"Learning to work with the imagination, inner visual response, and moving beyond conventional ideas are potentials within all human beings."
Meditation is the beginning of any magickal or spiritual program. Virtually every religion or secular order practices some form of meditation, for prayer, stress reduction, relaxation, or a form of focused intent. Meditation is the focus on a certain thought or subject either to achieve a determined result or bring one to the awareness that there is no dichotomy. It is a tool with which anyone can develop concentration, self-discipline, focus, and letting go all at the same time. The cultivation of stillness and silence of the mind nourishes the need within all of us. Learning to work with the imagination, inner visual response, and moving beyond conventional ideas are potentials within all human beings. Reopening the door of imagination reestablishes a link between body and spirit-meditation can help with the opening.
Meditation is sometimes thought of as the "art of contemplation" because during relaxation the mind starts its own information seeking. During light trace or meditative state, brain waves are slowed. When a person shuts his eyes and is not actively thinking on a subject, brain waves become larger and more regular than in normal consciousness. This initial state of trance is called the "alpha" state. There are many deeper levels than the alpha state, but it is my opinion that one does not have to reach the deeper states to work successfully. The state or level that one chooses is a highly personal one and depends largely on how relaxed you can become. Like any skill, it takes practice to become accomplished.
One of the basic questions that most folks ask is, "How will I know if I'm in a trance or meditative state?" One of the first clues are Rapid Eye Movements (REM), which feel like your eyelids are fluttering. This occurs in sleep during the dream state. The other physical sensations are that your body feels very light or absent, some people have no awareness of their bodies at this time. There can be sensations that your body feels very heavy like it is weighed down or tied down so that you feel that there is no possible way of moving it. The feeling of being very large or very small isn't uncommon. The main sensations that I find are that the breathing and the heart rate slow, the feeling of a presleep state is very apparent at this level, and the awareness of one's external environment seems very dim. For those that see energy patterns or colors of the body's energy field, trance appears as a slower but brighter pattern in most people.
This happens because when breathing is deep and controlled, the area in the brain which controls respiration and circulation relaxes. If one is angry, his breathing is uncontrolled, hard, irregular, and labored. When one is afraid, the first response is to inhale deeply and hold it for a short time so that the breath becomes very shallow. Our breathing patterns have a direct correlation to our emotional status. Some of the ways that I learned to control my breathing patterns has been from yoga, Pranatic breathing, biofeedback, and pain control.
Slow deep breathing is necessary for most of the trance states. Experiment with different patterns. I have found that I can use rapid shallow breaths for decreasing my oxygen supply, thus making me dizzy and changing my awareness; however, while this might be an interesting thing to try, I don't recommend this as a regular meditation practice. The object of meditation is calmness for information accessing, not achieving an altered state through oxygen depravation.
Most people have a shallow breathing pattern, which is a problem when they attempt deeper breaths and increase the amount of oxygen to the brain until they learn proper techniques. One technique for mastering breath control is simply changing the pattern of the pause between breaths. The pause that normally takes place between the inhalation and before the exhalation- try placing it after the exhalation. This focuses your attention on your breath. Another technique is to deepen the breath by pausing twice. Inhale though the nose, hold the breath, exhale slowly through the nose, and then pause again. I have also used lengthening my exhalations, as if I were blowing out a candle. This technique can be done by exhaling out the nose instead. By becoming aware of your breath, you are mindful of your present awareness. Then, by listening to your breath you can feel your lungs expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale. The next step to experiment with the different feeling of exhalation from the nose versus the mouth. Each time your mind begins to wander, focus back on your breath and its pattern. Mindful breathing gives you focus on what your are doing. Each time, try to concentrate your focus so that it becomes easier and easier each time.
Position your head, neck, and chest straight in order to avoid pressure on the nerves of the spinal column. This first posture is a natural one, but you can change your postures later if you choose. For this exercise, breath in though your nose and exhale though your mouth. Count to 10 on your inhalations and the same on your exhalations. This establishes a rhythm that generates newer energy and makes you focus on your breaths. Try this once in the morning and then again in the evening for a couple of days.
After mindful breathing, try visualizing the breaths being distributed throughout your body and feeling like a massage. Start feet and toes on the first breath, then move to ankles for the second breath. Move up to knees, genitals and buttocks, abdomen and internal organs, chest cavity, shoulders, muscles and tendons, upper arms and elbows, forearms and wrists, hands and fingers, throat, lips and jaw, cheeks and lines around eyes, then forehead and scalp. As you are doing this, exhale all tensions. This is a relaxing meditation for when you feel stressed, getting ready to study, or before meditation.
