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Practical Meditation

by Steve Hounsome(more info)

listed in meditation, originally published in issue 14 - August 1996

Meditation has been used for thousands of years, in many different ways and in cultures across the globe. It is thought primarily to be an Eastern practice as a means to finding spiritual enlightenment.

As its popularity has spread we find that cultures the world over are still using it and in ever increasing numbers. Consequently there are a great many more methods and systems, each offering something of value to the commonly bewildered novice. Still, however, the popular idea and image of meditation is that of a group of people, sitting cross legged in a room filled with candles and incense, all chanting mysterious mantras.

Practical Meditation
Whilst this image has been accurate and still applies in some circumstances, offering many benefits to its practitioners as it has for thousands of years, the modern image is very different. As meditation comes to be accepted more as the norm for the ‘developed’ Western world, so we must learn to adapt its practice to our ‘developed’ minds and bodies. Meditation must now find its place alongside the increasingly accepted complementary therapies such as Aromatherapy and Reflexology. Whilst mantras and difficult postures can be learnt by the Western practitioner, the numbers of those with the motivation to do so are few compared with the thousands who find a more down-to-earth, practical approach more suitable.

We are now hearing of General Practitioners recommending, and even funding, meditation courses as an answer to the infiltration of stress and all its many and varied symptoms to the office worker, factory employee, executive and housewife. The various complementary and holistic approaches to the maintenance of health and well being are becoming accepted within the National Health Service and private sector. Meditation fits perfectly alongside these treatments and needs now to be seen in this light, as well as that of the path to nirvana.

To achieve this, the mystery must be taken out of meditation. It is the average person of ‘the mass’ who is the common practitioner of the subject now, not only the Tibetan or Buddhist monk living a life of peace and solitude, away from the rush and pace of ‘civilised’, material society. I should make it quite clear at this stage, that I am in no way decrying the spiritual use of meditation, in whatever form. Indeed this has served humanity well throughout its long history. What I am advocating here is the adaptation and integration of the wisdom this history offers us to our 9 to 5 approach to life. Indeed, it may well be that we come to see this as a symptom of our society regaining at long last, something of the spirituality that surely lies at the heart of all people, whatever their chosen path or task in life. It can be argued that even the most logical and practical of approaches to meditation will one day result in the unfolding and flowering of a sense of the sacred in the individual. In the meantime, however, we must apply that logic to the everyday, practical approach to meditation.

As mentioned, many people assume that in order to meditate one must sit cross legged. In the East children are often brought up with this posture as part of their everyday life, sitting this way to learn and eat. In the West, our bodies and limbs are not used to this and so we find it uncomfortable when we try to remain in this position for any length of time. Instead we find that a straight backed chair is ideal for our meditation. The old-fashioned dining room chair with tall back is, in fact, quite ideal. The typical office chair, with adjustable positions offers a good alternative. This allows for a reasonably straight back, which the chair takes the strain of, not the spine. One should, however, just relax and avoid a taut posture, not concentrating on keeping the back rigid. Instead find a place that is comfortable for you, close your eyes, and relax.

Next comes the necessary procedure of relaxation, both of body, mind and then the breath. To relax the body, it is useful to become aware of how tense we are at the outset. A good way of doing this is to tighten and tense the muscles in each group, then breathing out and relaxing those muscles in turn, through the body. Do not snap the muscles tightly but gradually and gently pull them in, moving your body accordingly. Focus your mind on what you are doing, take your time and allow your body to let go. If you then include a deep breath in as you tense the muscles and a good breath out as you relax, this soon results in a slowing of the body’s activities and systems and allows a sense of calm and relaxation to be instilled.

Now we come to the relaxation of the mind. This is perhaps the most common stumbling block to those learning meditation as an aid to their lives. In the West we are used to different forms of constant communication, from television, radio, advertising and other forms of media, as well as each other. As such the mind is in constant use. Even when we sleep the mind is still awake and working, albeit it on a different level that is subconscious. As such the mind comes to the conclusion that it is in control, it is that which demands and regulates our thoughts, direction and motivation in life. Consequently, when in meditation we try to still the mind, it panics and refuses.

What is needed therefore is a method of achieving the stilling of the mind, yet allowing it to think or feel that it still controls us. It becomes practically impossible for most of us to simply sit, relax and let our thoughts drift away. This soon results in day-dreaming and becoming more tense as we ponder all those tasks left waiting to be done, however trivial we think they are. So the mind must be occupied and partly tricked into submission. The mind must be occupied, yet relaxed.

To achieve this, we focus on the breath. Put your concentration, your awareness, on to your breathing fully, but do not strain yourself in the process. Now begin to count your breath. Count to four as you breathe out and four as you breathe in. It does not matter how long you take for each breath, only that each breath lasts for a count of four. Find your own pattern in this and soon a rhythm will be established that is your own, unique, relaxed rhythm.

Continue breathing in this fourfold manner for as long as you wish, until you feel it becoming automatic. As you have relaxed your body first, the rhythm that is established is that of your relaxed self. Deepening the breathing slightly as the fourfold breath demands allows for a deeper level still of relaxation. The mind has no objection or feelings of panic at losing control as it is kept occupied by counting to four.

Since counting to four can be an automatic task for us, we can then let go of the conscious count and allow the rhythm of the breathing to remain. Continue with this breathing for as long as feels comfortable and you are then ready for the next stage. We are able then to effectively lull the mind into a sense of relaxation and drifting that is not day dreaming, but a focussed slowing and eventual discarding. It may take many tries to click into this knack, but with a little perseverance and determination, applied gently and with patience, the mind will allow you to slip into a beautiful, relaxed state of body and mind.

