MANAGING OUR STRESS: MEDITATION IN OUR LIFE

Thursday, April 23, 2009 | 2:37 am

In classical meditation it is regarded as important that the meditator should meditate sitting cross-legged in the position known as the lotus posture. In the ashrams of India and the zen-dos of Japan this posture is regarded as essential, and the beginner is told to get his legs as nearly as he can into this position, and to maintain it, no matter how much it hurts, for the duration of the meditation. There is none of this in the meditation that I would advise you to pursue. If we are striving against discomfort and pain, the essential stillness of mind is impossible.

For the type of meditation that I advocate, we must start our meditation in some position of slight discomfort. Then we let our mind run quietly, with as little thought as possible, and we are soon no longer aware of any discomfort. This transcendence of slight discomfort is an essential feature of successful meditation.

It does not matter how we induce the slight discomfort. This will depend on age, and on the physical and mental condition of the meditator. At the start, just sitting straight on an upright chair may be enough to produce slight discomfort. As the beginner becomes more experienced, he will soon learn that he quite easily transcends greater degrees of discomfort. He can then lie flat on his back on the floor, or sit cross-legged on a cushion or pillow, or better still on the telephone book. The meditator may prefer to kneel, either kneeling up, as in a posture of prayer, or kneeling back with the buttocks resting on the heels. If this produces too much discomfort, it can be reduced by placing a pillow over the heels.

The important factor is that the discomfort must never be so great that it is not transcended in the first few minutes of meditation. Furthermore, the discomfort needs to be progressively more severe as the meditator becomes more experienced.

Any idea of meditating while lying comfortably in bed is quite useless. In this case the individual may become relaxed. And of course physical relaxation is a good precursor to meditation, but when lying in bed the relaxation comes from nervous impulses to the brain reporting relaxation of the muscles. This is not what we want. We are seeking a form of relaxation which arises in the brain itself.

In classical meditation the meditator is taught to be constantly aware of his breathing. The breath goes in and out, in and out. The awareness of it means that there is continuing activity of the mind, which means that this process produces a type of meditation quite different from that which I advocate. There is another point. The awareness of our breathing gives our mind something to do, and so reduces the intrusion of thoughts. This makes meditation easier. So those learning to meditate easily fall into the habit of stilling their thoughts in this way. But if we are meditating with awareness of our breathing, our brain never achieves the quiet stillness which is so effective in restoring harmonious function and so relieving stress.

These same principles apply to the technique of visualization. In the last few years there has been a great vogue of visualizing in meditation. The idea is not new to me as I described it in a textbook, A System of Medical Hypnosis.

In this procedure the meditator sees in his mind’s eye the desired result being fulfilled. The person who is under stress visualizes himself calm and at ease in the face of various problems. The technique has become quite widely used with patients suffering from cancer. Of course, while the patient visualizes, his brain remains active, and the therapeutic effect of stillness of mind is never attained.

*87/98/5*

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