Do our meditations contain “mixed messages”? (How to listen to our meditations!)

June 30, 2014

I just responded to an email with a great question — in fact, I’m surprised I’ve never gotten this question before. It’s an opportunity to remind everyone how to listen to our guided meditations. Here’s the Q&A —

Q: I like the app (Simply Being) but what the guide is saying there is somewhat confusing : on one hand it’s “open awareness to whatever is happening right now” and on the other hand “easy, there is nothing to do”. These are 180 degrees different states of mind, as far as I interpret it.

A: Great question! The words are meant to help you experience a relaxed, meditative state. It is impossible to do that through precise instructions, so the instructions can seem like mixed messages or a paradox if they are taken too literally. The phrases are really just gentle prompts to allow the mind to do what it can naturally do — let go. “Open awareness to whatever is happening right now” is not so much an instruction as a description of a natural state. If there isn’t openness — if you notice resistance to what is happening or some attempt to change it, you can let that go. The phrase “easy, there is nothing to do” is to encourage that letting go. (Resistance to and manipulation of what is naturally happening involves effort, “doing”.)

You can just listen easily to the meditation, not trying to make sense of all the words. That’s why we say in the instructions, “just let the words wash over you”.

For those of you who do not have our apps — I am copying our How to Listen instructions below. These instructions apply to all of our meditations, whether they are on an app, a CD or in the podcast.

“Listen easily to the guided meditations, allowing the words to ‘wash over you’. You don’t need to understand, or even hear, all the words. The words and phrases aren’t instructions that are meant to be followed precisely. They are just gentle prompts to the mind.”

All about meditation and sleep!

March 19, 2012

Will meditation help me sleep? I’m falling asleep during meditation, am I doing something wrong? Is it OK to meditate at bedtime?

“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!

Non-resistance in Meditation

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?”

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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!

Negative thoughts in meditation

December 9, 2009

Someone taking our online course asked about negative thoughts in meditation. His concern was whether letting them go would release them into the universe and bring negative results back to him. My answer was absolutely not! When I say “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, that includes all thoughts, positive or negative. To allow the mind to expand and relax in meditation, we have to release it from its usual focus. During meditation we give the mind a break. We let go of the need to understand, analyze, evaluate and so on. We don’t need to pay attention to what our thoughts are about. The type of thoughts we have doesn’t matter. It’s not necessary to monitor our thoughts in any way and weed out the “wrong kind”. All thoughts are equal in meditation!

How we handle thoughts in meditation and outside of meditation is different. Outside of meditation the meaning of our thoughts is important, but even then I feel people become overly concerned about “negative” thoughts. So often people people struggle with them. They fear that negative thoughts or angry feelings will bring them harm and this can cause a lot of suffering. I’ve seen people become tense and afraid when negative thoughts come, trying hard to replace them with something positive. It becomes a war within.

From my perspective, it’s not only frustrating to try to eliminate negative thoughts, it’s futile! Life is a mixture of positive and negative. We are a mixture of positive and negative. Trying to change that is trying to change the basic structure of things. Can you get rid of one side of a coin or one pole of a magnet?

I don’t mean to say that how we think isn’t important. Of course, we’d rather have a positive, uplifting perspective on things, and our attitudes and perspectives definitely do affect us. There can be a value in becoming more aware of our mental patterns, particularly our underlying beliefs and attitudes toward life. When we start to see ourselves more clearly, we are sometimes able to bring about shifts in our way of being and seeing things. But bringing about positive changes goes much deeper than simply trying to stop negative thoughts. It involves the ability to relax into who we are and accept ourselves as we are now — the positive and the negative. It’s a kind of paradox that when we can truly accept ourselves all the way just as we are now, we may very well morph into more compassionate people. That is the natural result of self-acceptance.

On the “Effortless Effort” of Meditation

September 17, 2009

Usually the term “effortless effort” is associated with Taoist philosophy and its concept of “Wu Wei”. It has to do with how we act, or experience action, in daily life. I like the Wikipedia description of Wu Wei as “natural action” giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing it.

I like to use “effortless effort” when talking about how to meditate. It’s indicates that the art of meditation is not one of following instructions. It’s the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.

