Saturday, March 17, 2012

Meditate to Elevate

Souls of Mischief... Always loved their music, and really related to the name.

A few years ago, I decided to try my hand at meditation. I had considered it for a while, but it was intimidating. I could never "clear" my mind. I'd sit for a few minutes trying to think of nothing, but my mind would quickly drift on to some random petty bullshit, like what clothes I was going to wear the next day or whether or not I set the DVR for South Park. So I gave up.

Eventually, I tried again. I actually sought out venues for guided meditation. Since my late teens, I always thought Buddhism was the closest any religion came to my own personal views, and I admired the Buddhist way of life, especially the meditation apect. So I found an advertisement for a group that did guided meditation/Buddhist teaching at a community center on Tuesday nights in West Hartford. When I got there, they immediately asked for a $10 donation and I almost walked out. If I'm paying $10 for Nirvana, I better hear some "Come As You Are". But, I decided to dole out the money and see what they had to offer.  And I'm glad I did.

Buddhist Meditation
The center was essentially a small church, with torture benches and everything, but it was a more comfortable setting than any other church I've been in. They even put cushions on the torture benches! There were about 4 other people, ranging in age from mid 20's to late 60's. We all sat quietly until the monk finally walked in. I say monk, and he called himself a monk, but to me he looked like a plain old bald white guy in a robe. Anyways, he read a few things and then started a 5 minute meditation session, which he talked us through. He had a very soothing voice, and although I didn't feel like I was meditating, it was very relaxing to just focus on his words.

After the short meditation session, he talked for 20 minutes on the teachings of Buddha. I've always been a fan, I'm just not all about "worshipping" anybody or anything. Anyways, I don't remember the message but I'm sure I agreed with the premise. After his talk, we meditated again. I closed my eyes and listened to the soothing tones of his voice. He told us to focus on our breathing and follow his words.

Picture the air as it enters your nose and mouth. Imagine it traveling throughout your body, delivering life-giving oxygen to all your vital organs. Then visualize the air leaving your body, expelling all negative energy, from your toes, all the way to your head, and out your mouth.

I did exactly as he said, and after a while, as I was envisioning the negative energy leaving my body, something amazing happened. I started to relax. And I mean really relax. I no longer felt constrained by my physical body, I was simply energy. Maybe that's a little strong, but that's the only way I can describe it as I look back on it. The interesting thing was that my mind wasn't completely "clear", but it wasn't concerned with anything; thoughts came and went and I kept my main focus on my breathing.

About 5 minutes in (5ish, it's hard to tell in that state of mind) I had a vision of my energy as a white mist hovering around me, then spiraling upwards, above my head towards the ceiling. It continued upwards until I could see it spiraling above the roof of the building. I could picture it circling the entire building and twisting its way up into the sky. (Looking back on it I would say it was negative energy, but at the time it didn't feel negative, and it was pure white which is usually associated with positivity, so who knows what was happening.)

That lasted for about ten seconds. Then the vision was gone. I started fidgeting on my seat. I felt the fabric on my shirt rubbing against my skin. I couldn't get back into the same mental state. But for a few moments, I had reached a conscious state that I'd rarely been in without the aid of some external aid, and I enjoyed it. I wanted more.

A Book Makes a Difference
While my interest in meditation was increasing, I came across a book at my friend's place about astral projection. She let me borrow it (one day I'll return it!!) and I decided to give it a look. The book claimed that with enough practice, you would be able to project your spirit outside of your body, into another astral plane. Basically an out of body experience. But it also said that if you were meditating in one room, you could project your self into other rooms to see what's going on. In addition, you could send a type of spirit guide long distances away and it would come back and tell you what was happening there. So if you had family in Florida and you wanted to see how they were doing, you could meditate and send a spirit guide to check on them, and the next day when you meditate, the spirit guide will "report" back to you.

I admit, it's a little out there, but I was reading it more for its tips on meditating. The astral projection was just an interesting side note, and I never truly believed I would be able to do any of it. I just wanted to be able to meditate more easily. And the book helped. It gave tips on focusing your mind and breathing techniques during your meditation session. There was an emphasis on chakras, and as you breathed, you were to envision each chakra as a bright circle of light. For example, your "crown" chakra is directly above your head like, well, a crown. The crown chakra is represented as a purple light (each chakra has a different color association).

After a brief period of concentrated breathing, you were then to envision each successive chakra as you breath out. So you would take a deep breath in, slowly, and when you exhaled, you were to envision a bright purple ball of light glowing above your head. Then as you inhale, slowly,you envision the light flowing to your next chakra, located at your brow and represented by indigo. When you exhaled again, you would imagine the chakra at your temple glowing a bright indigo color. You continue that way until you hit all the chakras. In this book, they included one near your feet, claiming this was actually an earth chakra, representing our spiritual connection to the planet we inhabit.

Once all of the chakras were glowing bright, you envision the light/energy flowing from your toes back up to your head, creating a circle of flowing, bright energy around you. After a few deep breaths, you reversed the order, and envisioned the light/energy flowing back up through each chakra until it reaches the crown. They stressed the importance of completing the entire cycle. You don't want any broken links in your circle of energy, and it ensures that you dedicate a fairly decent amount of time focusing your mind on this one activity.

The first few times trying it, I would get through the warm-up breathing exercises, then my mind would wander right about the time my throat chakra was starting to glow. But I stuck with it, and the book revealed more and more techniques (and theory) as I read, so there was something new to try each time. After a while, I could get through the whole cycle undisturbed. And it worked. I did feel more relaxed, more ready to deal with the world. It wasn't what I had imagined when I began meditating; in fact, it was much better.

During one of the Buddhist meetings, the monk claimed that our mind's natural state is emptiness. It is like a clear canvas or background in which thoughts pass by. Sometimes we latch onto a thought, sometimes they just keep moving past. Meditation is an attempt to get your mind to its natural state, letting thoughts simply pass by (probably the worst paraphrase ever). He also said that even experienced practitioners of meditation will latch onto thoughts passing through their minds. The key is to identify when your mind has latched onto a thought and try to return to emptiness; the easiest way is to keep focusing on your breathing. That helped me a lot. He emphasized to not get upset if you find your mind wandering, it's perfectly natural. That also helped, because I always thought it was some mistake I was making.

The book helped a great deal, too, because it forced me to focus on my breathing by envisioning my chakras. The book described many other types of meditation, but it all revolved around focusing your mind on one thing, whether it be a certain sound, a certain image, your breathing, or even a particular feeling.

The fact that there were many variations of meditation was eye-opening. I didn't have to just sit there and think about nothing (whenever I tried that, I just fell asleep, which is cool with me, but it's certainly not meditating). Once I was comfortable with the chakras, I decided to move on to another level of meditation, and possibly, another level of existence.

To be continued.

I Love You All...Class Dismissed (For Now).

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