In Relaxing into Meditation, Ngakma Nor’dzin, an English-born Buddhist lama with many years’ experience teaching meditation in community education, takes her readers on a journey, a journey of self-discovery through greater openness and awareness.
As she points out in her introduction, many people come to meditation seeking relaxation and relief from the stress of daily life. However, the discipline required to practise meditation may itself seem incompatible with such a goal. Furthermore, trying to learn meditation at times of great personal strain, as often happens when people approach the subject after facing bereavement, illness or other problems, may prove difficult. That is why she begins the book by introducing her readers to various techniques of relaxation, such as tensing and relaxing different parts of the body, using the experiences of listening to music or of singing, and breathing exercises. Other methods, such as gazing at a candle flame or singing sacred syllables, are gradually introduced in order to enhance the practice and as a transition to meditation per se. Indeed, it is only out of a state of profound relaxation of body and mind that the fruits of meditation can ultimately be reaped.
Meditation as understood here has nothing particularly exotic about it, but is rather a simple way of developing greater awareness and mindfulness. As the author notes, we can thereby learn to step aside and take a look at the roller coaster of our lives, or else enjoy riding the roller coaster with keener awareness. Here, readers are taught to let go of the thoughts arising in their mind. The meditation progresses from first counting the out-breaths to merely focusing on the out-breath until one engages with formless practice.
Other methods explained in this book include meditation on loving kindness and sounding and visualizing a white A syllable. Visualization is indeed a powerful method of meditation, as it allows one to transform the mind. The author is right to emphasize that it is necessary not just to have a mental image, but indeed to have a felt awareness of the deity visualized. For all these meditation exercises, our body’s posture is a great support in our practice, so that an entire chapter is devoted to the subject. Generally speaking, the posture should enable us to engage with the practice in a way that is relaxed yet alert. Meditation cushions and belt can be helpful in this regard, and the book contains several appendices with practical instructions to fabricate them.
Rather than being a dry scholarly treatment of the subject, it is that of an adept who shares her own experience and know-how with her readers – it is certain that this hands-on approach will be much appreciated by practitioners. Of course, in learning an art as profound and subtle as meditation, a book, however well written, cannot act as a replacement for a living teacher, who will guide students according to their particular needs and faculties. However, this book, written in clear and simple prose, certainly provides a useful starting point for beginners interested in learning meditation. The wealth of methods it offers may also serve as a memory-aid to more advanced practitioners.
Approached as a technique for well-being, meditation no doubt may help us find a greater sense of peace and fulfilment in our lives. But as a method of spiritual development, it can yield far profounder benefits, ranging from the physical through the emotional and intellectual to the spiritual: it can indeed allow us to tap into our deepest human potential and uncover the spacious and luminous nature of our mind.
— Lopon P. Ogyan Tanzin (Ogyan Chokhor Ling, Sarnath, Varanasi, India).