Meditation and Being Fully Alive

July 11, 2009

More and more it’s the “little things” that make my day — the taste of a plum from our tree, the sight of a hummingbird on the orange trumpet vine — even the feeling of a spoon as I dry it after washing. Sounds odd maybe, but the smooth texture of the spoon, the warmth, the weight of it in my hand are all somehow satisfying. So is the experience of my body breathing, and the growing richness of my emotional life. As someone who once upon a time was very much “in my head”, the increasing awareness of my body brings great satisfaction. I’ve come to enjoy how my body feels as it moves and the rich variety of physical sensations present in any moment. Things like the feeling of the water when I shower and then the towel on my skin, the warmth of the sun, a cool breeze — bring so much richness and satisfaction.

Being alive is fulfilling in and of itself when we open more to what is happening in the “present moment”. But opening to the present moment isn’t just about “smelling the roses”, it’s also about the willingness to feel pain. In our culture, we try to avoid feeling pain. Whether the pain is physical or emotional, we’ll do anything to not feel it, from popping pills to distracting ourselves by keeping busy. And yet, when we repress or avoid feeling something, we restrict the flow of life energy. Our awareness becomes restricted and our capacity to feel is dulled. We can’t be fully alive without experiencing it all — pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. The same meditative path that has allowed me to derive so much satisfaction from the small pleasures of life has required that I also feel pain more acutely.

How does meditation create such a shift in experience? How can it help us feel more fully alive? Meditation involves what we do with our attention. So often our attention is caught up in thoughts, so that we miss the experiences coming through our senses. Most meditation styles encourage letting go of thoughts and shifting the attention to the breath or the body or to simply experiencing the ongoing succession of experiences that occur from moment to moment. Thus we develop the habit of letting go of thoughts and paying attention to the sensation of breathing, bodily sensations, emotions, sensory input.

Meditation also involves letting go of the attempt to manipulate our experience. We let go of resistance to what is and stop trying to change what we think and feel.

Just a few minutes ago I was making the bed. My mind was caught up in writing this blog post and then there was a shift. My attention came back to the bed making. No longer caught up in thoughts, I was seeing the color of the sheets, feeling their texture in my hands, hearing the rustling sound as I pulled the pillowcase over the pillow. Thanks to writing this post, I noticed the satisfaction inherent in this simple experience. Meditation can also encourage us to accept the ever-changing flow of emotions. As I made the bed, there were a number of feelings present. Not resisting certain feelings or trying to make myself feel otherwise left my attention undivided. This too contributed to being fully present to the experience of making the bed. Meditation can free our attention from preoccupation with thoughts of past and future or of how we think things should be. The attention, left free, naturally experiences what is happening moment to moment.

The motivation to meditate may be the immediate relaxation and relief it provides, but there’s a lot more going on. Regular meditation can make a radical change in how we experience our lives. What changes have you noticed from meditation? Do you appreciate the little things more? Do you feel more fully alive?

Can you meditate too much?

June 5, 2009

Unfortunately I have to disagree with Mae West who said “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. When it comes to meditation, as well as almost every other “good thing” in life, there can be too much. Food, water, sunshine, exercise, rest — everything in life — needs to be in balance. As wonderful as good as meditation may seem, too much is not wonderful at all, but may cause discomfort and interfere with our functioning.

LoraC left a comment today saying that since starting meditation, she finds herself crying more easily and also has become clumsy and has been tripping and even fell. She loves the relaxation of meditation, but these things concern her. Of course, I didn’t have enough information to know for sure what is happening with her, but it is certainly possible that she is meditating too much.

Too much meditation can make you “spacey” and ungrounded. It can weaken your mind-body coordination. This could be why LoraC is feeling clumsy and tripping. As for her crying more readily, it’s just possible that some emotions are being released as a result of the deep relaxation in the meditation. Usually emotional releases would happen during meditation time and not create any concern. But if there starts to be a lot of release or intense emotional processing outside of meditation, it could be that too much is happening too fast. Since these things seem to have started after LoraC began “meditating in earnest”, an easy way to find out if it’s from meditation is to stop meditating for awhile or cut back on the meditation time or frequency. If the clumsiness and crying go away, then clearly too much meditation is the culprit and the time and frequency of meditation can be adjusted accordingly.

What is the right amount of meditation? How often and how long should you meditate? The answer is it depends. It depends on you — your constitution, lifestyle, goals for meditation and many other factors. It also depends on the type of meditation. For most people and most meditation styles, usually once or twice a day for 15 – 30 minutes, would work well. Unless you have the personal guidance of a teacher, you will need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

If meditation is enhancing your life, you’ve found a good balance. If it seems to be creating problems, it may be that you are meditating too much or that you might need to be doing a different kind of meditation. LoraC might find that if she does the grounding meditation or body awareness meditation, she would feel less clumsy as these meditations can help strengthen mind-body coordination.

