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?

Mindfulness vs. mindlessness.

March 6, 2009

Because so many people seem to associate my guided meditations with Mindfulness, many of whom both use our CDs and listen to our podcast, I often find myself wondering exactly what Mindfulness is. I’ve often thought that my meditations have more to do with “mindlessness” than “mindfulness”, and have thought of writing a post about that. It took a really interesting blog post in the New York Times today to get me to begin to tackle that subject. Check it out — peoples’ comments are really interesting to read:

Being and Mindfulness – Judith Warner Blog – NYTimes.com.

Well, I said “begin to tackle that subject” and I am literally only beginning to try to formulate by thoughts about it and don’t know if I’ll ever get past the beginning on this one. For one thing, having practiced meditation for a long time before ever hearing of Mindfulness Meditation, I’ve never really be able to relate to mindfulness instructions when I come across them, so how can I compare it with what I do?

Also, it seems like Mindfulness isn’t just a technique of meditation, but is often (if not always) associated with an intention to be a certain kind of person or to behave in a certain way — a way that is better than ones current way of being or behaving. My involvement with meditation has had to do with self-awareness and with inner peace, but I’ve never been involved in order to be a better person. If anything, my hope has been to learn to accept myself the way I am. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be a “better” person. Who doesn’t (depending on how each person defines that)? I just never saw meditation as a means to that unless it came as a welcome by-product to greater ease with myself and with life.

As I write, I am beginning to understand some possible distinctions between Mindfulness Meditation and what I do. I say “possible” because  as I said I don’t really know Mindfulness Meditation. I also suspect that all Mindfulness Meditation is not alike. Certainly not every Mindfulness teacher understands and teaches it in the same way. Certainly not everyone who practices it understands it in the same way. Also, Mindfulness seems to involve more than a technique of meditation. It seems to involve a way of being in the world — something you apply outside of a period of meditation practice. While I do think meditation “my way” creates changes outside of meditation, there is no specific recommendation to try to consciously make something happen in daily life.

So why do I feel my meditations have to do with Mindlessness rather than Mindfulness? My sense is that in Mindfulness Meditation there is a kind of noting of things. There is the idea that here I am being mindful. So in Mindfulness there is a awareness of “me” sitting here “being mindful”. The difference I’d see is that in my meditations (the ones like “Simply Being” that don’t have a specific focus), there is a letting go of what is noticed. Noticing is not noting. It’s not a taking note of what you experience, or a labeling of it. It’s more of a letting go of what is noticed. We aren’t looking for anything. Noticing happens spontaneously. We are spontaneously aware of what is going on. We don’t need to try to notice something. It just comes into our awareness. Or it doesn’t. Doesn’t matter. It’s just a matter of letting go when we become aware that the mind has gotten involved, or tangled up with, what is being experienced.

As I write, I see the impossibility of conceptualizing what happens in meditation. And perhaps this is my difficulty with understanding Mindfulness Meditation. Perhaps it is the problem that is inherent when we try to put the meditative experience into words. It sounds like we mean something we don’t really mean. I can certainly see that what I was just writing in the paragraph above could sound like something other than what I mean.

So I’ll just stop. I began to try to write about Mindlessness vs Mindfulness, and I found that I can’t really. But I think you might enjoy the New York Times piece I mentioned, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this subject. So for that reason, I’ll go ahead and publish this post about what I can’t really put in writing. I think this has liberated me from any compulsion to explore how what I do is different than Mindfulness (if it is). It doesn’t really matter in the end. I’m happy with what I’m doing!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and welcome your comments.

Copyright © 2006-2014 Mary and Richard Maddux. Meditation Oasis is a registered trademark.