Meditation: Freeing Yourself From The Confines Of The Ordinary Mind
As you enter and explore the boundless domain of meditation, your mind will learn to more and more easily cross the threshold from the ordinary mind to the spacious clear awareness of infinite consciousness, your own essential nature, known by many names in various traditions, from Buddha mind to Christ consciousness to purno’ham vimarsha. Leaving behind the ordinary mind allows your attention to turn and look at the mind from a new perspective. One basic truth underlying all meditation practices is that you are not your mind. Nor are you the things the mind identifies with – the roles you play, the relationships you’re in, the characteristics of your body – male, female, young, old, and on and on, all the experiences of “I am this or I am that.” In fact you are beyond all these creations. You are the Divine, the Infinite, the Source, the One. Meditate to know this ancient truth.
Further down on this page you will find specific written instructions for practicing a powerful form of mantra meditation for approaching and entering the state of meditation which will allow you to directly experience your true nature for yourself. At the bottom of this page are free audio files of guided relaxation/meditation and guided mantra meditation that you can download and use as often as you like. The Anam Cara Meditation Foundation YouTube channel also has videos with meditation instructions that are free to everyone.
The mind becomes what it identifies with and gives us the experience of being that. Our families and culture teach us to identify with some things and not others, they teach boys to think of themselves in one way and girls in other ways. Layer after layer of limitations are imposed on the infinite expanse of Consciousness, binding it and restricting it more and more. All of our suffering is created in this way. Meditation offers a systematic way of becoming truly free of this level of pain and suffering.
When we say to ourselves “I am so sad,” we’ve identified with the feeling and we become that, our experience is limited to that for as long as it dominates the field of I-awareness. When we say to ourselves “I am a mother, I am a daughter, I am a father, I am unemployed, I am a student, I am a professional,” and on and on we do the same thing. Every thought we have has a hidden sense of identity connected to it, of “I am this or I am not this.” Meditation calls attention to this process of identification and limiting of awareness so that it is bound within the container of the sense of “I” that we are creating in the moment. It brings our attention to what we identify with, the containers into which we pour our consciousness and then have the experience of what it is to be stuck inside that container. This is the root of all suffering and contraction of consciousness. Bringing attention and insight into this process is the first step to getting free of it.
Meditation develops our extraordinary power of attention and secondly, meditation vastly expands our innate ability to let go of the container, the limited I-awareness that restricts consciousness, even while having the freedom to pick up this insubstantial sense of self again and use it to fulfill our functions in the world as we lovingly serve others. By completely letting go of all identifications, we can once again experience the total freedom of unbounded consciousness and fully know our essential nature, transcending language, hinted at as pure limitless compassion, all-encompassing love, and sublime ecstasy – resting in an infinite, serene, spaciousness of Being, untouched by fear, anger or desire. The direct experience of this is your birthright, it is the state of meditation and every bit as much yours as are the waking, dream and deep sleep states.
Meditation confronts us with the utterly compulsive habit of the mind to generate content – thoughts, feelings, images, perceptions, sensations, memories, fantasies, etc. – and the equally compulsive habit to immediately identify with them and the process that created them. You have a mind, but you’re not your mind. You have thoughts, but you’re not your thoughts. You have feelings but you’re not your feelings. You are not these things, nor are you the one who generated them. You are not your thoughts nor are you the thinker! It is those patterns of thoughts and feelings and ways of acting that make up who you think you are.
If you’re not that amalgam, then who are you? To discover who you truly are and aren’t, you must meditate! Then you will also find you have tremendous freedom to change those old patterns that make up who you thought you were. These are the patterns of the conditioned mind that block you’re ability to manifest your essential nature – your loving, compassionate, fearless, ecstatic nature. You are more exquisite than your mind could ever imagine, just as you are. You are more beautiful, more loving, more patient and tolerant than your mind can conceive of. Come home to who you truly are, meditate on that, become immersed in that. Your radiance will illumine all around you. Every time we remember the truth of who we are, the divine nature of each and every being, grace descends upon us and into the world. We can truly be free of the suffering brought on by ignorance, by the ordinary mind and its fears and aversions, its annoyances, anger and hatred. Grace awaits us in every moment of remembrance.
