June 2, 2012
A visit from a friend the other day brought an unexpected gift. One of the greatest things a friend can do is to help us to love and appreciate ourselves more, and that’s exactly what my friend did when she visited my home. My friend, also named Mary, is a beautiful woman, beautiful inside and out. She is always beautifully dressed, her hair perfect, and you could drop into her home at any time to find a picture perfect, lovely and orderly environment. We share a love of nature, and I have always admired her meticulously cared for, orderly (and weedless) garden and yard.
Mary always makes me feel special and loved, yet despite this I felt a bit intimidated about having her visit me at my home for the first time. I am not a perfect housekeeper. My garden, as filled as it is with beautiful things, is never weed-free and certainly not symmetrical or planned with any sort of special arrangement in mind. You could say that these things, as well as how I dress, is “casual”. As I ushered her along the patio to the door, she immediately remarked on how beautiful my yard is. I was really struck by this. While I was seeing the weeds that need to be pulled, plants that need to be replaced and spots where something needs to be planted, all she saw was the beauty of the flowers and shrubs. Her appreciation was genuine, and what I saw as a “deficiency” in my gardening, she saw as delightful. She was enjoying the casualness and spontaneity of it, which mirrors nature itself.
Mary helped me see things, myself included, with new eyes. This continued once we were inside and she commented on the peacefulness and quiet in our home — that was what she noticed, not the details of the furnishings. I showed her a painting of wisteria by my mother. I have always enjoyed it as I love wisteria and the painting seems to capture it in a charming way. Mary said she liked it because of the way the wisteria is casually presented — not contained neatly inside the picture in a symmetrical way. There is a certain sense of abandon in it. Now when I look at the painting, I see it as a reflection of my garden and some of the traits my mother passed on to me.
Mary’s visit left me with a greater acceptance, and even appreciation, of myself. My experience of my garden and yard is different. I see it with new eyes, and appreciate it more everyday. As I thought of sharing this story with you, I couldn’t help but see the connection with the style of meditation I’ve embraced. It’s one of acceptance of what is, including acceptance of oneself. I hope our visits together in the meditations bring you the same gift Mary’s visit brought me.
March 19, 2012
“It depends…” is often the answer to these common questions. It depends on what kind of meditation you are doing. It depends on your unique nervous system and physiology. It depends on why you are meditating in the first place, what your goal is. That being said, I’ll share a few thoughts on these questions from the perspective of our meditation style.
Will meditation help me sleep? Our approach is above all to promote naturalness and ease in living. We’re all about trust — trust in life, trust in oneself. Ultimately, it’s about relaxation — letting go of the tension that comes when we try too hard, resist what is happening, or are in conflict with ourselves. It’s about relaxing into the flow of life and living. This approach to meditation, or any other meditation style that promotes deep relaxation, should certainly improve the quality of sleep. Sleep comes about as we relax and let go of the concerns of the day.
I’m falling asleep during meditation, am I doing something wrong? In the deep relaxation of meditation, the body takes what it needs. If you are not getting enough sleep, the body will naturally fall asleep. So many of us are not getting enough rest, so when sleep comes in meditation it’s a blessing, even if it’s an unplanned afternoon nap! Practicing meditation in the style we teach should lead to greater alertness and clarity. But that doesn’t mean we have to be alert and clear during meditation. (After all, we are not alert and clear during sleep, but a good night’s sleep results in greater clarity and alertness during the day.) If you were totally rested, your experience during meditation would probably be one of enhanced wakefulness and energy, but if that isn’t what is happening, that’s fine. Whatever happens is what needs to happen at the time. So we recommend not resisting sleep when it comes. The sleep you get in meditation will be particularly deep and refreshing to the system.
Is it OK to meditate at bedtime? There is no hard and fast rule about this. If meditation makes you more alert and energized, you wouldn’t want to meditate right before bed. If meditation is mainly relaxing and you slip easily into sleep while meditating, then by all means meditate before bed. The ideal would be to have another meditation earlier in the day as well. Sitting up and meditating during the day will make it more likely you’ll stay awake, and different benefits can be derived from that. If you can do it, make twice daily meditation part of your routine!
