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Meditation: It is Not What You Think!

Mahatapa Palit, Business Management

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What is meditation? Meditation means different things to different people. Some people like to think of it as a time to wind down and relax. I like to think of it as time to go within, cutting through the busyness of the mind.

Meditation is a practice that teaches us how to calm the mind and learn to go within and draw on our inner reservoir of peace.

For those of us with academic careers, the mind is an especially important tool. We use it to analyze, dissect, look at the finer points of an issue, provide logic to our explanations and give meaning to what we observe and read. But if we take a minute to observe our thoughts, we find that they are scattered, jumping from one idea to the next. Instead of us controlling our thoughts our thoughts control us, leading us in whirlwind of worries, negative emotions and stress.

The mind has often been compared to the surface of the ocean, and our restless thoughts as waves on the surface of the ocean. My meditation teacher, Sri Chinmoy, would say, “On the surface of the sea are multitudes of waves, but the sea is not affected below. In the deepest depths, at the bottom of the sea, it is all tranquility.” This understanding can be very empowering. It says that while stress and anxiety result from restless thoughts, right within us is a reservoir of peace and tranquility from which we can draw inner strength and poise. 

There are different ways to calm our minds and center ourselves.  One way is by focusing our attention on one object or idea. For example, we can focus on our breath, just watching ourselves breathe in and breathe out gently. There are other ways such as chanting, counting, visualization, or gently concentrating on an inspiring object such as a flower or a candle that can help us bring our attention to one thing. Another way is to focus our attention on our mind – watching our thoughts without engaging with them. This is called being the witness.

If we practice one or more of these meditation techniques regularly for 10 minutes a day, in two to three weeks we will find ourselves becoming calmer and focused.

People often ask when and where to meditate. It is best to meditate early in the morning before entering the hustle and bustle of life and late in the evening before going to bed. It is preferable to find a quiet place where we will not be disturbed. Although one can meditate walking, standing, sitting or lying down, for the beginning practitioner, meditation is best done in a sitting position with the spine erect. If we meditate lying down, we may find that we are falling asleep. 

The peace and balance resulting from a calm mind and centeredness brings with it improved focus, better health, emotional equanimity, and a lightness of being. Meditation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, stress and anxiety; and improve memory, attention, sense of self and empathy.  So …

“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” 
Thich Nhat Hanh