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.”



Emotional pain in chakra meditation

June 16, 2008

I am responding to a question from a listener who experienced emotional pain while using the Chakra Meditation.  Here is his email:

I was today listening to the Chakra meditation podcast, but felt it was necesarry to turn it off at the Heart Chakra. I found that I became overwhelmed by a feeling of great emotional pain in my heart… I thought I would e-mail you to see if you knew what might be causing this, and how to find the solution.

It’s not unusual to become more aware of our emotions during meditation, and even to have strong emotions or emotional pain come up.  I will write about that in general in another post (or talk about it in another podcast), but for now I’ll talk specifically about having this happen during the Chakra Meditation.

During the chakra meditation, we put our attention on the various chakras.  The chakras, or energy centers of the body, are like doorways to different aspects of ourselves.  They process the energy for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual functioning.  When we put our attention on a chakra, we become more aware of what is going on in the part of our life that the chakra represents.  Not only do we become more aware, but the energy in the chakra is enlivened by our attention.  

Our attention is a beam of energy and intelligence and, like a laser beam, it affects whatever it is directed toward.  With your awareness on your heart chakra, you may get in touch with something going on in your heart area.  It’s like shining a light into a dark room — what has been hidden becomes revealed.

In this case, you felt great emotional pain.  This could be pain associated with something going on in your life now that you’ve been ignoring, or it could be some pain “releasing” from the past.  The heart chakra has to do with our relationships and connections with others.  If there has been some loss or hurt in relationships, it is felt in the heart area.  The loss or hurt could even be associated with things and events, such as moving or losing a job.  If the feeling of hurt (or perhaps grief) isn’t fully “processed”, the energy of the feeling gets “stuck” in the heart chakra.  When we put our attention on the heart chakra, we may feel what is waiting there to be processed.  It’s the job of the heart chakra to process certain emotions, and when we relax in meditation and allow our attention to go there, the heart chakra gains the energy to do its job.  While no one likes to experience emotional pain, it is a part of healing and recovering from an emotional trauma. 

Very often we have grief that hasn’t been fully resolved in our lives.  Some cultures are better than others in supporting people through grief.  In many of our Western cultures, we’ve learned to suppress grief.  But our mind and body will always move toward greater balance and emotional well-being given the opportunity.  While meditating, things that have been under the surface can come up to be felt.

When something comes up that makes you feel too uncomfortable, you can always do what you did and stop the meditation.  It would be good if that happens to lie down and rest a bit to let things settle down. There are some other ways of dealing with strong emotions as well, and for something like this an experienced meditation guide could help.  The advice the guide would give would depend on some one-on-one exchange with you.  

After responding to the person who asked this question, he emailed back that indeed he had recently experienced a sort of emotional trauma and had been feeling quite numb until listening to the meditation. Based on that, I also want to add that it is quite normal to feel numb after a traumatic event like the death of a loved one, breakup of a relationship and any other intense loss or change.  It’s a healthy response of the body and psyche to protect itself from overload and allow us to continue functioning.  Usually that phase passes and we begin to feel our emotional reactions.  Sometimes, however, those reactions are buried and may surface again after a long period of time.  It’s not always possible to know where a strong emotion in meditation is coming from — it could be an emotion from a recent event or left over from something long ago.  In any case, part of healing is experiencing that emotion and meditation can sometimes facilitate that.  

Usually an emotional release will in meditation will not take too long to resolve and won’t cause undue discomfort.  Occasionally, however, meditation can open us up to some feelings that are so difficult for us that we would benefit from help from a trained counselor or therapist.  Be kind to yourself and get support if needed.

Letting Go Meditation Podcast

August 10, 2007

Someone found this blog by searching on “letting go meditation”. Letting go is an essential element of all of our meditations. While many of them have a focus, such as the breath or awareness of the body, the focus always occurs on a background of letting go, so it made sense to do a meditation with this theme. Even though it’s a variation on other themes I’ve used, such as “simply being”, each theme gives us a slightly different angle and allows us to refine our meditation experience.

Letting go has to do with allowing whatever happens to happen. It has to do with not resisting thoughts, noise, emotions, sensations — not resisting anything. It gets tricky, though, when we try to allow things to happen. If we are in meditation with the intention to allow, chances are we will be manipulating our experience in some way. Everything will be buffered through the filter of the idea of allowing. It’s more a matter of noticing when we are resisting what is happening or trying to manipulate our experience in some way. When resistance or manipulation is noticed, it can be let go of quite naturally.

The value of guided meditation is that it can allow us to let go more, because we don’t so much have the sense that we are steering the process. It can allow us to relax more into the meditative state. Of course, guided meditations can have many different styles and approaches, so I am speaking about my own. Hopefully once you’ve used these meditations for awhile, you will be able to enter into a similar process on your own. If you are meditating on your own, you can always go back to the guided meditations anytime if meditation has become difficult and you need a refresher.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with meditation. Please feel free to comment on the blog!

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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