Meditations for Stress

May 12, 2009

I recently had an email from someone under a great deal of stress asking which meditations to use to keep stress from making him sick and out of balance. Although anything that’s relaxing will help relieve stress, I recommended the following podcast episodes in particular:

  • Mini Relaxation Break
  • Breath Awareness
  • Simply Being
  • Effortless Meditation
  • Deep Rest
  • Letting Go

I recommended these particular meditations because they don’t have a specific focus or ask you to be active in any way. My sense is that they would allow for the deepest rest and therefore the most release of tension. When we are deeply relaxed, our body chemistry and muscles switch gears from the flight or fight response into a more relaxed style of functioning. The energy of the body can then go to work to release tension and recuperate.

Ultimately, though, I encourage you to try the various episodes for yourself. Try the ones whose titles and descriptions appeal most to you. That way you can see the effects of the various meditations. It just might be that a focused meditation would be most helpful with some specific types of stress. If you are grieving, for example, the Grief Meditation might be most useful.

(You can listen to our podcast on iTunes or on this page.)

Intuitive Self-Healing Meditation

April 22, 2009

Our bodies are marvelous self-healing mechanisms. They are constantly busy with self-repair and working to move towards greater balance. The same is true, I feel, for our psyches. This latest podcast is designed take advantage of this by helping you tap into your intuition to promote healing. We start, as always, by relaxing into the flow of what is happening. Then we bring our attention to an area needing healing. Allowing something to be in our awareness is helpful in and of itself. Our attention is like a beam of energy and intelligence and when we direct it somewhere energy for healing is provided. The inner intelligence of the body puts that energy to good use. That’s the basis of the Relaxing into Healing guided meditation. This new meditation takes things one step further. We are more proactive, as it were, learning to direct our energy in more specific ways. We drop into our inner knowing to find just the right “flavor” of energy for the situation.

Visualization is a tool that is often used for healing. Sometimes very specific visualizations are recommended for specific problems. My experience is that it’s most effective when we allow the visualization to arise spontaneously from within. I personally find it difficult to follow guided imagery where you are supposed to follow a very particular image. I prefer to first let what needs healing to be fully in my awareness, and then see what “wants” to come, just naturally, to help the situation. I think it’s always more powerful to connect with ones own inner knowing.

As you listen to this meditation, be very easy about it. As with all our meditations, the words are just gentle suggestions for you to use as a springboard for your own experience. You don’t need to follow (or even hear) all the words. Your mind will pick up on the phrases you need for your process. As you are prompted to bring in energy, let that take whatever form comes easily. Some people may have very clear visualizations. For others, it may be something very subtle. Most importantly, it doesn’t have to be visual. You may have just a vague sense of some energy or movement. The energy may seem more auditory, like a hum, or kinesthetic, like a feeling of some texture or touch. Or you may just want to relax into the feeling of the meditation. Whatever comes easily for you is just right!

I’d love to hear what you experienced with this. This meditation was done with my local group. Everyone shared their experiences afterwards and each had a very different kind of experience.

Grief Guided Meditation Podcast

December 18, 2008

We’ve had more requests for a guided meditation for grief than anything else. It’s taken me some time to come up with something, even though I’ve been a grief counselor and experienced a lot of grief in my life. This latest podcast episode, Guided Meditation for Grief, is what came up as I reflected on my own experiences with loss.

Often the people asking for a grief meditation have lost a loved one through death, but grief is a reaction to many types of losses, large and small. Moving, losing a job or home, divorce, a change in roles — all sorts of changes can cause us to feel grief. Sometimes we even grieve lost opportunities or what “might have been”.

Losing a loved one is one of the most painful things we can ever experience. Not only is it painful, it can shake our whole world. The lyrics to Paul Simon’s Graceland say it so well:

“losing love is like a window into my heart; Everybody sees you’re blow apart…”

It can feel like your life is blown apart and your heart is going to break. Grief can bring up all sorts of emotions, not just profound sadness but anger, guilt and more. Depending on how the loss happened, it can make you question all sorts of things. You can feel confused. It can be hard to concentrate. As much as we would rather not have to experience all these things, however, the only way through grief is to experience these things all the way.

