Mapping the Mind
There's more to meditation than just closing ones eyes and an
understanding of this technique demands an understanding of our
mental realm. The subtle state of mind, which is the ultimate stage
of meditation, requires a tremendous amount of energy to reach. An
absolute harmony between our gross physical realm, sensual realm and
our life energy is the prerequisite of a meditative state of mind.
Traditional perceptions of our mental make-up are uncommonly useful
in understanding the workings of the mind. According to ayurveda and
yoga, both the mind and the body are made up of the 'Five Great
Elements' (Panchabhutas) of earth (prithvi), water (jal), fire (agni
or tej), air (vayu) and ether or space (akash).
But in spite of such composition, they have absolutely opposite
elemental structures. While the body is made up of the heavier
elements of earth and water (the ayurvedic kapha or phlegmatic
humoral type), it functions through the lighter elements of fire (pitta
or heat humoral type) and air (vata or vital energy humor). The
pitta, fire or heat of the body controls all digestive processes and
the vata, air or vital energy lends its spark to the nervous system.
The mind, meanwhile, is composed of air and ether (vata humor)�the
lighter elements, which lend mobility and pervasiveness to the mind.
And our mental functions proceed through the heavier elements of
fire, water and earth (pitta�heat and kapha�phlegm). The element of
fire lends reason and perception to the mind, while water and earth
lends it emotion and physical identification. But our mental
functions proceed through the heavier elements of fire, water and
earth. While fire lends reason and perception to the mind, water and
earth lends it emotion and physical identification respectively.
Unlike the phlegmatic body, in substance our minds resemble
ether�formless and all pervading. And in motion it resembles
air�penetrating, constantly in flux, effervescent and unpredictable!
The mind (mana) and the energy spirit (prana, chi or life force)
have always had an affinity for each other, being merely the two
sides of the same coin. Whatever the mind engages upon is soon
infused with life energy, and conversely, whatever the soul hungers
for instantly engages our attention. As a result, certain aspects of
each are present in the other.
Out of the two, the mind is the finer and more sophisticated version
of the cruder life force or prana�it has a storehouse of its own
energy and vitality. Some aspects of it naturally spills over,
flooding the spirit with thought and intelligence (buddhi). But it
is the vital force, which is inherently a conscious power, finding
its expression in the mind, which is inherently the active force.
Both prana and mana (mind) are vata (vital force) humoral types,
composed of air and ether. But being composed more of the air
element rather than the ether, the prana is more active and
energetic�like the wind! On the other hand, since the degree of
ether is more in the composition of the mind, its nature is
receptive and passive�like the wide open spaces.
especially passive meditation, brings us face to face with our
subconscious. Not unlike opening up a Pandora's box full of
mischief, if we are not ready to encounter our inner selves, it
could end up being a disastrous experience instead of an
enlightening one! And the most vulnerable seem to be-people with
overwhelming anxiety, who are emotionally or psychologically
disturbed, those who have problems accepting reality, people who
suffer from acute paranoia and even those who develop delusions of
grandeur from the altered states of consciousness that meditation
tends to produce.
To avoid such psychosis or simply getting lost in our thoughts and
ending up confused and disturbed, it is necessary to begin
meditation sessions with formal practice. Different schools of
thought prescribe different methods of such preparation, but they
all agree on the absolute necessity of concentration exercises
preceding meditation. These preparation techniques are as varied as
praying, chanting mantras, performing pranayama or even visualizing.
Once the mind becomes trained for concentration, actual formless or
mindfulness meditation can proceed, such as sitting in silence,
practicing self-inquiry or performing devotional meditation.
While Hinduism-based schools of thought insist on a proper sattvic
(pure or ascetic) lifestyle as a primary condition to true
meditation, Buddhist mindfulness meditation prescribes contemplation
on the 'Four Protections' and the 'Nine Attributes' of the Buddha.
A helpful tip to keep in mind would be that ultimately meditation is
all about being at peace with oneself. It cannot perform miracles
out of thin air. It does not solve problems magically. It's simply a
technique, which acquaints you with the person you really are. And
having gained that timeless knowledge, it is you who will take that
first step towards self-transformation. Remember always that the
technique of meditation is nothing more than a tool in your hands!
