These days meditation has become quite popular.  It is practised daily by thousands of people throughout Europe and North America, and even in other non-Eastern parts of the world.  It is simple and effective and, above all, extremely economical.  In fact, it needn't cost you a penny.  You can both relax yourself and 'get high' absolutely free-of-charge, with no possibility of serious addiction.  True, you might become a little too fond of it and subsequently find yourself without friends or money or opinions about world events.  But, in the main, you won't be seriously impaired by a daily fidelity to meditation.  On the contrary, you'll be enriched by it and, in some cases, quite considerably so!

      But what, then, is meditation?  Is it a religion, a cult, a method of contemplation, a way of life, a protest against society, or what?  Basically it is none of these things, though it can certainly be turned into something approximating to any one of them, if you so desire it.  The truth is that meditation is simply a way of enjoying your own company, a means of acquiring a better opinion of yourself.  It need not have anything whatsoever to do with mystical contact with the Godhead or World Soul or whatever you would like to equate divinity with, in spite of claims to the contrary by practising Transcendentalists.  If you wish to associate a pleasant feeling with the Godhead, that is your affair.  But it isn't absolutely necessary.  The essential thing is that you should eventually come to experience a state of mind which will free you from the tyranny of petty worries, complaints, miseries, rivalries, etc., if only from 5-10 minutes a day.  After all, a feeling approximating to bliss is worth acquiring for even that short period of time.  And if you appreciate it enough to attempt extending it from 10-20 minutes a day, well and good!  It won't cost you anything extra.

      There are, however, different methods of meditation, some dependent on breathing routines, others, less physical, which require a greater degree of willpower in concentrating psychic attention within the head.  The method that most appeals to me at present is the Taoist form of breathing from stomach to crown-centre, for which the most important requirements are a fairly stable pair of lungs and the willpower to continue breathing within the confines of a pre-established routine for at least twenty minutes.  You cannot get high without making some sort of effort, and even good moods have to be earned one way or another - usually at the price of bad ones!  So unless you are prepared to put some physical effort into your breathing routine and put-up, initially, with a degree of vertigo partly resulting from this, you won't acquire a particularly satisfying level of tranquillity.

      How, then, does one set about meditating in this manner?  Let me explain!  To begin with, it helps if you have something soft to sit on, either a bed or a cushion or a settee.  Once you are comfortably seated, you can cross your legs, put your hands on your kneecaps, or just let them hang loosely in front of you.  But make sure that your back is straight!  A bent back won't assist your breathing.

      After you've done these simple things you are ready to proceed with the breathing exercises, breathing in-and-out through the nose as, presumably, you would normally do, but with greater vigour.  The object of the initial exercises is to stoke-up the fire of your metabolism, so to speak, for the more refined exercises to come.  So it is important to inhale as deeply as possible without, however, doing yourself a serious injury in the process!  The lower stages of this particular type of meditation are always somewhat mechanical and uninspiring, but they are well-worth persevering with, if you hope to reap the full benefit of the higher stages later on.

      Thus, aided by the self-imposed deception that your lungs are in your stomach, you concentrate attention on the stomach as you inhale, so that it is drawn-in with the breath.  When you exhale, however, you let your concentration flag with the breath, so that the stomach regains its normal posture.  Thus there is a centripetal/centrifugal alternation between concentration on the stomach, as required by the inhalation, and the natural dissipation of that concentration engendered by the exhalation.  This process of steady, full breathing should be continued for at least five minutes, so it is a good idea to keep your eye on the time while you are struggling - though hopefully not flagging - with your deep breathing.  The temptation to give-up after 3-4 minutes of this exercise may well present itself.  But if you remember that everything worthwhile has to be earned, one way or another, then you should find the courage or willpower to proceed to the next stage of the routine, which will demand a shift of concentration from the stomach to the lungs.

      Since one invariably inhales into the lungs anyway, there is no need to impose a deception upon oneself here; though one should still alternate concentration on the lungs, as one inhales, with a dissipation of that concentration as one exhales, so that the centripetal/centrifugal balance of forces is maintained.  This second stage of the routine is usually the hardest, because the effort of deep, steady breathing is combined, to a greater extent than in the previous exercise, with a feeling of vertigo, which is, of course, engendered by both the effort itself and the continuous increase of oxygen in the bloodstream resulting from it.  You may feel a bit sick at this stage, but unless you had eaten a heavy meal just before you began these exercises - a thing, incidentally, you oughtn't to have done! - you should survive the feeling on a settled stomach.

      After five minutes of this exercise, you move to the third stage of the routine and focus your attention upon the throat, much as though the throat was the receptacle into which the oxygen must now pass before you exhale.  Here, too, some vertigo, tempered by what I like to call psychic flickering, may persist.  But take courage!  You have come through the hardest stages of this meditation technique and are already beginning to feel a growing tranquillity pervade your mind as, with calmer inhalations and exhalations, you note the five minutes slipping by.

