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Improve Your Mental Health with Five Minutes of Meditation


by Tobin Blake


Five Minutes of Meditation

Today you are going to try one of the simplest forms of meditation there is. In the meditation you won’t be attempting to go beyond your thoughts, fight against them, or experience anything in particular, but instead you will simply try to get a feel for letting them come and go without attachment. We are not our thoughts.

Our thoughts are only products of our mind. They pull at us and enchant us incessantly, trapping us in a mental word web. We feel as if we are one with them, as if we are our thoughts. Today, quite simply, you are going to question this belief.

Beyond all our thoughts but still within our minds, there is a quiet place, much as a busy city might have a tranquil park within its boundaries. To those living in the rush of city life, such a park may go unnoticed as they speed right past it without so much as a sideward glance. The busy inhabitants have no time to stop and explore. But for those who do, great rewards await.

Once today set aside about five minutes of your time to rest your body and mind. Don’t expect too much. Don’t even try to understand the purpose behind the exercise. You need not feel stress over anything in this practice. Don’t worry about whether or not you are doing the exercise correctly. Just relax and do your best to apply the following:

1. Sit down, make yourself comfortable, and close your eyes.

2. Take several deep, relaxing breaths. Feel the air fill your lungs from the bottom up, holding it for a few seconds before you exhale in one long, extended stream.

3. Relax your body. Take a few moments to get a sense of relaxation in your muscles, letting all the tension drop away as if it were flooding out of you and into the air. Relax your neck and shoulders, your arms and hands, your chest, stomach, and back, and finally your thighs, calves, and feet.

4. Now think to yourself, “I think, but I am not my thoughts.” This is your focus sentence. Use it as a focus for your meditation, repeating as often as needed to keep your mind focused on these words instead of the chatter.

5. Between repetitions of the focus sentence, try, as best you can, to observe your thoughts without interacting with them. For instance, if a thought about work occurs to you, you might be tempted to dwell on it or to follow its course to another related thought such as plans for the weekend, when you don’t have to work. Instead, when you notice that you are engaging with a thought, stop, note the thought, and then return your attention to the focus sentence. Sometimes you will be successful and sometimes not; in either case another thought will follow. Just continue the process with each new thought.

6. Whenever you realize that you’ve forgotten about your meditation and have let your mind engage with a thought — which is likely to be much more often than not — interrupt your train of thought by repeating your focus sentence, more than once if need be. Think it clearly in your mind, focus on it, and then return to the attempt to let your thoughts drift by passively. Be calm and gentle but also very firm with yourself on this point. Continually redirecting your focus to the meditation — letting thoughts rise and disappear — is the whole point of today’s exercise. The function of the focus sentence is just to remind you of your meditation.


Forgiveness: A Dynamic Shortcut

Meditation and forgiveness go hand in hand. Where you harbor anger, your meditations will be blocked. Where you forgive, you open up to a deeper experience. Learning forgiveness is a pivotal part of learning to meditate, and the practice of forgiveness will remain an important part of your spiritual experience in the long term.

Some people have spent years in meditative practice, searching for something they can never seem to touch. They might spend countless hours in the “practice of stillness and silence” without ever doing any of the real work of meditation — in part, learning forgiveness. Committing to regular meditation is vital, but it is only one step, and meditation is only one part of much larger spiritual practice. Remember, real results require real work. Forgiveness is the key to success that so many overlook. No mantra, no mind picture, no exercise will take you where a peaceful heart will. Learn forgiveness and your meditations will naturally deepen.

It is tempting to think that forgiveness comes when circumstances change: when the person you want to forgive makes amends or when you move on to other concerns or the score is evened in some way. But forgiveness is really self-work, or working to understand oneself and grow in spirit. It requires a commitment to questioning your own thinking process, as opposed to someone else’s. If you hope to find peace, you must begin to realize that forgiveness involves a change in mindset, not in circumstance, and you alone are responsible for making that change. Forgiveness has to come from you; you can’t hope for peace if you are relegating your responsibility to other people.

Adopting forgiveness is like changing the lens through which you view the world; it colors everything. You see nothing apart from your own mind — no injustice, no hatred, and no pain, but also no peace or joy or quiet. If you are looking through red-tinted glasses, everything will be colored red. Similarly, if your mind is clouded with anger and condemnation, this is what you will perceive. But this lesson goes even further. The key is to realize that you have the power to change this lens.

This recognition can finally open your life to powerful options previously unnoticed. It is a way of taking stock of your world and then acting to change the things that need changing. You take active charge of your mind and refuse to allow others to dictate what you should feel or how you should think. To me this is the only real power any of us can possess.

We can see how forgiveness operates by considering Isaac Newton’s famous third law of motion, which states that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” We all recognize this in physical terms: if you throw a ball against a wall it will bounce back to you. I believe this simple principle can be applied to a far broader range of experience, beyond ordinary physics; indeed, it seems that many physical laws are reflections of a greater orderliness underlying life in general. Applied to our thoughts, Newton’s principle would suggest that if you hate, you will experience hatred. Anger projected out into the world will be returned in kind, just like a ball returning to its point of origin. This is expressed by the saying “What goes around comes around.”

Yet a peaceful world, too, is a projection. It’s not up to others to choose or decline your own peace of mind. Offer kindness to the world and you will find the justifications for it. Compassion, gentleness, and a quiet life are gardens that need to be planted before they can grow. Plant corn in a garden and corn will grow. Plant onions if you want onions to grow. If you don’t like onions, then don’t plant them. If you don’t like animosity, then don’t plant it. Doesn’t this make sense, put into these simple terms? Then why be surprised by or upset with nature’s simple laws?

If a person throws a ball against a wall and it bounces back and strikes that person in the eye, is it the ball’s fault? Or should that person simply be a little more careful? The fact is, being angry with the ball won’t help; you control the ball. Similarly, you choose how you view your circumstances and relationships.

Knowing this, each one of us needs to learn to become very selective about how we want our lives to look and feel. Plant the crops you would like to grow in your life, and don’t plant those you’d rather not harvest. If you are an angry person, or an unhappy person, or an out-of-control person, you can change your experiences by changing the way you think of other people and the world in general. You don’t have to hate, and you can learn to see people — even in their most insane moments — in a way that wishes them well, that hopes for healing, and that commands peace.

The practice of forgiveness makes clear the contrast between our old feelings of animosity and resentment and a new feeling of peace, and this contrast becomes a great teacher of forgiveness. When you see two distinct paths to travel on, learning becomes a simple matter of deciding which way you prefer. There is no other way to learn what forgiveness is, to understand what it means, and to experience the relief it offers as a replacement for all the turmoil we previously felt. Forgiveness is an experience, a lot like meditation; it is an opening of the heart so deep that the release it brings seems to go on forever. It is a gift you offer to others, but as you proceed and go deeper into its methodology, you finally begin to realize that forgiveness is also a gift you receive, something for yourself.
How to Practice Forgiveness

Today we are going to practice with a visualization technique geared toward forgiveness that has been borrowed from the spiritual teaching A Course in Miracles. In it you will be practicing a version of Newton’s theory that all actions produce reactions. Consequently, the more “heart” you are able to put into the exercise, the greater the results you will experience during your meditation.

Note, however, that there is a tendency to feel that beginning meditative practices on forgiveness are deceitful. You may feel, for instance, that you are not really being honest by attempting to view in a positive light someone you sincerely dislike. But even if you feel this way, practice with the idea anyway. Be assured that this feeling is very common. Through it, try to gain a sense — even if it is only faint — of the possible relief true forgiveness could bring. This should be enough for now to motivate you to continue.

Begin the exercises with the relaxation exercise described at the beginning of this article. After you are relaxed, try this meditation for about five minutes.

[Think] of someone you do not like, who seems to irritate you, or to cause regret in you if you should meet him; one you actively despise, or merely try to overlook. It does not matter what the form your anger takes. You probably have chosen him already. He will do.

Now close your eyes and see him in your mind, and look at him a while. Try to perceive some light in him somewhere; a little gleam which you had never noticed. Try to find some little spark of brightness shining through the ugly picture that you hold of him. Look at this picture till you see a light somewhere within it, and then try to let this light extend until it covers him, and makes the picture beautiful and good.

Look at this changed perception for a while, and turn your mind to one you call a friend. Try to transfer the light you learned to see around your former “enemy” to him. Perceive him now as more than friend to you, for in that light his holiness shows you your savior, saved and saving, healed and whole.

Then let him offer you the light you see in him, and let your “enemy” and friend unite in blessing you with what you gave. Now are you one with them, and they with you. Now have you been forgiven by yourself.

Excerpted from The Power of Stillness by Tobin Blake. Copyright © 2003 Tobin Blake. Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657 Ext. 52 or click here.

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