March 28, 2011

Meditation Practice - The Basics

The #1 biggest misconception about meditation practice is that it involves clearing the mind of thought, like you sit down and pull some kind of meditation emergency brake. Or at the very least, if you can’t stop thought altogether, you should at least have only peaceful, positive thoughts. Susan Piver 
There are many ways to meditate, many schools that teach different techniques, and certainly a history and an association with various spiritual and religious practices. There are also misconceptions about the practice. So many people I have spoken with say, "I could never meditate", "I can't be still", "I can't not think," or "I'm just not calm enough." Defeated before they begin. So, here are some foolproof steps to an easy beginning practice.

Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson simplified meditation for his patients through a technique he termed The Relaxation Response.  His book by the same name, originally published in the 1970s, has become a perennial best-seller.
The Relaxation Response

The Relaxation Response distilled the basics of meditation practice to the following four components:

1. Sitting in a Comfortable Position in a 
2. Quiet Environment
3. Using A Mental Device - a focal point; an object to look at like a candle, or a word or phrase to repeat (called a Mantra)
To shift the mind from logical, externally oriented thought, there should be a constant stimulus: a sound, word, or phrase repeated silently or aloud; or fixing gazing at an object.   Since one of the major difficulties in the elicitation of the Relaxation Response is "mind wandering," the repetition of the word or phrase is a way to help break the train of distracting thoughts.  Your eyes are usually closed if you are using a repeated sound or word; of course your eyes are open if you are gazing. Attention to the normal rhythm of breathing is also useful and enhances the repetition of the sound or the word.
4. A Passive Attitude
When distracting thoughts occur, they are to be disregarded and attention redirected to the repetition or gazing; you should not worry about how well you are performing the technique, because this may well prevent the Relaxation Response from occurring.   Adopt a "let it happen" attitude.  The passive attitude is perhaps the most important element in eliciting the Relaxation Response.  Distracting thoughts will occur.  Do not worry about them.  When these thoughts do present themselves and you become aware of them, simply return to the repetition of the mental device.  These other thoughts do not mean you are performing the technique incorrectly.  They are to be expected."

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