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?

Discovering Peace Guided Meditation Podcast

October 15, 2008

The idea for our latest podcast episode, Discovering Peace, came out of a discussion with our local meditation group. People were feeling agitated about the election and felt they were losing their center. One person said “I want to be able to rise above this and find peace”. Ultimately, a guided meditation much like the one we just published came out of our discussion, but first we talked about the idea of “rising above” something.

Many of us are being affected now with the turmoil in the economy and a heated election going on. In the midst of all of this we long for a sense of peace. Often people envision that as arriving at a place that’s not only peaceful but completely removed from the difficult feelings. That’s what “rising above” sounds like to me. While we can find moments of time in which there is only peace, this isn’t always possible, and, when we try to get away from the fray, that creates a conflict in and of itself. What’s more realistic and achieveable is to find the peace within that’s there even in the midst of conflict and struggle.

In many ways this new guided meditation is like the Beyond Pain meditation. Even though pain may not go away, we can still find a sense of peace with it. It has to do with stopping fighting what’s bothering us and relaxing into the difficult feelings. Even more important it has to do with discovering that peace is always with us — in the breath, in the silence of our own awareness.

Just yesterday I was out walking with lots on my mind. Thanks to all the years of meditation, or simply thanks to grace, I recognized a sense of peace that seemed to be there in the air around me — in the blue sky, the sounds of birds, colors of flowers. It was even there in the sounds of the traffic. At that moment, I could see that life could seem really, really difficult if I focused solely on the challenges in my life, but much more simple and sweet if I also acknowledged that peace. Sometimes I do that, and sometimes I don’t. And part of the process of growth on the spiritual path is letting that be OK too.

What about you? How do you find peace in your life?

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