The seventh of the Eight Limbs of Yoga is Meditation. The fifth, sixth and seventh limbs all go together, in a way. In order to meditate, you need to
a.) withdraw from the influence of your senses (Pratyahara) ; and
b.) concentrate on something (Dharana).
When you achieve these together, most likely you’ll slide right into meditation, (Dhyana).
Traditional yogic and Buddhist philosophies define meditation as “the liberation of the mind from all disturbing and distracting emotions, thoughts and desires.” That sounds intimidating, though, doesn’t it? How on earth does one do THAT?
Try it this way instead. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines meditation as simply “Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That’s better, eh? And there are so many different ways to meditate – sitting, walking, praying, repeating a mantra, and so on.
There is a common misperception that meditation is only done correctly when one is sitting completely still and one’s mind is completely empty. We may have glimpses of that every now and then, but on the whole, meditation is not about ACHIEVING this goal, but rather the PROCESS that we use to get there, or even to approach getting there.
Meditation is about learning to quiet the mind, even if we never actually manage to quiet it. It’s about letting go of the past and future, letting go of all our predicting and what-if-ing and then JUST BEING in the present.
For most of us, the present is elusive. We may focus on it for a moment, but a second later the mind is flying off in another direction.
In meditation, we recognize that it’s the nature of the mind to run off (experts call it “monkey mind”). We just keep patiently bringing the mind back to whatever we’ve chosen to concentrate on, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.
A traditional definition of the purpose of meditation is “to relieve suffering.” Suffering is defined as the conflict between what is and what might be, what we wish for, or what we want. In meditation, we try to focus on what’s real and to strip away the rest. What’s real may not be very comfortable – we may have to face problems, fears, discomforts.
Some interpretations of the Eight Limbs indicate that the ideal is when you’re meditating on the divine or feeling devotion to the divine. But atheists can meditate too! So I look at a “good” meditation more as aligning oneself with a higher vibration or energy, and landing in that place where everything seems to make sense and flow effortlessly. And, most importantly, feeling devotion to and gratitude for this connection between oneself and the universe.
When we’re meditating, we’re more open to insight. It’s a valuable tool to help us see things more clearly and extend our own perception of reality. It helps us to feel calmer, more grounded, more aware – and can improve our health.
Remember, the yoga postures were originally developed to prepare the body and mind to sit for meditation.
If you enjoy yoga, please consider coming to one of my meditation workshops this fall. I will offer two sessions – Meditation Basics and Beyond Meditation Basics -- at Dragonfly Yoga Studio in Marshfield (November 7 and 21); and another at Body To Soul Fitness in Pembroke (date TBA, probably a weekend in September). I also offer private Learn To Meditate classes.