Meditation Handbook

By Christopher Calder 

Meditation is inner astronomy.  You discover the stars, the Moon, and the Sun are all inside you.

What is Meditation?   
     The Eastern definition of meditation means not thinking, but rather focusing consciousness on the cosmic whole, without thought, judgment, or distraction.  We can define meditation as the art of consciousness becoming aware of itself on the grand and cosmic scale.  

Why meditate?

     Meditation brings a sense of fullness and completion and can become a long-term source of tranquility if practiced correctly.  The euphoria of drugs quickly leads to misery and self-destruction.  The wholesomeness of love, so beautiful and ethereal, is a relatively short-lived and fleeting experience.  Meditation is the eternal essence of nature taking on conscious form within the mortal human frame.

     Meditation is an adventure of self-discovery.  How can you live intelligently without knowing who or what you are?  If someone asks you who you are during the day, you may state your name, as if a temporary label means something important.  Ask yourself who you are when you are in deep sleep, unconscious, and without even a dream to prove that you exist.  Ask yourself who you were ten months before you were born, and who you will be after your body dies.  Meditation increases awareness of the natural phenomenon that is going on behind your eyes.  Self-knowledge has intrinsic value, but it is also important to understand the limits of meditation techniques.  Genetics is by far the biggest factor in determining how conscious you become, not methodology.  Your DNA code determines your level of consciousness more than your lifestyle.

Sitting Meditation

     Classic sitting meditation is a vital part of all meditation traditions and has taken many forms, some more effective than others.  Some traditional approaches demand that the student sits motionless for hours on end as if becoming a frozen human statue is the key to enlightenment.  A more scientific approach does not make the human body our enemy but rather works with our natural physiology to allow more intense meditation with less effort and discomfort.  Masochism is not an effective path to self-realization.  You can sit cross-legged Asian style on a meditation pillow on the floor, or use the Recliner Chair Method described below. 

The Recliner Chair Method


See 1-minute YouTube video instructions on how to sit.

     The Recliner Chair Method is the most healthful method of sitting as it avoids blocking vital blood circulation in the legs, yet has 100% of the benefits of sitting on the floor in the full lotus position with the back held rigidly straight.  Sit in a recliner chair that is set to a medium reclined position.  Shoes and socks should be removed for best results.  If your feet get cold, drape a towel over your feet to keep them warm.  The bare soles of your feet should be pressed against each other and your legs relaxed, knees pointed out to the sides of the chair.  Hands can be locked together, laying comfortably in your lap, or pressed against the center of your chest, one on top of the other over the center of your emotional heart.  The energy that is normally washed out through your hands can be channeled directly into your heart center.

What do you do while sitting?

     The most basic approach to meditation is to relax, let go, and do nothing.  Surrender to the moment and watch yourself as a silent witness.  If thoughts come to mind, observe the thoughts without adding to them with your active participation.  Be a passive observer and simply feel your most basic fundamental being. This immense entity has been called 'the ground of being.'

     Consciousness is like a glass ball floating in the depth of space.  Light and sensory input flow into the field of consciousness from all directions.  When you think, you focus your attention on just one area of sensory input, or you create a thought from a memory stored within the brain.  With choiceless awareness, you are not thinking or remembering, just floating and letting sensory input flow through you from all directions without manipulating that input with the thought process.

     Another useful method is to lend special awareness to the breathing process felt in the belly.  Just behind and below your navel lies the Hara, which is felt as an ethereal ball of energy.  The Hara is a natural balancing point of your consciousness which can be thought of as the center of your being.  Subjectively and poetically speaking, the Hara is where man and universe meet.  It is the gateway where we merge and become man-universe and universe-man.  No one knows what the Hara is, but we can use it to our full advantage.  Consciously developing a powerful Hara center is the most important secret of meditation.

     When your consciousness is centered in the Hara instead of the head, your thinking process slows down, and you can relax in the expanded world of being.  Trying to stop distracting thoughts through willpower alone leads to more thoughts and a self-defeating inner struggle.  By transferring your center of awareness to the Hara, thoughts gradually disappear on their own without inner conflict.  That is why you see Buddha statues with big bellies.  It is a message in sculpture that the Hara is the key to meditation.  Over time, the Hara point will become more noticeable as your meditation grows stronger.  Be warned that overeating and consuming cold drinks tends to make Hara awareness more difficult.

The Sweeping House Method

     Begin by placing both hands behind your head.  Rest your hands at the point where the neck and head meet.  Then quickly sweep your hands over the top of your head.  Imagine that your hands are gathering up all of your thoughts as they move across the top of your skull.  When your hands reach just below your forehead, use a flicking motion to throw your hands away from your face.  Feel as if all of your thoughts are being swept out of your head and thrown out into empty space.  Repeat this between ten and twenty times as needed.  I do it very quickly, but you must find your own optimum speed. 

