Thursday, April 06, 2006

Meditating

copyright retained by the photographer (KR)
For most people the word meditation conjures up visions of emaciated monks in scarlet and saffron robes sitting lotus on cushions, chanting amidst clouds of temple incense. To all appearances it is some obscure spiritual and otherworldly practice with no practical application in the Real World(tm). But this appearance is deceptive. While meditation is an integral part of many spiritual practices, it is also part of the daily routines of millions of regular (non-clerical) people. Meditation is a way to consistantly achieve a mental state that many of us experience in other ways. When I meditate, I recognize the state of 'just being' as the same I used to notice every once in a while when I'd be at the beach watching the waves, or sitting at the fireplace watching the flames, or when I was doing something rhythmic and physical, like cycling, mopping the floor, or scrubbing a pot. Meditation helps to tame the restless animal of the mind, not by being ruthless, but by gently prodding it back on track, guiding it back to the center, to stillness. It is a wonderful way to experience Calm.

There are of course, different types or schools of meditation. There is mantra and breath meditation, where you focus on breathing or on a word or phrase and clear the mind of everything else, seeking a state of calmness and no-thought. This was the type of meditation I learned when I was 19, at massage school. A friend of mine recommended vipassana meditation, he said it had been very useful to him in recovering from what we euphamistically call a 'nervous breakdown', and he still practices it today. So, I've been learning this 'mindfulness' or 'insight' meditation, which, hmm, rather than focussing on 'no-thought', focusses on bringing a non-judgemental, accepting attentiveness to our awareness of each moment, each thought, each sensory input. I find it a very useful practice when I am in therapy... it allows me to turn a more compassionate, less attached attention to my emotional responses, allows me to acknowledge them and let them go, rather than trying to bury or deny or struggle to find an appropriate way to express them as I had previously. Mindful meditation allows me to acknowlege my experience of both my internal and external realities and try to bring those experiences more in-line with each other, diffusing conflict and stress, relaxing me, helping me to maintain balance.

Eventually, I'd like to learn the 'walking meditation' aspect of vipassana, and from there, delve more deeply into metta (lovingkindnes) meditation. But I have enough on my plate. I have to remind myself, (gently, gently) that my inner dilettante has done a wonderful job of entertaining and distracting me all these years from the painful inner work I did not want to do, and guide myself back onto the path I have chosen for myself, the Path of Healing.

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