This is an exercise to establish concentration. After the relaxation premeditation warm up, go into a visualization of a single symbol. It can be a apple, a number, a peaceful pool of water, or anything you want. I use a single candle flame. This is the trigger that signals my mind that I am going into a meditative state. If you use such a signal to your mind, later with time, you won't have to do the mindful breathing or relaxation technique because you have programmed your mind to go into an alpha state at your will. This takes a bit longer to accomplish, but doing this with your regularly scheduled program of meditation will eventually get you to this state. This exercise will cultivate the stillness and calmness within the mind when you chose to enact it.
Don't set unreasonable demands upon yourself and your accomplishments. Ten minutes once or twice a day is worth more than an hour erratically. Try sitting in different positions to see which is best for you. From personal experience, I recommend that if you would like to do longer meditation, skip the lotus position for a while unless you want to come back a human pretzel.
Half lotus works better in the beginning states. Keep track of your progress by using a personal journal. Meditation has a direct causal linkage to the human memory centers in the brain which help learning and decision-making and have many therapeutic values as well.
There are lots of how-to books out there about meditation, but I prefer the straightforward technique of just doing it along with the experimental approach. Reading any one of the how-to books does give insight into how other individuals use meditation in their daily lives and their type of technique. It can be counterproductive, however, to follow strictly another person's program, because each of us come from different backgrounds, experiences, and have different motivations for meditation. The best mentor you can have for yourself is you, because you are the only one that can measure your progress at any given time. There is a common baseline within these books and the general rule of thumb is to do what works for you.
The next step in meditation is visualization. This is the time that one moves on from the art of contemplation to begin information accessing. Visualization aids this process by using your imagination to align yourself with certain aspects of your psyche. This is the part that will take your time and patience to start working the skill base that has brought you to this point. I started working with what I call triggers and props. It is helpful to use three items that have a particular sensation that differs and involve all the five physical senses. I used an orange, a lit candle, and a rock. The orange is a visual, taste, touch, smell, and audio prop that can trigger all the senses at one time. The candle flame can produce a retina burn that implants the visual aspect into the mind for memory recall. The rock was used to work with the differences between the other two and to pick up the specific vibrations from the stone. This is the beginning step of working with psychic impressions from objects.
Gather up your three trigger props. I am going to use the above examples for this exercise, but you can choose whatever you deem appropriate for you. Start with the relaxation breathing technique discussed in Exercise #1 and then open your eyes to the items you have in front of you. Start with the orange: feel the skin of the orange, feel the weight and texture of it. Take the time to examine it very closely. Close your eyes, and while the orange is still in your hands, bring the image of it into your mind. After you have the image firmly planted in your mind, open your eyes and try it again, but this time without touching the orange. Again after you have the image implanted in your mind, open your eyes. Examine the orange a bit further then peel it and eat it.
Explore the actual taste in your mouth, how it feels in your mouth, what sounds were made when you were peeling it, the juices that got on your hand and how they felt, and what it felt like when you finished eating the orange. Now close your eyes and recreate the scene in your mind. Try to include your motions and what it felt like peeling the orange. Then recreate the sounds you made peeling it. Then recreate the taste, the sensation in your mouth, and the smell that you had when you were eating it. After you recreate the physical sensations in your mind, open your eyes. Think about which of the five senses were easiest to recreate within your mind and which were the hardest. Now look at the candle flame, watch it move and listen for the sounds it makes. Keep doing this for a couple of minutes, then close your eyes. Did the flame appear, or did you have to recreate it within your mind? After you feel that you have made the image appear to your satisfaction, open your eyes. Now try this again, but get your hands close enough to the flame that you can feel its warmth. Close your eyes and bring up the image again, but also add the warmth of the flame to the image.
Notice where and if you feel the warmth. Then open your eyes. The next part of this exercise involves becoming more relaxed. Get comfortable, and repeat the relaxation exercise while holding the rock. Feel the rock in your hand. What does it feel like physically and in your mind?
Notice what your feel, see, and hear but don't let you mind wander off. If you do, start this part of the exercise over. When you are ready, open your eyes.
The purpose of the above exercise is to recreate the item within your mind in all of its forms and sensations. This stimulates your imagination, and at the same time develops your recall and transfers your physical sensations into the mind. It forces you to activate your will and disconnects you with your environment for a short time. Visualization is different than meditation but there is an overlap regarding recall and the use of physical sensations during both of these skills.