Body Movements in Meditation

January 9, 2009

I’ve had a lot of questions about spontaneous body movements in meditation. People report shaking, the head moving, twitches and all sorts of other body movements. When these movements occur, it can be surprising and sometimes people feel concerned about them or want to know if they have any significance.

Regardless of what kind of movements you have and what you are experiencing before they happen and as they are occurring, body movements that come up in meditation are the primarily the result of two things: 1) release of tension from the deep relaxation of meditation; and 2) increased flow of energy in your body’s “energy field” (or “aura”) which starts to move “blocks”. In a sense these could be thought of as the same thing, but each explanation has a value in understanding your experience.

  1. Release of tension. This is quite obvious. When the body becomes deeply relaxed in meditation, muscles start to relax. Usually this would be felt as twitches and small movements such as your thumb jumping, but it could also be a larger movement — your head might suddenly turn.
  2. Increased flow of energy in the energy field moving through blocks. This is a more esoteric explanation, but you may actually feel the movement as being associated with “energy” (see some of the comments on the Sensing Energy during Meditation post). In this case, deep meditation is opening up some energy pathways and as more energy starts to flow it can hit up against blocks. As the energy dissolves the blocks, the body may spontaneously shake or twist and turn since everything that happens in our energy field is reflected in the body. (Read about the Human Energy Field.)

The question then is, what should I do about this? There’s really nothing you need to do unless the movements are too strong or disturbing you in some way. If that’s the case, you can simply open your eyes. This will help you to come out of the deep state you are in and the movements will naturally subside. Take it easy and come out of meditation slowly.

If the movements don’t disturb you, just let them happen without trying to manipulate them in any way. It’s better to not get involved with the movements, trying to make them happen or continue. Just let them happen spontaneously on their own, not resisting them and not getting involved with them. In a sense, you can treat them like thoughts in meditation.

Note: Of course, if you have unusual movements happening outside of meditation or have any other symptoms of concern, it’s always advisable to consult a health care provider to make sure there isn’t a medical condition you need to tend to.

Related post: Sensing Energy during Meditation

No right or wrong way to meditate

September 16, 2008

Meditation is about your own self-discovery. Learning to meditate is about discovering your own natural ability to shift into a way of being that is natural and effortless. It’s about finding what already exists in your own awareness. My goal with my guided meditations is to create a platform from which you can make your own discoveries, so there is no right or wrong way to do them. Meditation is a happening, not something that you do. However it happens for you is just right.

Yesterday I answered an email question making this point, and today I received a reply back which was so beautiful. It’s all about this very point, in this case as it applies to someone experiencing anxiety. I’m sharing part of the email exchange here because I think it might be meaningful for many of you.

Question:
“I have always had an interest in meditation and have known for some time that it would help me get over my anxiety and panic attacks but only in the last 3 months have I made it a part of my daily life and the results have been dramatic. Just knowing that the peace that meditation brings is available to me whenever I need it has made a huge difference to my day to day life and your podcasts have been instrumental in this. I really can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your life to do this for others.

However, the anxiety I feel often manifests itself physically as a tight chest and shallow breathing. During meditations I have found that focusing on my breathing when it is already laboured sometimes makes this worse as I become more conscious of the unpleasant sensation and this feeds the anxiety. My breathing does eventually become effortless but generally only when I take my mind off my breathing.

I imagine that this may be the case for others who suffer from heightened anxiety and would love to hear your views and opinions on the matter.

Thanks again for making the podcast and the website. It really has been a huge help for me to make meditation part of my daily life.”

Answer:
“Thank you so much for your open sharing of your journey with anxiety.  It’s wonderful …that you’ve made meditation part of your life. You are very welcome for the podcast — it’s so inspiring to hear from people with stories like yours!

These meditations are really meant as a springboard for the discovery of your ability to relax and enter a meditative state. Although we do have a Breath Awareness Meditation among the podcasts, and some other meditations refer to breathing, there are many that don’t involve awareness of the breath. Perhaps you’ll find that certain meditations are more useful than others at different times.  For example, when you are particularly anxious, the breath meditation may not be the best one for you. You can trust your intuition on this! 

And when you are doing a meditation you don’t need to follow the instructions precisely.  There’s no right or wrong experience or way to do them. They are there for your own exploration and discovery. You discovered that at certain times taking your mind off your breathing works best. You can trust yourself and do just that!”

Questioner’s Reply:
“Thank you so much for your reply. The fact that you said that there is no right and wrong experience and that the meditations are there for our own discovery really has helped me see the breathing issue in a different light. Even if my breath isn’t effortless then that’s ok because this is my experience and whatever happens during my meditation is right for me. I’d get frustrated in the past thinking that because my breathing was difficult then I was doing it wrong somehow. Of course you mention these things in your podcasts but sometimes you have to be told something many times before you take actually take it on board don’t you?

