When you were born God brought you so many gifts that you will never open them all. Love’s voice keeps saying, “Everything I have is yours.”
—Hafiz (version, Daniel Ladinsky)
What is it to look, really look, at life? To see others with the eyes of love? To live with faith that opens the heart to awe and wonder? Such a vision, the great spiritual traditions tell us, is not only possible but is ours already. It is simply a matter of attention—as simple as watching our own breathing. And just as difficult.
If you have ever stopped a moment to focus on your breath or to sit still before a sunset, you know how easy it is to get distracted. Yet through practice, discipline, and grace, one can learn to achieve at will a state of focused mental alertness, a state where body and mind unite as one laser beam of power and awareness. When attention is focused in meditation, the mental field becomes calm and the light of the soul shines forth. This spiritual light removes our fears, illumines the path of right action, and shows us the way to live with joy.
Because spiritual awareness is a natural state of consciousness, most people have experienced it at some time. In the quiet beauty of nature or during a heart opening experience such as the birth of a child, one is filled with awe, a sense of peace, pure clarity, and a realization of our connection with all that is. We remember these moments for the rest of our lives.
Meditation practice allows us to have that divine experience—not just in peak moments, but every day. Meditation is “polishing the gem” of spiritual wisdom. It is the effort we make to dwell in the Self, to rest in our true nature as a conscious being. Meditation is different from dreams, visions, or sleep. It is a heightened form of consciousness in which the body is relaxed, the mind is clear, and attention is anchored in the pure aspect of our deepest Self.
There are four steps to practicing meditation:
- Establish a conducive environment both within and without
- Practice a technique such as watching the breath or repeating a mantra in order to focus the attention on a single point
- Surrender, by letting go into the peak experience of meditative awareness
- Consciously bring the attention back to mind and body with a sense of appreciation and renewal.
It is helpful to set aside a regular time and place for meditation. If you are able to devote an area of your home for daily practice, the energy of your devotion will permeate the space and positively influence your sessions. Because meditation provides such a wonderful sense of clarity and perspective, it is helpful to begin your morning, first thing, with meditation before becoming involved with the concerns of the day.
When the saint Ramana Maharshi was asked about the best posture for meditation he replied that it is the posture in which the mind is still. Meditation can be practiced seated on the floor, on a cushion, or in a chair. The posture should be relaxed but firm, with the spinal column straight. This posture reflects the quality of mind that is most conducive to meditative awareness—a firm intention to experience God balanced with peaceful surrender to God’s grace and timing.
Begin meditation by closing your eyes and drawing your attention within. Offer a prayer of attunement, acknowledging the presence of God, the saints and sages, the divine nature of all beings, and the spiritual nature of your own soul. Most importantly, feel your connection to God and to all of life. Inwardly walk through the chapel door of God’s omnipresence and experience yourself praying “in” God rather than “to” God. Know that God is nearer than your heartbeat, the essence of your being.
Inwardly direct your gaze toward the spiritual eye, the point between the eyebrows. Focus awareness on your breath, noticing the experience of inhalation and exhalation. Whenever you become involved in thoughts, gently return your attention to the breath. After a while, breathing slows down and becomes shallow, thought activity decreases, and moments of calm, pure, awareness are revealed.
As the experience of peace deepens, let go of watching the breath and rest in meditative awareness. When the attention wanders to thoughts again, you can return to the breath, or begin to conclude your meditation by bringing awareness back to body and mind. Before getting up, make a conscious effort to deeply feel the peace you have gathered within. You are that. Feel that you are refreshed, renewed, and ready to start your day with peace as your companion. Pray for others and the world. Consciously affirm the graceful unfolding of divine purpose and the highest good for all. As you perform your activities, carry the effects of meditation with you and return to the awareness of the divine presence throughout the day.
Approach meditation with enthusiasm balanced by surrender. Learn to be unattached to whatever results come, or don’t come. Accept each sitting for what it is without criticism or judgment. Let it be your offering to God. It will be returned to you when you least expect it, as sudden joy, moments of intuitive insight, and an ever-increasing calmness, especially during times of turbulence and change. The best place to look for progress in meditation is in your life itself. Like the graceful dawning of the sun’s light on a new day, the soul’s influence, released in prayer and meditation, illumines the landscape of our experience. Who we truly are and what matters most become apparent in that light.
Many traditions tell the story of a traveler who journeys to a far land in search of wealth and wisdom only to find that the real treasure was waiting at home all along. Most of us spend our days in search of pleasure, possessions, and successful careers only to wake up one day disillusioned with it all. With the practice of meditation, we attain happiness and security where it can be found—in the stillness of the soul, right now. Consider the invitation from the Adi Granth: “As fragrance dwells in a flower, and reflection in a mirror; so does God dwell inside everything; seek Him, therefore, in your heart.” Don’t wait. This moment is overflowing with grace.
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