If you had an amazingly useful tool or natural ability that you took for granted, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? Perhaps you would want to intentionally use it and cultivate your ability. Many people would say “yes”! Well you do, and you can, and it’s called “awareness” or consciousness and you are it. You would neither exist nor know anything without it. We all use it everyday, but, it usually goes unnoticed by people because it’s transparent and works behind the scene, so-to-speak. It has no content. It is like an empty screen or space, where anything can appear, like a film. We live our lives preoccupied, fascinated, frustrated, happy, sad, and curious, etc. with what appears in our awareness, like the mind. All consciousness is self-consciousness, therefore meditation is ultimately meditation on the Self.
What if you temporarily stopped looking at what appears in your mind or outside you—on the screen? What if you stopped thinking about all your interests, joys, troubles and responsibilities and quietly paid attention to only the feeling of being present, to what arises in your awareness, the space in which thoughts, images and objects, even your body appears? What if you just stop doing everything for 10 to 15 minutes and paid attention to awareness itself? Or, alternatively, what if you just focused intently on one thing (another form of meditation)? Well something both amazing and, for some frustrating, would happen. You would start to relax, but you would also start noticing how much your mind was full of thoughts and images and how it runs on automatic. Your mind is like a machine that keeps on going and going without you really controlling it. You might also start to notice discomfort in your body. You would realize how stressed you are but never knew it or just avoid it altogether. All those thoughts and mental activities have a real tangible physiological impact on the body and mind—call it the body-mind, because they fundamentally inseparable. By convention we separate the body and mind, but they cannot practically be separated—the mind is embodied.
Nothing happens for free in this universe. The body-mind uses energy and stimulate the nervous system and activates the chemistry of the body. It may get frustrating to see all that activity. You may get impatient and start thinking about all the stuff you have to do or prefer to be doing besides this exercise. Either way, if you decide to stay with the exercise, over time you will discover more and more the peaceful space in which you exist as the feeling of “I am”- the Presence of awareness or consciousness itself. You’ll discover how refreshing it is to be in that space, which is actually you! We are not in a space, as if we are walking into a building, or forest, we are actually space itself. Amazingly your mind will show more clarity not less. It’s like waking up in a pristine environment from a good night sleep, even better, because it didn’t take 8 hours of your time.
The exercise or practice I described is traditionally call meditation or contemplation. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s attention, or awareness, but unlike thinking, one does not actively engage the mind. There are different forms of meditation, but they all have the essential form that I have described. People can meditate using various techniques, such as focusing on or counting one’s breath, or focusing on an object or silently repeating a mantra, (a word or series of words). The process produces an shift in the state of consciousness and change in physiology in a way that is deeply relaxing and centering. All humans have a natural tendency towards contemplation. Some enjoy it with little effort, like watching a beautiful sunset, scenery or the ocean waves. Others don’t take the time for it because they are too preoccupied daily concerns and responsibilities, or distracted with their thoughts and fantasies.
Meditation is by no means new—it has been used by religions and in spiritual practices for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries of India, China and Japan, but it is also in the West in the form of prayer. Over the past few decades, millions in the west have adopted some form of meditation. People are now using mediation to help with stress, for emotional and mental health, and as a way of coping with physical pain and disease.
Meditation has penetrated into the popular culture, and people have started to realize its great benefits outside of its original religious and spiritual intent. More and more people are using it because educators, medical, and health professionals are now endorsing and recommending them. Many large corporations are not only encouraging it, but are actively organizing it into their culture. Their motivation is perhaps obvious—it’s good for both the organization and the bottom line. It promotes more effective performance, reduces stress, cooperation and maximizes productivity.
When you start to meditate, there is a shift in the relationship between body and mind. You start to feel the body more and become less preoccupied with the content of your mind. This produces in a sense of deep relaxation as bodily functions like breath, mind, and heart rate start to shift into slower rhythm. The result is that you feel better, more energized and relaxed. The “better feeling” is what we associate with an innate sense of happiness. In the next articles we will present some more good reasons to take up the practice of meditation or contemplation. What better way can you spend 10-30 minutes of your day? It can increase your productivity, energy, and happiness while decreasing your stress and your potential for dis-ease. And it’s free!
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh