Picture, for a moment, someone meditating. What do you see?
Perhaps they’re sitting cross-legged, hands placed on their knees in jnana mudra with forefinger curled around to touch the thumb, eyes closed, their face a picture of serenity as they look toward the rising sun. Or maybe you have your little Buddha sitting in front of a gently cascading waterfall, with butterflies bobbing through the air above them.
Whatever the backdrop, the look on their face suggests one thing: complete, undisturbed peace of mind.
Wouldn’t you love a slice of that blissful calm right now? So why, when you fold your body into that mind’s-eye meditation pose, does the brain seem to go into overdrive?
Put it down to an overload of image baggage. Because of the pictures we’ve been fed, we tend to expect our minds to automatically purge themselves of all thoughts as soon as we cross our legs and close our eyes.
Well here’s a couple of home truths. One: your mind won’t cease pumping out those thought bubbles, because it can’t. It’s merely obeying its most instinctive calling. And two, you don’t need to adopt that classic pose to be meditating.
Meditation can happen when you’re walking, standing still, sitting, lying down or pulling weeds out of the garden. But before we can reach that exalted state we need to learn to concentrate. With concentration we learn to slowly tame our thoughts, cooling them from a rapid boil to a gentle simmer and finally to a still pool – with optional waterfall.
We can cultivate concentration as a prelude to meditation in a variety of ways. Focusing on the breath, looking with complete attention at a particular object, or repeating mantra are common ways to draw the mind to one point. But these are by no means the only paths. Your own personality and learning style have a lot to do with which techniques will work best for you.
Here’s a simple one to try if you don’t have the time to find a waterfall softly lit by the setting sun. (Incidentally, have you ever tried meditating by a waterfall? Try maintaining that inner calm when you’re being assaulted by mossies.) Before you go to bed at night spend five minutes reflecting on the things you’ve done today, and what those actions have to say about your relationships with other people. Don’t judge yourself. Just observe how you behaved, and accept all your revelations.
The road to meditation, and from there to self-knowledge, is a long one. But, to paraphrase the famous words of Lao Tzu, that journey of a thousand miles has to begin with a single step. And this journey, so I choose to believe, is at least as beautiful as any waterfall.