Recently, I explained the ujjayi breathing technique, often used in yoga, or alone as a calming and rejuvenating breathing exercise.
Now I want to share with you a simple meditation that can be used with (or without) the ujjayi breath. Either way you will benefit from it.
The meditation uses the Sanskrit phrase that you see tattooed on my arm. Pronounced SO-hum, it means "I Am That."
This phrase has roots in different religions and philosophies. For example, a version of it appears in the Old Testament story of Moses and the burning bush, in which I AM THAT I AM or simply I AM is the answer Moses receives when he asks God's name.
In Vedic philosophy (from which Hinduism is derived) and Tantrism, this same concept is contained in the Sanskrit phrase So 'ham ("I Am That"). "I Am" signifies individual consciousness and "That" signifies Universal Consciousness. Together the phrase expresses that both are one identity. We, each one of us, is That.
So 'ham is often used as a mantra. A mantra is a sound vibration that is thought to be a direct conduit to the Divine. The syllables of a mantra are only a shell; the essence of the mantra is the subtle energy that is embedded inside the syllables. This subtle energy is shakti, or the creative energy of the universe.
It is believed that in order for a mantra to release its full potential, the energy within the syllables needs to be activated. One way to do this is through repetition of the mantra in your mind. Through focused repetition, your mind and the mantra start to become one.
At this point you may actually feel the pulsation of the mantra, the throb of shakti which can thrust you into an altered state of consciousness, where the "the doors of perception" can be cleansed.
"If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite." ~William Blake (From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)
If all of this is too esoteric for your liking, you can benefit from a mantra meditation simply by allowing it to draw your consciousness inward and help control the fluctuations of your mind. In other words, you can use it as a simple, relaxing meditative practice.
Let's do that.
We'll work with the So 'ham (pronounced "SO hum") mantra—think So on the inhalation, hum on the exhalation. This is the natural sound of the breath. The breath contains prana, our life force. Through the breath we are reminded of the deepest truth of who we are: Pure Consciousness.
Now if you've got the ujjayi breathing technique down, great, you can use it here. If not, that's okay. This meditation will be equally effective:
Sit in a comfortable upright position and close your eyes. If you are able to sit in one of the meditative yoga postures, do that. Otherwise, just sit upright in a chair with both feet on the ground.
[Skip this step if you don't know ujjayi breathing.]
Start the ujjayi breath. As you inhale, think of the sound So. As you exhale, think hum. Do this for several rounds as you try to focus your mind solely on the breath. When your mind starts to wander, gently coax your attention back to the breath.
Now start to breathe normally, letting go of ujjayi. On the inhalations think So and on the exhalation, think hum. Listen to the syllables as you repeat them.
Feel each syllable dropping into the middle of your chest, your heart center. What sensations do you feel? The mind will wander; keep bringing it back to the breath. The goal is to eventually make the mantra your predominant thought.
Stay here for 5 minutes. As you continue to practice, gradually increase the time to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and finally 20 to 30 minutes. You'll find that the more you practice, the longer you'll be able to concentrate the mind for greater intervals of time without distraction.
I plan to practice this meditation every day for the next week and take not of any subtle shifts in my thought patterns and overall way of being. Try it with me.
My advice: don't focus so much on trying to access altered states when you start this practice. Use it to calm the mind and bring more Peace into your life. Over time, as you experiment with feeling the syllables in your heart center, you should naturally start to feel yourself surrounded by Universal Love.
As a dear friend reminded me recently, if you have Peace and Love, what more do you need?