Learn to Meditate
David Fontana is a chartered psychologist and professor of psychology at Cardiff University. He has also practiced meditation for over 25 years.
He is well known as an author of psychology books but has additionally written books on meditation.
When I came to meditation, I looked at many books to help me establish a practice and in the end settled on this book which I have continued to use. I think that it is a great book to start with but can also be of use to anyone with an established meditation practice.
I think that the book is easy to use but it also sets meditation in context both theoretically and historically. The book is well laid out in easy to follow sections and colour-illustrated in a way that draws you in and gives you a sense of the tranquillity and focus achieved by meditation. There is a useful section at the beginning that informs you how to use the book, either as a beginner to meditation or as someone with an established practice.
The book is divided into two parts: the first is particularly focused on the beginner. It explains what meditation is, how to start and what benefits you might experience, e.g. relief from insomnia, reduced blood pressure, increased energy. Additionally you might find yourself becoming more patient with yourself and those around you, better able to concentrate and find your memory improved. In other words, through meditation, we can begin to cope better with the stresses of our lives and help to minimise the adverse physical and mental impact on our bodies.
The first part is interspersed with exercises which help us on the path to achieving a meditation practice. These encourage us to become more aware physically and mentally of the body and mind. A page is given over to each of these; there is an illustration at the top of the page and we are taken through the exercise step-by-step. Throughout there are also insights from the author (sections at the bottom of the page) some of which are helpful in dealing with life outside the meditation practice but which can feed into and enhance what we are trying to achieve through the practice of meditation. One of which is entitled “the support and understanding of others”. This points out that those close to you might find it difficult to understand why you would wish to meditate and suggests ways to handle it.
The first part of the book finishes with practical advice on finding a teacher and retreats.
The second part introduces us to traditions that have for centuries, had meditation at their heart. These include Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Hinduism and also the traditions at the heart of western society. Although just a summary, I found this section very interesting. In my ignorance, I had made assumptions about meditation and had thought that it was largely something that Buddhists did. It had not occurred to me for example, that I had meditated in the past! I was brought up as a catholic and had, as a youngster, been encouraged to attend what was called Benediction, on a Sunday night. A big part of this service involved chanting and the use of mantras. I was also very surprised to read about the “Whirling Dervishes” which I had heard of as a child. They had been used to describe children who were always running about and were not good at sitting still. Apparently it describes the ‘graceful spinning dance of the Mevlevi order’ as a form of Sufi meditation. Sufism is generally regarded to be an element within Islam although this is not universally accepted.
Turning to Hinduism, I realised that I also knew something about this. Of course ‘Om’ is a symbol of the Hindu tradition which if recited, it is believed, allows us to become one with the universe.
If you have seen the film ‘Avatar’ recently, you will already have an insight into Taoism, which is part of the Chinese tradition. Taoism believes, even if the intent is good, that any attempt to interfere with nature is harmful. We are all, each and every living thing on the plant, inter-connected and therefore must be responsible for not upsetting the whole pattern. This connectedness to nature, being part of, and not outside of all living things, is the basis for meditation in this tradition. We contemplate nature, recognising that we are no more, or less, than anything else in the natural world. I loved the film and as a hill-worker love the idea that when I am out there, I am not separate from, but rather just part of the wonder all around me.
Thereafter the author takes us through different forms of meditation. However, as well as those you would expect to see, for example, visualisation, mantra (chanting words, phrases or sentences) and yantra (meditating on an elaborate symbolic picture), I was surprised to see a section on Martial Arts. However, the sense of it is soon made clear, as he explains the need for ‘the mind to be in the right place’, in the use of these self-combat techniques. By this he means the need to be focused on being completely in the present moment so that ‘any action undertaken by an opponent is registered before he or she actually moves, so that a response can be made even before he or she strikes’. Clearly meditation can take many forms.
In this section there are also meditation exercises, again set out in the same way. These are easily followed and it is hoped that over time, there is an approach that will suit anyone interested in developing a meditation practice.
Finally the author gives us an insight into where a meditation practice might lead if we are truly dedicated.
I think that this is a book that is clear, informative and ultimately practical. It sets out the basics but then can be used for as long as we choose to have a meditation practice. This is a book which may can easily become well-thumbed.
This colourful book will inspire and inform those beginning the journey within. David Fontana combines teachings from all the major traditions with his considerable experience of the subject to provide a catalyst for those on the path to self-awareness. His step-by-step approach introduces the many aspects of meditation with a series of exercises, encouraging the reader to experience the ideas for themselves as they go along. All the essential topics, such as breath and posture, are covered clearly and concisely providing a solid framework to work within. Focusing the wayward mind is, for many people, the main hurdle in meditation. The simple techniques shown in the book conspire to remove any obstacles from the path.