Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Recommendation

I chose Meditation and Its Practice by Swami Rama as a recommended reading. I felt meditation is the area I needed to focus on in the present moment. I have been practicing meditation for some time now and this book really clarified a lot of questions i had regarding the practice

I will admit, several years ago no one could convince me to meditate. Coming from a religious background, I too considered it foreign and for other religions. I was afraid of the concept. My religion made me fearful, but my inner self knew there was more out there than just dogma and set principles. I did not experience or try meditation until I found Yoga. I saw an advertisement and decided to give it a whirl. It completely changed my life from the first practice.

The book was not very lengthy, but flowing with information that was extremely helpful for me. Swami Rama defines the word meditation and the confusions of its practice. He stresses well on how you are not focused on the outer world during meditation. He discusses clearly how most of society teaches us mainly about the external world for survival. I agree with this statement because I knew no one during my adolescence and young adulthood who knew how to connect with their inner body. Meditation is the way to connect with our inner self.

“Meditation is a practice”, Swami writes in the book. Swami goes on to explain that it takes time and patience to quiet the mind chatter: “Meditation is simply a quiet, effortless, one-pointed focus of attention and awareness.” Simple, but not easy, it is a practice.

It was wonderful to know that in meditation, it is impossible to empty the mind. I think a lot of people get discouraged thinking that we do have to empty the mind. Swami Rama teaches that by focusing attention inwardly, we can slow down the mind chatter (worrying, planning, thinking, and reasoning). Swami writes, “Only meditation teaches us to fully experience the now, which is our link with the eternal.” I believe that is for certain. An acquaintance once said to me, “I feel prayer is speaking to the divine and meditation is listening to the divine.”

Swami Rama gives a solid definition of what meditation is not. Meditation is not contemplating or thinking, hypnosis or autosuggestion, and definitely not a religion. After explaining what meditation is not, Swami continues with what you will need to learn to meditate. This all seems encouraging coming from the reading. How to prepare for meditation was discussed as most important. The first step was to cleanse the body, then to stretch, relax, and calm the mind and nervous system, and finally to sit in meditation. I believe a lot of people would think they had no time to prepare for this. Sometimes, I only have a small block of time to meditate and only prepare by washing my hands and sitting comfortably. I have wonderful experiences when I do a short preparation and when the preparation is lengthier. Other factors influencing meditation seemed to be right on: “Urges for food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation have to be skillfully managed to progress in meditation.”

It was encouraging to read about how the seated positions were not mandatory. Knowing that a simple cross-legged position is perfect makes the meditation process easier.

I use mantras on occasion, but for the most part, I use breathing exercises and focus on the breath. Swami Rama discusses the essentials of the breath awareness as well. I noticed from practicing yoga regularly, the balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Swami writes, “The breath is a bridge between the body and mind.” The breath can show us the defects in its flow, mentioned in the reading as: shallowness, jerkiness, noise, and extended pause between inhalation and exhalation. As meditation practice progresses, these “defects” slowly lessen. Swami teaches many breathing techniques in the book. I plan to try them all at some point.

One fascinating thing I learned was regarding our nostrils and the fact that they were not both so active at the same time. I have practiced Alternate Nostril breathing not really realizing why. I rarely did it for that reason. Realizing the purpose is ”to develop the skill to voluntarily control the breathing process and to create a joyful, deep state of mind that is conductive to meditation by learning to open the nostrils simultaneously” was pleasing to me. I plan to begin practicing the technique very soon.

Swami briefly describes the four distinct functions of the mind: manas, buddhi, ahamkara, and chitta. We should take care of these functions and study them well. He also speaks about " taking care of your external behaviors, so that you may not acquire the diseases transmitted through unhealthy food, sex, or imbalanced ways of living."

Swami writes, “Human emotion is an immense power, which usually operates below the surface of the lake of mind, like a shark swimming under water. If that emotion is not guided, it can contaminate the whole lake.” I realize I cannot remain content or satisfied without cleansing, yoga, or meditation. I truly believe that “Meditation creates fearlessness.” And as Swami instructs, “The final step in meditation is to remain in silence. This silence can not be described; it is inexplicable. This silence opens the door to intuitive knowledge, and then the past, present, and future are revealed to the student."