Relaxing the mind
Beyond relaxation of the body, the next level is relaxing the mind. If anything, this is the key relaxation conundrum of our generation.
Because we are so busy and bombarded with mental stimulation from all directions all the time today, we often cannot switch off when we need to. This often results in nervous tension, an inability to relax, and increasingly debilitating problems of insomnia.
We have probably never been more in need of effective ways to relax our minds. The ‘monkey chatter’ of our minds, as the Buddhist meditators term that phenomenon in which our mind leaps backwards and forwards from one thought or object of attention to another, limits not only our potential and achievements.
It can be so all-pervasive that it prevents us from relaxing effectively, and can actually harm us psychologically. The proof is there in the statistics.
The Solution? Regular meditation
Meditation can be one of the most physically and mentally beneficial activities a person can engage in.
From a purely practical point of view, meditation can be used to still that monkey chatter in your mind. Nothing can beat the beauty of a good meditation in which all those thoughts gradually still to the point where the mind is quiet. You can experience rest as profound as a good night’s sleep from one 20-minute meditation, and come out of it feeling just as refreshed.
After the signal to finish brings them out of a deep meditation of say 20 minutes, meditators frequently report the sensation that they had only just begun the meditation a couple of minutes before. The meditator wasn’t asleep – but the quietness of the mind meant time passed almost imperceptibly.
This doesn’t mean that, when you meditate, you aren’t aware of what’s going on around you though. If a fire alarm goes off next to you, don’t be afraid you will be meditating blissfully as the room burns around you.
When you meditate, you are still aware of things happening in the room around you. This is why it is recommended that you switch off phones or ask people not to disturb you for the duration of a meditation. But it is a matter of teaching your mind to distance itself from sounds and external sensations during the meditation.
And any good meditation technique and teacher will show you how to do this.
Meditation: the Myths
There are many misconceptions about meditation, often held by (Western) people who believe that it somehow represents a return to irrationality and superstition. Almost invariably, these people have never actually tried it.
(I can speak from experience here; this is exactly the dismissive attitude I had in my younger days, when I knew everything, and was frankly contemptuous of anything that did not fit into my view of the world. But while I have actually grown up, many people never do.)
So, here are the big questions:
- Do you have to wear cheesecloth?
- Do you have to hug and kiss trees?
- Do you have to shave your head or grow a beard?
- Will you be able to levitate?
Well, the answer to the first three is, not unless you want to.
The answer to the fourth? I’ve seen videos of TM adepts doing what they call ‘levitation’. I don’t buy that, although I wouldn’t like to put a limit on what a real Indian master might be capable of.
So while I think meditation can lead to experiences more accurately described as spiritual, for me the everyday practical value of meditation is a physical and psychological one. And the experience of most people who try meditation is that you never really know how beneficial it is, how it feels during the experience and after doing it, until you’ve tried it.
And usually then, you’re converted for life.
Because the great thing about it is that, once you have started a regular practice (usually 20 minutes twice a day), you will notice that the feeling of calm and optimum co-ordination that you experience immediately after a meditation extends for longer and longer. If you keep at it, you will notice that it is not something that switches on and off, but a continuous state of mind.
And it is at this point that you start to experience meditation as a spiritual practice.