Supporting Your Meditation Practice
I’m writing this on a glorious day in early April; winter has finally melted away and the warmth of Spring has unleashed her energy all around us. Spring brings the power of life and rebirth right into our midst as nature thrusts her flowers, fresh new leaves and growth upon us. Even if it takes pushing through concrete and stone, life will not be denied its place in the sun! This timeless annual rite of renewal is both joyous and sacred. When we are touched by the Sacred, the Divine, we feel a holiness – a wholeness – that goes beyond our ordinary mind. It allows that “peace which surpasseth understanding” to arise, undisturbed by mental chatter. We may feel a spaciousness of Being, light and free as a Spring breeze. Sometimes we stumble into that state, not knowing how we got there or what invoked it. Other times we may feel it as our meditative practices clear the haze of thoughts from our mind, revealing the open, spacious sky of awareness. How do we return to that or even get there in the first place? What reminds us of that and what can we plant in our surrounds that will give us pause to touch the Sacred? What has to be cleared so our efforts can blossom and bear fruit?
We live in an age when we are bombarded from every direction with messages that essentially tell us we won’t be happy or safe or loved unless we buy this or that, and we can’t be at peace until we have it! The multi-billion dollar advertising industry’s main objective is to convince us that we are missing something vital and we won’t be happy, whole, healthy, cared for, etc. unless we fill that deficiency with whatever they are selling. For decades we’ve heard the Rolling Stones sing, “I can’t get no satisfaction!” The underlying message of the tidal wave of advertising we encounter daily is deficiency. It is so pervasive that even though we know it’s there, we become numb to it and the impact it has. Industrial psychology has researched and promoted the unconscious effects of advertising to drive people to buy. The relentless media blitz is saying we are lacking, empty, we are a hole (not holy!) needing to be filled! Eat this, drink that, wear this, drive that and we’ll feel better! This so resonates with the ordinary ego mind’s vulnerabilities and insecurities that it falls for it over and over again, remaining in a state of agitation, constantly seeking to be filled with the next thing, pleasure, relationship, etc., seduced by the promise that happiness and fulfillment will come with what it has at last come to possess.. We’ll consume the entire planet and beyond if we don’t free ourselves of this myth! And we’ll threaten and kill each other fighting to see who can consume the most first.
To counteract the force of all these false messages, from external and internal sources, we can practice living meditation – moment-to-moment awareness of the truth of our own fullness, our own Buddha nature, our Divine wholeness. To support that ongoing awareness we can do just as advertisers do with billboards, pictures, music, etc. to convey their message, we can have reminders of the truth surrounding us – pictures, sayings, symbols, sacred music – that summon that expanded awareness to us. For one person that may be an icon of Mother Mary, for another it may be Kwan Yin or Buddha or Jesus, or a quote on a post-it note! Every sense domain, visual, auditory, taste, scent, and touch, offers ways of delightfully reminding us of the Sacred – a simple flower, scented oil, the touch of a loved one. Use them all to remain mindful and steady, unmoved by the avalanche of marketing directed at you. In this way we can nurture the flowering of our meditative mind.
Daily sitting meditation is essential as it allows us to become so rooted in that deep awareness that we at last become truly free. This is Swatantriya Meditation – the meditation of ultimate freedom, coming to rest in our true nature. When we are established in that inner posture of wisdom, recognizing and appreciating the Sacred in each moment, then we are free to treat every being with the patience, compassion and love they deserve. Then we effortlessly recognize and appreciate the spontaneous revelations of the Sacred in each moment. Rebirth and renewal are continuous and we fully participate in them.
May all our practices truly benefit everyone and may all beings become completely free of suffering!
People meditate for a variety of reasons, for improving health, enhancing performance, increasing creativity, reducing stress, for religious or spiritual pursuits and the quest for wisdom and freedom from suffering. All of these can be accomplished if you meditate daily. The basic practice of meditation is deceptively simple: you sit, focus your attention and watch what happens. Of course we need to know what’s the best way to sit, what do we focus on and what is there to watch?
Meditation traditions vary in their answers to these questions. Some traditions focus on devotion, some on knowledge, others on mantra and yet others on mindfulness or watchfulness. We’ll explore different techniques in the meditation group. Choose one that suits you best and practice it regularly. There’s an ancient saying, “it’s better to dig one well a hundred feet deep than 10 wells 10 feet deep.” Choose a meditation method and stay with it until you’ve tapped into the source of what you’re seeking deep within. I practiced meditation for many, many years using the mantra and instructions that my meditation master, Swami Muktananda, gave me. That mantra is Om Namah Shivaya, an ancient, extraordinarily powerful Sanskrit mantra that means, “I honor the Divine Within,” within everything and everyone, including yourself.