Ways of harnessing the ever-changing, ever-shifting mind are as
varied as the different techniques of meditation. But by and large,
they all practice mental exercises, which aim at capturing the very
nature of our minds. While the Buddhist Satipatthana Sutra advices
the meditator to be mindful of: the body, feelings, the mind and
mental objects�Patanjali's Yoga Sutra talks about the three
techniques of: dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and
samadhi (absorption or enlightenment).
Dharana, the sixth limb of the Yoga philosopher Patanjali's Ashtanga
Yoga, literally means 'immovable concentration of the mind'. The
essential idea is to hold the concentration or focus of attention in
one direction. This is not the forced concentration of, for example,
solving a difficult mathematics problem; rather dharana is a form of
closer to the state of mind, which could be called receptive
In practicing dharana, conditions are created for the mind to focus
its attention in one direction instead of radiating out in a million
different directions. Deep contemplation and reflection usually
creates the right conditions, and the focus on a single chosen point
becomes more intense. Concentrative meditative techniques encourage
one particular activity of the mind, and the more intense it becomes
the more the other preoccupation of the mind cease to exist.
The objective in dharana is to steady the mind by focusing its
attention upon some stable entity. Before retracting his senses, on
may practice focusing attention on a single inanimate object. After
the mind becomes prepared for meditation, it is better able to focus
efficiently on one subject or point of experience. Now if the yogi
chooses to focus on the center (chakra) of inner energy flow, he/she
can directly experience the physical and mental blocks and
imbalances that remain in his or her system. This ability to
concentrate depends on excellent psychological health and
integration and is not an escape from reality, but rather a movement
towards the perception of the true nature of the Self.
Dhyana, the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga, means worship, or
profound and abstract religious meditation. It is perfect
contemplation. It involves concentration upon a point of focus with
the intention of knowing the truth about it.
During dhyana, combining clear insights into distinctions between
objects and the subtle layers surrounding intuition further unifies
the consciousness. We learn to differentiate between the mind of the
perceiver, the means of perception, and the objects
perceived�between words, their meanings and ideas, and even between
all the levels of natural evolution. We realize that these are all
fused in an undifferentiated continuum. One must apprehend both
subject and object clearly in order to perceive their similarities.
Thus dhyana is apprehension of real identity among apparent
During dharana, the mind becomes unidirectional, while during dhyana,
it becomes ostensibly identified and engaged with the object of
focus or attention. That is why, dharana must precede dhyana, since
the mind needs focusing on a particular object before a connection
can be made. If dharana is the contact, then dhyana is the
Obviously, to focus the attention to one point will not result in
insight or realization. One must identify and become "one with" the
object of contemplation, in order to know for certain the truth
about it. In dharana the consciousness of the practitioner is fixed
on one subject, but in dhyana it is in one flow.
The final step in Ashtanga Yoga is the attainment of samadhi.
When we succeed in becoming so absorbed in something that our mind
becomes completely one with it, we are in a state of samadhi.
Samadhi means "to bring together, to merge". In samadhi our personal
identities completely disappear. At the moment of samadhi none of
that exists anymore. We become one with the Divine Entity.
During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without
differences, and how a liberated soul enjoys a pure awareness of
this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that
unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged. The final stage
terminates at the instant the soul is freed. The absolute and
eternal freedom of an isolated soul is beyond all stages and beyond
all time and place. Once freed, it does not return to bondage.
The perfection of samadhi embraces and glorifies all aspects of the
self by subjecting them to the light of understanding. The person
capable of samadhi retains his/her individuality and person, but is
free of the emotional attachment to it.
Meditation as a Therapy
Meditation has not only been used as an important therapy for
psychological and nervous disorders, from simple insomnia to severe
emotional disturbances, but lately physicians have also prescribed
it for curing various physical ailments as well. It is useful in
chronic and debilitating diseases like allergies or arthritis, in
which stress or hypersensitivity of the nervous system are involved.
