Meditation is a way to experience the vast expanse of your mind in a new way. It stills the constant mental chatter, and tunes in to what has always been beneath the surface.
Timothy Leary coined the phrase “turn on, tune in, drop out” in the 1960s. It became the counterculture’s catchphrase. The reductionist view was that it was solely a reference to the use of recreational drugs, but Dr. Leary maintained that it was a much broader reference to accessing different realms of consciousness.
I like to use it as a reference to meditation as follows: Drop out of your hyper-connected modern life for a while, tune in to the calm stillness of your mind in its depths, and turn on to the possibilities of an internal journey.
It seems that everywhere one turns lately, there are teachers and celebrities extolling the virtues of meditation. The benefits include stress relief, various positive impacts on brain and immune system function, and a sharpened ability to focus and concentrate.
Dr. Herbert Benson wrote the book “The Relaxation Response” in 1975. He identified the conditions to create the response of relaxation in humans: a comfortable position, a receptive, open attitude, a quiet environment, relaxation of the muscles, and the repetition of a syllable, word, or phrase. The repetition is essential.
Mantra meditation is one vehicle for eliciting the relaxation response. Probably the best known mantra is “Om” or “Aum,” and if you have taken a yoga class you may have chanted it at the beginning or end of class. You may use “Om” to experiment with meditation or another syllable, a word, or phrase from your own religious or spiritual tradition. You could also use the number one as well, or count a succession of numbers. The power is in the repetition.
Below are instructions for meditation:
- Find a quiet place. Sit in a comfortable position, on a chair, or on the floor, cross-legged or not.
- Close your eyes and direct your attention to your breath, inhaling and exhaling. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe slowly and naturally. Progressively relax your muscles from head to toe, or in any sequence.
- On the exhale, begin silently reciting “Om” or your chosen syllable, word or phrase in a continuous loop.
- As thoughts arise, just notice them as a detached observer. Try not to hold on to them or push them away. Gently invite them to move along, and redirect your attention to the silent repetition of your mantra or phrase. The same orientation to any sounds in the environment is suggested. Notice the sounds, and try labeling them, for example “lawn mower” in the suburbs, or “horns honking” for a city dweller. Let the sounds be as they are.
Start with five to 10 minutes and gradually increase to what feels right for you. Dr. Benson suggests 12 to 15 minutes per practice session, done daily. When I took a course in Transcendental Meditation, it was recommended for 20 minutes per day, twice per day. See what works for you.
At the end of your meditation, let your mantra go, return your focus to your breath and slowly open your eyes.
Try not to judge yourself in this process. A friendly orientation to yourself is always recommended. Our minds are habituated to a high level of stimulation, so sometimes it can be a struggle to still the chatter. Just let it be as it is. Meditation is not about competition or being the “best” meditator. We learn to accept what is happening in the moment, and work with that.
Consider trying one of the numerous meditation apps to assist you in the process. My current favorite is Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace app, available for iPhone and Android. Visit www.getsomeheadspace.com for more information.
I also like Meditation Oasis’s Simply Being app and the Buddhify2 app, I use these three apps regularly and recommend them to my clients who are interested in meditating.
Benson, H., M. D., & Klipper, M. Z. (1992). The relaxation response. New York: Harper Collins.
Kabat-Zinn, J., & Hanh, T. N. (2009). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Random House LLC.