I often tell people not to take what I say in my meditations too literally. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by something like “not minding thoughts”. It’s impossible to answer those questions. The words I use aren’t meant to be instructions to follow precisely. The words are more like confirmations of the correct experience. Quite naturally the mind will start relaxing into a state of “not minding thoughts”, and if there is some resistance to that happening, words can give you permission to let go. My words are more like “reminders” to gently prompt the mind to let go of effort. But that letting go is an effortless effort!

How can effort be effortless? It’s a paradox. The paradox happens because in guiding someone in meditation, we pretty much have to use words. You can’t demonstrate meditation like you can dance, because it’s an internal process. Although music alone can sometimes induce a meditative state, more often than not some verbal guidance is necessary. And yet, using words and phrases to guide that process is full of pitfalls. The meditative state is actually something that the mind falls into, not something you can make happen through following instructions. The instructions can only set up a situation where the mind can slip into that state.

Meditation is a state of effortlessness and sometimes a phrase here and there can help us to let go of effort. For example, I might say “let thoughts go”. The idea isn’t to actively let them go, like when you open your hand to drop a ball, but rather hearing the phrase “let thoughts go” may help the mind let go. That’s because the mind is naturally drawn into a meditative state when given the opportunity, and there may be some resistance to that happening. The words can help dissolve the resistance. Letting go is not an active doing. No words or concepts can tell you exactly how to do it.

No one can teach you to meditate!

September 8, 2009

Learning meditation is like learning ride a bicycle. Someone can demonstrate how to ride, tell you where to put your feet and hands and so on, but ultimately you have to get the hang of it yourself. A meditation teacher can give you a few pointers about how to start, how to focus your attention, how to handle thoughts and so on; but like bike riding, you ultimately discover how to meditate yourself.

Of course, there are many different kinds of meditation, and this might not be true for all of them. But this is true for meditation styles that induce a deeply relaxed, meditative state. It’s a natural state. It happens spontaneously at times. Perhaps you will initially follow some instructions, but then a time comes when you close your eyes and there you are. With repetition it can become automatic. A skillful “teacher” can only guide you to your own discovery.

Actually, I think it could be said that no one can teach you anything. When I was teaching in the healing arts, I was always amazed at how people heard and learned things that I never remembered saying or teaching. People learned what they were ready to learn, and I just provided a catalyst for that learning. If you are using our guided meditations or have taken our Online Course, it is because you were ready to discover something in your own awareness and these tools provided a catalyst.

A teacher is sometimes someone who passes on facts or know how. It might be tempting in that case to feel the teacher is actually teaching you, but you have to be able to absorb the information you are being given and access it when needed. You have your own understanding of the “facts”. You have to apply what you’ve learned in your own way. Two people using exactly the same recipe produce different results. It may seem like a paradox, but ultimately I’d say someone can learn, but no one can teach.

What do you think? Do you feel someone taught you to meditate (or play music, draw, cook or…)? Do you feel you learned it totally on your own? Or has your experience been something in between?

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.

Intuitive Visualization in Meditation

May 4, 2009


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We just had a comment from someone who has a hard time with visualizations in meditation. So do I! Actually, I almost never enjoy a meditation that tells you to see this and see that. The more specific the instructions are for exactly what to visualize, the worse it is for me. As I’m working to construct the tree or light or animal or whatever it is I am to see, the guide is already on to the next image. I can never catch up and I’m so busy working on coming up with the visualization that I can’t really relax and get whatever it is I am supposed to get by seeing the image.

Though most of my meditations don’t involve visualization, I know that it can be very powerful. I do use a form of visualization in a few of the guided meditations (Intuitive Healing and Inner Child meditations are examples). I like to call what I do “intuitive visualization”. It’s what I do on my own sometimes for myself. It’s something we all do spontaneously when we daydream. I just suggest that you let something appear, such as a helper, and allow it to appear in whatever way it comes. It can be clear or vague. It may not even come as a image — it could be something felt or heard. It could come through any of the senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Or it could just be a feeling sense. A helper, for example, could just be an energetic “presence”. This way of visualizing, which perhaps would be better called “intuiting”, works best for me and I like it in general because it allows you to draw on your own inner, creative resources to come up with just the perfect thing for you.

I know the other kind of visualization meditation, or imagery as its often called, works well for some people. What about you? What works best for you?