On guided meditation. As those of you know who listen to our podcast meditations or use our apps, guided meditations guide you in meditation. They can be designed to simply help you achieve a meditative state, or they can have a specific focus and take you on a journey with a particular theme. We have both kinds of meditations. Some will be conducive to falling asleep, while others will be more stimulating and may not work well right before bed. You will need to try the different meditations to see what works for you.
Our new iSleep Easy app. The guided meditations on our new app are specifically designed for bedtime, and one is even designed for when you wake up in the middle of the night. All of the meditations are designed to help you let go and relax, much like our other meditations, but they are more focused on falling asleep and promoting a sound sleep. The app also gives you the ability to create a Playlist with several meditations in a row. Currently the app is available on iPhone — you can read about it in the iTunes store. If you get the app, let us know how it works for you!
November 18, 2011
Comment from Kathy — “I have trouble meditating in general. I can relax completely but then the slightest things disturb me. Things like my eyelids fluttering or an itch. My limbs become restless. Can you advise any strategy to help deal with that so I can stay in that relaxed state?”
11-19-2011 — Meant to add my comments before publishing this post yesterday. So here they are now — better late than never!
The obstacle to staying in a relaxed state is TRYING to stay in a relaxed state. You can feel restless and have fluttering eyelids and still be relaxed. The key to remaining relaxed is non-resistance. Let it be OK if you feel restless or your eyelids flutter. Go ahead and scratch an itch. Although some meditation styles may require that you stay perfectly still, we don’t subscribe to that approach. Naturalness is the key. Learning to let go of resistance to what is happening is the essence of the practice. Take it as it comes, and when you find your are resisting that, let it go. Even the resistance when it comes up, is part of the process. In our approach to meditation, you can’t make a mistake. Everything is part of the process of meditation!
November 7, 2011
On November 7, 2006 we published our first Meditation Oasis podcast episode. We had no idea that 5 years later, there would be over 8 million downloads and that people all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, would become listeners. Our podcast meditations have been used in ways and in places we would never have imagined. Everyday we hear from people through emails, Facebook, Twitter, website comments about how they are benefitting from the meditations. At times we are moved to tears — both awed and humbled, knowing that these reports are a testimony to the power of meditation and the tremendous capacity we have as humans to grow.
Our meditations have been used both by people wanting to enrich their experience of life and by people overcoming all sorts of challenges. Counselors and psychotherapists use them for their clients; women have used them in childbirth; they have been used in clinics and human resource departments, recovery programs, hospitals, and by troops in Afghanistan. We hear from people who are grieving or facing medical problems and surgery. Artists and musicians tell us how meditation has helped them create. And we also hear from people who simply say that life is easier, more rich and fulfilling and that they have more inner peace.
Our work has developed and expanded because of what we hear from listeners. Many of the podcast meditations came about because of listeners’ requests. The podcast has been a launching pad for our online meditation course, anxiety relief program, as well as our smartphone applications. Much of Richard’s music has been inspired by the podcast meditations.
This has been an incredibly fulfilling five years, and it’s all because of of our listeners’ openness. Richard and I feel grateful to all of you who have opened your minds and hearts to be on this journey with us.
August 31, 2010
Walking a labyrinth can be a profound experience. In our town, we have a simple labyrinth, marked on the earth with stones in a circle of redwoods. I love to walk it, using it as a moving meditation.
There are many ways to walk a labyrinth. You can find very specific instructions for what to do as you walk one – even eHow has a page on how to walk one.
I like to approach labyrinth walking more casually, without a set procedure. Sometimes I set an intention, but more often I simply start to walk and see what experiences it brings. It always takes me out of linearity. We are so accustomed to seeing life – our hours, days, years – as a line that progresses from one place to another. The latter place is usually a goal. We try to find the straightest way to the goal. We measure the distance in our minds. If it’s a car trip, we watch our progress on a map. But getting to the center of a labyrinth is like the “long and winding road”. You come closer to the center and your mind may start to try to measure how close you are to the “end”. Just then, you find yourself taking a turn that leads you back out toward the edge.
