Relaxed, calm and clear
Are you caught up in the frenetic business of everyday life? Would you like to be free of distraction and be able to concentrate easily? Do you dream of being relaxed, calm and clear in your thinking? Then consider meditation.
What is meditation?
Because there are many quite common misconceptions about meditation, it’s good from time to time to come back to the basics and have a clear idea of exactly what meditation is and what it does. Meditation is the art of being able to deliberately relax your body and calm your mind whenever you choose.
This is a simple skill which people find, to their surprise, is easy to do once you learn how to do it properly. You don’t need any special postures or take on any religious or philosophical beliefs. You learn to meditate in exactly the same way as you would learn any other skill like sport, music or any other kind of training.
With meditation you learn how to calm yourself quickly and let go of physical tension and mental stress. You also learn how to watch your thoughts and emotions instead of getting caught in them as we usually do, and from this you discover how clear you mind can be and how aware you can become of the rich life around and within you.
Of course we have many different ways of relaxing, from watching television, swimming, walking, reading and so on, to having a drink with friends. But they can be a bit hit and miss and one of the things you’ll notice is that even though your body may relax, your mind still keeps up its busy schedule of planning, hoping and worrying. Even when we sleep our minds keep going churning away over the things which concern us, so that we can wake up feeling just as tired as when we went to bed.
Meditation, on the other hand, is the art of deliberately being able to calm you mind as well as relaxing your body, so that you can do this whenever you choose. Paradoxically, you calm your mind by giving it something to focus on. It’s exactly like training a puppy to sit. It will get up and wander around, but as you keep bringing it back and rewarding it, the puppy learns to sit in one place. Even if you have sleeping problems, the technique is the same: to focus your mind on a meditation so that it has somewhere to rest instead of running through its usual ‘to do’ list.
The secret of concentration
Meditation has been part of my life for a long time now and I still find it an incredibly beautiful and blissful thing to do. While in Paris studying to be a concert pianist, I discovered the big secret of concentration through learning to meditate. That is, in order for your mind to work well and efficiently, your body needs to be relaxed. Instead of fighting or punishing your body to keep it still and quiet as we were all taught to do in school, you can look after it first, let it relax, and then you find you can concentrate well.
A businessman who came to Lifeflow to learn meditation sat quietly through the first four weeks of the course saying nothing. On the fifth week he told the class how he had been advised to learn meditation and how sceptical he had been. He ran his own business, was working ridiculous hours and so was always exhausted and stressed. The idea of relaxing and being calm in order to be more efficient sounded absurd to him, but he had decided to try what he had learned and so put it into practice.
He said that he had waited until the end of the month because he wanted to see for himself what the outcome would be. To his surprise he was working less hours, having the weekends off and yet everything seemed to be being done in time. So he waited to check the bottom line and found that in this time his business finances had improved markedly.
Being calm and concentrated is an extremely pleasant state, and there are three qualities which always arise once the mind settles. You are relaxed, calm and clear.
Your body is relaxed
Firstly your body feels more relaxed. As the muscles let go you become aware of more and more subtle levels of letting go. You may also become aware of the habitual tightness and discomfort caused by the tension that is being carried in your body.
You will notice your body becoming stiller and stiller as it rests more and more in a state of balance. As you go deeper you may find you reach a point where you physically cannot move you are so relaxed – rather like that moment when you first wake up from sleep and find it difficult to move. Your senses can become more alert and your sense experience more vivid as you open more and more to the sense world around and within you.
Your emotions are calm
In the same way that your body comes to its natural point of balance, so your emotions become stiller and stiller and eventually reach a point of complete calm. This is like an inner stillness – a sense of peace and ease with you. You may feel quiet within yourself as the normal emotional conflicts – the worry, busyness, and sense of pressure – subside. This can open up to a feeling of being held, of being embraced by the sense world around you and in you, so that you have a feeling of resting and floating in these sensations.
Your mind is clear
As your senses open your thinking slows down – and you may also notice this. There will be times when you may notice spaces in your meditation – the spaces between thoughts. This sense of spaciousness can be quite luxurious as you feel the relief of being free from the cramped cage of thoughts we normally live in. From this space you may find that you are able to watch anything and everything with a sense of clarity and detachment – of not getting caught. You can be aware of what is happening but have the space not to get caught up in it.
A checklist for meditation
- Does your body feel more relaxed?
- Has you mind settled so that your emotions feel stiller and more calm?
- Do you have a sense of having more room – of space, of feeling clearer – so that your mind is not so cramped and tight?
These are the three signs of meditation – relaxed, calm and clear.