Meditation creates a state of mind. Once you are familiar with the state of mind then even by just coming into posture, or intending to be still, then the meditative state occurs. It is easy to think that obtaining a meditative state is hard and that it takes time and effort. Yet meditation is a natural state which is easily accessible. The difficulty is not one of achieving it but of recognising it and staying in it. How do we recognise it? How do we know when we have reached a meditative state of mind? It is a state of quiet alertness. It is as though the mind is observing itself.
Exercise 1 - This is a simple exercise to help to feel what a meditative state of mind is like.
Just sit for a few moments and become aware of your thoughts. Now wait for the next thought to arise. It may be just a few seconds or much longer, but that time before the thought arises is meditative.
Present Moment Awareness
Meditation is a state of present moment awareness. When you were waiting for the thought to arise you were neither thinking about the past nor the future. Here is a moment of peacefulness without stress. The more we can extend the present moment alertness the less we are dealing with the internal stress. Stress is often made worse because we cannot let go. We are either worrying about what has happened or worrying about what will happen. We cannot change what has happened nor are we certain of what will happen but the guilt and the fear eat away at us. By meditating we are stopping the past and the future and just sitting for a while in the present moment away from fear and anxiety.
When we are waiting for the thought to arise we are alert as though ready and waiting. It is therefore possible to be alert not only to our thoughts but to whatever is going on around us. Meditation may initially be a withdrawn state, but it can be a state where we are active and participative with what is happening around us.
To start with this observation requires a lot of concentration, but as the state becomes familiar the mind will enter it more easily. There comes a time when you prepare for meditation and even though the mind is still busy with thoughts, you are aware of the meditative state forming like a quiet space behind the thoughts. It is as though there are two states at the same time, the thoughts and a background stillness. It is easy then just to slip into the stillness.
There is another meditative state which we have all experienced at some time. This can be described as connected awareness. In this state we feel as though we are connected to everything else. We have occasionally, naturally and without effort, experienced this state. Often in nature, particularly when we are presented with nature on a grand scale, by the ocean, in mountains, the power of a swollen river. We are touched by a feeling of our own insignificance and size. We also feel it in the first flush of new love, when everything seems bright and beautiful. We feel it the presence of a newborn child, perhaps seeming to touch a memory of innocence. We may also feel it when we are in sacred places, where people have prayed or meditated for hundreds of years.
In this state of connected awareness, we feel a sense of oneness. Of being connected to everything. We may also in this state feel intuitive and guided. It is often associated with the heart centre and feelings of warmth or love. It is a natural glimpse of a meditative state of mind.
Imagine being able to reach that state effortlessly and at will. Part of the purpose of meditation practice is to remind ourselves and make it familiar to us so that it is not chanced upon but accessed. If it becomes accessible then we start to have a choice. We have an alternative state of perception with which to respond to the world.
Exercise 2 - Think of an experience that has touched you, e.g. a place or scenery that moved you. Picture it in your mind and try to recreate the feeling of that experience in your body and emotions. Stay with it as long as you can.
There is another state of meditation which we can all experience, but is less accessible and available. This state of mind seems that it cannot be created at will. It happens when it happens. This is a state of expanded awareness. In this state we are no longer aware of ourselves as a separate entity, body, mind, emotions, but we feel as though we are part of everything. This is a glimpse of our true nature.
Because there are no bodily experiences, this is a less practical meditative state, in that we cannot easily use it in daily life. But it does give us a direct experience of what we are capable of, it expands our conscious thought and helps us to remove self imposed limitations.