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.
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?
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?
August 17, 2009
Was wondering what I’d blog about this week and a trip to our sunroom screamed “decluttering” to me. I hate to say why, but I’m sure you can guess. The sunroom has become a storeroom for our business — full of boxes for things received, bubble wrap envelopes for CDs to mail, and all sorts of related stuff. Richard is great at keeping things neat. His tolerance for clutter is way lower than mine. But still sometimes we get busy and the boxes start to take over. Hence the room’s cry for help. Well, truth be told, hence the cry for help by my psyche!
As soon as I walked in the sunroom, I felt the energy of the clutter. It’s unpleasant to say the least! I’ve promised myself to take care of it by day’s end. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to doing it. I find decluttering to be a lot like meditation. It’s a kind of meditation-in-action for me. It has the same calming and grounding effect when I do it in a relaxed, non-pressured way. It has to be done in a loving way. It can feel so self-nurturing when I’m not chiding myself for what I find, for having let it get out of control. It feels good when I allow myself to be there, fully present to all the sensations, emotions and thoughts that accompany the work, and that includes being present to the self-critical part of me! If I’m present to that self-critical part, I have a chance to cut myself some slack. It feels good when I allow myself to relax into it — when I give myself “all the time in the world” to do it, not being pressured by the clock.
Is this sounding at all like meditation to you? It does to me. It’s the same art. Meditation is all about the art of living, the art of how we do things. How we do something is totally about how we handle our inner world — how we handle our thoughts, emotions and the experiences that come our way. We can make decluttering a meditative experience. Instead of starting out with a logical plan, I like to just dive in. I enter the room or area that needs to be cleared and organized and just start — taking one step at a time as my intuition guides me. It’s so much more relaxing that way.
I read an article with all sorts of tips about decluttering — practical things to do. It sounded so intelligent, logical, effective. But I balked at the idea of following some rules, of having to things set up and plan in advance. That’s the way that person decluttered — it worked for them, but I can guarantee you that they didn’t start out with that list. That’s just how it developed as they did it and then they said — wow, that worked — now I can tell someone else how. I much prefer to get in there and discover how I do it. Like meditation, it’s an exploration that reveals my own path to me. If I start out with a instruction manual, then I think there’s a right and wrong way to do it. I start getting awkward and ignoring my own intuition and inclinations. What’s more it becomes work when it can be play!
It’s like writing this post. I had no idea when I started where it would take me. I just started writing and discovered where it took me. Just like meditation. Just like life.
August 10, 2009
Something happened a couple weeks back that made a deep impression on me. I was walking a very familiar route I take around my neighborhood. I rounded a curve where I habitually speed up to get past a home where a dog barks loudly at me from a patio hidden by bushes. The barking is invariably followed by a gravelly woman’s voice telling the dog to stop barking. This would be enough to make me want to hurry up, but the additional irritant of cigarette smoke wafting out to me adds to my scurrying. Sometimes I avoid that route altogether, but I like other things about it and on the day in question had elected to go that way.
Here’s what happened on that day and here’s why I titled this post “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”. As I was hurrying by, I heard a voice call my name and turned to see a woman I know sitting in the patio. She was obviously there chatting with the gravelly voiced woman. Turning to say hello to my acquaintance, I heard the dog’s owner say “Let him come out and see you so he’ll get to know you and not bark next time”. A few seconds later, “Bandit” emerged from behind the bushes.
Bandit was a most surprising, and welcomed, sight. Such a soft presence, he approached me gently and silently. He had the nicest, softest coat and I was sure he was a puppy (although I later learned he’s 15 years old). He was the kind of dog you can’t resist petting and seemed to have the sweetest disposition. I was stunned!
I accepted an invitation to join the two women on the patio, and there behind the bushes was the gravelly voiced lady, smiling and warm, and not at all like I had imagined. Hidden in the bushes was a birdbath surrounded by a skillful arrangement of beautiful plants. I felt I had entered a lovely little retreat. I stayed and chatted a bit, then continued my walk knowing my little neighborhood world would never feel the same.
