Meditation, mindfulness and mantras. What’s the difference? When is meditation not meditation?
Watch the video as well!
What kind of meditation works best?
When I ask people if they meditate, they often say ‘yes’. Then they continue by describing how they listen to an audio that takes them to a beautiful place. This is not really meditation, but is better described as a guided journey, or visualisation. Sometimes this is called using your ‘creative imagination’. You use part of your mind to go on an inner journey and, while this can distract you from your everyday chattering ‘monkey mind’, using your imagination is still a mental activity.
To be clear: a guided journey can be a truly special, helpful and potentially life-changing process. I record guided journeys and include them for students who follow my courses, so I can assure you I’m not putting down anyone who uses audio support to explore inner worlds. You can use this technique to commune with your guides, with angels, with ancestors. I say keep up the good work! But this is not what I mean by meditation.
A very popular spiritual practice nowadays is mindfulness, which is a Buddhist technique for reminding yourself to be present in the moment, fully aware of your thoughts and surroundings. Sometimes this is described as ‘being in the now’. When you achieve a sense of being fully present in your world, you experience a deep sense of calm as your anxieties fall away. All your tangled thoughts concerning the past and the future melt into a feeling of just being, with no concerns. This is a truly awe-inspiring experience, but it takes very focussed practice. Buddhist monks practice this for years, sitting in the ‘now’ for hours on end, wrestling with their thoughts coming and going, some positive, some negative… this is the practice of non-attachment.
Buddhists speak of ‘enlightenment’ as a state of serenity. We know what a Buddha-smile is about – total calm, like a pool of water whose surface is not ruffled by the wind. This is not easy to achieve in the modern world, especially if you live an average Western life-style. I tried Buddhist techniques when I was a teenager and felt overwhelmed by the challenge.
I know there are Mindfulness apps out there and many people find this approach very helpful. I’m not putting Mindfulness down – if it works for you, keep doing it! However, there is a simpler, faster technique that reliably and easily brings you to a Divine place of absolute stillness, free of all thoughts.
In the 1970s I learned mantra meditation from a Transcendental Meditation teacher who had been trained by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who brought this technique to the attention of many Westerners in the 60s. After wrestling with Buddhist-style methods of meditation for quite a few years, I was amazed and delighted that I could drop into a place of deep silence and Light within a few minutes after inwardly repeating the Sanskrit mantra.
The Maharishi explained that each individual would be assessed before the teacher chose a suitable mantra for them – not all students would get the same one. I didn’t know what the mantra meant (and by the way, it was not ‘Om’). I was told it didn’t matter what it meant, since it was the sound vibration that was useful to the mind. I was told not to concentrate hard, but to allow the mantra to float in my mind, and then take a playful attitude if it seemed to disappear. The act of retrieving the mantra allows your mind to drop into deeper realms of consciousness, just as a diver drops into the ocean, hoping to find the ocean floor.
Because mantra meditation is so simple to learn and brings immediate opportunities to access your deepest realms of consciousness, your spiritual development will accelerate. This is exactly what happened for me. Mantra meditation allowed me to enter what Jewish mystics call ‘the Gates of Light’. After less than two years, in 1974, I had an awe-inspiring experience of illumination. Later, in 1982, I started to have conversations with the Archangels, but that’s another chapter in my story, so look out for my next blog!