Around the San Francisco Bay Area, meditation is the be-all and end-all of spiritual practice for a lot of groups. It's a great practice too. I use it daily. I meditate for an hour every day. Usually I split it between two half hours sessions--one in the morning and one in the evening. But many people confusedly think that meditation will get them enlightened. It probably won't. And in a lot of ways, I don't see meditation's primary purpose as getting anyone enlightened. This is possibly a real buzz-kill to you, so let's spend some time talking about what meditation will get you.
There are all kinds of flavors of meditations. Some have visualizations. Some channel energy. Some involve chanting. The good thing to know is that it's not hard, and you can practice as much as you want at it. In fact, everyone--including the masters--are always practicing. You don't have to worry about getting it right.
Step 1. Stop moving.
Step 2. Sit, stand, or lie down in a comfortable position.
Step 3. Close your eyes.
Step 4. Breathe. (I hope you've been breathing all this time, but now, you should bring your focus to it).
Step 5. Repeat step 4 for the next 30 to 40 minutes.
That's it. You can have soft music or candles if you want. You can meditate in a quiet place or a loud place. It really doesn't matter.
You Will Be Uncomfortable
Meditation will make you uncomfortable. You will come face-to-face with the blaring stereo that is your mind. Since you can no longer drown it out with music, traffic, other people, work, exercise, and so forth, you will suddenly become very aware that your mind doesn't shut up and usually doesn't have much good to say. You may also be fighting your mind thinking that you shouldn't be thinking during meditation. That adds a whole new layer of thinking (thinking about thinking), and it really doesn't help. As most teachers will say, when you notice yourself thinking, return to the breath. The breath is always the starting and ending point. Whenever you find that you've gotten caught in an internal story, return to the breath. For 30 minutes of your day, you don't need to figure out anything.
Don't Hurt Yourself
Some people turn meditation in a kind of spiritual marathon. It's somewhat amusing. Trust me--you won't get any closer to enlightenment by sitting silently in a lotus position for eight hours. That's like liking ketchup so much that you put it on all your food, the couch, your wife, and your work computer. Meditation is a tool to bring you into the present moment. And in that moment, you begin to see more clearly again. You begin to see you again. You'll see what needs to be done and how you need to be in the world. These long meditation retreats are great for helping to break the cycles and patterns you live within in your life, but the real opportunities for enlightenment come in every day living. So don't hurt your knees and hips from endless hours sitting. It sounds crazy, but some people do this.
What Is Enlightenment?
The real answer to this falls outside the boundaries of words. It's why so many teachers and teachings point to it, but don't really describe it. Otherwise if you hear a full description, that's not it because language is a construct that can only hold ideas, and enlightenment is beyond the realm of ideas while including them at the same time.
With meditation, it is a tool that points towards the way to enlightenment. You may become enlightened during a meditation, but do not expect this. You may also have some amazing high state experiences while meditating. That is not enlightenment. Those momentary highs hook a lot of people into spirituality at which point they become spiritual seekers. They will constantly seek that high moment thinking that that's enlightenment. Subsequently, they'll be perpetually miserable and disappointment by all the "bad" meditations that they've had. And there you see, meditation is now in the realm of ego trying to control its experience. We've crossed over into the oxymoronic world of the spiritual ego.
What Meditation Gets You
While I don't like to say that meditation gets you anything, it is a wonderful tool for bringing calm and relaxation into your life. As you go further along, it can become a nourishing tool to reconnect to Source and to replenish your energy when you feel depleted or as a way of staying connected. Further yet, it is a tool to integrate new energies, ideas, and awareness into your whole being. These last two may sound advanced, but when you really open up into your spiritual fullness, they will become very natural. The third one may involve virtually no conscious thought after awhile; it will simply occur because of the state of your awareness.
Starting Out with Meditation
Do ten minutes a day, and expect nothing. Expect to have lots of thoughts. Expect to be uncomfortable, but don't expect to get anything. Actually, you don't even have to expect to have lots of thoughts or to be uncomfortable. It's a very open space. It is a gateway into the openness of your creativity and your presence. Lengthen the time of your practice as you feel moved to do it, but keep the practice in place for several months. You may be surprised what starts to happen elsewhere in your life when you stop moving for awhile.
Next blog: Finding a Spiritual Community
For more on this topic, check out the following YouTube video called, "What Is Meditation?"