How best to sit? A meditation posture that allows you to sit comfortably erect, steady but not rigid, supports the mind going into meditation rather than sleep. You can sit cross-legged in a classic meditation posture, or use a meditation bench for a kneeling posture or use a chair that allows you to sit with your back properly aligned. You can also sit on the floor using a wall for back support. Once seated, breathe slowly and deeply, allowing the body and the mind to relax and release. With every exhalation you rid yourself of toxins and wastes you don’t need. With every exhalation allow the body and mind to let go and expel whatever you are best rid of. With each inhalation you take in fresh air and nourish your body with its most needed nutrient, oxygen. Breathe in deeply and refresh your whole body and mind. As you breathe effortlessly, your body has the wisdom to continue to relax and let go more and more deeply, even as you turn your attention toward the object of focus in your meditation practice.
What do I focus on? There are countless meditation techniques with countless things to focus on. One of the best is the mantra Om Namah Shivaya. It focuses the mind, aids the body in letting go of stress and begins to open our awareness to who we truly are, beyond the confines of the roles we play and our habitual ways of seeing ourselves. To use the mantra for meditation, simply repeat it silently to yourself as continuously as possible. When the mind wanders away from Om Namah Shivaya into some thought, memory, feeling, sensation or fantasy, gently bring your attention back to Om Namah Shivaya, focusing on the mantra as fully as possible. You can also use the Hamsa mantra in the same way. Hamsa means “I Am.” It goes with the breath, Ham (pronounced hum) on the inhalation and Sa (saaaaaa) on the exhalation. The intensity of your focus comes solely through the use of your attention. Your body is totally relaxed and at ease. Over time the practice of meditation will unfold deeper and deeper levels of awareness as the mind quiets and the contents of the mind absorb less and less of your attention. The state of meditation is one of vast, indeed infinite spaciousness of awareness, all-encompassing, all-embracing. It can be experienced while going about one’s daily activities, while sleeping soundly and even while dreaming. This state is as natural to us as our other states of consciousness, but we haven’t had the instruction and the support we need to fully access it. As you develop your practice of meditation, you will find the enormous inner resources it makes available to you will transform your experience of everyday life. As you silently repeat the mantra Om Namah Shivaya over and over again, absorbing your attention in it, the mantra will draw your mind into the Transcendent, the Absolute, what many call the Divine. That’s the infinite spaciousness of your own pure Being, the awareness of “I AM,” beyond the mind and body. You are that. Repeat the mantra with the awareness of your own sublime essential nature.
What do I watch and how best do I watch? As you close your eyes and turn your attention inside you encounter the mind and everything that runs through it. The state of meditation is already fully present and unbroken by anything we do or think. The awareness of it is obscured by the contents of the mind and our habit of giving all our attention to those contents, no matter how awful, stressful or ridiculous they may be at times! Step back and watch the mind without engaging it. As you sit quietly, your body relaxed and steady, your attention on the mantra, you will find that you are beginning to detach from the mind and body, able to watch, unperturbed, without judgment, whatever is going through them. It’s as if you were sitting on the bank of a river, watching peacefully whatever flows by, untouched, unmoved by whatever it may be. In meditation you sit on the bank of the stream of consciousness, watching what passes you by. You may find yourself aware of the mind repeating the mantra even as you watch from a place of utter stillness and inner spaciousness. You’re beginning to access the awareness of your own transcendent Self, the Witness, the one who is awake and aware even while you are dreaming and lets you know you dreamt something, the one who is awake even during deep sleep and lets you know you were aware of nothingness. By entering Witness consciousness we’re able to de-condition the mind and body, freeing them of the many negative habitual responses we’re bound by. It also allows us to explore the boundlessness of awareness and the inner realms of profound relaxation, visions and more. The Witness watches everything and it does so without judgment, with infinite compassion and unshakable equanimity. The Witness, your own Self, is in the state of meditation all the time. You access that awareness through mantra and meditation techniques in order to be able to know the Knower, to experience the Witness, the source of Consciousness, at any time in any place. Practice detaching and watching the mind, the body and life from the perspective of the Witness. In this way you can bring the benefits of meditation into all areas of your life.
As your meditation practice develops you will learn more and more about yourself and about this highest of human endeavors. If you want to read about the practice of meditation, the inner realms you can explore, the psychology of meditation and yoga, and the transformative process that unfolds through the practice of meditation you might want to read The Soul’s Journey: Guidance From The Divine Within, available from Barnes&Noble.com, Amazon.com, or a local bookseller.
May every meditation be a revelation and every moment a meditation!
Lawrence Edwards, PhD
These two 20 minute audio recordings are offered for free to support your meditation practice. Simply sit in a comfortable position, allow your mind and body to settle and then listen to the recordings, put them on your MP3 player or computer and listen to them when you need a break, but not while driving!
After you click on the above links you can pause the player, right click on it and choose to save the file, or it may say “save as source.” Then you will have the recording to listen to whenever you want.
Click HERE for the Anam Cara Meditation YouTube channel.