     While accomplishing the sweeping motion, feel that your center of consciousness is dropping down from your head to your Hara center in your belly.  Immediately after the sweeping part of this exercise is complete, place both of your hands, one on top of the other, on your upper forehead.  Feel the warm energy of your palms on your forehead.  Rest in your Hara center as you continue to meditate. 

Yoga exercises (See Yoga vs. Gymnastics on YouTube)

     Yoga exercises can make your central nervous system more energetic, which naturally expands consciousness.  The easy yoga exercises work best.  Extreme exercises that involve fast breathing in bizarre positions may be dangerous.  Keeping the temperature of your yoga room at tropical heat levels, which is a current fad, is a silly waste of energy.  Men should never sit with their heels pressed behind their testicles as this practice can cause sterility.  My recommendation is that you ignore professional yoga instructors and do just a few easy twisting and stretching exercises every day for the rest of your life.  If you do strange and elaborate exercises in your youth, the chances are you will get bored and stop doing them by middle age.  To get the real benefit of yoga exercises you need to keep doing them into old age to keep your brain feeling young.  Recommended yoga poses and asanas are as follows:  Paschimottanasana (The Forward Bend Pose), Vakrasana (The Twisted Pose),  Pawanmuktasana (The Gas Release Pose), Sukhasana (The Easy Sitting Pose), and the Half Lotus Position, which is called the Ardha Padmasana.  These basic exercises can all be done on your bed, so you can easily practice them every day even if you are a world traveler living in hotels.  A few minutes in the morning and at night is all that is required.  There is no medically proven benefit to practicing the headstand or shoulder stand, and they may increase the risk of injury.

     I do not recommend traditional pranayama breathing exercises because I feel they are mainly tools for mental suppression rather than mental expansion.  I also do not recommend the use of mantras unless you are physically ill or in psychological distress, in which cases mantras can be of value.  Mantras are painkillers like opiates.  They calm you down but do not do much to expand your consciousness.  I would define a mantra as the repetition of words for one minute or longer.  Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ is a traditional mantra that can be used by almost anyone.  The idea that you should pay a guru to give you an individualized mantra is not yoga. 

The Cathartic Dancing Meditation Method

     Cathartic Dancing Meditation is a cosmic powerhouse that is recommended for students under the age of thirty, in good health, with a normal cardiovascular system.  As it is a physically strenuous exercise, one should get a physical examination by a competent physician before experimenting with this technique.  As with jogging or mountain climbing, you must practice this method at your own risk.

     Most young and physically healthy students of meditation will benefit from doing Cathartic Dancing Meditation daily for one year.  After one year it has usually done its job, and the student can then concentrate on more subtle meditation methods.  Cathartic Dancing Meditation changes you from head to toe and benefits all the other meditation methods you practice.  This physically vigorous method is the most powerful kundalini awakening technique I know of. 

Cathartic Dancing Meditation has three stages and lasts for forty minutes. 

Stage #1 (ten minutes) Start by standing with your eyes closed and breathe deep and fast through your nose.  If you are only physically capable of doing deep breathing for five minutes, then reduce the length of the first stage.  Remember that you are doing this method to help your meditation, not to physically injure yourself.  Allow your body to move freely as you breathe.  You can jump up and down, sway back and forth, or use any physical motion that helps you pump more oxygen into your lungs.  It is advised that you do not hold your breath while performing this exercise, as that might cause physical harm by temporarily increasing your blood pressure.  Scientific studies are needed to determine if holding your breath is beneficial or harmful.  

Stage #2 (twenty minutes)  The second stage is a celebration of catharsis and wild spontaneous dancing.  Let go and act as an ancient human dancing in tribal celebration.  Energetic, nonverbal background music is recommended.  African tribal drum music works especially well.  You may roll on the ground and do strange body movements.  Allow your body to move within the limits of not hurting yourself or others.  Screaming is encouraged.  You must act out any anger you may have in a safe way, such as beating the earth with your hands.  All of the suppressed emotions from your subconscious mind are to be released.  If at any time during the second stage, you feel that your energy level is starting to decline, you can resume deep and fast breathing to give yourself a boost.

Stage #3 (ten minutes)  This stage is completely quiet and relaxed.  Flop down on your back, get comfortable, and just let go.  Be as if a dead man surrendered to the cosmos.  Enjoy the tremendous energy you have unleashed in the first two stages, and be a silent witness to it.  Observe the feeling of the ocean flowing into the drop.  Become the ocean.  If practiced correctly, this method is health-giving and fun.