The memory of this event has come back to me so often. I’ve wanted to blog about it and on my walk today pondered how it might relate to meditation. What occurred to me is that in meditation we have the opportunity to discover the sheep in wolf’s clothing as ourselves. Do you ever feel like the “big bad wolf” when you are stressed? I do! And when I do I know I need to meditate. Meditation can bring out our inner sheep even in the most wolfish of times.
August 3, 2009
Blackberries can be sooooo delicious when they’re soft and sweet, and sooooo disappointing when they’re not. I’ve been picking them on a nearby road where they grow on a fence by a field. It’s a great summer for blackberries. There are tons of them, enough to lure me back into berry picking after having given up on it last summer when I seemed to always come home with a bag of tart berries. But this year I discovered bring sweet, juicy berries home. What’s more, honing my fruit picking skills has given me insights on creativity and life.
It all began with our plum tree in June. The plums are outrageously delicious — incredibly sweet, juicy and perfumed with their own unique fragrance, but only when they’re really ripe. We learned last year that when they fall off the tree, they are just perfect. Only problem is they often split open when they land, and a bagful of split plums soon degenerates into a mess. The trick then is to get the plum when it’s just getting ready to fall, and you can do that by grasping them ever so carefully and giving just the slightest tug. Not a tug even, a faint whisper of a tug… If the plum falls into your hand, it’s ripe. If it resists your tug, it’s not ready. It may still be good, but not incredible, and why settle for good?
Having mastered plum picking, I was ready for the more delicate task of picking blackberries. One has to be ever so careful, not just dodging thorns, but tugging on the berries just right, being careful not to mush the ones that are truly ripe. It’s a delicate operation. It takes patience, sensitivity to the bush’s readiness to let go of its fruit. After all, the bush thrives by having bird’s eat the berries when they are ripe, when the seeds are ready to be dispersed. There’s a reason the fruit gets sweet when it does.
It takes patience to cooperate with the timing of the bush. It takes respect for its natural rhythms to enjoy the treasures it holds. You learn to listen, to cooperate with the life cycle of the bush, and when you do you are rewarded with a berry that drops effortlessly into your hand and tastes incredibly delicious.
Picking berries this way has allowed space for reflection as I pick. Since I am still in the midst of creating a new set of meditations, the parallels in the process of berry picking and giving birth to a new project became obvious. The ideas have to gestate and grow, and when they are ripe, they come easily. Like the berry bush that I return to day after day to cull the berries that are ripe that day, I have to leave the project to mature and ripen at its own pace. I spend time with it and then leave it. It percolates inside me and then when I work on it again, the latest “fruits” are ready for the picking. Inspirations come in their time, and I can’t force them.
Letting the new project grow requires the same respect and trust that I’m learning in berry picking. I can’t make the berries ripen faster. It’s always tempting to try to pull off a berry that isn’t really ready. It just doesn’t work. It’s not fun, actually. It feels as if the bush is resisting. If I do manage to get one off, it doesn’t taste good. Creativity can’t be forced. It comes in its time fueled by the same vital force that ripens the fruit. Sure, you can make sure a fruit tree is planted in the sun and gets enough water and fertilizer, but then you just have to wait. You can nourish yourself with adequate rest, exercise, meditation — but you still have to wait.
My fruit picking is teaching me that patience, respect, and trust. The blackberry bush is teaching me its lesson as I learn to listen. The new project will be finished on its schedule, in its time. I can try to push it, but it will only result in frustration and will get me nowhere. Or I can surrender to the process. I don’t have any more ability to hasten the creation of my new meditations than I have the ability to make the fruit ripen. This realization is humbling, and it’s also a relief. If I don’t seem to be making progress on a project, I can just let it go, knowing it will come in its time.
July 27, 2009
Although many people have reported stress relief from our meditations, we’ve still had requests for a special meditation for stress. This inspired me to create this latest podcast — a meditation that goes further and helps to root out the stress at a deeper level.
