Nothing is impossible to a willing mind.

Book of the Han Dynasty


What Is Meditation?


People who do not know much about meditation often think of it in a limited sense, as deep thought or contemplation. Even Webster's Dictionary defines meditation narrowly: "To reflect on; ponder. To engage in contemplation." From its long and rich early history, to its widespread and diverse practice today, meditation includes thinking, but it is a much broader and fuller endeavor. No standard definition includes all types of meditation. Attempting to confine it to a simple definition is like trying to summarize a play by Shakespeare in one sentence.

Meditation brings about the union of opposites, a balance between many factors. The ancient yin-yang symbol depicts this union of opposites. Within the white there is black, and within the black there is white. The two sides intertwine, one with the other. When we explore the mind, the body is affected. When we work with the conscious mind, the unconscious mind becomes involved. Sometimes we empty the mind of all thoughts; sometimes we fill it by focusing on a specific thought. As skill develops in meditation, there is a balance: union.

What is clear is that first and foremost, meditation is an experience. The experience is so highly valued that it is considered an inward "art." Though the meditator returns to the center within the self, paradoxically he or she may transcend the limitations imposed on the self. The essence of meditation is an experience. We encourage you to make it a personal experience, not just an abstract one. You can extend your mind more than you would imagine. The link is there intuitively. This use of your mind will connect you to the source of thinking: a deeper, more profound state.

You can learn to meditate without elaborate technological equipment, esoteric training, or vast expense. Yet its effects are deep, long-lasting, and profound. You can lose little by experimenting with it as an experience, and gain much. Meditation has no unpleasant side effects, as with drugs or some other treatments. As time passes and your experience grows, meditation will take on a personal aspect, which changes its meaning for you. And through meditation, you will grow better and wiser, fulfilling yourself in life with more satisfaction and calmer reactions.

Meditation practices are used in every country, all over the world. Each of the major Eastern religions has its own approach. There are many paths to choose from, and our intent is not to proselytize any one but rather to look for the common factors of Eastern meditation and draw out methods that can be applied to everyday life. These methods are latent with positive potential. Your personal experiences with these meditation exercises will make them your own. Choose the most useful ones, to fit your needs or work best for you.


Types of Meditation

To the beginner, the world of meditation can be bewildering. Over thousands of years, a myriad of meditation methods have developed. We have studied and extracted for you some of the common themes that run throughout the many traditions. you will have the opportunity to experiment personally with many of these types of meditation practices, thereby touching upon many of the great meditation traditions of the world.

Meditation methods may be classified in terms of the yin-yang concept. Thus, meditation may be active (yang) or passive (yin). This means that meditators either use their will and effort to do something with their mind, or they wait passively and allow things to happen. Today, we are all accustomed to being busy and active. Therefore, the active forms of meditation may make more sense at first. But passive, not-doing, waiting, letting-be, or allowing is a valuable complement that may open up an entirely new realm of possibilities. An attitude of passive waiting and allowing often makes it easier to call forth the unconscious. You will find both passive and active meditation exercises in parts two and three.

Some forms of meditation aim to empty the mind of all thoughts, while others try to fill it with chosen thoughts. Taoist practitioners believe that through the calm, empty mind, the spirit of the Tao, that is, the creative principle that orders the universe, is able to enter. Certain Yoga and Buddhist meditation sects believe that filling the entire mind with a wonderful, pure thought will raise practitioners to a more enlightened plane.

Other meditation styles teach meditators to withdraw from the external world. The rationales may vary: Some believe the world of humankind and its activities is superficial or even unreal. Therefore, to withdraw from the world of events is a step toward a more fundamental and real reality. Taken to the extreme, people who hold this position may withdraw into monasteries or live as hermits alone on mountains or in caves, for a life that is pure and devoid of worldly concerns.

An opposite belief is that we live our lives alienated from ourselves and that fully immersing ourselves in our being will lead to an integrated wholeness, a revelation. The meditation style of Zen Buddhism teaches practitioners to give up the concept of a split between thought and action, to unify and thereby live fully in the moment, so that even mundane tasks can be used for profound meditation.

Meditation sometimes specifies what meditators should attend to. For some, the object of meditation is to be directed to the inner realm. Thus, you close your eyes and imagine or think about something within your mind. Other styles focus on the outer, such as "Think of a tree. Meditate on all aspects of it." These qualities of meditation fall under the yin-yang, the union of opposites, in which all become one in the Tao, bringing about a higher consciousness.

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