By Jerry Dorsman
I started working with meditation and meditation techniques when I was 34. That’s also when I began taking yoga classes. I found that both of these helped to reduce stress.
Now in my 70s, I typically sit in meditation right after one of my self-guided yoga sessions. It’s not that I do it after every session but, when I do, I sit for anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. Not long really.
In almost every one of these sessions, I can drop all thought. I can say for sure that each time I meditate, my thinking slows. Fewer and fewer thoughts rumble around in my head. I go from a cacophony of thought in the beginning to minimal thought as I settle in. Then, on good days, I’m treated to brief moments during which my mind is free of all thought.
These windows of time last many seconds (5, 10, 15, maybe even 30 seconds) and feel deeply liberating. I go to that place in my mind from which thoughts themselves arise. It’s a place that is pre-verbal or nonverbal, a place where there is no thought at all. Images float here and feelings dwell here waiting to be grabbed by the mind and turned into something concrete.
When I resist the compulsion to turn these into something concrete, I remain in the meditative state. I remain then in calm repose.
Here’s my usual routine with a few variations noted:
I sit cross-legged or in half-lotus on my cushion. The room is dark except for a dim light or candle. I often start with mantra meditation, intoning a sound on each out-breath. What sound? Either the 3-syllable “AUM” or the single syllable “Mmmm.” I focus everything within me on the sound. I have a lot of variations but most often, after a few minutes with the mantra, I drop into silence. This is when I engage my consciousness to stop any thoughts from arising.
I have used the “Neti Neti” meditation so often that I can now do it without repeating the words in my head. Neti Neti translates to “Not this, not this” or “Not this, not that.” When a new thought arises, I repeat silently to myself, “Not this.” When another thought arises, I say to it, “Not that.” And on and on. This helps me realize that most thoughts are not about something happening at this moment. Thoughts like: “Did I remember to pay that bill today?” or “I need to clean the kitchen tomorrow.”
Then there are some thoughts that seem to be about something happening right now, such as: “That’s a car driving by outside,” or “I feel this pain in my thigh.” For these types of thoughts, I practice dropping the words. For example, upon hearing a car go by outside, I don’t verbalize it. I just experience it. I experience the sound. I note only that there’s a noise I’m sensing. For that pain in the thigh, I know not even to say to myself the word, “pain,” but just to experience the uncomfortable feeling.
Gee, it sounds like I’m actually giving instructions here. Well, maybe hearing what has worked for me could help someone else.
There’s another kind of meditation that I do, and do more often. It’s mindfulness meditation. Basically mindfulness means you remain focused on one thing at a time, the very thing you’re doing in the moment. This takes some skill too. Learning the Neti Neti meditation first actually helped me with the mindfulness meditation. When washing dishes, planting seeds in the garden, or eating your morning breakfast, you pay attention to the specific activity. If the mind begins to stray from what you’re doing, reel it back in. Stay focused. It helps to remain completely in the senses – seeing , hearing, touching, smelling, tasting. The senses provide all the connection you need to the present moment. If you start thinking, you’ve gone astray.
To help you stay focused however, you may allow some directed thought to guide you. It may help, for example, when walking to repeat to yourself, “I am walking, I am walking,” over and over. By keeping this thought paramount, all other thoughts tend to be pushed aside. Or try, when eating, to just close your eyes and repeat, “I am eating.” Or better yet, while sensing all the nuances of taste on your tongue, utter silently to yourself: “yum.”
Then there are other meditations I’ve used that I have found were extremely effective. I still use these intermittently. Here’s a list of my favorites:
Sa Ta Na Ma (or Ra Ma Da Sa). This is a combination of mantra and mudra meditation. For this, sit comfortably in the meditation pose and begin intoning the four syllables: Sa Ta Na Ma (or Ra Ma Da Sa). As you intone each syllable, your thumb on each hand touches each of your four fingers on that hand. Start with the pinkie (“Ra”) and touch the fingers in order, going to ring finger (“Ma”), middle finger (“Da”) and pointer finger (“Sa”). Perform this mudra with both hands while you continue to chant the mantra.
Stop Meditation. There are many variations but I’ll just mention the Tantric method. The Tantric sutra is as follows: “Just as you have the impulse to do something, stop.” Let’s look at a simple impulse first. Say you have an impulse to satisfy your thirst. What do you do? You get a glass, fill it with water, take it to your lips, and drink. You can tell yourself to stop anywhere along the way. Note that ceasing your activity will temporarily halt your impulse to satisfy your thirst.
Now consider the stop. You can say it silently or you can say it aloud. But as soon as you say it, stop completely. Don’t blink an eye. Don’t breathe. Don’t move a muscle. Also be sure to stop abruptly. The water in the glass may slosh around from an abrupt stop, but you will not move. With practice, you can stop your activity spontaneously at any time. To stop spontaneously: Whenever you suddenly feel the urge, stop at once.
