Meditation Made Simple

Words: Dr Deborah OLENEV

When you think of meditation what comes to your mind’s eye is the image of Buddha showing him sitting cross-legged, or in lotus position on a lotus flower, his hands laying one on top of another with the thumbs touching his lap, his eyes half-closed gazing downwards, his back straight, with a serene expression on his face. Meditators from many traditions have emulated the sitting Buddha in their meditation practices, but is this for everyone? Is there really one ‘right way to meditate’ that crosses religious and cultural boundaries, and dispositional differences between people. My answer to that is, “I don’t believe so.”

I will go so far as to question whether sitting absolutely still is the criterion for meditation. I have tried for many years to sit absolutely still, while I meditated, but what I noticed was that while my body was not moving, my mind was going one hundred miles an hour, and my emotions were churning. I had achieved the look of a meditator, but what was going on inside of me was anything but meditation.

So, I realised that posture alone does not bring inner peace and Self-realisation, which is generally the goal of meditation. While trying to find that peace I studied meditation techniques from many different religions and tried them out on myself in meditation practice. Here goes —:

Mantra

Mantra is the chanting of a spiritual phrase, such as a prayer, or fragment, of a prayer, or sounds that activate different chakras, or energy centres in the body. The mantra helps to centre one by turning the focus away from thoughts and continuously refocusing them on the mantra. Many people chant mantras continuously throughout the day, and often at night to keep their minds focused internally and cantered on the self. The mantra is an extremely powerful tool that is used in all spiritual traditions. Here are a few mantras from different religions:

To this day, I have never abandoned the mantra. When I am walking my dog, I chant my mantra, or washing the dishes, doing the laundry, falling asleep at night, and when I wake up in the middle of the night it will be on my lips. This is probably one of the most centring practices that there is, and the greatest tool readily available to all of us to help tame the wandering and restless mind. I use mantra always in my meditation practice in conjunction with whatever other meditation tools, or yogic exercises that I do.

Pranayama

Pranayama refers to breathing exercises. Even more readily available to us than mantra, our breath is central to our existence. It happens automatically to keep us breathing even when we are not aware that we are doing, and it is also something that can be put under our conscious control. In pranayama we become conscious of our breathing, and learn to simply be aware of it, or how to direct it and work with it as a meditation tool to bring greater self-awareness, or awareness of the self.

I have heard that there are over 1,000 pranayama exercises, and I believe it, because you can only be limited by your own imagination. In pranayama, you are basically doing variations of the following three phases of the breath: the in-breath, the holding-breath and the out-breath. What leads to the variations are the length with which you hold the breaths, and the postures that you do while doing the pranayama exercises.  I read an excellent book a few years ago on bellows breathing, and I try to incorporate this with my pranayama exercises. Some people do pranayama before meditation, and during meditation, or as a continuous practice in their lives. In the latter, focus on the breath is maintained throughout one’s daily activities.

Focusing on the breath is a powerful meditation tool, because it redirects the focus of attention away from our thoughts and back to the thinker of the thoughts. The thinker is the person actively engaged in being aware of their breathing and on the consciousness that is doing the breathing, the self within.

I use pranayama along with mantra in my meditation and yoga practice and in my tai chi ch’uan practice as a centring tool.

Mudra

I started to work with mudras a few years ago. Mudras are hand gestures, such as those you see in pictures of saints, or that are used in classical Indian dance. The various gestures can carry deep spiritual meaning, such as the prayer mudra with the palms touching and the hands upturned at the heart.  I was hanging out with my son in the park when an Oriental woman came into the park, set her yoga mat down and began her yoga and meditation practice, during which time she employed mudras. This fascinated me. I went home and found a guide to mudras in Baba Hari Dass’ book, Ashtanga Yoga. I proceeded to memorise the 24 mudras that he taught for use prior to meditation and the eight after meditation. What I did was just incorporate the 32 mudras into my meditation practice and I found something quite remarkable happen to me.

Instead of spending my meditation time trying to keep thoughts at bay, and catching my mind as it started to wander, I found that as I focused all my attention on my hands and the mudras, my mind automatically quietened down and I became more centred than I had ever been able to do without this tool. I then realised that my hands are in constant motion throughout the day: as I am typing, rubbing soap on a dish, holding the handle bars of my bike, holding my child’s, or husband’s hands. This is a tool that is always available to me. My hands can bring me home to my self.

I read several other books on mudra in the course of time, and I came to a point where I felt I did not need to follow a prescribed course of mudras, but follow my own inner direction and inner energy and let my body and my hands flow into any gesture, or posture, that it was moved to assume during my meditation. I became aware of my own inner energy and inner direction and permitted me to express itself through me.

Yoga & T’ai Chi Ch’uan

I began learning yoga when I was 18 years old. I learned it from a woman named Moya Devi who taught from her little Carnegie Hall Studio in New York City. At that time yoga had a tremendously positive influence in my life. My hitherto stiff body became flexible and light. I switched from an omnivorous to a vegetarian diet and began a meditation practice for the first time in my life. I became interested in Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen, Sufism, Christianity, while exploring my own Judaism in a deeper way as well at this time — this was really the beginning of my spiritual studies and exploration.

During my yoga classes Moya Devi would say you have to move into the poses, like doing t’ai chi ch’uan, while move smoothly and continuously. I never heard of t’ai chi ch’uan until Moya Devi mentioned it, so I went to the bookstore and purchased Sophia Delza’s  book, T’ai Chi Ch’uan: An Ancient Chinese Way of Exercise to Achieve Health and Harmony.

After reading the introduction to the book I decided to look in the New York City Yellow Pages under t’ai chi ch’uan, as that is where I was living at the time. To my astonishment Sophia Delza was listed there and she taught from a studio in Carnegie Hall, just like Moya Devi. I called her and had to wait several months to join her beginner’s class. I ended up studying with her for the next eleven years, until I moved to California.

After I started learning t’ai chi ch’uan I abandoned my yoga practice, because I felt that I did not have the time to do both simultaneously. Maybe, this was true for me at that point in my life, but I slowly realised that I needed yoga back. It wasn’t that I should do one, or the other, but that I had to find a way to integrate them in my life.

Since I have little personal time these days, what I do is multitask. I walk my dog twice a day to the park. During one of those walks I tie her to a tree, or occasionally let her roam around me off leash and I do standing yoga exercises, combined with kung fu and t’ai chi ch’uan exercises. I put a high priority on my exercise, so I try not to rob myself out of this time for myself. While I am doing my exercises, I chant my mantra and do my pranayama exercises at the same time. I used to take my mat outside with me and do lying down yoga exercises in the park, but this year I have been doing standing exercises instead. I often do yoga poses while I am doing sitting meditation. I can move my arms into various yoga positions and do stretches in a sitting position.

Massage & Acupressure

One day it dawned on me to add an element of touch to my meditation practice as a centring tool. What I would do was touch different parts of my body, rub them, press on them, squeeze them, or whatever occurred to me to do while I was meditating. As I was doing this I would focus my attention on the spot I was touching, and I discovered that this was just as wonderful as mantra, mudra, or pranayama, as a tool to bring me home to the self. I would go up and down my body pressing on what I imagined to be acupressure points and give myself massage as I was meditating. My entire body was a field upon which I could focus my attention and awareness. By focusing on this field I could calm my mind, return to my centre and feel peace and joy. I love this new meditation tool, which I now use frequently.

Meditation

This brings me full circle to meditation. I no longer sit motionless, like the Buddha sitting on the lotus flower, unless I am moved to do so. Instead, I dance in my seat. I move. I sway.  My arms move like the Hula dancers of Hawaii, imitating the waves breaking on the shore; my arms flap like birds flying in the sky; my body rocks, my body rolls; my breath moves in and out and all the time my mind is focused on the self. I am living, I am breathing, I am alive and I dance to my own song. The self can be realised in stillness and in motion. It is up to you to decide what works best for you.

Conclusion 

In the beginning of our lives we start out totally innocent and receptive. As time goes on our innocence is replaced with education as we learn from others and society. Evolving further we take what we have learned from others as a stepping stone from which we can launch into a deeper exploration of ourselves. From here, we can give birth to something totally new — one that arises from within ourselves and also influenced by whatever has come before, but now we make it our own. I hope that you can learn from the spiritual traditions that have placed before you, and pass beyond them to find a personal expression of your own nature that is unique to you — one that can bring you inner peace.

TAGS: Meditation, meditation made simple, the Buddha, mantra, pranayama, mudras, yoga, t’ai chi, massage, acupressure, mindful living.

Dr DEBORAH OLENEV, CCH, RSHom [NA], is a Classical Homeopath based in Mountain View, California, US. She treats people from all over the world via phone and video conferencing. Dr Olenev has had a passion for homeopathy for nearly forty years and has been in private practice since 1991. She has a vast knowledge of homeopathic Materia Medica, and integrates homeopathy with herbal medicine too. She is the owner of First Aid Cream, where she teaches about and sells homeopathic first-aid creams. She has several years of experience treating autistic children and people of all ages for all manner of health conditions.

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