Now turn your attention inwards. In this we enter a world that is the subject of much exciting discussion in the medical and scientific worlds, that of energy. By this, we mean here that life force energy, the flow of power that is shared by all living things and that indeed exists throughout the Universe.

Quantum physics is now proving what ‘occultists’ have known for a long time, namely that this energy shapes the reality we experience and that it responds to our programming. The nature of what we think directs a flow of energy that crystallises and becomes physical, tangible reality, or put simply, energy follows thought. This advocates and encourages a sense of personal responsibility that is difficult to achieve and then maintain with the pressures we now face in our lives. This makes meditation a required practice to regain and continue the control necessary for such responsibility.

Since energy follows thought, place your thoughts at your feet and on the ground and Earth beneath you. All too often we live our lives in a constant rush, never quite feeling that we call the shots and determine the path and direction of ourselves and our life. We become ungrounded by this over-bearing activity and so lose any feeling of passivity and calm we may have had. It is necessary then to establish once more our connection with the ground and with the Earth. We are constantly receiving one form of life force energy from the Earth, our feet acting like receptors when we allow them to come into contact with its surface.

In meditation, this contact becomes an inner one. In turn we receive stability, control, endurance, strength and vitality from the Earth. It is part of the Earth’s natural function and purpose to give, promote and sustain life and health. Here, we are forging a link that allows for this process to become clearer and more effective. Over a period of time as you practise your meditation, you will find that you become more grounded as a person and as a whole in your life. Grounding is also necessary in meditation to ensure that what we experience within it is real and not just a flight of fancy or imagination. The principle, once grounded, then becomes, if you think you did, you did! Being grounded also means that we are able to safely journey off in our meditation, to other realms of existence, if that is our desire, but these things must follow a clearly defined and habitual practice of the basics.

To ground yourself, place your awareness on your feet and the earth and imagine that the flow of life force energy within and without your body and being moves downward too. Remember that energy follows thought. Imagine that you take root in the Earth, just like a tree or plant. Feel the warm rich soil all around your feet and begin to feel its goodness seeping into you. Feel the minerals from the Earth feeding you. Gradually you will have the feeling that energy and power is flowing into you from below, as indeed it is.

Open yourself in attitude of mind and heart to absorb this freely given gift from the Earth and imagine, in whatever form you wish, that the life force energy seeps throughout your body, spreading through your bones, veins, muscles and all parts of you. Allow it to rise from your feet to your head, keeping it within your body, as it is meant for you. If you experience difficulty with this, you might like to help the energy along by breathing in as you imagine the energy rising. Be careful not to change the level of your breathing however, as this process is most effective when all the bodies systems are relaxed.

Now that you are grounded, it is time to become connected! This is really the same as grounding, but in reverse. Just as we receive an earthy, stabilising force from below, so do we receive a guiding, higher, lighter and healing flow of life force energy from above and all around. As we relax and open to receive this higher life force, so we absorb a more defined and refined form of the flow of creation itself. This is also further insurance against the wanderings and fantasies of the mind, giving you absolute assurance that what you are experiencing, feeling and thinking in your meditation is real.

To perform the connecting, open to and imagine the higher life force all around you, flowing throughout infinity and all the Universe, gently down to you. Reach up in your awareness and allow this beautiful flow to slip gently down through your body and being through the top or crown of your head. As you do so, relax and let the energy cleanse, purify and heal you. Slowly this force and energy seeps through you, from head to toe.

As it does so, it brings you to a point of balance with the Grounding energy, established within you from below. So you come to a point at the centre of your self that is a place of perfect rest, calm and peace. You are now centered, being both grounded below and connected above. Just sit now, and enjoy the feeling. It really is a most pleasurable experience, making meditation and the anticipation of it a joy to do, not a chore or a strict discipline. Discipline is important, but you really must want to meditate in order to obtain the full benefit from it.

A few minutes, or even moments at this point of balance is enough to remind you that everything is working out as it should, individually, locally and globally. You may not be able to see or feel this in your meditation for a time, but once achieved, this causes a certain permanent relaxation that removes a massive cause of tension and worry from body, mind and spirit. Little by little as you practice your meditation, preferably to some degree daily, this centre of balance, peace and calm becomes a conscious part of your everyday life.

There is a great deal of encouraging talk of energy medicine being the medicine of the future at present. From even this short introduction to this use of meditation it is possible to see that meditation has a central place in this new development in the maintenance of good and increased health in people the world over.

As the practice of meditation continues you will find that you are more relaxed as a person, more free of the strain of modern living and with a state of control and balance as an integral part of your character. You may even find that meditation begins to open you up to deeper levels of your personality and self and helps to install within individuals and societies that which has been lacking in our time of war, poverty, violence and greed – a sense of the sacred.


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About Steve Hounsome

For those who may wish to learn more about this approach to meditation, I have a book available entitled Practical Meditation. This covers the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of everyday meditation, covering the Grounding and Connecting technique in detail and including over 50 meditations to establish health in the energy systems of the human being and for personal development. I have also produced a range of 11 meditation cassettes, including one of the Grounding and Connecting meditation. Details of these can be obtained from the publishers, Capall Bann at Freshfields, Chieveley, Berkshire, RG20 8TF, or by phoning me on 01962 864022.

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