Laying the Foundation
Before embarking on meditation for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment, or just for relaxation it is worth taking the time to establish the right frame of mind and a suitable environment. In relation to secular meditation this will help you to maximise the benefits of your practice. With relation to spiritually motivated enlightenment it is necessary to establish a safe environment in which to develop in as the opening of spiritual channels can produce uncomfortable and even spiritually and mentally unhealthy results in the unprepared individual.
Spiritual MeditationEnlightenment through meditation entails the 'eradication' of the 'self' as commune with the infinite is realised . This, some spiritual practitioners believe, accords with many spiritual side effects:
The constant striving to reach a state of enlightenment can itself be unhealthy as it involves going 'into' oneself in much the manner that a depressed or withdrawn person might. Prolonged time spent alone, together with the feeling that others (friends and family) are a hindrance to one's spiritual path can lead to social withdrawal and ostracization. This striving is itself contrary to good spiritual practice and is a product of a wish to satisfy egotistical urges.
A misperception of the nature of enlightenment can lead some people to become deluded, imagining themselves to have godlike properties and mystical powers.
Arguably, the eradication of one's ego (their individual self) and a blending with everything leads to a dissolution of the boundaries of time and space: This is the reason that spirituality is so often linked with clairvoyance and psychic activity. By broaching the physical 'self', an individual becomes at one with all things, in all epoch's and can thus read others minds and see the future (and past, as in past lives). This can be taken to be an endgame of spiritual practice, leading to abuse of powers and delusions of grandeur.
The dissolution of the self is said to leave the individual open to possession by malignant roaming spirits. Those attempting commune with spirits are advised to protect themselves before doing so.
In order to avoid the above pitfalls when attempting meditation for spiritual purposes it is wise to ascribe to a well founded spiritual system before seriously embarking upon your path. This can easily be done by joining a local Buddhist meditation or Yoga group. It is also worth taking some time to read around the subject of spirituality and to establish your own motives for choosing to embark upon a spiritual journey.
In order to ground the minds of persons entering into serious spiritual practice many spiritual groups have developed rituals and processes of initiation. New interns to Buddhist temples across Asia are frequently subjected to the harshest discipline so that they become humbled before embarking on their spiritual journey. This can, however lead to hierarchical practice that are at odds with some spiritual thinking.
Much religious practice can be seen in this way with prohibitions on sexual practices, eating restrictions and codes of behaviour way overstepping their initial recommendation, merely as aids to laying the foundation for a better union with God, or towards enlightenment. Whilst social responsibility is central to laying the foundations, in keeping with the precept of equanimity amongst all beings (as we are all one), restrictive moral practices can be damaging to the development of spiritual meditation: Meditation is a state of harmony in the mind and therefore cannot operate upon dualistic judgemental moral foundations.
Meditation in GeneralIt is generally useful to join a meditation group where you can enjoy your experiences with others and compare your progression, whilst learning from an experienced teacher. Once you have done this (and if you haven't done this, the advice of a friend is useful) it is worth setting aside a good light, noise free area in which you can meditate in your house regularly - daily practice is advisable if you want to reap the benefits of meditation.
If you are meditating purely for relaxation or health purposes it is not necessary to become deeply concerned with the pitfalls of spiritual practice; it should be possible to relax fairly easily in your preferred space at a convenient time of day. Make housemates and family aware of your meditation schedule and turn your mobile onto silent - interruptions to your schedule are best avoided, especially if you are new to meditation.
Before you start meditating for the first time it is worth setting reasonable goals . For example, if you set out with the clear intention of feeling more relaxed within a fortnight of once a day fifteen minute meditation, you will soon see the rewards. Setting out to feel like a completely new (perhaps even spiritually aware) individual overnight, however, is bound to meet with disappointment! In order to assess your goals it is worth keeping a meditation journal (see related article).