     Most Westerners are head oriented and emotionally repressed, so an emotionally cleansing technique like Cathartic Dancing Meditation can be helpful for serious progress to be made quickly.  I strongly recommend that the Cathartic Dancing Meditation technique only be used in combination with traditional quiet sitting meditation methods.  While active meditation methods can be very helpful, they are not complete systems in themselves, and you need sitting methods that incorporate Hara awareness to keep you in balance.   

WARNING  Obviously, one must practice Cathartic Dancing Meditation in a safe location and not near the edge of a cliff or on a hard surface where one might fall and break one's skull.  A large room or hall with thick carpeting is good.  Outdoors in the early morning on a soft and well-tended lawn with group participation is best.  Do it on an empty stomach and avoid falling into dangerous objects such as windows.  It is allowable to briefly open one's eyes occasionally to maintain your location.  Create a safety zone around your dancing and spontaneous body movements.  Be courteous to neighbors and delete the screaming if it will annoy others.  Like the Human Antenna Method, it is recommended that you not practice Cathartic Dancing Meditation on an everyday basis for a period of longer than one year.

Which methods should I use, and how long should I practice them?

     The time a person needs to spend in formal meditation sessions to gain maximum benefit depends on ever-changing individual circumstances.  If you are meditating with a group, you will gain from the group energy and go further with less effort.  If you are fortunate enough to be living close to an enlightened teacher, you may be able to absorb some of his high energy without any effort at all.  If you are meditating alone, without support from others, then you will have to do all the heavy lifting yourself.

     You have to find the meditation methods that are right for you through trial and error.  We are not all created from the same blueprint, and thus we each have individual needs.  Methods are like schools.  You may find one method helpful for a while, but as you grow it becomes irrelevant, so you go on to a different method that strengthens you where you need it.  You have to make your own executive decisions as to what methods to do and how long to do them.  Do methods that make you feel better and stop doing methods that make you feel worse.  Be careful and conservative, and become the captain of your own ship.

Things to do, things to avoid, and things to consider.

     I believe that full enlightenment is largely a biological, DNA-driven quality of the brain that cannot be achieved by any amount of effort.  You could call it a genetically acquired physiological syndrome that has both positive and negative effects.  It can make people very happy and filled with psychic energy, but it has little to do with intelligence, wisdom, virtue, or past lives.  J. Krishnamurti once stated that he was born empty, while others were born full.  His state of cosmic emptiness was not the result of methodology, but a gift of nature.  Anyone can increase the power of their consciousness in the same way we increase the size of our muscles through exercise.  Effort-created states of enhanced consciousness fall short of full enlightenment.  The difference is a matter of psychic power.  The downside of full enlightenment is the potential for delusion, the God complex, poor reasoning skills, and intellectual disorganization and confusion.  To put it bluntly, most fully enlightened teachers are just too spaced out to be much good for anything but talk.  [Update May 17, 2024) - I believe that Sadhguru is the most exceptional enlightened man in modern history.  His unique brain allows him to be enlightened and yet still fully functional in the world of business and science.  His "Save Soil" program is brilliant and much needed.]

     When it comes to gurus, take the best and leave the rest.  No human being has ever been without major flaws and limitations.  Only myths can give us the illusion of perfection.  That is why most of society continues to worship mythology rather than accept reality as it is, warts and all.  Enlightened humans are vastly expanded human beings, not perfect human beings.  Practicing meditation methods will not make us perfect, but can increase the intensity of our lives and feelings of well-being.

     The scientific evidence tells us that humans only have one life to live.  It is my opinion that the entire universe is “soul” and “God.”  None of us are born and none of us die in the greater impersonal sense because we are all part of the same infinite structure that has no beginning and no end.  I do not claim to be an authority.  I am just trying to be a good neighbor, not a guru.  We all have to decide on our own what is truth.  Please remember that if any meditation method becomes uncomfortable, drop it and try another method.  Be conservative and safe.  For some people, no method is the best method.

Christopher Calder  calderconnection@gmail.com   

Opinions expressed on this page must be viewed as the ideas of an ordinary student of meditation.  While I truly believe everything I say, you should not believe anything unless you see it, feel it, and know it for yourself.  I make no claims of infallibility.  I claim fallibility. 

Copyright notice: Meditation Handbook 1998 and 2022 updated by Christopher Calder.  You are free to publish this web page for nonprofit, and educational use, but you must clearly state that the essay was written by Christopher Calder.  No one has been granted permission to use my writings to sell any products or services.  This is a 100% free website published only for the benefit of other students of meditation.  I have never made money from meditation and never will.