Gratitude

October 18, 2007

This morning I spoke with a man who called from London (UK) to express his gratitude for my guided meditations.  Our local meditation group had just left and I was already feeling quite mellow, but the phone call brought me to a deep state of love and gratitude that has remained with me all day.  I was so deeply touched as he related how much our podcast and CDs have helped him.  As he spoke, I felt such gratitude that this is happening in my life, that in some mysterious way people receive the same grace from me that I have received from so many teachers and others through the years.  It could just as easily have been me thanking him for how much he has enriched my life.

When I sit with my meditation group or to record a meditation, I enter into a meditative state and speak from that place.  It seems that those who resonate with my meditations are somehow brought into that state with me.  Today on the phone, it felt as if the gratitude my caller was expressing was my own.  What a gift to be brought into that state of gratitude!  Gratitude is said to be the “highest” possible emotion we can experience.  To me, it is an experience of love — not the emotion of love but of the very essence of life itself.  There’s no way to describe or understand intellectually what gratitude is, but when we have the good fortune to feel it, it’s good to dwell in it and allow it to nourish our spirits.

Beyond Pain Guided Meditation

October 12, 2007

We’ve just published our latest podcast episode, Beyond Pain. It was hard to come up with the right title for this one. The experience of pain is so complex. If we are speaking of physical pain, the pain itself is just a sensation in the body. Unless you are someone who enjoys pain, and there are some people who do, pain is much more than “just a sensation in the body”. It can create enormous suffering.

What makes the sensation of pain so difficult? Besides the fact that it can be so strong that it grabs our attention totally, making it difficult to focus on anything else, there are many ways that we suffer with pain. Much of the suffering comes from the thoughts and emotional reactions that we have along with the pain. It may trigger fear, sadness, anger, or frustration depending on our past experiences and beliefs. We may start to wonder how long it will go on, what it means, where it will go, and whether or not we’ll be able to endure it.

There may be some underlying feelings about the pain that are very subtle and not so obvious, like the sense that it is a punishment or due to our failings. It can bring up a sense of abandonment or betrayal. Pain can bring up all sorts of feelings. Next time you are experiencing pain, you can investigate what comes along with it and also whether the suffering you are experiencing with the pain is from the pain itself or everything else that it brings up.

The purpose of the Beyond Pain meditation is to bring about a greater sense of ease with the presence of pain. We may tend to tighten up and resist pain which in fact makes it worse. The meditation encourages you to relax into the pain, and to let go of the involvement with all the mind’s stories about the pain and the emotional reactions to it. It can help you come to a place of peace in spite of pain. Whether or not the feeling of pain becomes less, the suffering that comes with pain can be released.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with this meditation and invite you to comment!

Meditation: Life without Endings

August 21, 2007

I just finished watching a mini-series on DVD. It was one of those that has a cliff-hanger at the end of almost every episode. I couldn’t wait to to find out what happened next and, of course, I wanted to know what would happen in the end. But this series didn’t really end the story. There was no knowing “how it all turned out”. Obviously the last episode was made without the producers realizing it would be the last. Otherwise, the loose ends would have been tied up and the characters would have lived happily, or not so happily, ever after.

At first this really bothered me. I didn’t like the feeling of everything being up in the air. But when I thought about it, I realized that this is how life actually is — a series of events, some favorable, some unfavorable, with no end. Something about that feeling of being left up in the air felt so unsettling, and yet so alive. The end of anything is a stopping point — the end of movement. Everything must end for something new to emerge, but when we hold on to endings from the past or are fixed on how things will end in the future, we stop the natural flow of life. We stop the aliveness.

Meditation can help us give up our attachment to endings. Letting go of outcomes, letting go of having certain experiences and not having others, letting go of the attempt to make it “turn out right”, allows us to experience the aliveness that is present moment to moment.

Finding love in surrender to death — the ultimate meditation on YouTube

April 24, 2007

The YouTube video of Father Bede Griffiths speaking of his surrender in the process of almost dying created a profound state of meditation for me. There’s really nothing I can say but watch it!

Note: Father Bede Griffiths, Swami Dayananda, was a Benedictine monk who became a sannyasi in India. You can read his inspiring biography here.

Relaxation as the ultimate spiritual state

April 20, 2007

I used to feel that relaxation was a somewhat insignificant by-product of meditation. Although I desperately needed to learn to relax when I started meditation, I needed to see myself as a seeker of enlightenment rather than the stressed out person that I was. For years I thought of meditation in very “lofty” terms. It wasn’t until I was recording our Pure Relaxation CD that it began to dawn on me that to be able to be totally relaxed is the ultimate sign of spiritual maturity.

Being able to relax is a reflection of everything that we seek spiritually. Think about what you are seeking on your spiritual path. How would relaxation fit into that picture? When I reflect on what I’ve longing for over the years, they are all the same as the ability to be totally relaxed. I’ve wanted to feel a sense of trust. How can you relax without trust? I’ve wanted to feel peace. If you are at peace, you are relaxed. I wanted spontaneity and freedom — can these occur without relaxation?

Relaxation happens when there is an absence of tension and holding. It happens in surrender. It happens when we let go. The sense that we have to defend ourselves or be guarded in any way is gone. When we are really relaxed, we are open and intimate with everything. There is no more self and other, there is only one.

Can you remember a time when you were totally relaxed? Would you see that as a spiritual experience?