      Now when this time has elapsed, it remains for you to shift attention to the crown of your head, technically termed the crown-centre, and to breathe up through your nostrils with the impression that the oxygen inhaled is not entering your lungs but caressing the centre of your brain (which, needless to say, it most certainly isn't doing!).  So here, too, it is necessary to maintain a deception, as you imagine that cool streams of air are caressing the centre of your brain as you inhale, and then completely forget about yourself as you exhale.  This fourth and last breathing exercise will be smoother, easier, more refreshing than the previous ones, and, as the five minutes quickly pass, the blissful tranquillity which you have been faithfully anticipating will begin to flood your mind, making you momentarily conscious, it may be, of a purity of being not altogether incompatible with the elevated mentality of Nietzsche's mountain recluse - Zarathustra!

      The build-up of oxygen in the blood produced by the breathing exercises is beginning to fully assert itself, not now in terms of vertigo, but in a steady stream of blissful coolness and calmness.  So all that remains for you to do, once the final five minutes have been dutifully dispatched, is to experience it where you sit, without particularly concentrating on any part of your body, and without consciously interfering with your normal breathing routine.  Completely enveloped by the tranquillity within you, freed from petty thoughts, unannoyed by any neighbour or family noises which may be penetrating the thin walls of your room, though very alert to the slightest sound, your soul is detached from the narrow confines of the ego and becomes both a passive receptacle and an active generator of the purest feelings.

      For 5-10 minutes you sit perfectly still, wallowing in the purity of your being, experiencing yourself with a sublimated feeling of pride, a secret exultation that your soul is capable of experiencing such a satisfying condition, with nothing vulgar to pollute it or pull it from its Zarathustrian heights.  The discomforts of the breathing exercises are soon forgotten with the consummation they have brought about - a consummation which, if you bothered to reflect on it, would seem to be well-worth the previous discomforts!

      And so, detached from the usual claims of the ego in the face of private and public opposition, you experience a form of transcendental meditation, or meditation enabling you to transcend the narrow confines of the conscious self.  This product of the twenty minutes breathing routine will normally only last, however, from 5-10 minutes, after which time the mind will return to a less-exultant condition, as the build-up of oxygen in the blood gradually recedes to a level compatible with the continuation of normal breathing.  And with the decline in the oxygen content to its normal level, your meditation officially comes to an end, so you might as well return to your usual preoccupations, as continue to sit on the bed or settee or whatever with legs crossed.

      Altogether, then, this experience has demanded thirty minutes of your time: twenty for breathing exercises and ten for transcendental meditation.  However, you may feel thirty minutes is too long and that the breathing exercises demand too much effort and are essentially too boring to be worth 5-10 minutes' blissful tranquillity.  If so, then I suggest you cut the breathing routine to three minutes with each of the four exercises, so that after a twelve-minute accumulation of oxygen you will experience tranquillity from 3-6 minutes.  But be warned!  These 3-6 minutes won't grant you such a pleasurable state-of-mind as would have been acquired from a twenty-minute breathing routine!  If you do not wish to put much effort into the giving, you cannot expect to reap big dividends from the taking.  It's as simple as that!

      I have endeavoured to describe a method of meditation which is based on a simple but very effective breathing routine derived from the Chinese Tao te Ching.  It can be practised twice a day, morning and evening, or once a day, preferably in the evening.  It can be practised every day of the week, or just one or two days a week, depending how you feel about it.  There are some people who practise it regularly for years on-end, but there is no disgrace in practising it for merely a few months, if that is all you can manage.  You may feel that regular practice of this meditation technique will simply result in your becoming stuck in another rut, with one more boring habit as your master.  If so, then continue it only for as long as it means anything to you, and abandon it as soon as you begin to weary of the stereotypical experience it seems to evoke.  After all, there is a place for other things in life besides meditation and, although a place for meditation can easily be found, there is no reason why it should come to dominate your activities to the exclusion of other agreeable preoccupations.  Naturally, like virtually any other subject on earth, meditation has its hard-core of fanatical extremists.  But if you are not cut-out to be such a person yourself, there is little point in trying to follow suit.  Just practise it when and where you want to experience your soul with a new pride, and it will speak for itself with all the justification that everything worthwhile invariably has on its side.

      But is meditation of this nature for everyone?  Theoretically one could argue that it is for everyone, insofar as almost everyone has a pair of lungs, a throat, a stable heart, etc.  But, in practice, one is obliged to admit that only a comparatively small minority of people are really qualified to indulge in it.  To begin with, one must have the right temperament, the right character, to enable one to take it seriously in the first place.  It is therefore unlikely that a majority of the working or middle classes would be qualified to meditate in this manner, especially those who are always in a rush!  And it is unlikely that people who are too fat, and consequently unable to get themselves into an upright sitting posture, would be particularly qualified to do so, either.  Likewise, one might argue that people with poor lungs, whether from general ill-health or tobacco addiction, would be no-less poorly qualified to indulge in the increased flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, just as the elderly would not be a particularly good proposition in that respect.  Obviously, one cannot preach a crusade for universal, dynamic meditation among the masses, any more than one can preach a like-crusade for anything else.  And neither can one be surprised by the vast numbers of people who, not being qualified to meditate in this manner, are coerced by what little self-respect they still possess into deriding it.

