Growing up in England in the ‘60s, we had all heard of meditation when The Beatles traveled to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In my early 20s, I was living and working in London, enjoying all the things that a young man could. In the early 70s, my job moved me to a smaller, provincial town on the east coast of England. It was winter, I didn’t know anyone, and I was looking for something to do one evening when I stumbled upon an advertisement for a course in meditation. Most people have a reason for the things they do or why they choose to learn meditation, but for me, I thought, “Maybe I’ll meet some girls at this course.”
I took the course and didn’t meet any girls, as I had hoped, but I did meet someone who turned out to be the most important person in my life and the best friend I could have ever wished for: my Self. Rediscovering who I really am changed my life and has guided me through everything that has unfolded since. Bringing your Self back into your life is the greatest gift of meditation.
What Is Meditation?
Meditation is a journey from external activity to inner silence. For most of your life, you may be busy doing things, but meditation will give you the opportunity to just Be. The opportunity to remember that in your essence you are a human being rather than a human doing. Meditation guides you to quieter and quieter levels of the thinking process, until you slip beyond thought to discover the perfection that you are and have always been. The perfection that has been hidden by layers of stress, fatigue, toxins, doubts, fears, and confusion.
When I first started teaching, meditation was generally lumped in with other things, as a technique for stress management. You know the importance of reducing the stress, fatigue, and toxins in your life. Together they are responsible for the vast majority of the health issues in the world today. During meditation, when you make your inward journey, the mind settles down, the body settles down, and you experience a deep state of rest. Rest is how the body naturally heals itself, and it heals itself by throwing off what’s not supposed to be there—stress, fatigue, and toxins. Meditation provides a de-stressing or detoxing of the mind and body, opening the door to a happier, healthier life.
However, even though meditation is a powerful antidote to stress and toxicity, I think of this as a side benefit. The true value of meditation is the spiritual awakening it brings. Through regular practice of meditation, you not only reconnect with your own essence, you also begin to understand your interconnectedness with everyone and everything else. The separateness, which leads to so many challenges in the world, begins to dissolve into a deep sense of peace and harmony; an unconditional love begins to bloom, bringing understanding and compassion; and your connection with the Divine is reestablished opening you to higher states of consciousness.
Between any two thoughts you have, there’s a space. If there wasn’t a space, everything would be happening at the same time. This space has two very important qualities.
First, it’s silent. If it wasn’t, it would be the next thought. Second, it’s not an empty silence, but a silence filled with infinite possibilities. Even though most of the time, your thoughts follow certain predictable patterns, conditioned by your memories and desires, between any two thoughts is the possibility for any other thought. However, you are not your thoughts; you are the one who is thinking the thoughts so the only place where the thinker of the thoughts can be is also in the spaces between your thoughts. This is your soul, your essence, and who you really are at your most profound level. And, because your essence is in the spaces between your thoughts, who you really are is silence and infinite possibilities.
During meditation, your awareness settles to finer and finer levels of thought until you slip into the spaces between the thoughts, you dip into the silence, the infinite possibilities, you bump into the Self. When you jump into a swimming pool, you come out wet, you bring some of the water with you. Just so, when you slip into the spaces between your thoughts, you bring the silence and infinite possibilities back into your life. You begin to restore the memory of who you really are.
By making this journey back and forth on a regular basis, you begin to reintegrate these qualities into your everyday life. You reestablish the silence that underlies all the noise and activity so that even in the midst of chaos and confusion, even in the midst of dynamic activity, you can still remain calm, you can still think clearly and creatively. As infinite possibilities begin to dawn, you are able to break out of the prison of habits and conditioning that you have created for yourself. You enter a world of freewill, where you make the choices that are correct for you.
As you reduce your stress levels and begin to make the right lifestyle choices with your diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, your health naturally improves. When you feel healthier and happier and live life from your essence, your relationships become more harmonious and meaningful. As individual relationships become more harmonious, the collective relationships of a society grow harmoniously. So you can predict that, when enough people practice meditation, world peace is possible.
