N.B. Please read in combination with this posting the one entitled 'On mantra's and meditation' posted on March 18th. this contains important information about mantras and other suggestions on meditation.
I wanted to write something explaining a simple approach to a self-enquiry based meditation which would be able to be easily understood and applied by anyone with the interest to do so, even if they have no prior background in such things.
Ramana Maharshi often indicated that his highest teaching was the power of silence which emanated through him (as a result of his Enlightenment). For those unable to fully appreciate this silence then he advocated the practice of self-inquiry, which hinges upon apprehending and holding onto the feeling-sense of 'I' with the question 'Who am I?'. A related approach he sometimes recommended was to hold onto the thought of 'I,...I,...I,' as a means to similarly allow awareness to return to its source.
This second approach would be especially suitable for those who may find self-inquiry itself a bit difficult to relate to or who are unable to immediately recognise what is meant by the feeling-sense of 'I'. Expanding on Ramana Maharshi's instructions in this regard and drawing upon my own background training in meditation I have come up with the following which I believe will be found to be an effective and beneficial method.
So, start with sitting quietly and comfortably in a place where you will not be disturbed. Close the eyes and turn the attention within. Feel the body and become aware of the breath. Rest your awareness upon the natural flow of the breath and allow your attention to find a natural resting place within the body. Continue like this for a minute or so allowing everything to settle down.
Now, begin the gentle inward repetition of the word 'I'. Let it be easy, natural and effortless. Allow it to find it's own rythmn and tempo, although slow, steady and gentle will generally be good.
As you say 'I' to yourself you may become aware of the feeling-sense of 'I'. That is, that 'thing' which feels like me; not a concrete thing or sensation; more of a subtle and perhaps vague feeling of some 'thing' which feels like me. Everytime in normal life when we say 'I' what are we referring to? We can identify ourselves as 'I am this' or 'I am that' but behind it all is the subtle and non-verbal feeling-sense of 'I'.
So without mentally analysing or intellectualising just continue in the practice and if you become aware of a feeling-sense of 'I' then very good; remain in that awareness as you continue. If not, or if you lose it, then don't worry, just continue in the practice of the gentle repetition of 'I'. You might find that your awareness becomes drawn to a particular sensation within. This is fine, allow it to happen and continue, 'I,...I,...I,...I,'
If thoughts come, as they naturally will, then as soon as you become aware that you have wandered off in thinking then simply and easily return to the practice. This is bound to happen and can even be a sign of some kind of release so don't be concerned or frustrated about it; it is natural. As soon as you become aware of having drifted off; simply come back again to the practice.
As you continue you may find that the breath and the repetition of 'I' are becoming more and more subtle and quiet. This is good, allow it to happen. You may also have the occassional and momentary experience where there are no thoughts, no thinking of 'I' and no awareness of the body. This is also good, allow it and when you become aware again of having a choice, continue easily in the practice. I have said more about this particular experience in the two posts following this one.
Continue for twenty minutes or so and then cease the repetition of 'I'; be restful and take a few minutes to come back slowly, feeling yourself present in your body and beginning to breath more deeply, before gradually opening the eyes and going about your day. It is good if you can set aside some time to do it regularly (even twice daily) but even ten minutes once in a while is better than nothing. If you get established in a regular practice then you can gradually extend the length of your sittings if you feel to, but slow and steady wins the race rather than working sporadically.
During the practice or during resting afterwards you might sometimes find that thoughts or emotions are crowding in. As mentioned, this can be a sign of something releasing or purifying so don't be concerned. Again, be aware of the body and feel for any sensations there. Be with these sensations and the breath in a restful way and this will help the disturbance to pass through more easily. It is also good to continue resting longer afterwards if this occurs and you have the time.
I have been recently practising along these lines myself and it is in no way an inferior practice to self-inquiry. In fact it is very effective and ultimately would lead to the same place as self-inquiry which is the pure awareness prior to thought. The result is a more peaceful, centred and conscious individual.
This technique I have outlined borrows heavily from Transcendental Meditation (TM) which I practised myself for several years. TM is a simple effective technique of meditation which has a large amount of scientific research behind it which demonstrate numerous practical benefits including improved health, well-being and creativity.
The technique I have outlined here differs from TM essentially in that it is using the word 'I' as the focus whereas in TM one is given a sanskrit mantra (suitable sound).
Ramana Maharshi has said that 'I' is the first and greatest of all mantra's; superior even to Aum (primordial mantra). The reason being is that before any other experience can be there must first be an 'I' (a subject) to experience it. The feeling-sense of 'I' is the lynchpin of our experience and the saying of 'I' invokes the very feeling-sense of 'I' which then becomes the very object of our meditation and the gateway to freedom.
In Kashmiri Tantra, the ever blissful transcendental identity is called aham ('I') versus the finite ego ahamkara ("I-maker"). Ramana Maharshi asserts that self-inquiry is the direct way to Self-Realisation because we are directly dissolving the egoic false sense of 'I' (ahamkara) which is the very thing which obscures the ever present reality of the Self, the True 'I' (Aham).
Using 'I' as the focus also avoids the objection of using some funny sound possibly associated with an exotic foreign religion. Just avoid turning your meditation practice into contemplating 'I' (thinking about the meaning of 'I') or of a concentration practice upon the thought 'I' (this may strenghten the concentration power of the mind but won't necessarily allow awareness to return to it's own source). The repetition of 'I' is to invoke the feeling sense of 'I' and is a gentle stirring to keep alertness focused and subtlely alive in the quieter levels of the mind so that the inward movement to the centre can continue.
Happy meditating. Any problems or questions and I will answer to the best of my ability.