The quieter you become, the more you can hear. –Ram Dass
Well, duh! Of course you can hear more when you are quiet. But wait… hear what? What are you supposed to hear? This advice is not just about not talking. It’s about quieting the chatter inside our heads that goes nonstop from the time we wake up until the time we finally fall asleep. That little voice is harder to shut up than you think, but it’s definitely worth learning how to do. Almost nobody can do it right off the bat, so don’t feel badly if you fail the first time or the first ten times.
It’s been said that slowing down the mind is like hitting the brakes in a car that is speeding down the highway at 65 miles per hour. When we do this, what happens? The car keeps going for a while. It can’t possibly come to a full stop right away. Plus, it’s dangerous for us to do this. Instead, we have to put on the brakes firmly but slowly, and the car will eventually come to a stop. It’s the same with meditation. You’re not going to be able to completely stop the chatter all at once, but you will eventually be successful.
You have to give the mind something to focus on. One idea is to focus on your breath. Another idea is to focus your attention on some outer sounds around you, such as a fan whirring, a heater hissing, a bird chirping, etc. Some people listen to quiet, beautiful music, or nature sounds. You can also chant a spiritually charged word. Some people say OM or AUM. I use HU, pronounced like the word hue. Whatever word you use, take a deep breath and chant your word on the out-breath for as long as you can. Then fall silent and take another breath. Chant once again on the out-breath. Do this slowly.
Your thoughts will intrude, but that’s OK. Just let the thought go and return to quiet, inner mindfulness. Keep dropping thoughts and returning to the silence. Try not to think about your appointments for the day, your next meal, your various problems, or the next thing on your agenda. They can wait. Be here, now.
Try not to have any particular expectations about meditation. The point is not to achieve enlightenment all at once. The point is simply to relax and find your center. You can help yourself by ensuring that you won’t be disturbed during your meditation, which should take no more than about 20 minutes, especially at first. Unplug or turn off your phone, your TV, and your computer. Tell your friends you wish to be undisturbed after a certain time of night or before a certain time in the morning.
Before you can quiet the mind, you have to quiet the body. Sitting is better than lying down for meditation, because lying down usually just puts you to sleep. The idea is to remain awake and aware, just very, very relaxed. You don’t have to sit on the floor or fold your legs into the lotus position, however. Just sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight and your feet on the floor, uncrossed. You don’t have to put your hands in any particular position, either. Just rest them lightly in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Some people hold their palms up in a gesture of receiving.
And what are you supposed to be listening for, anyway? Well, you are supposed to be listening to God, but don’t expect a big, booming voice, or even a tiny whisper. In fact, you might not actually hear a voice at all. It might be more like a nudge or a sudden insight. And it might not happen during your meditation time, either. The benefit of meditation and contemplation is to make us more aware of ourselves and our surroundings in our daily lives. When we are more aware, we catch cues that we might have missed before when we were more stressed out.
Contemplation is a slightly more active process than meditation. Before contemplation, you can read an inspirational quote, or a short passage from any scripture or book of devotions. You can also have a conversation with any spiritual guide and ask to be shown the truth about a situation in your life.
The Voice of God is like a radio station that is broadcasting twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. All we have to do in order to get the broadcast is to turn our “radio” on and tune it to the broadcast. Exercising the discipline to enter meditation or contemplation is analogous to turning on your radio. Focusing our minds and eliminating or slowing down the chatter is like tuning the radio to the right station to hear the broadcast.
Many people say that the best time to listen to God is early in the morning or in the evening before bedtime. Some people go to sleep fairly early, then wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning for a nighttime meditation, then they go back to bed until morning. It’s certainly a lot easier to calm our minds at these times, rather than in the middle of the day. But there’s a surprise bonus in store once you’ve successfully learned to meditate: you will find it much easier to simply close your eyes for even a few seconds during the day to enter into the same state of consciousness that you achieve during full meditation. It’s amazing how refreshing this can be. 🙂