Regular meditation practices have also been known to help in dealing
with pain and a number of painful diseases, whether chronic or
acute. The act of meditation comes in useful because it helps the
mind to detach itself from all material and physical attachments�and
that is the ultimate cure for all diseases or at least the way to
transcend them when we cannot avoid them.
Research has found meditation, especially Transcendental Meditation,
to be extremely successful in treating physiological problems.
Research on Transcendental Meditation has been conducted at more
than 200 universities, hospitals, and research institutions in 27
countries. As a result, more than 500 research and review papers
have been written covering a wide variety of physiological,
psychological, and sociological effects.
Transcendental Meditation allows mental activity to settle down in a
natural way while alertness is maintained and enhanced. Following
Transcendental Meditation, individuals have reported feeling
refreshed physically as well as mentally. The mind has become calmer
and more alert, thinking clearer, and energy levels have increased.
Those with busy schedules have noted that Transcendental Meditation
brings increased efficiency in activity; time is used more
effectively. When mental and physical well being are enhanced,
personal relationships also improve, a commonly reported and valued
benefit of Transcendental Meditation.
Physiological research has shown that Transcendental Meditation
gives rise to a state of deep rest characterized by marked
reductions in metabolic activity, increased orderliness and
integration of brain functioning, increased cerebral blood flow and
features directly opposite to the physiological and biochemical
effects of stress. Taken together, these studies clearly distinguish
the physiology of Transcendental Meditation from sleep or simple
A review of research on behavioral therapy for hypertension
concluded that Transcendental Meditation provides an optimal
non-clinical treatment and preventive program for high blood
pressure because the technique:
� produces rapid, clinically significant blood pressure reductions;
� is distinctly more effective than other meditation and relaxation
� is continued by a high proportion of subjects (in contrast to
lower continuation rates for relaxation techniques and the frequent
problem of poor compliance with anti-hypertensive drugs);
� has documented acceptability and effectiveness in a wide range of
� is effective in reducing high blood pressure both when used as
sole treatment and when used in concert with medication;
� reduces high blood pressure in 'real life' environments outside
� is free from harmful side-effects or adverse reactions;
� reduces other cardiovascular risk factors and improves health in a
However, all forms of meditation are not good for everyone, any more
than all foods or herbs are. For this reason both yoga and ayurveda
recommends a proper lifestyle and an integral approach to meditation
that considers both our different faculties as well as our
Meditation and Prayer
People in the West are more familiar with prayer than meditation.
Prayer is a general term and many types of it exist, but the term
usually refers to an active form of meditation in which we project
an intention�calling on God to help us or our loved ones in some
way. Both ayurveda and yoga use prayer (prarthana) along with mantra
and meditation. Generally mantra is energized prayer, a prayer or
yogic wish directed by special sound patterns or vibrations of the
cosmic Word. Meditation is a silent or contemplative form of prayer
in which there may not be any movement of thought or intention.
Devotional meditation is an intensely personal matter and is usually
conditioned by one's religious background. Other than worshipping
personal gods and deities who appeal to a particular person's
consciousness, another important form of devotional worship is-the
worship of planetary deities and cosmic powers behind the forces of
time and karma.
Affirmation, and Visualization
The use of affirmations goes along with prayer and meditation.
Affirmations can be employed to emphasize our relationship with the
divine or our own inner healing powers. People suffering from
negative thoughts about themselves, are often trapped in self-doubt.
Affirmations can be very strengthening in such conditions.
Yet affirmations should lead to action and not substitute for it. To
do anything in life requires a belief that one can do it and a
positive intention to make the effort. In such cases one cannot use
the affirmation as an excuse for inaction.
Visualization goes along with prayer and meditation. One may
visualize healed and improved conditions that one wishes to achieve.
One can also direct healing energy to those who are sicker or to the
parts of ones own body that need improvement. Such visualizations
usually employ certain colors and mantras to be directed along with
the breath. Visualizations can also be of deities or beautiful
natural scenes to clear the mental field.