You’ve heard about the multiple benefits of meditation: diminished stress, increased energy, reduced depression, plus potential benefits for the likes of pain, insomnia, immune function, and creativity among other things. Meditation has become popular. Meditation has become, dare I say it, hip. This is a good thing!
But what comprises meditation… really? Is it emptying the mind? Concentrating the mind? Is it that flow state wherein painting, jogging, and gardening, if done in the proper “mindset”, constitute meditating? How is Sufi spinning meditation? And what about certain types of repetitive prayer?
Meditation encompasses all of these because meditation is somewhat difficult to pin down. Different cultures have developed different methods to achieve different goals during different times in history. Some of these goals include: vibrant health, equanimity, compassion, Nirvana (the elimination of the Ego), and Samadhi or Unity Consciousness. The method of meditation determines the outcome.
According to the Indian yogic tradition, meditation is called dhyana and the goal is Samadhi, which is realization of the individual self and of the universal Self. Dhyana is achieved by sustaining dharana, concentration, on a meditative object. By concentrating on a meditative object you eventually stop associating with your fleeting thoughts ("Don't forget to pay that bill”, “I can’t believe he did that to me”). You become increasingly aware of the deeper stratum of awareness beyond thought. In some traditions, this is called the Observer or Witness Consciousness but eventually this too dissolves back into a state of unified consciousness.
There are basically three typical “objects” or anchors that facilitate meditation. You can focus your awareness on:
1. A kinesthetic sense of the body and/or the breath;
2. Images whether external, like a flame, or an internally generated image, such as a "deity"; and
3. My personal favourite, a mantra.
Mantra recitation is called japa, which means “ to mutter”, and involves the repetition of Sanskrit words or short phrases. Silent, internal recitation is considered the most powerful but beginners are advised to recite mantras aloud to enhance focus. You can chant certain mantras. You can speak them. You can whisper them. Eventually you recite the mantra internally. You can do all of these and you can mix it up a little if needed. When it feels natural, you succumb to the inward pull and you just rest there… in silence… until thoughts become compelling, which is when you reintroduce your anchor.
Mantras harness the inherent energy of Sanskrit sounds considered to be the archetypal, primal sounds of the universe. These sounds arose within the minds of sages in deep meditation and are thought to emerge from the deepest (or highest!) levels of Consciousness. So what makes mantra so powerful is that the process embodies the ultimate goal.
The effects of meditating are many and varied but I have found mantra offers particular benefits:
As I was writing this, I asked myself why I meditate. I was a surprised at the answer that leapt forth: “Because I love myself”. Well! I meditate because I want to honour and embrace my inner field of experience: bliss, fear, boredom, love, anger, sadness, peace, joy. Paradoxically, I also meditate because I want to go beyond my inner world of fears, desires, and thoughts to something more subtle yet enduring.
Meditating with a group is an important and powerful way to begin your meditation practice. It reinforces your resolve and sense of discipline. Chanting or reciting together generates a strong field of entrainment and synergy to jump start your practice. Grounding yourself within a tradition supports you and guides you.
Mantra is one of the most ancient spiritual practices and considered to be the source of Yoga as we know it in the West. Mantra is an invitation and a doorway into deeper consciousness. Step in and meet your Self.
Here are my "musings" on mantra and sound as a transformative path.