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To Om or Not to Om…
As a practiced meditator for many years I find it odd when people claim there is a right way to meditate. To those people I say “PSHAW”! There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to meditate. What’s important is not how “right” you meditate but that you are meditating. It has been shown for thousands of years in hundreds of different meditative traditions that meditation helps to heal everything from physical, to emotional, to spiritual dis-ease. Even science is proving the value of meditation and demonstrating that whether it is Vedic meditation, running meditation, mindful meditation, or most any form, that the act of meditating is what makes the difference and not the style of meditation.
There are three primary types of meditation. They are…
A focused meditation (or Concentration Meditation) is achieved when the practitioner focuses on a single thing…be it a sound like OM, a physical object like rosary beads, a candle flame, or even drumming, or an experience like rocking or even spinning like a Whirling Dervish. The idea is to use your senses to shift your attention from the outside world. When focusing on a candle flame the eyes will eventually fatigue and close shifting the individual’s attention within, when focusing on a sound like chanting OM your attention eventually moves inward as well, and the same goes for repetitive movements like breathing or even dance. Eventually the dancer loses themselves in the “dance”. The goal is to use this outward experience to shift your attention within.
Focused Meditation is about shifting your attention from the outside to the inside. Mindfulness Meditation starts from the inside but “listens” to the outside. It’s about being the observer. The goal here, as always, is to shift your attention from a superficial listening to a turning within. Think of Mindfulness Meditation like the experience of sitting beside the ocean and watching the waves crash upon the shore or like sitting on the side of the road and watching the cars go by. Start by simply observing the waves as they crash on the shore or seeing each car as it drives on by. There goes a red car, there goes a green car, etc. If you find yourself in your thoughts jumping in a car and “driving” down the road then pull over, get out of the car, and resume being the observer. Notice the car and release the thought. Notice and release, notice and release….
Guided Meditation can be anything from a prayer or sermon to a hypnosis session, to even spiritual journeying. In guided meditation the practitioner is talked through an experience. The meditator listens to a story of sorts and passively sits back to listen. You may be guided to go on a “inner vacation” where you find yourself physically sitting at your office desk while your mind is relaxing on a warm sandy beach. The guide takes you through a journey and asks you to visualize, imagine, or think about your body doing something like exploring a cave, going on an inner quest, or even exploding cancer cells. This form is designed to engage all your senses and take you on an inner journey. Interestingly enough, our minds can’t tell the difference between what they think about and what happens in the “real” world so guided meditations can provide a great benefit to anyone looking to heal physically, mentally, or spiritually. In a guided meditation, the meditator might discover a truth buried within themselves, go on an inner journey to increase their immune system, or take a psychological walk through the shadows of their unconscious.
There is a misconception by many that meditation has to be done in a specific way. Although every meditative tradition has a set of “rules” to follow that are helpful in helping the practitioner achieve a relaxed state, there is no right or even wrong meditation. One can run in a meditative state, like the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei, sit in the classic lotus position like Buddha, lie in repose like many Christian saints, or sit on your couch and listen to a sound frequencies that stimulate healing. What’s important is to find what works or you. It is the deep and centered state of active rest where the body is at ease and the mind finds clarity and calm that is most important. How you do it is up to you BUT doing it is what makes the difference.
Make it fun! Meditation at its best is something to look forward to! It’s a moment, whether it’s 3 minutes or 30 minutes, that’s all about you! Many people think they have to achieve a blank mind but in actuality that is far from the truth…this is a valid form of meditation so if that’s what you want then go for it! It is the act of sitting, being still, allowing, and opening up that creates the best meditations. Sometimes the mind can be very still and other times the mind can be very active. A restless mind can be a good thing because in the meditation the mind is being allowed to sift through and vent. As you practice you will begin to condition your mind to release stress, worry, and fear. However you do this, know there is no right or wrong. It’s all about the process and engaging in the process is what changes everything.
As someone who is a regular meditator I’ve run into prejudice from other meditators. When someone finds something that works for them there is a tendency to believe that they’ve found the “right way” to do it. And they have…for them. Some believe that true meditators achieve a floating like state and are separate from the world. Some would say that true skilled meditators are never angered. And yet others would say that practiced meditators are more alive than those who don’t meditate. One can meditate and become detached from the world and one can meditate and become integrated into the fiber of life. Both are valid. What is common between the renunciant and the modern city dweller is inner peace. This is the goal, creating inner peace and awareness. How you do it is up to you.