Clearly, each stop ends when you cannot hold your breath any longer. So each may last from twenty seconds to a minute. When you need to breathe again, do so, and simply resume your activity as if it had never been interrupted.
But notice now your newfound appreciation for this activity. Notice what happens to you. Watch how the stop technique instantly takes you to your center. Immediately, upon stopping, you can see your activity as if it were a whirlwind swirling around a tranquil and motionless center. Then, when you resume your activity, you’ll feel more at one with it, more settled with it, more calm.
You can use this technique with simple impulses. For example, when you drop something on the floor, you may have the impulse to pick it up. If so, you can stop yourself anywhere in the motion and realize an instant change in perspective.
In addition, you can use this technique with some powerful impulses, such as the impulse to yell at somebody, the impulse to have sex, or the impulse to take an addictive substance. These impulses are strong. It’s hard to halt some anger that causes you to yell. It’s hard to stop the desire for sex. If you’re addicted to sugar, drugs, or alcohol, it’s hard to say no. But when you do stop such powerful impulses, the energy is magnificent and will take you deep inside yourself.
Touching Eyes as a Feather. The sutra is: “Touching eyeballs as a feather, lightness between them opens into heart and there permeates the cosmos.”
When we simply touch our eyes without any pressure, the energy starts moving within. This becomes a deep awareness. Our hands should be just as feathers, weightless, simply touching. Our mind will be totally there, alert, near the eyes, and the energy will be flowing. This lightness between the two eyes will start dropping into the heart and the heart will open to receive it. The falling energy may transform from a stream to a river and then to a flood. We may start feeling washed away, completely washed away. But we may not notice. We may simply feel the whole cosmos within us. Breathing in, breathing out, we will feel we have become one with the cosmos. The cosmic energy comes in and the cosmic energy goes out. At this central point, our personal identity disappears. Our ego will not be there. Now, there permeates the cosmos.
Candle Meditation. Sitting in meditation in a dark room, watch a candle flame. Let the bright image flicker in your mind until that’s all you see. Then slowly withdraw your sight from it. In other words, close your eyes. Now watch. You’ll still see the image in your mind. Then slowly withdraw your thought from it. Stop imagining the flame or thinking about it in any way. This withdrawal of thought takes you even deeper into your mind, deeper into nothingness. Then…
Listenting. Here’s the Tantric Sutra: “Bathe in the center of sound, as in the continuous sound of a waterfall. Or, by putting fingers in ears, hear the sound of sounds.” There are two options:
- “Bathe in the center of sound as in the continuous sound of a waterfall.” For a moment, close your eyes and listen. Where do you hear the sounds? Don’t try to locate the sources of the sounds. Instead, locate your hearing.
This is easiest with a continuous sound such as a waterfall. Try sitting near a waterfall, closing your eyes, and just listening. After a while, you will go deep within your center. The sound itself will continue to move you toward your center. Then, be aware, the sound will begin to blink on and off. You will hear it, and then you will have a brief moment when you will hear nothing. This is the true center of sound: silence is at the center. It is the silent point within you that “hears.”
All sound is heard by something with no sound, and that is your center. When you go there, you feel at peace.
Without a waterfall, you can use music. Of course, by using headphones you can easily feel at the center of sound. But with music, you’ll find yourself following notes and these notes will light up spots all over your brain. Look for the center of sound behind the notes. The center will appear in the melody and the harmony created by the notes—in other words, in the composite sound. So, in music, listen for the composite sound. That will lead you to your center.
After you practice this meditation for a while, you can quickly find your center by listening to any set of sounds. Even the sounds produced in the middle of the day on a busy street in the heart of New York City!
- “Or by putting fingers in ears, hear the sound of sounds.” The sound of sounds rests at a still point, a silent point within you. By plugging your ears to all outside sound, you can hear it. This is a short-cut, a quick way to “hear” the inner silence, a fast journey to the center of your being. Try it. After a few moments you’ll feel deeply alone, not lonely but alone—fully alive, fully vibrant, within yourself.
The sutra has two parts because these two techniques work together. Both help to take you to your center— that ecstatic, peaceful space inside. The first one helps you find your center through sound. The second helps you hear “the sound of sounds,” or soundlessness, which is the center itself.
Pause Between Breaths. While sitting, dwell in the space between the in-breath and the out-breath or between the out-breath and the in-breath. When you pause between breaths, time slows down. Pause for as long as you can. When you feel you must breathe, then breathe. But pay attention between the breaths. Experience the emptiness in this space. This is where time slows and thoughts fall away.
# # #
Jerry Dorsman is the coauthor How to Achieve Peace on Mind and the author of two books on addiction recovery: How to Quit Drinking Without AA and How to Quit Drugs for Good. This post expands on one of the subchapters in How to Achieve Peace on Mind.
For information on the book How to Achieve Peace of Mind, click here:
Or see the book at this site: