual activity in the eastern Christian tradition.
For those of you who fall asleep during meditation, try doing it standing – I guarantee you won’t have that problem anymore.
You can’t make yourself meditate any more than you can make yourself fall asleep. But just as you can relax and allow yourself to fall asleep, you can relax and allow yourself to fall into meditation. It’s pretty much like falling asleep, except that you stay awake.
I discovered the knack once after practicing yoga and then lying on my back and trying to meditate. I had a vision of my stream of thoughts as a stream of colorful stuff streaming through space. Looking more closely, I saw that there were bubbles of emptiness within the stream of all that stuff. I got inside one of the bubbles, and voilà no more thoughts, quiet mind, satisfying meditation.
Being able to focus your mind at one point and keeping it there is an essential skill. Hatha yoga offers very valuable practice for this, especially in the balance poses. I learned one-pointedness of mind by practicing the Tree pose, balancing on one foot. To improve steadiness, I stuck a push pin into the wall at eye level and kept my gaze focused on that spot. When you do this, you can balance much more easily and stay like that longer. Once I’d gotten the habit of focusing on the colored dot of the push pin on the wall in front of me, my mind had the knack of staying one-pointed.
I applied that to still meditation lying on my back or in one of the seated poses. Now, instead of focusing on an object in front of me, I focused my inner attention on the spot between my eyebrows (ajña cakra). I let my slow steady breathing relax my body and mind, while keeping my attention settled in the center of my brow. You don’t force it, you just let it be there. You pay attention to the inner silence there, and then you slip effortlessly into meditation. It’s always effortless when it happens. You just get out of the way and let it happen by itself and as long as you don’t interfere, meditation happens.
One yogi said people have a mistaken idea that meditation is about stopping thoughts. He said if that’s all it is, then you can meditate by hitting your head with a hammer. Rather, it’s about staying fully conscious, but letting your consciousness be free and not tied down by anything. Paying attention to your inner silence allows this to be. I found that when your consciousness is paying attention to silence, emptiness, formlessness, it’s undetermined by any contingency. It’s outside the passage of time and you experience this as timelessness, eternity. It’s especially cool when consciousness doubles back and contemplates itself: it feels like the awareness you have has existed from eternity. Then you get a sense of what Vedanta means by the little atman (yourself) being united with the big atman (the supreme Self). Meditation removes the boundaries to your self.