Meditation is an ancient practice that we immediately associate with Far Eastern religions and wisdom traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Daoism. It’s a practice that leads us inwards. As such it’s also part of many other religions and traditions, mostly as prayers.
However, meditation is not necessarily a religious practice and is not confined to the realm of religion.
When we speak of meditation, we often think of sitting in silence. But there are many different forms of meditation:
- Passive meditations, which are practised sitting in silence, like Vipassana, Zazen …
- Active meditations, in which physical movement, the recitation of mantras or music are used to achieve meditative silence. Examples are Osho’s active meditations, walking meditation …
- Mindfulness exercises that extend meditation to everything we do while awake, e.g. mindful climbing stairs, mindful eating, shopping …
They all have the one common goal: the exploration of the mind and our inner worlds, calming the mind, bringing body and mind into harmony and helping us to be in the here and now.
What is meditation?
There are many answers to this question. They are all a little different, but they also overlap … in the end, we get a pretty good idea of the concept:
Meditation is witnessing. It is doing nothing. Meditation is simply being. Without moving, without doing anything, thinking, feeling. Meditation happens when everything comes to a standstill and you just are. That’s why you can’t really practise meditation. It’s not a practice, it’s a state of being.
What meditation is NOT: a technique. The technique always only serves to achieve the state. But we’ll get to that later.
Being the witness – becoming a mindful observer
In our everyday lives, we are usually very fixated on the outside. Our eyes wander around, our ears listen to everything around us, we are in constant communication with others, driving a car, riding on a train or our bicycle, shopping, interacting, functioning, thinking, thinking, thinking, doing, doing, doing, running, running, running.
The good news: We can always close our eyes, turn our attention inwards and witness. We can connect with our inner, very own silence and listen to our breath and heartbeat instead of always listening to the chatter of our “Monkey Mind”. Then, finally, we are at home.
„[…] in the final meaning of the term, meditation is witnessing.”– Osho
If meditation is witnessing, it doesn’t even really matter what we are witnessing. We can look at a tree, or at the clouds. We can watch our breath. What’s important is the quality of the witnessing: it should be alert and mindful. When we’re mindful in everything we do, then our whole life becomes a meditation. Walking becomes a meditation, just as sitting and breathing can become a meditation.
The same goes the other way around: If we sit quietly with our eyes closed, but are not mindful and attentive at all, then we do not meditate, even if it looks that way from the outside.
How do we meditate?
Basically, the answer is very simple: Whenever you find the time, stop doing whatever you’re doing and just be. No more thinking, concentrating, contemplating.
„So whenever you are feeling happy, whenever you are feeling joyous, whenever you are feeling harmonious, in tune, then just sit silently. Wait for it. Just wait for it. Nothing else needs to be done.”– Osho
However, you will find that this “just being” is not so easy. If you manage to reach this state of “no-mind” for one or a few seconds, that’s already really good and you can be happy. But beware: you’ll most probably lose this feeling or state again the very second you become aware of and are excited about this fleeting success 😉 It’s tricky …
For me, this state feels like some sort of weightless internal vacuum or like a kind of space that suddenly opens up inside of me. The moment I try to get a hold of this state, it disappears. It might feel completely different to you, but I’m sure you’ll know it immediately once you reach it. Once you get the hang of it, you can extend these short moments and over time, you’ll get better and better at it.
The stages of meditation
First stage: The pure being
The first stage is pure being. Just be. Very simple 🙂 When you’re new to meditation, it will help you to sit down in a quiet room with your eyes closed. By closing our eyes and minimising all outside stimuli, it becomes easier to direct our attention inwards. Later you can try to meditate with your eyes open and even in loud places.
When we sit in silence like this, the first step is to become aware of our breath and our body. With time, we probably notice that the breath becomes calmer and the body relaxes. Next, we begin to observe our thoughts, which can be quite an absurd spectacle. The main challenge here is to not get tangled up in our thoughts (or to condemn ourselves for thinking thoughts, because that’s just normal), but simply to observe them.
If we succeed in this, we will realise that thoughts are only thoughts, not „the truth”. If we can see them as such from a certain distance, we will probably realise quite quickly what nonsense we usually think. We judge and we chatter, we make up things, and we fear unnecessary dangers.
The same applies to our feelings, by the way, from which we can also distance ourselves by just observing them. When we no longer identify ourselves (so much) with our thoughts and feelings, we gain a little more freedom and a deeper serenity.
The last thing to do then is to become a witness of our own witnessing. But this is really something for the very experienced. You might think, you have it, but most of the times, it’s not really the witness witnessing the witness, but the mind which is observing. There’s a small but important distinction.
Second stage: Lived mindfulness
The second step is to extend the mindful state onto our actions, out into our daily lives. It means to get up from the meditation pillow and to open our eyes and go about our daily business by making sure that we stay mindful and that the pure state of being is not affected by our actions. As mentioned above: If we are absolutely mindful in every moment and with our whole being, then life becomes a meditation.
How meditation teaches us a different way of living
With this in mind, we see that meditation is not a renunciation of life. One does not have to withdraw from the world in order to meditate, to close one’s ears and eyes to the world and renounce all worldly pleasures.
To meditate does not mean to flee from reality. Instead, meditation teaches us a different way of living. Through it, we become into the eye of the storm: while the madness and chaos of the world rage around us, inside we remain calm. We become zen as fuck 😉
Of course, we can always go from being a witness to being a participating observer and get involved in this chaos. If we so wish. The difference is that we are no longer just carried away by life – as a mindful witness, we always have the choice and are free to decide at any time whether we want to get involved or not.
What meditation is NOT
„Meditation is witnessing. To meditate means to become a witness. Meditation is not a technique at all.”– Osho
As we now know, meditation is about mindfulness and doing nothing. It’s not a technique but a state. You cannot force it and you cannot hold it. All you can do is prepare the ground and invite it. Then wait patiently and attentively for it to come to you.
„Meditation cannot be caught hold of, you have to allow it to happen so that it can catch hold of you. Meditation is not something that you have to do; meditation is something for which you have to wait. It is something that comes, and comes on its own.”– Osho
Method ≠ Meditation
All the techniques and methods that you hear about and that I like to teach and apply myself are helpful. But they are not really meditation as such. They are a kind of preparatory exercise for the state of being the witness.
They are especially helpful because they are scientifically tested, so to speak. Many, many people have “worked” with them before us and by using these well-tested traditional techniques we save ourselves many frustrating detours. What the techniques do is to show us a shortcut to reach the desired state of pure mindfulness more quickly.
Especially for us modern men and women, this state is a very difficult concept to grasp and can be perceived as a distant goal. One reason for this is that our mind is always active. Other reasons are the social conditionings that direct us towards the outside rather than towards the inside. Through the different techniques, we can calm the mind quite well. It’s like feeding the monkey with a banana 😉
So in the beginning, to us, the techniques are the same as meditation. But at some point, we no longer need them. Then the techniques are neither obstacles nor help, but simply techniques which we can enjoy freely. We can play with them as mush as we like, simply because it’s fun … We may feel more alive through them and connect faster, but we don’t need them any more. The meditation takes place anyway. That then, is true happiness.
„Meditation techniques are not really meditation. Meditation techniques only prepare the ground.– Osho
They are needed because people’s minds are so full of rubbish, that before meditation can be started that rubbish has to be removed. Meditation techniques are just to remove the rubbish. If that is removed, then starts meditation.”