Mindfulness is the best Meditation for our times
To be honest, any spiritual master will say, what passes off as meditation these days is not even scratching the surface of what real meditation ought to be.
The Hindu or Vedic System recognises 4 paths to attaining salvation or union with the supreme consciousness. They are, namely:
- Karma Yoga
- Bhakti Yoga
- Raja Yoga
- Gyana Yoga
Meditation falls on the Raja Yoga axis. The great sage Patanjali prescribed a 8 step (Ashtanga — literally 8 limbs or folds) hierarchy to realisation, as captured in the infographic below:
Frankly, none of us common lay practitioners of Yoga or Meditation reach even the Dharana stage, if at all. That is also partly because the challenges of modern life doesn’t allow us to go through the first 5 steps of Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara and Dharana to any degree of seriousness. But, it is ok and, perhaps, all the more reason for us to try “meditation” howsoever imperfect our practice may be.
As in Yoga there are many methods or techniques of meditation. We may have heard about some of them — such as Kundalini Meditation, Chakra Meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Guided Visualisation, Light-Colour, Mindfulness and many more. While all of them lead broadly to the same goal — the union of mind, body and soul or consciousness — a beginner may feel confused (even lost) at choosing one from the wide menu on offer.
Though the different methods of meditation are not mutually exclusive, to get result it is advisable to stay with one technique for a reasonable length of time (at least a month to begin with). If it does not suit your temperament, you would be able to make out in no time and move on to another form. Usually this process of trial and error ends pretty soon and one is able to find something that works for the individual.
Having identified a method that one is comfortable with one should not immediately experiment with other techniques, until she has acquired basic level of proficiency.
However, given our modern lifestyle some schools of meditation may be particularly well suited for our times. Mindfulness is one of them. In an age of shortening attention span, multitasking, Social Media Addiction and Compulsive On-line (Mobile) Obsession Disorder — mindfulness is what, as they say, the Doctor ordered.
Mindfulness is an ancient Meditation technique, its variants is found in different religious traditions. In the Therevada School of Buddhism, it is called Vipassana or Insight Meditation. The famous Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh may be credited with making “Mindfulness” Meditation popular in the western world.
There is enough literature about Mindfulness available on the net for me to go into any more detail here or even recommend specific websites. The benefits of Mindfulness is also supported by modern Cognitive Behaviour theory. Mindfulness Meditation makes us more aware of our mind and in doing so hone our Emotional Intelligence.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us how to practice Mindfulness in everyday life even through mundane activities like walking and eating. With mindfulness he teaches us how we can tackle emotions like Anger, Anxiety, Restlessness and Depression.
To that extent, Mindfulness has similarities with CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) that makes us more equipped to deal with emotions. It allows us to observe our thoughts and feelings, anticipating and calibrating our reactions to be able to retain balance.
Mindfulness may not lead us, the ordinary mortals, to great realisation or attain supernatural powers (which in any case is not the purpose of meditation) but it can certainly make our lives easier, healthier, more fulfilling and, hopefully, also happier.