Meditation without metaphysics

There are various forms of meditation, but they share one thing: an  admixture of pseudo-science and religion with practical exercises. This puts off  many people.  Indeed, I have myself been greatly irritated by such metaphysical claims. Consequently, the reader may rest confident that what follows is purely a set of exercises without any pretence at an explanation of how they achieve a change in mental state. (I do, however, offer a few possible physical reasons at the end of the article).  The are a mixture of several forms of meditation which I have used over the years.

The silent mantra

Choose a two syllable sound, for example DAREEM. It should be meaningless because the spoken mantra should ideally not be heard by the meditator after the introductory exercise. The selection of a meaningful word, however obscure, carries with it the possibility of vocalisation within the meditator’s hearing. A meaningless sound does not.

The reason why the mantra must not be heard externally by the meditator is unknown. You may test the claim by saying the mantra out loud after two weeks of meditation. Afterwards you will discover that your meditational state will roughly resemble that at the start of your meditational practice. Even after years of meditating the reversing effect of a mantra spoken out loud is not wholly lost.

However, hearing a mantra spoken out loud does not mean that you are back to square one. A few days meditating will restore you to the meditational state you had achieved before hearing the spoken mantra.

The introductory exercise

The exercise should last fifteen minutes.

Adopt a relaxed sitting position. Close your eyes. Sit quietly for two minutes. Begin by chanting your chosen mantra out loud in a normal tone of voice.

Over a period of five minutes, gradually reduce the volume until you are mouthing the mantra almost inaudibly. At that point stop mouthing the mantra and begin to repeat it in your head. Continue this for ten minutes.#

At the end of ten minutes sit quietly for two minutes with your eyes still closed. After two minutes open your eyes very slowly.

The introductory exercise is best undertaken with the aid of a friend who should quietly tell the meditator when to (1) begin the vocalised mantra, (2) begin the mental mantra, (3) cease the mental mantra (4) end the exercise. The friend should also try to ensure that the reduction in volume of the vocalised mantra is reasonably steady by gently prompting the meditator to alter the volume if he or she seems to be going too quickly or too slowly towards silence.

If a friend cannot be found to perform the task, make a tape recording of the instructions (1-4). Monitoring of the volume of the vocalised mantra in such circumstances is obviously impossible. Therefore, insert into the tape an instruction which tells you that only a minute of the vocalisation is left, that is, after four minutes of the vocalisation.

Normal meditation

To be effective the meditation must be frequent and regular but the extent of each meditation and its position in the day may vary. I normally meditate for twenty minutes twice a day, in the early morning and early evening. Daily meditation may not be absolutely necessary for the very experienced meditator with years of experience – although I recommend it – but it is a must for beginners.

Meditation should always be conducted with the eyes closed and, if possible, in a sitting position. If for any reason this is impossible, perform the meditation lying on your back.

Judge time by mentally estimating it. (This is easier than you might think. After a little while you will be able to judge time surprisingly exactly. Simply tell yourself that you wish to meditate for a certain time rather in the fashion of giving yourself an instruction before sleeping to wake at a particular time).

If in the beginning you find that you misjudge the time, do not worry. Just open your eyes when it feels that you have meditated long enough. If you have grossly overestimated the time spent on meditation – suppose you open your eyes after only ten minutes of a twenty minute meditation – close the eyes again and resume the meditation. Do not worry if you exceed the proposed meditation time.

2. The meditation

Begin each meditation by sitting with closed eyes for two minutes. During this time do not use the mantra and try to physically relax and clear the mind of thought.

After two minutes begin to repeat the mantra silently. Do not try to concentrate intently on the mantra. Rather, the intention should be to attain a state whereby the mantra is produced almost unthinkingly in the same way that manual tasks such as knitting become virtually automatic. At first you will be somewhat self-conscious, but as you develop your experience the mantra will seem to become, in a curious way, both more silent yet more dominant. After a few months of daily meditation the mantra will seem like a wave lapping gently but firmly in your head.

As you use the mantra your meditational state will alter. You may develop a chain of thoughts, often in the form of free association. Do not attempt to restart the mantra while the thoughts continue. Alternatively the mantra may lead you to a state in which you are not conscious of yourself. You will know that this has happened when you suddenly become self-aware again and realise that time has passed for which you cannot account. This unaware, unselfconscious state will be achieved more and more often the further down the meditational road you travel. After five years of meditation I feel as though I am permanently in a low grade meditational state. Do not worry for this does not mean that you will spend your days as a zombie if you attain such a state, merely that the external world will seem less immediate and intense and, consequently, more manageable.

Sometimes, particularly when you are just beginning your meditational career, the use of the mantra will result in neither a chain of thoughts nor the loss of self-awareness and may produce tension, even distinct pains about the head and face. If this happens cease the mantra and sit quietly until the discomfort is removed. Do not open your eyes . When the discomfort ends, restart the mantra. If you strike a meditation where this happens repeatedly, cease the meditation after two or thee attempts to use the mantra.

3. Ending the meditation

Sit quietly for two minutes will your eyes still closed. Then open the eyes extremely slowly taking approximately thirty seconds.

4. Interruptions

Obviously try to ensure that you are not interrupted but if you are, take thirty seconds preparation with you eyes closed – as with the normal meditational ending – before you attempt to open your eyes.

Problems for beginners

The temptation for beginners is always to strive too hard. The success of this meditational technique depends on doing the exact opposite. Always remember that you are not in a competitive situation and that you do not need to work hard in the normal sense to get the best out of your mediation.

The other difficulty you may encounter are pains – outside the meditation time – about the body, particularly the face, head and neck. I experienced quite dramatic facial pains when I began meditating. However, these will diminish rapidly and should have vanished completely after three or four weeks. So perseverance is the name of the game.

Possible physical reasons for meditational effects

I can suggest three possibilities, all completely unverified, which may either cause the loss of the normally dominant cognitive function (commonly thought of as consciousness) or enhance normally subordinate cognitive functions to the detriment of the normally dominant cognitive function:

1. The meditation affects the blood flow to the brain

2. The meditation alters the hormonal balance

3. The meditation produces a direct effect on the brain by flooding it with a single piece of information, the mantra.

Personally, I favour number 3.

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