Knitting as Meditation

April 9, 2009

It’s so easy to enter a meditative state while knitting. Something about the rhythmic movement back and forth between the right and left hands, something about the soothing repetition of movements. Something about it…

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about knitting as a meditative art. People have tried to understand it in right brain/left brain terms. It has been compared to EMDR with its right and left eye movements. There have been lots of attempts to explain why it works, as if people need to prove its therapeutic benefits. I don’t really care why it works, it’s enough for me that it does.

I picked up knitting at a particularly stressful time in my life, not realizing that it had become a craze. Having learned it when I was young, my mind-body must have remembered the feeling of it and signaled my intuition that it was time to start knitting again. I find knitting to be so comforting and relaxing. I’ve known that it produces a meditative state, but it was just a couple days ago that I fully appreciated its power. When I was thinking about the similarity between meditation and knitting, I realized that you can’t worry and knit at the same time! 

When you worry, the mind gets involved in a train of thought — a story about what might happen, what could happen, what might have happened and so on. Worrying engages the emotions in a way that creates anxiety.  The use of your hands and the sight of the stitches being formed breaks that pattern. I challenge you to see if you can worry while you knit! To test this out, I knit a few rows actually trying to worry. I couldn’t do it. I could come up with worry thoughts like “what if that pain is a horrible disease” and “what if I can’t pay the bills next month”, but no matter what thought I conjured up, there was no emotional juice that came with it.

So many of the phrases I use while leading guided meditations aim to do this same thing — to disentangle the thoughts from the emotions, to allow the mind to break free of its usual patterns so that one enjoys a simple, open state of awareness. When I say things like “not minding the stories of the mind” or “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, I am encouraging the mind to do what it does while we knit — disengage.

If you decide to knit to meditate, I think you’ll find the effect is the most powerful when you do a simple knit stitch over and over. In knitting, it’s called “garter stitch”. You just knit and knit and knit and don’t try to follow a complex pattern. It’s easy to learn, and you may find you also love handling beautifully colored yarns with various yummy textures. You might even end up with some great scarves in the process!

OK, so you’re behind the curve on the knitting craze. For all I know it’s over. Who cares? Knitting makes a great meditation. And, if you are hesitant because you are of the male gender, please know that, to borrow a book title, “real men knit”. Russell Crowe does it. Brad Pitt does it. The big, talk Ghi McBride character on Pushing Daisies does it. Just do it!

Meditation Myth — Is there is a “real” meditation?

January 26, 2009

I came across a list of meditation myths on the web. Funny thing is some myths on that list are not myths to me, they are truths. It all depends on how you define “meditation”. There are hundreds of kinds of meditations. The question is, can you say that one meditation is “real” or “true” meditation? The person who created the list I read apparently thought so, because the term “real meditation” was used. I’m quite sure I’ve use that type of language myself — in fact I remember saying something about “true meditation” on a podcast. And yet, I feel it can be really misleading to say one meditation style is real or true.

Anytime anyone makes a generalization about meditation, they are referring to a particular style of meditation. It’s not like there’s a real meditation and the rest are somehow false. The person who wrote that list comes from a particular tradition. Within the understanding of that tradition, it makes sense to speak of real meditation. If you want to learn meditation within a tradition, then knowing what that tradition defines as right or real meditation will be important to you. That particular list of myths will have value for you. But if you are not so concerned about tradition, but more concerned about what works for you regardless of its origins, then you would approach a list of myths in a whole different way. You would look at it so see what made sense and what is useful for you.

It’s only through some reference to tradition that you could say a meditation style was real. Either you are saying the tradition is somehow an authority or that you yourself are the authority on what is real meditation. Sometimes people feel that a meditation that comes from a long tradition is more real and true than a contemporary form of meditation. It makes sense that something that has been tested through time may be trustworthy. But no matter how long a tradition has been along, you are ultimately relying on someone else’s interpretation of that tradition. Who is to say that the person teaching you now understands what was meant when the tradition was started centuries ago?

Everything a teacher says is coming from his or her understanding. The bottom line is that there are really no absolutes in meditation. To me, the bottom line is that what’s real and true is what you find to be real and true in your own experience. What a book or a teacher says can only be a catalyst for your own self-discovery.

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