BY : Lola Malaika
Meditation is not a dogma. It is not a set of rules and steps to follow in order to get some sort of awakening. Meditation is an invitation — an invitation to explore your own depths. You find a quiet place in the midst of chaos and reestablish a sense of intimacy with your own heart and mind.
This intimacy has been lost while you were busy pleasing everyone around instead of recognizing your own needs. This intimacy has been lost while you were chasing money & recognition instead of relaxing into joy. This intimacy has been lost when you stopped believing in miracles.
With meditation, you can return to this intimacy and reconnect to your luminous spirit. This luminosity is your true nature. This luminosity is a miracle.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define Yoga as Chitta Vritti Nirodha, which is commonly interpreted as calming down the wandering mind. In other words, Yoga and its essential tools — meditation, pranayama, mantra, mudra, asana, bandha — help to cease the fluctuations of the mind and enter stillness. This stillness allows us to observe reality as it is, without disturbances created by Kleshas — fear, attachment, greed, desire, and ignorance.
However, the nature of the human mind is restlessness. The human mind is constantly secreting thoughts and ideas, and unless it is focused on a specific attention-demanding task, it is just wandering from one place to another. To describe this phenomena, in Buddhism they use a quasi-onomatopoeic Pali word Papancha, which basically means Vritti, or fluctuations, while the Western science coined another cute term for it — the mind-wandering. In 2010, two psychologists from Harvard University, Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert, published a study proving that unless people use their brains for specific tasks, like, for example, recognizing words or faces, they naturally switch on the default mode network (DMN) and simply drift from one thought to the other.
According to the research, most of our thoughts while on default mode are negative. Even the most positive and happy people cannot escape this trap. This trap is known as the negativity bias, which is a natural tendency of the mind to focus on negative. The negativity bias creates a certain asymmetry in the way we perceive the negative and the positive — negative experiences and emotions tend to make a greater impact on our mood, behaviour and memory. If we persist in the negativity bias without getting back to neutral, we may switch on the sympathetic responses, which put the body into the state of alertness and stress.
From the evolutionary perspective, we have survived as a species because we have our negativity bias and Kleshas. For psychologists, they are not just our vices, but our natural survival mechanisms. In fact, the negativity bias gets us out of the water when the waves are too high, or makes us drive slower when the road is unpredictable. Yet, we do need to be able to distinguish situations when fear, greed and desire serve us, and when they do not. Obviously, if fear gets out of control and governs all our emotions and reactions, leading to chronic stress, inflammation and paranoia, we need to find a way to counterbalance.
Meditation is perhaps the oldest and the most effective counterbalancing tool known to mankind. It allows the mind to shift from the negativity bias back to neutral mode and anchors it in Sattvic place of stillness. Meditation is actually capable of installing stillness as our DMN. We learn to see our Oceanic Selves, not only the selves that are full of confusion, reactivity and fears, but the selves that are grounded in equanimity, compassion, and transcendent love.
In ancient India, the practice of sitting meditation is known as Dhyana. However, meditation has many faces. In fact, various formats of meditation — praying, playing, dancing, painting, shaking, or chanting, have always been present all over the world, and are still widely used in rituals and practices of African cultures, Indigenous cultures of Americas and Australia, in Sufism, Bhakti Yoga, Sikhism, Art Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, etc. Today, there are many different types of meditation to choose from: religious, secular, sitting, walking, dynamic, sound healing, shaking, meditative art therapy, etc. Each has evolved to serve a specific purpose, and can be applied in different situations to satisfy different needs.
As it has been mentioned in the beginning, meditation is not a dogma, but an invitation to explore your own mysterious depths. Give yourself a chance to reconnect to the mystery. Find a quiet place. Sit nice and tall. Close your eyes. Open your heart.