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THE JOURNEY WITHIN


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So I'm at Day 23 of my 100-day meditation challenge. What began as one 30-minute session sitting cross-legged in front of a candle flame, counting the seconds and blinking every twelfth second, has now gone up to two sessions: one in the morning and one in the evening. A couple times I have even made a hat-trick of it.

Some of meditation's many benefits, and there are over 75 which are backed by science, are immediately apparent. Right after the first session I felt a heightened sense of calm. As if I were sleep walking through life, floating on air without a care in the world. Other benefits take a little longer to appear. Like today, which was the first session in which I was almost without a single thought for the entire 30 minutes. My mind was just blank. I had entered the arena of pure Being.

Also, I fidget less, and my focus is more fixed. You would think that it is rather simple to stare at a candle flame for an indefinite length of time, or at least until your eyes start to water and burn. In fact the gaze wavers ever so slightly a few times a minute, and these micro-movements of the eyes are a real distraction. You start to achieve a deep serenity and then your eyes flicker ever so slightly, kind of like a candle struck by a waft of air, and it is enough to snap you out of this really pleasing trance. I've found that the way around this is to get really into the breathing. I have been able to reduce my respiration rate until each individual breath is so imperceptible as to be practically non-existent. Often I prolong an inhalation for twelve seconds, then take an equal amount of time to exhale. This is a variation of yogic breathing, in which you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and wait 4 seconds before taking another breath. Steadying the breathing helps to steady the stare. 

Initially I dreaded meditation as yet another thing to do. Now I welcome the opportunity to turn within. And as I've said, the thoughts become fewer and fewer. At first the overriding thought was, "I am meditating." And snippets of the prior day's conversations would come to mind, or random memories from my childhood. These thoughts were distracting enough to cause me to lose my count. And then came the frustration at losing count, evidenced by a feeling of warmth in my flushed face, and wetness on the back of my neck. But as I examined these thoughts I began to see a connection from thought to feeling, and also from thought to thought, and going deeper still, diving deep within, I have been able to arrive at the source of thought. The subtlest level of them all is the thought, "I am." Without the thought of my own existence, nothing else exists. For all else is thought of in relation to me. Contacting the level of Being is simply remaining in the source of thought, which is awareness of your existence. As the Bible says, "Be still and know that I AM."

Of course, as I began to enjoy meditation more and more, the thoughts arose that I simply must make a business of the practice, open a wellness center, or at least do some sort of free-lance work, a la a personal trainer or massage therapist, and visit clients' homes. Or that I needed to write a book. Anything to spread the word. But by mentally stepping out of these thoughts and viewing them for what they are - merely the mind's attempt to pull me out of the practice, and out of the precious moment - I have gotten so much better at thought-watching that now I simply let these tendencies drift by like clouds passing in the sky.

Nevertheless, I have made it a point to share meditation with all my friends. I've sent articles to my dad and his wife, my cousin Alicia, my best friends from high school, DJ and Bryn, my melancholic friend Jeff, in addition to my neighbor Michael who is such a busybody, Kelly who is in recovery and Sam who's a bit of a flake. Maybe after practicing mindfulness she'll become mindful enough to call me the f#% back. Of those I have tried to convert to the cause, the only one thus far to tell me she actually gave sitting in silence a try was Paloma, who told me this morning that she is hooked. So I'm one for ten. If I were a major leaguer I'd be benched. Or possibly the ace pitcher, who often can't wield a bat worth a lick. See, there's always a bright side. I know this now, after staring so long into the candlelight. Oh, and now I share it with you.

Because meditation is the one thing that works. Trust someone who has tried everything under the sun in his search for a bliss fix. Liberation does not lie in libations and loose women; it does not lie in drugs; nor does it lie in veganism; it's not even to be found in running around barefoot, although this practice does make one feel quite free. Liberation already exists within, and meditation allows one to access it. Meditation is the cure-all for every ailment, whether psychological or physical. When you see a tree with a withered leaf, you don't water the leaf do you? You water the roots. Meditation takes you to the level of Being, which is the basis of everything. And once you emerge from your practice, every aspect of life is pervaded by the peace which you find at the level of Being. It treats conditions like high blood pressure and depression; it bolsters the IQ. It makes you a better person. What's the proof? I've noticed a marked diminution in what the Buddha called the five hindrances. Less lust and fewer cravings; a reduction in resentment, laziness and  self-doubt. I'm even less restless, which Buddha says is the last hindrance to go prior to enlightenment. So take note: the more unruffled you are, the closer you are to the goal, which is your real Self.

Now I've read tons of books on spirituality and religion and meditation. But the only real purpose of so much reading, other than killing time and satisfying the literary bent, in addition perhaps to fueling your dinner party debates, is that they give instructions on how to meditate. But you cannot gain the benefits of meditation by just reading about it. You must meditate. There I go again, preaching. I'll end with this: when I was a kid my parents used to take my brothers and me to India to seek the counsel of a wise holy man who my father revered as God on earth. "God's" advice on achieving the purpose of life was that we meditate. So please, try it for yourself.

Once you do, you will find that meditation sets the tone for the day and bleeds into your waking life, filling each moment with equanimity, igniting every step with the light of consciousness that shines so brightly within. That's me waxing poetic. There is much wax, that's for sure. And it's not just your waking life that meditation improves. It makes your sleep so much better too.

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