I was sitting on the bed, totally relaxed one sunny Sunday afternoon. Two Siamese cats were stretched out, contentedly purring by my side. A wren was happily singing outside in a nearby tree. I was leisurely cutting strips of cloth for a project. Gradually it dawned on me that I was in an alpha, or meditative, state. Unfortunately, upon realizing this, it was enough to bring me out of that relaxed state.
What Meditation Is
Some people believe that meditation's only goal is spiritual enlightenment, such as was attained by Buddha. However, it also brings the following benefits almost immediately:
As soon as meditation occurs, the heart rate slows while blood pressure simultaneously drops. Metabolic activity, usually measured by the amount of oxygen used up by the body, decreases to levels much lower than during prolonged and restful sleep. Research at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other universities has shown that meditation strengthens the immune system, and is effective in helping the body fight all kinds of illnesses, including cancer. Meditating is not only an activity that is easily performed, but it is also within anyone's reach, regardless of that person's lifestyle, religion or philosophical persuasion.
I have been meditating off and on for over thirty years. Taking yoga classes was a good introduction, but it was probably a course in transcendental meditation in my early twenties that inspired me to focus enough to meditate regularly. I even built an eight-foot plywood pyramid in the 1980s. Its sides were hinged so that it could be folded for storage, and it had a screened, hinged, round hobbit-like door for entrance. Sometimes I would try to sleep in it, but the energy was so intense that I'd be driven back into the house during the night.
The Pleasures of Meditation
There are many different types of meditation. Stephanie Jean Clement's Meditation for Beginners offers numerous intriguing techniques, and I highly recommend this book if you are new to meditation. It presents a great overview without being too complicated. I particularly liked the Laughing Meditation exercise. It is a simple, light meditation, recommended to conclude a regular meditation session, or it can be used alone for a quick pick-up. (Fuentes's Meditation also has a similar exercise.)
This exercise helps to circulate energy throughout the body. It will cheer you up, too! Some people may think that meditation is only sitting still and that it's boring, but this is fun. Another really enjoyable experience is the walking meditation. This exercise is best done on a day that is neither too warm or too cool. Morning or evening is best.
This walking meditation has the advantage that you are able to move around and don't have to sit in a particular posture. It will increase your awareness and enjoyment, and it will help improve physical fitness. After reading Stephanie's book, Meditation for Beginners, I came to appreciate the many types of meditation, and the fact that you don't have to just do "nothing" in order to reach a meditative state.
José Lorenzo-Fuentes has written an excellent guidebook that explores several different types of meditation: Buddhist, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, visualization, prayer, and hypnosis. The varied techniques in this fine book insure anyone can find an approach that works for them.
The first step toward mastering stress is learning to relax. Relaxation is a technique that must be practiced with discipline. It is the opposite of stress and an effective tool to fight it.
Select a room where you can do your exercises, uninterrupted, and devote fifteen to thirty minutes daily. Sit on a chair or lie on your back on a bed. Breathe deeply and slowly, then go back to your natural breathing. Close your eyes, or fix your attention on a distant object. Commence the exercise with your right leg. Tense your toes and your calf muscles, then suddenly relax them. Now do the same thing with your left leg. Focus your attention on your pelvic region. Picture that area of your body becoming relaxed the same way your legs and feet did. Try to have that warm and pleasant sensation of relaxation go up to your belly. Think that all your belly muscles are loose and relaxed. Now tense your shoulder muscles and suddenly relax them. Enjoy the pleasant sensation that spreads through this area of your body. Concentrate on your neck. Tense it. Suddenly relax it.
This pleasant sensation of relaxation experienced in your neck should now move up to your head. Tense the muscles in your face and suddenly relax them. Before concluding this exercise, breathe deeply and slowly. Go back to your normal respiration. After these relaxation steps, the next step is meditation.
After reading about so many techniques and styles, one can become confused. Which one is best? One of the most comforting lessons I got from Meditation was Fuentes's wise insight, "any technique is best." Out of all the meditations he describes, choose the one you like best, the first that exerts some kind of special fascination for you. The technique that will best serve your purposes of self-actualization is the one in which you place the greatest trust, the technique you put your faith in, because it is not the technique but rather you who guarantees the result. For example, it is not the technique that cures an illness, but rather cellular intelligence responding to the requirements of a technique. What activates your organism's repair system is the confidence you place in yourself when you sit down to meditate. The technique should not be dismissed, however, because underneath that technique, supporting it, there are centuries of experimentation and results. Persevering in the performance of a technique that has already been made sacred by the practice of thousands of people, including the founders of the great religions, is the best of all possible options. These techniques have opened the channels that lead directly to self-actualization. If we place our hands in gassho, putting the palms together, we are immediately taken over by a sense of reverence and humility. If we place our hands on our lap and put the tips of our thumbs together, we feel peace and serenity, whereas if we sit with our back upright we experience a feeling of dignity.
If you do nothing else to improve your life, try meditating with Chris Penczak's four-CD set, The Inner Temple of Witchcraft Meditation CD Companion. By the time I had listened to the entire set of exercises, I was hooked. I found myself looking forward to hearing them again and again. It acts as a form of conditioning. I hear the exercises, and I easily slip into a meditative state. The two best parts are that the effects are cumulative and the gentle, alpha state can be recalled/accessed other times during a stressful day. For those of you who are not knowledgeable about witchcraft, not to worry. It is not necessary to know anything about witchcraft. These meditation exercises are appropriate for all religions. This CD series is an awesome experience that may not be easily attainable without guidance. Chris has a soothing voice, the background music is non-intrusive and very mellow. His guided meditation asks some very powerful questions of one's spiritual self. He helped me to pin down some issues that need work. It was as though he was speaking to me personally. This young man has much wisdom. One of the sessions involves healing someone else at a distance. I later found out that certain things I saw and experienced while listening to his "Healing Case" actually did occur and were corroborated with the recipient of the healing. During his recording on past life exploration, I was able to access a past life. It was a fascinating experience, and one that I will never forget. I knew the experience with the spirit guides was valid. When he suggested that the guides turn around so I could see their faces, they refused and only showed their backs!
If you center yourself and ground yourself, your day will go so much better. Many times when meditating or afterward, I will experience an endorphin rush. It is a pleasurable high, without any drugs or complications, and I look forward to that wonderful feeling.
However, as much as I enjoy meditation, reading comes a close second.