      Put frankly, meditation is essentially something which appeals to that relatively small percentage of the population of any given country who are always interested in the promulgation of techniques for improving the quality of life, so that the individual interested in them may adopt as positive an attitude to life as seems compatible with the formulation of any genuinely moral or noble orientation.  Meditation, clearly, isn't for those whose egocentric relationship to the world leads them to instinctively shy away from attitudes or practices which imply gratitude to life, or a complacency not really commensurate with rebellious strictures.  It depends to some extent where one lives, whom one's friends are, what one's experiences in life have been, the condition of one's health, etc., as to whether or not one will take a positive attitude to meditation.  One can be perfectly justified in deriding it, just as one can be perfectly justified in praising it.  Those who do not meditate aren't necessarily fools on that account.  It is simply not for them, and any attitude which ignores this is undoubtedly mistaken.  You may, as a devotee of meditation, despise cigarette smokers as much as you like, but your feelings towards them will not entitle you to consider them wrong to smoke instead of to meditate.  Superior to many of them you may well be, but their inferiority is perfectly legitimate, since the foundation, often enough, upon which your own superiority has been erected.  The only alternative perspective to this is one of presupposing that what is right for oneself should be right for everyone else as well, irrespective of how sadly mistaken one could be!

      But let us leave these wider philosophical issues and return, finally, to transcendental meditation, which, so we have argued, is not for everyone.  I intimated earlier that meditation isn't a religion or, at any rate, need not become one.  The fact is that it can be driven in either an ideological or a religious direction, depending upon the nature of the people who practise it and their motives for doing so.  By itself, meditation doesn't amount to a religion.  But in the hands of mystically-minded individuals, it can certainly be used as a very important ingredient in one - as, for example, with a number of modern fringe cults who practise their own kind of meditation as a means to identification with the Godhead.

      The kind of meditation that I have outlined here does not aspire to any mystical identification with God conceived, say, in terms of Creator of the Universe, but is simply an occupation which, carried out in all sincerity, can provide one with a highly satisfying state-of-mind for 5-10 minutes whenever one chooses to practise it.  You can call this a process of self-realization if you like, though there is always an element of doubt, these days, as to exactly what is meant by this all-too-pervasive expression, and a limit, moreover, as to how far it can be taken, since, as the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher John Hume pointed out, sense impressions do not constitute the self any more than the thoughts one thinks - full knowledge of the self, as thing-in-itself, ultimately being beyond one's cognitive grasp.  All one can do, it seems, is to acquire a rough approximation of the self, and in this respect the Orient has more to teach and better techniques at its disposal for the acquirement of this elusive self-approximation than both the Occident and the rest of the world put together!

       But internal sense impressions certainly can be experienced through transcendental meditation, and, as already intimated, the purity of these sensible impressions is well-worth the initial struggle to attain them.  For in a world increasingly beset by chaos, noise, anarchy, restlessness, tension, doubt, etc., meditation can be of considerable value in enabling one to take temporary refuge from the plethora of diurnal events which constantly bombard one's sensibilities and threaten to destroy all genuine peace of mind.

      Yet the course of action I have described here has very little to do with the pitiful ataxia of the ancient Greeks in their Hellenistic decadence or, alternatively, with its Buddhist equivalent of indifference to pleasure and pain.  It is not a kind of spiritual suicide carried-on with the sole intent of shutting out the various contradictory emotional impressions which inevitably befall anyone who goes about the world in a natural, open, adventurous manner.  Certain so-called sages of the East have long been renowned, it is true, for their imperturbability - an imperturbability, however, which too often smacks of defeatism in the face of life's manifold demands on the human spirit and which, in many Westerner's minds, is still wrongly associated with any form of meditation.

      But that is a specifically Buddhist form of meditation which has very little to do with the thirty minutes combination of breathing routine and the transcendental tranquillity resulting from it.  On the contrary, we are concerned here with a positive experience, not a defeatist one which smacks of world-weariness.  We are concerned here not only in taking a little refuge from the commonplace demands and experiences of everyday life but, more importantly, in equipping ourselves with another weapon for dealing with them.  For, in the battle of life, meditation may not be the most powerful weapon at our disposal, but it is by no means the least powerful, and many people's lives are richer and saner for a daily fidelity to thirty minutes spent in the above-mentioned fashion than would otherwise be the case.  It can help, for one thing, to ease depression, and, as well as providing one with a temporary sanctuary from noisy neighbours, it can put one in a more positive frame-of-mind for appreciating the fine arts, especially music - the most idealistic art-form of them all.

      However, like most things, meditation has to be indulged in moderation, otherwise the advantages to be acquired from it will quickly be replaced by disadvantages, and one may subsequently find oneself meditating to the exclusion of talking or reading or walking or any other such important activities.  The rule, as ever, is to approximate to Aristotle's 'golden mean', which, in popular parlance, means that 'variety is the spice of life', with no undue emphasis on any one subject to the total exclusion of everything else.  Easier said than done, of course, but generally followed nonetheless!