The Process of Thinking:On some level, every human being is searching for peace of mind. We all have our own ways of finding it. Most people take some time to engage in activities that fix their attention for a period of time. This could take the form of reading, watching movies, gardening, taking a long bath or even working on a project. When our attention is fully engaged on an object or activity, the mind seems to become quieter. That is, the internal chatter shifts into the background. We 'lose ourselves' in the activity, and feel more peaceful as a result. To comprehend this process more fully, let us look deeper into the role of thinking in our lives. Thinking is useful, but most of us do it too much. We get exhausted by the endless stream of hopes, worries, fantasies, plans and dialogues. This process of excessive thinking not only wastes a great deal of our energy, but ironically, actually begins to affect the quality of thought. A tired mind tends to scatter, get lost in trivia and 'blank out.' To think effectively, we need an occasional rest from thinking, just as the body is not designed to be active all day and night, but needs deep sleep in order to keep functioning well. In fact, the value of meditation becomes more obvious when we realize that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that an imbalance in the mind soon affects the body as well. This is because when we think, we activate the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, whose function is to mobilize the body for action. Incessant thinking results in constant hormonal signals flowing through the body, stimulating it, even if we are trying to relax. So it is that some people are effectively able to completely exhaust themselves, just by sitting around and doing nothing. Physically, there is no energy expenditure, but the nervous system is still in overdrive. Even in sleep, the thinking process doesn't stop just because you are no longer conscious of it. Dreams and random thoughts keep people out of the deep sleep state, and they wake up tired as a result. The cycle continues.
How to break the cycle?Firstly, it is important to understand that we can't block the thought stream. An effort to deliberately stop the mind actually feeds the thoughts and makes us tenser. So what to do? The answer is very simple: we shift from thinking into sensing mode. We do this because sensing utilizes different parts of the brain than thinking. Thinking and sensing are functions that actually inhibit each other. *When we think, we produce beta brain waves. They are fast, erratic and of low amplitude. Thinking is active, it requires effort and energy. It deals with the past and future, and switches on the stress response. *Sensing produces alpha brain waves, which are slower, rhythmic and of high amplitude. Sensing is passive and receptive; it is about being attentive, present and aware. It initiates the relaxation response. Let me re-emphasize that there is nothing wrong with thinking. You are simply learning to conserve mental energy and sharpen the mind when it is not required to focus on anything in particular. This is where Meditation comes in.
So What Is Meditation?Meditation is any technique that relaxes the body and clears the mind. In meditation, the body is relaxed, but the mind is focused. Unlike standard physical relaxation, in which the body is at ease, but the mind wanders, meditation balances relaxation and alertness. With practice, we can guide the body into borderline sleep, but keep the mind awake and clear. This is a very subtle balancing act, and we must resist the temptation to fall asleep or drift off. With regular practice, we find an overflow from formal sitting meditation, to improved awareness most of the time. Apart from an increase in mental clarity, most people experience an improvement in emotional health, lowering of stress levels, and a general sense of well-being when they meditate regularly.
MEDITATION: Guidelines for practice:* Sunrise, sunset and just before sleep are considered the best times for meditation, though any time of the day or night is acceptable.
*Try to keep a separate space for meditation, a clean, quiet room.
*It is not necessary to sit in a traditional yogic posture to meditate. Using a chair is fine, just ensure that your body is relaxed, your spine, neck and head are erect. Try not to rest on the back of the chair, as you will be more likely to fall asleep.
*Loose, comfortable clothing is best.
*Try not to eat heavily before meditating. This will result in drowsiness and poor concentration.
*Get up and gently stretch after you finish your session.
*Be patient, kind to yourself and regular. Daily practice for four weeks will give you a sense of meditation.