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advice on "dhyAna" for a novice?

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Fri Aug 21 1998 - 17:44:35 PDT

Dear Bhaktas,

These days, the only time I seem to have for any
sustained contemplation is during my morning 
and evening sandhyAvandana.  Even these are
limited to a few minutes, the period during
which I do the gAyatri or ashTAkshara japa.

In such a short time, how can I successfully
calm my mind and concentrate on the paramAtmA?
All too often, my mind wanders and thinks about
something completely unrelated to nArAyaNa. 
It is easier to focus on the last funny episode
of Seinfeld or the next meal than to think about
God! This is my practical experience.

I would like those among you who engage in
any kind of contemplation, no matter how "simple",
to give me suggestions on (a) how to concentrate,
and on (b) what to concentrate.

I am _not_ looking merely for quotations from 
the maharshis and acAryas on what to think 
about during mantra japa.  I am familiar with
many of these recommendations, but their words 
often are very formal and do not shed light
(to me) on a practical method for settling the 
mind and on concentrating on the Highest Self.  

I am also not satisfied with advice that recommends
reciting one stotra or another.  While the mind
may be focussed during the recitation of the stotra,
such focus is easily lost during mantra japa or 
during pure contemplation.

I would like for any and all to give a practical 
means that has worked in their experience.

Suggestions are welcome from all, particularly
from those who try to contemplate during their
nityakarma-anushTAnam or nityAnusandhAnam.
Concentration techniques learnt elsewhere are
also welcome.

If the question I have posed is vague, please
request public clarification, and I will gladly
comply.

your servant,
Mani