The benefits discussed here often begin to be noticed in the first few days or weeks of meditating regularly. The spiritual benefits also begin from your first meditation. Although the spiritual benefits may take longer to manifest fully in your life, their effects are profound, eventually revealing a world of higher states of consciousness to you. Everything you experience in the relative world exists or, you can say is localized, in space and time. Even your thoughts and emotions, while you may not be able to locate them in space, have a duration in time. However, the one who is having the experience, the Real You, is beyond space and time. The Real You is nonlocal. During meditation, you make the journey from the local to the nonlocal and back again. Through regular practice, the nonlocal becomes integrated along with the local. You begin to live 200 percent of life, outer fullness merged with inner fullness, enlightenment.
How to Meditate
Nowadays, meditation covers many different techniques with differing benefits. What I am describing here, and what I recommend everyone includes in their daily practice, is a silent form of meditation.
Like any journey, it’s useful to have a vehicle to carry you from activity to inner silence. You can use the observation of your breath or a specific sound, called a mantra, for this purpose. A mantra is a sound with no particular meaning. Regular thoughts have a sound and a meaning. The meaning leads you from one thought to the next, keeping you on the horizontal, active level of the mind. Because the mantra has no particular meaning, there’s nothing to hold you at the active level of the mind so your awareness settles to deeper, quieter levels. A mantra chosen specifically for you needs to be learned from a qualified teacher; however, you can start by using the generic mantra, So Hum.
So Hum Meditation
Before you begin, there are three important points to successful meditation:
1. The less you do during meditation, the greater the rewards. Be easy and effortless.
2. Thoughts are part of the process—accept them and let them go.
3. Let go of any expectations about the practice, you meditate for the results in daily life not for any particular experience in meditation.
Follow these steps to try the So Hum meditation:
- Sitting comfortably with eyes closed, take a few deep breaths, letting go of whatever doesn’t concern you right now.
- Silently begin repeating the mantra So Hum without forcing, concentrating, or controlling it in any way. You may find that this mantra automatically follows the rhythm of your breath. Repetition of the mantra is always easy and effortless. Never try to think the mantra, it’s more like listening to it.
- Whenever you notice you have drifted away from the mantra to thinking other thoughts or listening to noises, easily return to repeating the mantra. Don’t look for any particular experience during the meditation, just follow these steps innocently.
Meditation will always give you the experience you need at that time. If you are tired, you may fall asleep during the meditation; if there’s a lot of stress in your life, you may have a lot of thoughts and feel restless. Other times, you may become very quiet and peaceful. All of these are correct experiences.
It’s recommended to practice this meditation for about 15 to 20 minutes, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon or whenever is convenient for you. At the end of the meditation, always take a few minutes to sit easily before resuming your regular activity.
5 Common Meditation Questions
As you begin you meditation practice, here are some answers to questions you may have.
1. Will I get any benefit from meditation?
Yes, everyone can benefit from meditation. Whatever your goals and interests, meditation will support all aspects of your life. It will help you to overcome challenges and discover your path to greater fulfillment.
2. Will I be able to meditate?
Yes, anyone can meditate. The mantra is a thought. If you can think a thought, you can meditate. By virtue of the fact that you are reading this, you qualify.
3. How long will it take for me to experience the benefits?
The benefits begin from the first time you meditate and continue to grow as you continue with your regular practice. Because the changes are sometimes subtle, you may not notice them immediately but they will be there. Be patient and with regular practice, the magic will unfold in your life.
4. Is meditation part of a religion?
No, meditation is a spiritual practice. Although it doesn’t belong to any religion itself, it will enrich and deepen the beliefs and understandings of followers of any religion.
5. When I learn to meditate, will I need to change my lifestyle?
The only change necessary is to find the time to meditate regularly every day. All other changes will happen gradually and naturally at the most appropriate time for your personal growth.