Emotional Ease Meditation

March 18, 2007

My most recent podcast episode is a guided meditation for “emotional ease”. Those words may conjure up a vision of euphoria or floating in a comfortable cloud, but that’s not what it means. Although you’ll hopefully feel more relaxed and at ease after the meditation, it will be a result of being able to actually stay present to your emotions rather than resisting them or becoming mentally involved with them. Emotional ease is about being present to what is happening without struggling with it, and that includes feeling all emotions including those you may not want to feel, such as sadness, grief and anger.

Ease in living is not about life being easy. Life isn’t easy! It’s about the ability to flow with what happens, the “good” and “bad” events and the “pleasant” and “unpleasant” reactions to those events. While some guided meditations give us some respite from life’s storms and a chance to relax by encouraging visualizations of beautiful, relaxing places, my approach is to encourage surrender to whatever is happening right here, right now. While it can be helpful at times to escape, peace in life ultimately comes from being able to remain right in the heart of the storm (whether it is a storm of events or an emotional storm). I hope this latest meditation will help some of you with that!

Meditation as the “Natural State”

February 28, 2007

I was listening to a CD of Adyashanti and he talked about meditation as our “natural state”. He defined it as a state in which we are not involved in manipulating our experience in any way. I love that description. My sense is that suffering and lack of ease with living comes from resistance to what is happening, whether it is resistance to events or to our own internal process. That resistance leads to constant attempts to try to change what’s happening — trying to change the way are or the way we feel or even what is taking place. In meditation, we run away from some experiences and try to create or hold onto other experiences. It is such a relief when we can let that all go and be in the “natural state”!

From another angle, though, absolutely everything is our natural state. Whatever happens is happening naturally, spontaneously, even the resistance to what is happening. We really can’t be out of our natural state. That’s the trouble with trying to talk about what meditation is! There may be a word or phrase that for a moment captures something and causes an inner “aha”, but it slips away when we start to pursue it with our minds.

When I lead a guided meditation, I don’t really have an idea in mind about what meditation is or what people should or shouldn’t experience. I do encourage freedom and much of what I say has to do with letting go of resistance to the natural flow of experience. But the experience that someone has when listening to my meditations has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. If someone becomes very relaxed with my meditations or goes very deep, it is because that was ready to happen for them.

For me it’s all a mystery. How did it come about that I lead guided meditations and now have CDs and podcasts and people listen and meditate with me? It’s all about the Life that holds us all in its embrace and brings us together in the most interesting of ways! When I lead a guided meditation, it is as much for me as for those who listen. Even though I “teach” meditation, I’ve come to know that I don’t teach anyone anything. We’re all in a process of learning together.

Again and again as I write this blog, I realize how impossible it is to talk about meditation and say what it is. It’s at once a state of being and a process. It’s a word that means many different things to different people. For me, it has many meanings and meanings that change over time. Defining it as the “natural state” feels good today and certainly started off an interesting stream of thoughts for me. What does the “natural state” mean to you?

Freedom and trust on the spiritual path

February 22, 2007

I’m quoting naturalhigh‘s comment on my last post. I just love the sense of trust she has in her own process. She has obviously felt a freedom in her journey to try lots of meditation styles, do what works for her and develop her own ways of meditating. Here’s what she said:

“I use meditation to let go of tension, worry, doubt, fear, all the stuff that keeps me stuck and unable to be fully present. I use many different forms of meditation – not the same one for months on end. Sometimes a walking meditation or Sufi dancing can release emotions best. Sometimes getting deeply into my pottery work. Throwing pots is a great meditation. So my best tip is to continually learn and grow and expand your awareness of techniques, and after awhile, develop your own.”

It took me many years to find that kind of freedom and trust in myself, and I suppose that’s why when I lead a guided meditation I try to do it in a way that someone can flow with their own unique process and eventually develop their own style.

I also like naturalhigh’s reference to throwing pots as a meditation. Any activity can be a meditation. Although I still sometimes sit specifically for meditation, I now see my whole life as meditation. If I need to get grounded, I can close my eyes and do a grounding visualization, or I can walk barefoot outside paying attention to the feel of the earth. The possibilities are limitless!

I’d love to hear more comments on peoples’ experiences with meditation.

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!

Let go of all your ideas about how to meditate!

February 9, 2007

When you listen to our Meditation Oasis podcasts, it’s best to leave all your ideas about how to meditate behind. Forget about what you think meditation is or how you think it should be done. Most definitely let go of any expectations of what the experience should be like. Let it all go and listen with a “beginner’s mind” and open heart!

One goal of my guided meditations is to create a space where you can be effortless, allowing the natural flow of life and living. Coming to the meditation with the idea that you have to breath in some special way, that you should not be having thoughts or even that you should feel a certain way during meditation can make meditation into a struggle.

I recently received an email from someone who said she was having a “hard time breathing” during the meditations. It soon became clear that she was trying to breath deeply and do it “correctly”. I responded that she didn’t need to breath in any particular way, but simply to allow the breath to go on its own naturally.

In a sense, my guided meditations are about being in the “allow mode”, not resisting what arises. Thoughts, emotions, sensations in the body come and go. Noise happens around us. All of this is part of the natural flow of the energy of life. The instructions are just gentle suggestions which are not meant to be followed in a rigid way. If the attention wanders, that’s fine. Just bring it easily back to the meditation.

There is no “correct” experience. There are no mistakes in these meditations. If there is a sense of strain or struggle, it’s just a sign of effort and the formula is to let it go. Take it easy, take it as it comes!

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