Last year, after being urged to do so by many–friends, strangers, dissertation adviser–I began a meditation practice. In May 2015 to be precise. I registered for a four-day class, attended four two-hour ‘training sessions,’ and was off and running. Or, rather, I was off and sitting down. Twice a day for twenty minutes at time. The modality of meditation practice that I received instruction in, the so-called Vedic method, appears to be a re-branding or simple variant of an older technique called transcendental meditation: sit comfortably with your back supported, your head free, your eyes closed, and repeat, silently, a simple word or phrase given to you by your teacher. That is all there to it. There is no counting of breaths, no sitting cross-legged (or in the Lotus Pose.) You can be sitting on a chair or a couch or a park bench (or, as in my case, on a couple of occasions, a seat in a car, subway, or airplane.) You could, if you wanted, just sit up in bed after waking up in the morning, rest your back against a propped up pillow and headboard, and get to meditating.
The mental repetition of the word or phrase supplied by the meditation instructor is crucial; it acts as a kind of block against the intrusion of distracting thoughts and permits the transition to a more quiescent mental state, one which is more placid and less agitated. (It also, interestingly enough, allows access to some very interesting behind-the-eyes imagery.) The ‘mantra’ may be displaced by these thoughts of course, but on noticing that such a displacement has taken place, it should be ‘summoned back’ and the mental repetition should begin anew. The ‘mantra’ is meaningless and deliberately so; a meaningful mantra would induce a distraction all of its own.
I cannot, currently, offer any testimonials to any dramatic changes in my temperament or my physical state–i.e., an empirically verifiable change in some physical parameter–as a result of my meditation practice. However, I will say that I look forward to my two daily meditation sessions–once in the morning, immediately after waking up, and then, once in the evening, at some point before dinner. (On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, my evening session is really an afternoon one, conducted at 3PM or so before I leave the library to go pick up my daughter from daycare; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I meditate in my office after finishing my teaching for the day, and on Saturday and Sunday, I meditate at home, sometimes in the living room, sometimes in my daughter’s room (the only quiet place in our apartment while my girl tears up the rest of the joint.)) I look forward to these sessions because I find them relaxing and useful de-stressers. The morning session seems to compose me for what lies ahead of me; the evening session relaxes me after a day’s stress has started to accumulate. (In that regard, the evening session plays a role similar to my evening walk home from campus.) Just for that rather simple and yet hugely important reason, I consider my meditation practice an invaluable addition to my daily routine.
In future posts I hope to elaborate on some other subtle effects and changes induced by this practice, and on its relationship to other modalities of self-reconfiguration.