As I have realised many times since I started meditating, the relaxation and peace I’m looking for only comes when I stop frantically trying to find it. The first time I ever felt the complete peace that meditation can bring I felt so stupid! I’d been looking everywhere for this feeling during my anxiety and there it was all the time, quietly waiting for me to stop looking. Just that knowledge made all the difference.”



Sensing energy during meditation

August 4, 2008

Recently I’ve received a number of emails from people asking about feeling energy in various ways while meditating. People have reported things like a feeling of energy flowing and tingling.  One person said it felt like water on the top of his head at the crown chakra with a sense of a slow circular motion under the skull while doing the chakra meditation. Sometimes people have these experiences outside of meditation as well.

There are lots of reasons why people ask about this. Some people may feel uncomfortable because they don’t understand these experiences. Others are simply curious about them, or interested in subtle energies. It can be helpful to understand our experiences in meditation, not only so that we can be comfortable with them but also to integrate them into our understanding of ourselves. Meditation is, among other things, an exploration of oneself. So I thought I’d explore this a little here.

If you don’t have these experiences in meditation, doesn’t matter. You can still enjoy the benefit of meditation on all levels. If you don’t care about these experiences or even believe in them, fine.  Some people do, some don’t.  This is for those of you who are curious about such things.

I like to keep things simple and not get too esoteric about these experiences.  The bottom line on all of them is that during meditation we can sense subtle energies in the body (or even in the energy field around the body). That happens because during meditation our awareness can go to deeper levels.  We can feel subtle energies that we normally don’t notice.  In addition, some meditations can open up our energies so that they start to flow more freely.

Whether you are experiencing these energies as moving or still, flowing through the body or in one area, tingly or liquid, and so on isn’t important.  What’s important is simply to understand that this is a natural experience as these energies are enlivened and as we open up to noticing them.

Sometimes people start to focus on the energetic sensations, wanting to control them or magnify them.  My advice is to treat them like thoughts, not paying any special attention to them.  Just continue the meditation, not minding the sensations.  Let them go the way they naturally go.  In this way you are trusting the wisdom of the body as it adjusts itself and comes into more balance.  Let the natural intelligence of the body do it’s work rather than trying to manipulate the energies from your side. That way things will unfold in a more balanced way.

Please feel free to share any of your experiences and ask questions about them on this blog.  I may be able to give more specific answers to specific experiences.

Note: What I say here refers to experiences while listening to our guided meditations on the podcast or our CDs.  It may or may not apply to experiences during other meditation practices.

Related Post: Body Movements in Meditation

Nature Attunement Meditation

January 16, 2008

Why is time spent in nature so revitalizing and nourishing? Why does it make us feel so alive? Is there more to it than just taking a break and getting away from it all? My sense is that nature is like a tuning fork fork that attunes us to our life force, to our very being. Nature is like a mirror that reflects back to us the qualities that make up our bodies, minds, emotions and spirit. Depending on the kind of work we do and how we spend our time, we may become disconnected from those qualities and life can become somewhat dry and flat. Time spent in nature wakes us up, makes us feel more alive.

River rocksThe Nature Attunement Meditation is meant to bring much of the benefit of time spent in nature to us wherever we may be. This meditation focuses on the earth itself, creating an experience of grounding and strengthening. Water, sun and moon light, and plants also play a part in the meditation, as we attune to the essential elements that make up our lives and imbibe the energy and life of the vegetation of the earth.

This meditation is quite different from any of the previous ones on the podcast. It was a new experience for me to create it and I really enjoyed it. It will be interesting to hear how some of you respond to it.

I want this experience every time I meditate!

February 18, 2007

It’s hard to imagine that anyone who has ever meditated has not felt this at one time or another. We are sitting in meditation and everything feels so perfect. We may describe the experience in different ways — peace, calm, silence, bliss, love — but whatever we call it we want it forever! We want it every time we meditate. And then we sit to meditate and begin to look for it and when it’s not there, we try to get it back. Perhaps we have a theory about how we “got there” before, and yet despite all our efforts, it isn’t happening.

We feel we’ve lost the knack. We’re failing. Yet the more we look for that special experience and the more we try the worse we feel. Apparently all our best efforts can’t get us back there. And if we can see the obvious, we’ll see that our efforts didn’t get us there in the first place!

So many times in my local guided meditation group, people will say something like this — “When I started meditation it seemed like I’d never settle down. It seemed hopeless and I said to myself, ‘oh well, this just isn’t going to work today’. The next thing I knew, I went so deep!” Once they had given up, the mind shifted into a meditative state on its own. And that’s the “trick” of it. A meditative state happens when we stop trying to make it happen. It happens when we let go of attachment to “good experiences”. It happens when we are in a state of non-resistance, not trying to stop whatever is naturally happening and not trying to create something in its place.

How do we stop trying? We certainly can’t try to stop trying, but a kind of backing off can happen when we see that we are caught up in the effort of trying to get somewhere. As we practice meditation more and more, self awareness can grow. Having guidance can help, and guided meditation can be helpful as well.

What has been helpful for you? Share your experiences and comments!

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