For me, the labyrinth mirrors life, which isn’t really linear. Walking it is a great way to relax into the twists and turns of life, to let go of the constant focus on future goals and the tendency to try to see how everything leads to something else. It’s a way of being in the Now. Martha Cuffy, who is seen in the photo walking a labyrinth with friends, expressed similar sentiments in a lovely post with a perfect title – Walk your Life in a Labyrinth.
I was inspired to write this post by Eleanor, a seminary student in Hong Kong, who left a beautiful comment on the website about her experience walking the labyrinth. It’s moving and inspiring to read how she uses her walk in the labyrinth to process emotions and gain insights into herself and her life. She has quite an inner journey, and comes out of it with beautiful observations on the nature of silence. This is a beautiful example of the power of walking the labyrinth. Not every walk will be this profound – one needs to let go of expectations and see what special gifts the labyrinth holds each time it is walked.
Have you walked a labyrinth? What was the experience like for you?
August 19, 2010
“Present moment awareness” isn’t something that can be captured in words. It is a holistic awareness of “what is”. This short meditation is an opportunity to explore what is “here and now”.
This is a more advanced meditation in that the instructions are very subtle. The words I say in meditations are never meant as instructions to be followed precisely, and that is even more true for this meditation. Since there’s so much interest in the idea of the “present moment”, it might be easy to get caught up in concepts about it and what it is. Any idea we have about the present moment, however, is not what it is. As you listen to this meditation, listen easily. Treat it more like poetry than prose, allowing it to reveal something to you that can’t be named. Let go of the need to understand!
We’d love to hear your experiences with this meditation!
June 21, 2010
It’s the summer solstice where I live – the longest day of the year. A lover of warmth and light, I celebrate the day with a mixture of emotions. At the same time that I rejoice in the light and beginning of summer, there’s the knowledge that from now on the days will gradually shorten. The concept of Yin-Yang expresses this perfectly – in the light half resides the seed of darkness, in the dark half resides the seed of light.
It seems as I grow older, the two sides of the coin of life are more evident in every experience. When young, I would be totally happy or totally sad, and at some level there was actually a belief that life could be all one way or another. As I age, with more and more up and down waves of living under my belt, there’s a sense of the impermanence of all experiences. Love is tinged with the knowledge of loss, and life takes on an increasingly bittersweet quality. Sadness dances in happiness and joy dances in sorrow. There is an incredible aliveness in this. Life itself dancing in my heart!
Related post: Musings on the Winter Solstice six months ago — Finding Harmony in Diversity with Meditation
November 19, 2009
Do you ever find yourself resisting meditation? Perhaps you’ve resolved to meditate regularly either because you think it’s good for you, or you’ve enjoyed meditating and what it does for you. And yet, for some reason, you find yourself resisting meditation. Georgina asked about this in a comment:
“I really love meditation and your podcasts have greatly assisted me and changed my life. But even though I love meditation and I know it is good for me, I find myself resisting doing it almost daily… why is that? Do you have any insight on why we resist meditation? Why I find it so hard to sit for just 10 minutes a day sometimes? Is it the mind not wanting you to go away from it?”
Before I comment, I’d like to invite you to share your experience with this. Do you find you resist meditation? How do you experience that resistance? Do you have any idea why you resist?
I know many people struggle with this. As I wrote to Georgina, the best thing is to investigate for yourself why you resist. It can help you get in touch with what the resistance is all about and lead to valuable insights. Often when we become conscious of the feelings and beliefs that underlie our behavior, we can find ways to make changes.
I suspect that the reason for the resistance may be different for different people, but a couple of possibilities come to mind. It may simply be the momentum in our busy lives that keeps us moving at fast speed, as well as our culture which is telling us to do, do, do.
