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.”
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!
February 14, 2011
When we were looking for an icon for our Meditation Oasis podcast in the fall of 2006, we kept coming back to the face which not only became our icon, but part of our website banner. We found the picture in an image library of software we were using. The expression is so compelling. It captures meditation so perfectly. None of the other images we considered came close to the power of this image.
It’s intriguing to think about how once upon a time a young woman posed for a photo, and the picture ended up in an image library and then became the now familiar face associated with Meditation Oasis. Who is the woman who posed? Who took her picture? What was the intention of the picture? How did it end up in the image library?
Just recently someone on Facebook asked if the woman in the picture is me. When we chose the photo, we realized that some people might think that, but decided it didn’t matter. It was the expression, the feeling of the picture that mattered, not the features of the face. And besides, we have never wanted to put a lot of attention on ourselves as individuals. What we are interested in is an inner experience, a universal human experience. We are also most interested in YOUR experience, in your discovery through meditation.
Whose is the face of Meditation Oasis? The face of Meditation Oasis is all of us. The icon could easily be a picture of any one of us deep in meditation. The picture could easily be you. When we are at peace, it shines through. No matter how we look, when a person is at peace, that is what everyone sees. It’s unmistakable. It’s a gift to everyone around. We are thankful for the gift of this photo that came in such a serendipitous way. It’s been a gift to all of us who feel the peace that comes through the image.
April 26, 2010
Meeting Richard was an amazing experience. I felt a deep recognition. I even had a vision of him playing exquisite music on a keyboard. (I had no idea at the time that he was a musician.) There was such a strong connection that I actually had the thought – “could he be the one?” My emotions rebelled, however, and I immediately brushed the thought away.
As I got to know Richard, there was a level on which I knew, absolutely knew, that I wanted to be with him. And yet, I had a carefully constructed list of all the attributes I wanted in a mate, and he just didn’t fit the bill. (I might add that the same was true for him, I was not what he had in mind either!) We were both drawn to each other, but we struggled because of our preconceived ideas of what we thought our mate should be like. Our intuition told us one thing and our ideas and emotions told us something else.
Looking back on our years together, I see the great wisdom in the choice we made to be together. I couldn’t see it so clearly at that time. The choice came from a deeper knowing, a knowing that was within us even when our emotions protested, even when our minds didn’t really understand. Intuition contains that kind of wisdom. It’s like a computer that can process more information than we can possibly juggle with the conscious mind. Intuition mysteriously taps into the past, present and future, as well as bypassing our blind spots.
Intuition comes from a place that’s beyond logic, analysis or even our emotions. It’s an inner knowing that is steady and clear. With intuition, you “just know”. It’s actually very natural. If we human beings weren’t such complicated creatures, the concept of intuition wouldn’t even exist. We would simply know what work to do, what to eat, who to marry. Our next step would be obvious. But, alas, our ideas and emotions can cloud our vision, and we can become quite confused about the choices, large and small, that life requires us to make.
The goal of the Accessing Intuition Guided Meditation is to help you tap into your intuition by going beyond analysis, evaluation and emotional reactions. By allowing your awareness to settle down in a way that it transcends the influence of thinking and emotions, you able to attend to the subtle messages of intuition. Hopefully the meditation will also help you to trust your intuition, by learning to recognize what it feels like. Often we have an inner knowing about something, but we’re afraid to trust it. The more we’re able to recognize intuition, the easier it will be to trust in it. Intuition feels good in your body. There is a steadiness about it, and it is uncolored by emotions and concepts.
February 12, 2010
Lyn emailed me about a statement on our Difficulty Meditating website page that she found confusing. This blog post is an attempt to explain it, but I’m not sure that I can anymore than I can explain the taste of an apple to someone who has never tasted one. Here’s the statement she found confusing:
“Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware of the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts.”
The statement refers to the experience of silence in a meditative state, and a meditative state is very difficult to describe in words. It’s about the space between words, the space between thoughts. It’s about becoming unhooked from thoughts and concepts so that the background of consciousness in which everything is experienced becomes apparent.
Trying to describe this experience is like trying to describe space. It’s easy to describe the objects in space – a tree, an apple, a human being – but how do you describe space itself to someone? Everything exists in space – it’s that no-thing in which every “thing” is! How you put words to that?
Our awareness could be thought of as the space in which all of our experiences take place. It is an “aware space”. It is there all of the time, but we don’t put our attention on it. Our attention is focused on the experiences, rather than the awareness underlying the experiences. Meditation can bring about an awareness of awareness. And the nature of that awareness could be described as silence. As we disengage from the meaning of thoughts and they are allowed to flow through, the experience is one of silence along with thoughts. The gap between thoughts, the space in which they happen, is being noticed.
Does the statement make sense to you? How would you explain it to someone?
December 1, 2009
Is the purpose of meditation to create a frame of mind that continues outside of meditation? “Paul” asked some great questions related to this in an email. Here’s what Paul wrote:
“The meditations seem to follow a similar format applied to different themes. I enjoy listening to them. They are relaxing. Is the frequent use of “easily bring your mind back…” or “doesn’t matter” etc by design? Is it intended to get the listener in that frame of mind even when out of meditation? Does it have some other purpose?”
Paul’s observation that the meditations follow a similar format applied to different themes is absolutely true The way I think of it is that there are core meditations like Simply Being and Letting Go that embody the essence of meditation. They help the mind let go of its usual outer-directed focus and expand into an easy, open state. Other meditations, like the Nature, Inner Child and Grief meditations, are more effective if that relaxed and open state is achieved before doing any visualizing or imagining. That’s why all the meditations start in pretty much the same way.
The frequently used phrases that Paul mentions help the mind and body to relax. In particular, they help us to let go of the habit of straining and working at things, so that we can experience a state of effortlessness. They help us to relax into the natural flow of things. That seems pretty obvious, but what has really had me thinking is whether or not the purpose of these phrases is to get us into that frame of mind when we are no longer meditating. The answer I’ve come up with is —- (drum roll)—– “yes and no”!
The answer is yes in the sense that what we practice in the meditations — letting go of resistance to what is happening, relaxing into our emotions, and being more present in the moment and so on — will hopefully carry over into our activity. In a way, we call meditation a “practice” because it is practicing certain skills that become applied in our lives. So it could be said that the things I frequently say are meant to get us into that frame of mind outside of meditation, except that it’s not exactly the same frame of mind. Only some of the elements of meditation are meant to be carried into our activities. That brings us to the “no” part of my answer.
The answer is no in the sense that in meditation we are letting go of the evaluating, analyzing, accomplishing aspects of the mind. We are allowing the mind to let go of its focus on doing. When we return to our activity, we have to focus on things. The analytical aspect of the mind is important in our daily functioning. In meditation we let go of thoughts, whereas in activity we sometimes need to pursue a train of thought when we are problem-solving. So in this sense, the purpose of these phrases isn’t to get us to be in exactly the same “frame of mind” in and out of meditation. The frame of mind while meditating isn’t appropriate for most of our time outside of meditation.
Bringing meditation into our lives definitely changes how we experience life outside of meditation. That’s one reason we do it. We can certainly live our lives in a more meditative way, but how we apply the principles of meditation during meditation and outside of meditation is different. I’ve been thinking more and more about how we can approach daily living as meditation. Our new Walking Meditation album is a “step” in that direction. We’ll see where that step leads!
What has your experience been? How has your life changed with meditation? How do you think the changes are related to the practice 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.
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.
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.)