Sometimes people feel alone in their grief making it even more difficult. Some cultures and traditions support the process of mourning better than others. Often here in the US, people are expected to “move on” way before they’re ready. People are unsure of what to do and say around a grieving person and may even withdraw. And yet although no one can grieve for us, it can really help to feel others supporting us as we grieve. When my mother died, I went to a hospice support group and it made a world of difference for me.

This podcast episode is designed to help you feel supported in your loss. We hope it helps!

(You can read about grief on our companion website, Heart of Healing.)

No right or wrong way to meditate

September 16, 2008

Meditation is about your own self-discovery. Learning to meditate is about discovering your own natural ability to shift into a way of being that is natural and effortless. It’s about finding what already exists in your own awareness. My goal with my guided meditations is to create a platform from which you can make your own discoveries, so there is no right or wrong way to do them. Meditation is a happening, not something that you do. However it happens for you is just right.

Yesterday I answered an email question making this point, and today I received a reply back which was so beautiful. It’s all about this very point, in this case as it applies to someone experiencing anxiety. I’m sharing part of the email exchange here because I think it might be meaningful for many of you.

Question:
“I have always had an interest in meditation and have known for some time that it would help me get over my anxiety and panic attacks but only in the last 3 months have I made it a part of my daily life and the results have been dramatic. Just knowing that the peace that meditation brings is available to me whenever I need it has made a huge difference to my day to day life and your podcasts have been instrumental in this. I really can’t thank you enough for taking the time out of your life to do this for others.

However, the anxiety I feel often manifests itself physically as a tight chest and shallow breathing. During meditations I have found that focusing on my breathing when it is already laboured sometimes makes this worse as I become more conscious of the unpleasant sensation and this feeds the anxiety. My breathing does eventually become effortless but generally only when I take my mind off my breathing.

I imagine that this may be the case for others who suffer from heightened anxiety and would love to hear your views and opinions on the matter.

Thanks again for making the podcast and the website. It really has been a huge help for me to make meditation part of my daily life.”

Answer:
“Thank you so much for your open sharing of your journey with anxiety.  It’s wonderful …that you’ve made meditation part of your life. You are very welcome for the podcast — it’s so inspiring to hear from people with stories like yours!

These meditations are really meant as a springboard for the discovery of your ability to relax and enter a meditative state. Although we do have a Breath Awareness Meditation among the podcasts, and some other meditations refer to breathing, there are many that don’t involve awareness of the breath. Perhaps you’ll find that certain meditations are more useful than others at different times.  For example, when you are particularly anxious, the breath meditation may not be the best one for you. You can trust your intuition on this! 

And when you are doing a meditation you don’t need to follow the instructions precisely.  There’s no right or wrong experience or way to do them. They are there for your own exploration and discovery. You discovered that at certain times taking your mind off your breathing works best. You can trust yourself and do just that!”

Questioner’s Reply:
“Thank you so much for your reply. The fact that you said that there is no right and wrong experience and that the meditations are there for our own discovery really has helped me see the breathing issue in a different light. Even if my breath isn’t effortless then that’s ok because this is my experience and whatever happens during my meditation is right for me. I’d get frustrated in the past thinking that because my breathing was difficult then I was doing it wrong somehow. Of course you mention these things in your podcasts but sometimes you have to be told something many times before you take actually take it on board don’t you?

As I have realised many times since I started meditating, the relaxation and peace I’m looking for only comes when I stop frantically trying to find it. The first time I ever felt the complete peace that meditation can bring I felt so stupid! I’d been looking everywhere for this feeling during my anxiety and there it was all the time, quietly waiting for me to stop looking. Just that knowledge made all the difference.”



