How to prepare yourself for meditation
Many people who undertake meditation with lots of initial enthusiasm discontinue it after a while. There are many obvious reasons for it. Hindu saints, who devised meditation as a means of attaining self-realization or Samadhi (or Nirvana in Buddhism) were quite aware of this stark reality. The goal of meditation being the highest, the task of succeeding in it is also the toughest.
To attain success in meditation, there are, in reality, several preparatory disciplines needed. A sportsman participating in 100-meter-dash is expected to run just for about 10 seconds only in the actual competition, but think of the extreme physical rigors he has to undergo just to tune up his body for the purpose.
In the same way, in Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga ( by Saint Patanjali), meditation comes only as the seventh and penultimate step in attaining Samadhi.
Swami Shivananda (1887-1963) the founder of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, used to retort to his disciples who complained about lack of success in meditation this way: “Meditation is only the seventh step. Have you succeeded in all the previous six steps?”
Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) absorbed in meditation)
The Preparatory Disciplines for Spiritual Meditation
Of the six steps preceding meditation, the first two are really concerned with attaining the physical and mental purity so basically essential for any spiritual aspirant to aim for a divine pursuit in life. They are yama (self-restraint) and Niyama(observances).
Then comes the right sitting posture (asana) and then the right breathing practice (pranayama). Pratyaharaand Dharana are the 5th and 6th steps that are at times considered as part and parcel of meditation itself. Unlike the first two, these four disciplines are closely associated with the actual practice of meditation. We can study them more deeply in separate articles.
Here, let us see in detail what the first two basics stand for:
Practice Yama (self restraint):
Yama includes the following qualities:
- Ahimsa: non-violence, non-killing, non-injury, remaining harmless. A body and mind inclined towards violence causing injury (both physical and mental) to others will be in an agitated state. Naturally calming it down through meditation is difficult.
- Satyam: truthfulness, honesty.
- Astheyam: non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya: continence, being free from sensual cravings. Attraction towards sex is a taboo for any spiritual aspirant. Body and mind craving for sex can never be easily tamed by meditation. Any craving for other sensual pleasures is also highly detrimental in attaining concentration at meditation.
- Aparigraha: non-covetousness, not yearning for gifts. In other words, non-attachment to materialism. To love things coming free is a human tendency that, when nurtured, increases one yearnings. A mind always craving for materialistic possessions becomes unfit to meditate. Further, getting a gift from a person makes one obligated to that person which can become a bothersome bondage.
Practice Niyamama (observances or disciplined habits).
Niyama includes the following:
- Soucha: purity, cleanliness. This includes both external as well as internal. External purity is obtained by bathing, wearing clean clothes, etc. and internal purity comes by regular practice of yama.
- Santosha: happiness, contentedness. Being happy with what you are and what you have, remaining contented without unnecessary cravings – this quality makes one fit for undertaking meditation. A person who gets upset for trivia, one who is mostly unhappy and dissatisfied with himself or with others around him will find meditation too difficult.
- Tapas: practicing austerities, spiritual disciplines. Willingness to give up physical comforts, readiness to sacrifice, observing fast, tolerating physical suffering, engaging in regular spiritual practices, readiness to help others at the cost of one’s own personal comfort – these qualities elevate one’s mind to a higher level.
- Swadhyaya: self study, spiritual study. Reading spiritual books, scriptures, life history and teachings of great spiritual masters will help one to constantly think of what is truly essential in spiritual life. This practice also negates reading novels, watching television and movies, reading newspapers, etc. which have the tendency to dissipate the mind on sensual and worldly matters.
- Ishwara Pranidhana: worship of God, surrendering to God. Acceptance of God as the supreme power controlling everything in the creation is one of the best ways of subduing the ego. The more one surrenders and worships God, the more one is freed of the machinations of self-will and egotism. A mind thus unburdened finds it easier to do meditation.
How About Disciplines Needed For Non-Spiritual Meditation?
Meditation as promoted today through techniques like Transcendental Meditation is more for “commoners” who seek physical and mental well-being. For them too, some good measure of disciplines is essential if they want to pursue with meditation in the long run and reap the benefits aimed. Many drop out in the middle because they lack such disciplines in life. If one word is to be used for explaining what are the disciplines needed, it is “moderation”. They are given below:
Eat moderately, Eat “sattvik” (pure) food: Food is intrinsically connected with thoughts. Food, mild in taste and texture most preferably vegetarian, not too hot and spicy, not fried with excess fats and oils, has to be consumed in moderate quantities. Drinking alcoholic drinks must be either avoided altogether or curtailed heavily.
At least 2 to 3 hours should have passed after eating food when one sits for meditation.
Sleep Moderately: Both excess sleeping and inadequate sleeping are detrimental to doing meditation. A healthy person needs about 6 to 8 hours of sound sleep (which may vary with age and body nature) a day. Sleeping in the daytime can potentially affect doing meditation.
Enjoy sensual pleasures moderately: Whether engaging in sex, seeing movies, watching television, listening to music, speaking over the cell phone or whiling away time with friends – whatever be the activities, engage in them in moderation.
The more one progresses in maintaining the basic preparatory disciplines elaborated above, the more one will feel his/ her progress in meditation. A strong will, a sense of surrender to God and determination to succeed are needed for one to maintain these preparatory disciplines and reap success in meditation.