Article by Blue Banyan Meditation Products
The idea of meditation as a retraining of the attention is a bit vague. Even looking to the many meditative traditions presented in the last part can leave newcomers in the dark when it comes to the actual practice of these techniques and how an individual knows when they have successfully entered a meditative state. Worries over this are understandable. From the Western standpoint, meditation is a significant investment of time engaged in to achieve some real set of benefits. No one wants to feel as though their time has been wasted.
Once again, however, the very questions related to the nuts and bolts practice of meditation represent an historical anomaly. In cultures where meditation is a part of life woven into daily activities and cultural rituals, the practice is natural. That is to say, an initiate in a Taoist monastery or an Ojibwe child would be as likely to ask how to meditate as they would to ask how to fall asleep. This should not be taken as disrespecting the position of Westerners seeking the benefits of incorporating meditation into daily life. It is after all a worthwhile pursuit and a wonderful gift to the self.
Readers of section two will remember that clinical studies on meditation almost always used an approach referred to as a clinically standardised version of mindfulness meditation. Participants in those studies received a training session and guided meditation CDs or other media. The specifics changed between programs, such as one mindfulness program had participants move their consciousness into different regions of the body and another was primarily concerned with growing awareness of breath, yet each was referred to in the same way.
Another type of meditation was covered in section three and is most familiar as a discrete practice to Westerners. Concentration meditation is used to achieve the same state of dominant alpha waves, but it differs by using a central focal point as a means of reducing worry or gaining insight into the object or idea in focus. The difference between the two forms should seem subtle at first, yet an in-depth look will help you to discern these practices and choose the right one for any particular situation.
Understanding the Difference
Taoist meditative practice was discussed briefly in section three as being a means to growth in self-awareness and a tool for explicit healing. The styles imported to the West combine a modern understanding of anatomy and physiology with ancient insights into the energetic pathways running throughout the body. The practice contains elements of both mindfulness and concentration, which make it a good starting point for understanding the difference.
Early practice of Taoist meditation involves simply increasing awareness of the body. Visualization of the internal body is used, but there is no single focus. The point is to increase the individual's intuitive ability, so they may feel the difference between a healthy flow of energy versus stagnancy that leads to excesses and deficiencies.
A slightly more advanced practice in this tradition uses energy centers as focal points. A point is chosen for one or more sessions based on what the individual experienced in their energy flow. Most will begin with a concentration on the Dan Tien, a point just below the navel seen as the safe storage center of any excess energy created during meditation. The goal is to firmly anchor the consciousness to the point, which effectively removes the experience of reality out of the head. Once this is accomplished, practitioners will choose other acupressure points along the microcosmic orbit for focus based on individual need. Someone with chronic headaches, for instance, may focus on the Ming-min just opposite the navel, and someone a weak voice may focus on the throat chakra.
The Buddhist tradition adds further clarification. Anyone attempting meditation is said to encounter one or more of five hindrances, which are anger, boredom, doubt, desire and worry. Focusing the mind on a single thing is specifically used to counter the experience of worry, such as lingering questions about whether the meditative state has actually been achieved. Mindfulness is the goal in Buddhist meditation, and it is described as being completely in the moment, fully experiencing everything the senses perceive without becoming attached to any particular sensation.
Every tradition varies in specifics, yet modern research has shown both categories of meditation have the same effect of amplifying alpha wave frequencies. Those attempting to take up the practice of meditation alone will face the question of whether one style will yield faster or more complete benefits than another. Those who embark on a specific program may assess their experiences and wonder whether another style can be used to augment the benefits or provide further satisfaction.
There is no one right way to meditate any more than there is one right way to exercise. There may, however, be a better method of beginning for an individual. If the practice seems difficult to grasp from one style, it may be a good idea to try another. After considering the basics steps to accomplish each form of meditation, several tips will be presented to encourage timely progress.
Concentration: Finding a Focus
In this meditation technique, the goal is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of other things. Beginners may find it easiest to focus on the breath without trying to control or modify it in any way. Simply focusing on the breath is a powerful method of building self-awareness, and this is uncomfortable enough for some people that an external focus may provide the best start.
There really is no limit to what the focus may be, but there are some general rules about choosing a helpful one. It should be easy to fix the attention on a chosen focus. A person with many positive or negative associations with a type of tree should be careful when using the tree as a focus. The goal is to focus on the thing instead of feelings or thoughts evoked by the thing. In other words, it will be most helpful to begin with a thing that does not necessarily promote calm or any other emotion.
Since first efforts to detach the ego and not feel or think something about any given thing are very difficult, any focus will provide a challenge. Can the mind detach and simply take in whatever the thing is without placing any sort of mental filter over it? Most people find a physical object, like a mandala or prayer shawl, or repetitive sound to provide easy focus. Once this is accomplished, the meditator may move on to more difficult challenges, such as a personally crafted focus, a portrait or abstract art, flower arrangements, a visualised object or shape, or a phrase.
If finding a focus seems difficult, it may help to take a learning styles quiz based off Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. For new practitioners scoring strongly in the bodily-kinesthetic category, the best choice of focus will likely be a movement of some kind. A yoga posture or other repetitive exercise, such as forms found in Tai Chi and martial arts, can become the object of focus.
Branching off into new focal points is a great way to continue expanding the power of concentration. One tool common to many traditions is the crafting of a personal focus. The object, having been created by the meditator, is imbued with the meditator's essence. If the meditator has interest in lucid dreaming or other mystical endeavors, these will be aided by meditation with a personal focus. It may also help with transition to the mindfulness state, which will be discussed later.
Concentration: Experiencing Focus
Once a focal point is established, the most common practice to establish focus for meditation is the use of breathing. Inhaling air is literally a sensational experience. The heart beats faster during an inhale, the ribcage expands to hold air and/or the diaphragm descends to make room, the hairs lining the nasal passage all the way to the lungs are flattened, and studies have shown that even the semi-fused plates of the skull expand minutely. This can all be felt and used to entrain the attention.
During weight-lifting and most forms of callisthenics, breath is supposed to follow a pattern. The large effort of contracting muscles to perform the up part of a push-up coincides with an exhale, and the return to starting position is done with an inhale. Breath is used the same way in concentration meditation. The inhale is the mental relaxation of simply feeling the sensation of breathing. Upon exhale the attention should be directed fully towards the focal point. This action can be performed several times to increase the meditative focus.
The actual experience of focused concentration is similar to lifting weights in a gym or other safe environment. Due to the nature of the exercise, it is best to keep early meditations to five minutes or so. Sessions can be lengthened once the ability to rapidly entrain focus is accomplished. There are no extra points for pushing the attention beyond its capabilities. If there is extra time for continued meditation, concentration can transition easily to mindfulness methods.
Mindfulness: Areas of Study
Contrary to one of the purposes of concentration meditation, which is to build attentive strength, mindfulness meditation features the purpose of increasing one's intuitive capacities. In this aspect the two categories may be described as the difference between seeing the trees and seeing the forest. Intuition is the ability to make connections between phenomenon and/or things where there appears to exist no connection. Being mindful can be thought of as increasing receptivity to all sensory information, feelings, and thoughts without focusing on any one.
True mindfulness means opening the awareness to everything, but this is an exceedingly difficult task for beginners. In order to promote early feelings of success, the mindful state can be thought of in four categories. Mindfulness of the body can be accomplished with something as basic as following the sensations of breathing, or it may be a more complicated study such as the Taoist practices discussed above. There are even mindfulness meditation materials available to help medical students master every type of anatomy course.
Another closely related form is mindfulness of changing states in the body. The consciousness is moved across the body with a degree of intensity that varies with the meditator's skill. Sensations are considered transiently. The meditator may rest the consciousness is an energetic or blood passage and experience the flow from a stationary perspective or enter it. This method works with an idea known as neural mirroring. The idea is to join the consciousness to the sensation, validate it in a sense by recognizing it fully, and then move on. This can be repeated several times over the meditative session with the desired result being the free flow of energy through the sensation and eventual disruption of it.
Intuition can be grown directly with non-judgmental observance of thoughts in mental states mindfulness. Often a task is conceived, such as a writing project, a piece of art, or some more physical task. The person forgets about it for a while and rapidly completes it upon return. It is apparent something was happening behind the scenes in the mind of which the consciousness was unaware. Strengthening this ability to spontaneously entrain the subconscious is done with passive awareness of thoughts.
Most people are thinking of altering the consciousness when considering mindfulness meditation. They enter the meditative process with a feeling they desire to let go of or an excess of thoughts they wish to quiet. These are worthy goals, but the best approach from a meditative perspective is to simply allow the feelings or thoughts to be and change freely with observation. Validation is something many people lack in their daily lives, and it causes much stress. Validating the self by taking the time to acknowledge these feelings and thoughts without judging them is a powerful way to reverse this stress. The end result is to detach the ego from negative emotions and mind-racing. Some programs use a series of phrases or litanies targeting different emotions, such as: "I will permit my guilt/fear/worry/anger to pass over and through me. Where it has gone will be nothing. Only I will remain."
A new meditator can aid in their efforts to defocus from any single sensation by actually reducing the number of sensations. The choice of posture is important for this especially for those experiencing chronic physical pain. Some practitioners use a kneeling stool to reduce pressure on the knees. Buckwheat pillows are also helpful in that they do not trap heat and will conform to the user's shape without losing this ability to conform as quickly as other pillows. Those with spinal or circulatory problems will find lying on the right side is extremely helpful.
All the senses can be blocked in relation to the degree of difficulty they pose to the meditator. If it is difficult to pass over sounds without focusing on them, earplugs will be helpful until the skill is greater. With growth in skill, it will be possible to meditate in ever more stimulating environments, and this is ultimately the goal. The mind learns how to sidestep the stress response to loud noises and other stimuli. Attaining this goal means being able to approach any situation with calmness, which is a requirement of enjoying rapid access to the intuitive faculties.
Concentration meditation was likened to lifting weights at the gym. Mindfulness is in contrast similar to stretching. As can be seen by the brief review of mindfulness states above, the mind can be stretched in as many ways as the body. Longer periods of meditation will yield faster results, and mindfulness provides a great help in counter-balancing concentration.
Practical Tips to Consider
Established traditions use routines to enable meditation, but the individual meditator in Western society often lacks access to a group using a routine. Some basic tips will help in achieving goals, but this is largely a matter of experimentation. Each meditator should experiment and use what works for them without feeling the need to conform. Benefits are gained in this way.
Seek enjoyment in meditation for enjoyment is the truest expression of your being. If you feel balanced and harmonious with your environment and self after a meditative session, you have achieved the purpose.
16 Jul 2012
Article/Information supplied by Blue Banyan Meditation Products
Disclaimer - Any general advice given in any article should not be relied upon and should not be taken as a substitute for visiting a qualified medical Doctor.