Traditionally in the past meditation was used as a means to enlightenment. Enlightenment will always be relevant as it is timeless, but in this day and age meditation can also be used as a means of slowing down, finding balance, and re-connecting with nature. This is particularly relevant in today's society which has generally become detached from the simplicities of life.
So, you've most likely heard about the benefits of meditating, but a lot of people are unsure about why meditation is so good for you and how to meditate.
Due to the fast-paced, busy societies most of us live in and the need or want to be constantly stimulated in order to keep up with this fast-paced lifestyle, or to merely avoid boredom, most people actually find it very difficult to just sit still and 'be', without wanting to do something. So much so, that we should be called human doings rather than human beings. We give our physical body a rest when we sleep, but what about the mental aspect of ourselves - when does our brain get to rest?
The answer? During meditation. This is why meditation is so beneficial. The whole body (which includes the mind) gets the opportunity to simply just 'be'. This allows our nervous system to move into parasympathetic mode instead of sympathetic (fight or flight) mode. Over-stimulation, pressure to achieve, greed, and the expectations and conditioning placed on us in modern-day society cause us to be in a predominantly sympathetic nervous system state most of the time. This creates ongoing, underlying stress which a lot of people are so accustomed to that they no longer even notice this subtler form of stress within themselves - it just becomes their normal state of being. And although some people may appear to still be functioning well, driven on by adrenalin, beware, ongoing stress is hugely detrimental to well-being and good health. Stress effects every system of our bodies.
Meditation allows all aspects of our beings (i.e the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects) to de-stress and settle into a natural state of equilibrium. This state of simply being allows the body to function optimally and be open to the free-flow of energy that permeates everything that exists. The body can then utilise its own innate intelligence to heal itself, unobstructed by disarray. Meditation also enhances awareness of your internal and external environment, and throughout life... awareness is your best ally.
How to meditate:
Find a quiet place where you know that you will be able to sit without distractions.
Sit yourself in a comfortable upright position. Lengthen upwards through the spine (without creating tension in the muscles) to allow better energy flow.
Start by bringing your awareness into the present moment and into your own being.
You can leave your eyes open or close them, whichever feels right for you. However, if you are new to meditation, it may be better to close your eyes initially in order to avoid visual distractions.
Take some slow, deep breaths and with each exhalation breathe away the past and future, and any tension or thoughts. With each inhalation bring your awareness inwards to the core of your being and the present moment.
Once you feel relaxed and in the present moment, choose a focal point. This could be your breath or if you don't feel comfortable focusing on your breath, it could be your third eye, heart or solar plexus region, or palms of the hands - whatever feels right for you. If you are meditating with your eyes open, your focal point could be a visual spot in front of you to affix your gaze to. It does not matter what your visual focal point is, as long as it is stationary, as you will not be looking at it in the way you look at other things, merely using it as a means of focus in order to centre your concentration and avoid visual stimulation from other things in the area.
Now just become a witness (or a watcher) of your own being. As you focus on your focal point, maintain awareness of your internal self. Don't think about your focal point, merely allow the mind to use it as a centre of stillness. As you notice thoughts entering your mind or that your concentration has moved away from your focal point, gently bring your attention back to your focal point, letting go of your thoughts - don't get caught up or attached to your thoughts ... as soon as you become aware that you are thinking about something, just return to your point of focus. Let your thoughts become like clouds on a blue sky, where your mind is the vast open blue sky and the clouds (i.e your thoughts) are merely passing by. Don't get caught up in the clouds, just let them go. As you keep returning to your point of focus you may eventually notice your thoughts slow down and they enter the mind less often. However it is not uncommon to find it difficult at first to detach from the thoughts that continually keep popping into your mind, but just ignore them and remember whilst meditating, you are merely being a witness or watcher of your own being, not a judge, so don't make any judgements about your thought processes or ability to control them, or anything else you may become aware of within yourself, as this only creates more thoughts :)
Take note: your mind is used to being the centre of your attention, and whether you are aware of it or not, your thoughts are creating constant internal babble within you. When you try to ignore this babble of thoughts, the mind may try to distract you to gain your attention or divert your attention away from your point of focus, but just ignore it and continue to calmly return your concentration to your focal point.
As your thoughts slow, sense of calm increases, and awareness grows, allow yourself to let go and move deeper into this beautiful peaceful state... embrace it and allow it to permeate your entire being. Know that nothing bad can come from letting go and simply being. Our true nature is joy, so smile from the inside out, feeling every cell in your body smile too.
Practice makes perfect. Like anything, the more you practise this technique the easier it will become, and you'll find yourself being able to move into a deeper meditative state more easily.
So that is the basics of how to meditate, the less complicated the better. It might make it easier for you to relate to meditation as a natural state of being if you think back to your childhood. Those times when as a child (and sometimes as an adult too, just not as often) you would go into a trance-like state (often referred to as daydreaming), a state of simply being, where your gaze is affixed to nothing and it's like you're in your own little bubble, fully aware of your surroundings, yet thinking nothing... a moment of internal stillness, a meditative state. So next time you see a child "daydreaming" just allow them to remain in that state for as long as they want... better still, allow yourself the freedom to "daydream" too.