There are hundreds of methods of practicing meditation, and the Taoist method is one of the simplest. Combining principles from both Hindu and Buddhist meditation, Taoist meditation is – like the philosophy itself – straightforward and pragmatic, without a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo.
The driving principle of the Taoist method is the harnessing of internal energy and using it to promote health, healing, and creativity.
The two main focuses of Taoist meditation are jing (stillness and calm) and ding (focus and concentration.) Jing helps the meditator to focus inward and tune out possibly distracting outside stimuli – by concentrating with still calm, one focuses attention to develop one-pointed awareness, the singular and undisturbed state where one can allow the deeper functions of the mind to flow upward.
When you meditate, you will often find, particularly when first starting out, you’re your brain will continue to race against your will, bringing all sorts of disconnected thoughts and concepts into play to try and keep you from achieving real stillness.
Taoist masters call that the “emotional mind,” you will and ego trying to maintain control and keep you from spiritual awareness. This is natural – we spend all of our waking hours attempting to control the world around us and our own actions, and it can be difficult to let go of the reins.
If you find your mind roiling and refusing to allow you to experience calm, there are a few things you can do to quiet it. First, concentrate on your breathing – concentrate on the flow of fresh air in through your nose and out through your mouth.
As you breathe, you can focus on a particular part of your body – the area between your eyebrows, for example, the spot known as the “third eye.” Or focus on the rise and fall of your naval (the classic “naval-gazing” technique) as you breathe in and out.
Many people find a mantra helpful. A mantra is a syllable that harmonizes the mind and helps to focus energy. “Om” (pronounced “ohm”), “ah,” “hum” and “ing” are the most popular. You can also focus your energy by visualizing a deity or sacred symbol hovering above your head, imbuing your with positive energy – once you’ve achieved stillness, you can let the image float gently away and continue with your meditation.
Taoist meditation addresses the “Three Treasures” – body, breath and mind. First, find a comfortable position in which to sit, either on the floor or in a chair. Make sure your spine is straight, your weight is evenly balanced and that you’re physically at ease (if you feel chilly, put on a sweater!) How you sit and meditate is entirely up to you.
Some people feel most comfortable in the cross-legged half-Lotus position on the floor. Others feel more at ease in a straight-backed chair with their feet firmly planted on the floor. Neither is the ‘right’ way – whatever feels best for you is the right way to meditate.
Now shift your focus to your breathing. Be aware of your breath as it flows in through your nose, out through your mouth. Be aware of the thoughts flowing in and out of your mind. Let them come and go – do not linger on any one thing. Allow them to dissolve with your breathing, and let them travel out of your mind.
Do not be alarmed if you find yourself experiencing moments of emptiness, when you are not thinking about anything at all; it can be momentarily startling, as we are unused to thinking about nothing, but this is what you want to achieve. You want to arrive at a place of open, limitless consciousness.
Remember to place your hands in the most natural and comfortable position for you, with your palms on your knees or thighs, or in one of the traditional ‘mudra’ hand gestures – an outward-facing palm, for example, or with your thumb touching your middle finger.
The important thing is to be at ease, relaxed and comfortable, so that your mind can ignore the needs of your body and open itself to further enlightenment.
Meditation has been proven in clinical environments to be extremely beneficial to the mind and body, contributing to your psychological and physiological well-being. Meditation puts your brain wave pattern into an alpha state, the level of consciousness that promotes healing.
Deep breathing and a slower pulse rate result in a reduced work load on the heart, as well as lowered levels of the body’s stress chemical Cortisol and Lactate-2, and reduce the free radicals in the blood that are thought to contribute to cancer, as well as damaging tissue and blood vessels. Lower stress levels increase the elasticity and health of the skin, which makes you look and feel younger. And cholesterol levels have been known to decrease with regular meditation – which means less chance of heart disease!
So take the time to meditate. You WILL be glad you did.