Like all the guided meditations I create, I am meditating as I speak. I am literally meditating with you. Since I was feeling a lot of pressure on the day I recorded this meditation, I found myself sinking deeply into my own experience and talking my way through it. I actually felt a lot better after I finished the recording! I hope your experience is the same.
Acting under a sense of pressure doesn’t help us accomplish what we need to do. In fact, the feeling of pressure can interfere. Our energy is actually being dissipated and our attention scattered as we are in an over-stimulated state. In reality, we are able to accomplish a lot more when we are relaxed. Our minds are clearer and all of our energy can go toward the task at hand rather than into pressuring ourselves. And of course, it’s extremely unpleasant to feel pressured.
Relaxation is the antidote to that pressured state. It’s an antidote for stress. It’s so difficult, though, to relax once we’re feeling that kind of pressure. We feel as if we have to meet its demands! We hesitate to take the time to relax. So it’s important understand that taking the time to relax will actually help us accomplish more.
Also, it can be challenging to sit still with that feeling of pressure. It may be accompanied by unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, irritability and so on. Continuing to be focused on a task keeps us from feeling the inner discomfort that is propelling us. To allow deep relaxation to happen, we need to be able to be present to the emotions and bodily sensations associated with the stress and pressure. Being able to sit with those feelings and and sensations and experience them completely helps them to resolve. It allows the tensions to unwind.
Using this meditation regularly should help develop a habit of noticing when a sense of pressure is present and then backing off. The more we respond the the pressure, the more pressured we feel. Our muscles tighten and our emotions escalate in their intensity. This meditation can help you develop new ways of responding to stress, ways which help create more balance and ease.
At the end of the meditation, you have the option of continuing on your own with the music. Be creative — use the various strategies that were used during the meditation in the way that works best for you. Some of the things mentioned were noticing the breath, feeling what the pressure feels like, being fully present to the emotions, noticing tension in the body and letting it go. Let your intuition guide you. You can learn to relieve the stress and pressure using your own inner knowing. You just need to take the time to listen.
July 20, 2009
It’s always a surprise to me. Every single time. I record a guided meditation, do some editing and pass it on to Richard. And then before I know it, he’s added some music and voila — it’s done. Just like that, he listens to the meditation at his keyboard and the music seems to get composed effortlessly. And I always love it. It always feels just right for the meditation. And I’m always in awe. How did that happen? How is it that every single time, on the spot, the music comes?
Even though I’ve experienced how effortlessly things can get created, I’m still amazed. And yet, when something new does come into existence, it is by nature a spontaneous, effortless event. If it’s new, it’s never been seen, touched, heard, known before. How could that come with effort? When we make an effort, we are working at something. We have an end in mind — we draw on everything we know and have experienced before; we use our logic; we try to connect the dots. But something completely new can’t be found in what we have heretofore experienced and known. It comes from the source of all of that, and the functioning of the source lies outside the functioning of our own will and actions, even though it influences them. So “true creativity” can only be effortless. While we may work at shaping an inspiration once it arises, we cannot force the inspiration to come.
While that explains to me the effortlessness of Richard’s composing, it doesn’t explain the consistency of it. And here I turn to my understanding of meditation for answers. Meditation can align us with the source of all creation (and hence creativity). The mind shifts into a more open, intuitive mode, beyond intellect and logic. Composers have to “get out of the way” for their music to come into being. Meditation in its most essential form gets us out of our own way.
Richard gets into a meditative state to compose. After all the years of meditation, it’s easy for him to do that. So Richard gets out of the way and the music comes. I should understand that — it’s how my meditations come. It’s how everything I’ve ever accomplished creatively has come. And yet it still surprises me when it happens. It is always a wonderful, awe-inspiring mystery. It is always a gift.
Richard’s beautiful, meditative music is available on our Pure Light album (a compilation of background music from our podcast and CDs.)
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?