Most of us would agree that the whole drama of human existence revolves around the phrase “I am ____”. Actually, it is the word (or the set of words) that we use after the phrase – “I am”, that defines our individual identity or the “I”.
When we use words like happy, sad, man, women, etc., we are actually anchoring our identity on the meanings associated with those words.
Who associates meaning with words? – Our Mind, Brain, or Intellect!
Now think – what will happen if your mind and intellect cease to exist? Will you and your identity cease to exist too?
Definitely not! – Because most of us identify ourselves with our bodies.
However, sometimes, even though our body exists, we may still not have the slightest idea of our own existence and identity because there is no mind to tell us about that (ex.-during deep sleep, coma, or amnesia).
It’s pretty clear that the body is different from the mind and that a body can exist even when mind doesn’t. However, the mere presence of a body does not guarantee that one is alive. One has to be breathing too!
The presence of breathing confirms that a person is alive; however, the absence of breathing does not certify that you are dead. You may be holding your breath and still be alive! Why? – Because your heart is still beating.
Nevertheless, the breath and heart beat are just the pointers that indicate functioning of lungs and heart. It’s true that a functioning heart confirms you are alive, …. but does a stopped heart necessarily mean you are dead? Well, for most people it does! (For the time being, let’s ignore the state of Samadhi, because it can be an arguable topic for many people).
So the thing is – if the heart is beating than it means we are alive (whether we know it or not – ex. in deep sleep or coma). Yet, we don’t say – “I am Heart”. Why? – Because we know that heart is just an organ (within our body) and beating of the heart is just an ‘action’ or ‘event’ that indicates being alive but is not life in itself.
Furthermore, there are organisms like bacteria and Plasmodium etc. which have just a cell to call their body and yet there are characteristics on the basis of which we can determine whether they are dead or alive. These characteristics usually rely on some kind of cellular function (like growth or movement) to be able to determine whether an entity is dead or alive. Yet, the absence of such characteristics does not necessarily indicate death. For ex. a bacteria may become dormant or form a spore and pass extensive periods of time without a single trace of life, and yet it becomes ‘alive’ when conditions become favorable.
The thing is – even after all our mentation, the true meaning of existence still remains elusive. One thing, though, is quite clear – (generally speaking) Although, the presence of a physical body is a prerequisite for the existence of life, yet, the presence of body does not guarantee the presence of life! So, the question is – Why do we still associate our identity with our body when the presence of life is determined by the activity or existence of some kind of ‘Energy’ that enables sustenance and functioning of body and body parts (like brain)– and thereby- our mind and intellect?
In fact, it is ‘That’ specific force or energy which is sometimes referred to as ‘SOUL’ and it is ‘THAT’ Energy with which ‘I’ should identify with when ‘I’ say – ‘I’ am ‘THAT’.
सोऽहम्, ‘SO- HUM’, or ‘SO-HAM’ is a mantra that reminds us to identify with ‘THAT’ (energy or entity that we call soul) rather than identifying with body, mind, or intellect.
SO-HUM is also a very effective mantra for meditation….but, to get the best results you need to follow a specific procedure for repeating this mantra:
1. (Have you ever ran a long race and in the end tried hard to catch your breath? Do you remember emitting short gasps of breath and sounds like “huff” or “huh” or “HUM”? I have, and that is how I associated myself with this mantra, though you don’t need to run a race for that 🙂 ) . Simply associate “SO” with each incoming breath or inhalation and “HUM” with each outgoing breath or exhalation. After a little practice, you won’t even have to recite SO and HUM in your mind because when you successfully associate it with incoming and outgoing breath, it will become as natural as your breathing- you will just need to pay attention and listen to it (because, even in your normal life you aren’t always aware of your breathing and this will happen in meditation also).
2. Paying attention to the incoming and outgoing breath and listening to SO-HUM is just half of the procedure, even less than half, I would say. The main part of this task is to take notice of the gap between SO & HUM or the inhalation & exhalation. Try to see where the inhalation and exhalation originate and concentrate on the gap between them or on the place where the incoming and outgoing breaths originate. However, do not try to control your breathing. (The gap between SO and HUM will be of a very short duration in the initial phases of meditation, but will eventually increase as you begin to calm down and as your breathing slows down.)
3. Another thing to keep in mind is – Belly breathing. Have you noticed an infant breathing and how peacefully it sleeps (when it sleeps)? If not, never mind, they tend to breathe through their stomachs and you should do the same. What if effectively means is that, during inhalation, air is sucked in passively by expansion of stomach, rather than actively through expansion of chest. Similarly, during exhalation, air is pushed out of the lungs by relaxation of stomach rather than contraction of chest. Visually, the stomach should rise and fall, not the chest. Belly breathing or abdominal breathing has a very beneficial effect on calming mind and body.
P.S. – I frequently used nature or meditation music and found that it helps a lot in concentrating and calming the mind. Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not a meditation expert or Guru. These are just some suggestions based on the methods that worked for me…