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 Meditation techniques 
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Joined: Fri Feb 16, 2007 6:13 pm
Posts: 102
Location: Fayetteville, AR
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Post Meditation techniques
A couple of you have e-mailed me asking about helpful meditation techniques I use. I want to share one with you below. However, I am not even a novice at meditation; I’m a devoted amateur. I am very much still experimenting and learning. So please don’t take my words as being in any way authoritative. If you truly want to learn about meditation practices, there are many, many books and videos on the subject. Better yet, in most large towns in America you can find several different meditation groups or schools. In my own town (Fayetteville, Arkansas) there are at least five different groups that I know of in the Buddhist traditions, not to mention yoga schools or Christian, Jewish, Kabbalah, Muslim, Sufi, Wiccan, Pagan or other groups that may be out there.

First, I want to differentiate between meditation and relaxation. Meditation can be very relaxing, but it is not the same as relaxation. There are scores and scores of methods for teaching relaxation. Check with you local hospital. From all the evidence I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot), a good nap can be just as beneficial if not more so than meditation if your goal is to learn to relax your mind and body and experience a refreshing retreat from the pressures of everyday life. Relaxation is very important for your health.

The difference between relaxation and meditation, as I understand it, is that the purpose of meditation is greater awareness, a sharper mind, an ability to focus clearly and for prolonged periods. Meditation leads to transformation of mental energies and habits. Greater compassion is one of its main benefits. So, one could say that meditation is active (even in its quieter states) and relaxation is passive. Meditation is engagement with the world; relaxation is a temporary retreat from it. Meditation is going to work, and relaxation is taking a vacation.

Now that that is clear as mud, I’ll tell you about just one of my practices. I practice many methods, some sitting in a half lotus position (zazen), some walking, and some sitting upright in a chair. The one I’ll share this time is not as strenuous on the back and legs as sitting zazen.

This is one I do at nighttime. I made it up. It has NOT been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. In fact, if he were to read it, he might laugh. But it works for me, so here goes.

Get a stick of incense, one that smells pleasant to you. Get an incense burner and place it in a safe place, so that if the ashes do happen to fall they will not catch fire (I’ve never heard of that actually happening, but you want to be safe). Create a space where you can be alone. My kids know not to disturb Daddy if he’s meditating. Unless the house is on fire, and Mommy could probably handle that one, too.

Light the incense and turn off all the lights, so that the only light you see is the small glowing ember at the tip of the incense. Sit upright in a chair about three to five feet away. Make sure your spine is straight and your body is relaxed. Don’t slump – it affects your breathing and some of your other important physiological functions. Your ears should be aligned with your shoulders and your nose with your navel.

Take a couple deep, long breaths to prepare. I then ring a bell and listen to the sound fall off, but I’m sure you don’t have to. It’s just part of my routine. Next, I fix my eyes on the ember. Never do I look away. I focus on that small point of light throughout the session.

While keeping the ember in sight, focus on your breath. I don’t force it. I don’t count so many counts for an in-breath and so many for an out-breath. I just allow my breathing to occur, being always mindful of the rise and fall of my abdomen and the tickle of air in my nostrils. I’ve noticed that in my natural state, an out-breath is a bit longer than an in-breath. I don’t try to make them equal. I just breathe.

I tell my body to relax, and it does. I put a half-smile on my face, and that immediately makes me feel a bit happier. I maintain the half-smile as I focus on my breaths.

At first, I just let my thoughts fall like autumn leaves. A thought appears, I become aware of it, and then I smile and let it fall away. Many thoughts may come and go. That’s okay. That’s perfectly normal. I don’t hold on to any of them. I focus on my breathing and I look at the ember and I smile.

After a few minutes of just breathing, I enter into what I call a receptive, cleansing state. I suppose it is a kind of prayer, but it needn’t necessarily be. As I breathe in, I say in my mind, “Receiving.” As I breathe out, I say “Releasing.” What I am receiving is love, oneness with the loving Divine or an aspect of Beauty. What you receive is largely up to your spiritual orientation. You might be receiving clarity, or understanding, or unity with nature, oneness with the universe. For me, it is usually just plain, simple love. However, at times, borrowing from my Christian heritage, I focus on the so-called “fruits of the Holy Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22: “Receiving love. Receiving joy. Receiving peace. Receiving patience. Receiving kindness. Receiving goodness. Receiving faithfulness. Receiving gentleness. Receiving self-control.”

I receive with my in-breath. With my out-breath, I release the opposite of what I have received. So, as I inhale and exhale, the pattern goes like this: Receiving love/Releasing hatred. Receiving joy/Releasing sorrow. Receiving peace/Releasing strife. And so on.

I personally cycle through those several times. But then I change the pattern. Once I feel as though I have truly released some negative habit energy, I start to focus on Receiving/Giving instead of Receiving/Releasing. The pattern now goes like this: Receiving Love/Giving Love. Receiving joy/Giving joy. Receiving peace/Giving peace. And so forth.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to focus on the ember. At some point, I let go of words and patterns. I am no longer aware of my breathing. I enter into a new state of meditation. It is a thoughtless way of being aware. I don’t really know how else to explain it. My thoughts diminish to a wordless state of peace. At this point, my senses are heightened. I listen intently to everything. With all my senses I reach out, out, out. I feel vibrations without trying to categorize them. I hear sounds. I hear my own body. I see the ember. I smell the incense. I taste mint (if I have recently brushed my teeth). I am in a profound state of suspension.

Sometimes I experience mystical events at this point that are too personal to discuss. I have no idea whether or not they are common. In any event, I don’t look for them and I don’t try to force them. My mind is too placid to do anything like that. Sometimes I imagine that the ember is tear in the fabric of time/space, an opening to a new reality that is coming through to me, or that I will go through upon my death. You can see why I don’t really want to talk about these experiences.

Time becomes suspended for me. I am floating thoughtlessly, peacefully. Eventually, the ember burns brighter for a second and then fades quickly away, leaving me in complete darkness. There I remain for as long as I wish in complete stillness. If I could die at that point, I would be content.

I ring the bell and listen to the sound fall away. Then I get up. I do not go immediately to bed. I go downstairs and hug my children and kiss my wife. I laugh with them and just enjoy being with them. I am refreshed, and life is good.

Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:07 pm
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