The Path to Peace
The word "meditation" conjures up the image of a long-bearded old man dressed in a white sarong, sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop. His thin arms relaxed on his legs, palms up, eyes closed, softly chanting "Om," as he reaches the peak of human understanding of the universe.
But as the following women will attest, meditation is no longer a mysterious ritual practiced by the spiritual elite. The art of attaining Zen has gone mainstream: no mountaintop, sarong or Buddhist temple required.
In today's time-crunched society, more women are taking a breather and finding meditation to be the perfect tool.
"Meditation is important for physical and mental reasons," says Swami Darshani Sivananda from the Divine Life Society, an organization that provides information about meditation and yoga. "Physically, it releases blocks in the body's various systems, regulates breathing and normalizes blood pressure without any medication. Mentally, it restores balance and equilibrium to the mind; it gives a meditator distance between herself and the incessant parade of involuntary thought that causes tension and illness."
According to most meditation gurus, the best time to meditate is within the hour and a half before dawn and the hour and a half before dusk. Most people will find the early morning period easy to fit into their schedules. Those who find the pre-dusk period hard to set aside can meditate, instead, before they go to bed.
Forty-three-year-old Judith Crosby is a mother of three and works as a human resource manager in Toronto, Ontario. "Like most women, I have become a master at multi-tasking, with very few of those tasks set aside for my own well-being. After a busy day, the only 'me' time that I have is before bed, usually around 11 p.m.," she says. "For the past 10 years, I have set aside that time for myself to meditate. I find that meditating at this time helps me wind down, sharpens my focus and even keeps me grounded for the rest of the next day."
Abby Ferguson, a 32-year-old New York City native, agrees. "In my career as an investment banker I need to be focused, no matter how hectic work gets," she says. "I usually find two minutes out of my day to meditate to clear my head."
There are as many methods of meditation as there are people who practice it. Basically, one prepares the place a corner of a room facing north or east with a pillow for the buttocks and one for the legs, then sits in the proper position with back straight and legs in a yoga meditation posture.
Achieving a meditative state usually means concentrating on an object such as a flower candle or sound. After a while, with eyes closed, the image is replicated between the eyebrows without any tension just as one watches a movie. In time, the image will go, and one is steeped in a meditative state beyond images and words.
"I sit cross-legged on big comfy pillows. I turn off the television set, light some candles and play soft music, usually classical. I concentrate on a small, golden cross that my grandmother gave me," says Crosby. "It took me a while to learn to shut out the rest of the world and concentrate on that simple object. My mind was crowded; it was sort of like playing 'Where's Waldo?' You have to learn to edit the clutter that is in your mind."
Ferguson meditates in the middle of the day. "At lunch I lock myself in my office," she says. "When seated, I rest my eyes downward, focusing on nothing in particular. Without closing my eyes completely, I let my eyelids drop to a level that feels most comfortable. The simple act of gazing is my primary focus, rather than the area I am gazing at. My breathing becomes more rhythmic. I let my attention drift. If my eyes become very heavy, I allow them to close. If I come out of my relaxed space, I simply bring my attention back to a relaxed downward gaze. This technique is a great stress reducer, rechargs my batteries and increases my alertness."
Meditation also can help the creative juices flow. "Before I started practicing meditation, before it became a part of my life, I was very left-brained. I never thought of myself as a creative person," says Crosby. "After meditating for almost a year, I felt myself opening up. Now, after 10 years, I can't imagine life without Zen." For Ferguson, meditation also brought equilibrium to her life. "I was constantly getting sick. I felt run down both physically and mentally," she says. "When a friend at work convinced me to go on a meditation/yoga retreat with her for a weekend, I didn't expect to learn anything. I honestly thought it was a lot of mumble-jumbo garbage. The experience was mind-blowing. Now, I have never felt better. I'm more relaxed, more focused. It has put a lot of things in perspective."
There is no "right" way to meditate. Put any expectations aside. Avoid trying to force something to happen. Don't over-analyze or try to make your mind go completely blank.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to meditate. You can sit in a chair, on the bed, on the floor or anywhere that's comfortable for you. Eliminate as much noise and as many distractions as possible. Sit with your spine straight. This allows the spiritual energy to flow freely up the spine, which is an important aspect of meditation. Place your hands in any position that is comfortable. If it does not go against your beliefs, call on a higher power for help. This can be quite helpful, but is not necessary.
With practice, meditation can be an accessible way to transform the way you move through the world.