Our culture doesn’t recognize a very fundamental principle, and that is that being rested and relaxed is the most important key to being creative and productive. Getting things done is equated with putting in time. With this deeply ingrained idea, we often don’t give ourselves permission to take time out for meditation. And then when we do take the time, the mind and and body are in such high gear that we feel restless. You may sit to meditate and find yourself feeling like you have to get up and go. Meditating requires that we be prepared for that and continue to experience the restlessness and let it unwind.
The resistance can also be emotional. All of our busyness keeps us from feeling things we don’t want to feel. Meditation gets us in touch with our inner experience, including our emotions. If there is something going on in our lives that troubles us or we are not comfortable with certain emotions, we may tend to avoid meditation. And yet, to be truly relaxed and present, which are both goals of meditation, we have to be able to experience our emotions.
What is your experience with this? Do you resist meditating sometimes, and do you know why?
August 31, 2009
Our latest podcast meditation is yet another variation on a theme. It’s along the same lines as the Letting Go, Simply Being, Effortless, Let it Be and Trust meditations. Each has a slightly different angle that points the mind to the same place, a place which isn’t really a place. They help us to achieve a state of being in which there is a lack of resistance to the natural flow of life. This state of mind can be described in so many different ways. “Lack of resistance to the natural flow of life” is only one way to talk about it. “Resting in the source”, the name of this new meditation, is another. And yet, words always fall short. Words have meaning, but the words used in these meditations are used to help the mind move beyond meaning. They are words to undo words.
The word “source” in the context of meditation is full of meaning for many people. I asked what it meant to people on our Facebook page, and it was interesting to read the responses. For some, source has spiritual or religious meaning; for others it is more secular. And yet, it’s my feeling that the most fundamental meditative state is the same regardless of how we approach it. Sometimes images capture it best. In the meditation, the image of a fountain came to me. All of the water flows from the source and falls back into the source. Hopefully the meditation sets the stage to allow your mind rest at the still point from which everything emerges and to which everything returns.
August 24, 2009
I just re-read a beautiful piece by Adrianne Murchison examining whether there is a difference between prayer and meditation. She questions whether there is a difference because she learned to meditate through prayer. Saying the rosary transformed into silent meditation and the experience of Oneness for her. Here is how she describes her experience:
“I’m Catholic and first learned to meditate years ago by saying the Rosary –a recitation of the “Hail Mary” prayer. I start by whispering the words. After a few minutes I am no longer whispering but, instead, mouthing the words in silence. Soon the words and my thoughts become laboring, because I am with God and they are not necessary. I let my words and thoughts go and simply experience Oneness.”
What I’ve been exploring is at which point did the prayer become meditation? Is prayer the part where she is saying the words, since prayer is usually associated with speech and communication? Does it become meditation at the point when she lets go of the words and thoughts? Is meditation arriving at the point where she feels “with God” and no longer needs words? But then, isn’t that how some people would define meditation, as a means of getting close to God or becoming one with God? Is it the transition from words to Oneness that defines it as meditation? Perhaps it becomes meditation because the experience of Oneness happens and there is no possibility of prayer in Oneness. If prayer is communication between self and “other”, how could there be prayer when self and other have merged into one?
What struck me about her experience is that, although it occurred in the context of prayer and her religious and spiritual practice, it contains elements common to many meditative practices whose goal is to transcend thought and reach a deeper level of the mind where all is one. Many practices provide an object of attention as a means of allowing the mind to relax its focus, expand and move beyond duality to the experience of Oneness. It can happen with the repetition of a mantra, staring at a candle flame or even watching the breath. Letting go of thought is an essential element of this experience, as meaning keeps the mind engaged in distinctions like self and other, past and future, and in Oneness these distinctions dissolve.
The experience of Oneness can also happen spontaneously without prayer or meditation or any other practice. We love to do things that help that to happen — like sitting and watching the fire in the fireplace, looking at the ocean waves come in and go out, and listening to music that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts.
I’d love to know what you think. Perhaps you meditate but don’t pray. Or you might pray but not meditate. Maybe you do both, and maybe you do neither. But chances are you’ve had the feeling of being at one with everything at some point in your life. Have you experienced Oneness and, if so, do you know how it came about? What is prayer? What is meditation? What, if anything, makes them different?