Online Sangha

July 7, 2008

This morning I was delighted to learn (from a comment on a blog post) that our Breath in the Heart Meditation would be shared online as part of Plumline‘s Monday morning Sangha.  In fact, it is going on as I write.  

Although Buddhist studies have not been a part of my background, and I have had no training in mindfulness meditation, I am always struck by how much my meditations seem to resonate with those traditions.  As I’ve said before, the deepest truths can be arrived at and expressed through many different paths.  

I enjoyed visiting the Plumline website.  Plumline describes itself as “Building online Sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh”.  For those who don’t know, “Sangha”, roughly translated, means spiritual community.  A community of like-minded practitioners is felt to be essential to support on-going spiritual practice in Buddhism.    

Those interested in Buddhism may want to visit Plumline.  Thich Nhat Hanh, from whom they derive their inspiration, has written one of my all-time favorite poems – “Call Me by My True Names”.  (See Thich Nhat Hanh speaking on mindfulness on YouTube.)

I’ve come to feel our podcasts are like a giant group meditation.  We don’t see and meet each other for the most part, but we truly are meditating together — thousands of us.  I’ve hoped to provide some support for that experience in this blog and on our Meditation Oasis website. Perhaps there are yet other ways that we can create community for those who are interested. I’ve thought of different ways — an online course, a chat group, a conference call.  I’m not sure what will actually manifest, and would be interested in your ideas.

Flowing with Change Meditation

July 2, 2008

We’ve had several requests for a meditation having to do with coping with change, and here it is.  

Just looking at my own life over the past couple months reveals a staggering amount of change.  I’m sure any one of you could report the same. 

Change, of course, is in the nature of life.  It’s constant.  Life is movement.  Life is one thing morphing into another.  We don’t realize how many changes we are experiencing all the time. The weather changes, our moods change as our hormones fluctuate, relationships, technology and institutions are constantly changing — it’s endless. 

Change can be exciting, but it can also be challenging.   Whether it’s a major life change or a myriad of other smaller changes, change is constant and change takes time and energy.  What’s more is that it can be mentally and emotionally challenging.  We need to develop mental clarity, emotional stability and adaptable bodies to deal with all the change.

Meditation is one of the best ways to surf the waves of change.  The Flowing with Change Meditation can help with change in several ways.  First, it helps us relax into the reactions that we have to change so that we can be more clear mentally and have more emotional stability. The second is that the deep relaxation of meditation helps us recharge our batteries so that we have more energy for dealing with change.  And finally, the meditation helps us connect with that which doesn’t change — the unchanging nature of our own awareness which is present throughout all our experience.  That awareness is wakeful and intelligent.  It is unchanging and constant, and recognizing it helps us to feel anchored in the midst of change.

Trust Guided Meditation Podcast

May 28, 2008

Our latest podcast episode is about trust in life and trust in oneself.  It’s about a very fundamental kind of trust.  It doesn’t have to do with trusting people or things, but with a basic sense that everything is all right just as it is in each moment.  Most importantly, it has to do with the sense that we are alright, just as we are.  This trust allows us to relax into the flow of life and living, rather than resisting what is happening.

We can learn this kind of trust in meditation as we learn to relax into whatever comes up in our experience.  You may notice that at times you resist what is happening.  You may feel your mind shouldn’t be filled with thoughts, and a resistance comes up.  Or you might try to push out a particular emotion.  You may also find there are times when you try to be a certain way.  Often people feel that since they are meditating, they should feel peaceful.  There can be an attempt to try to feel peaceful.  A kind of struggle comes up, a struggle with ourselves and with life.  This struggle comes from a lack of trust.

Everything that we experience is an expression of the natural flow of life.  The energy of life flows as thoughts, emotions, sensations in the body, sounds around us.  As we meditate, we can learn to let that flow happen without interference.  We can develop a basic sense of trust in life as we learn to trust what happens within ourselves.

Discovering Love — Advanced Guided Meditation

March 25, 2008

I’m calling our latest podcast episode “advanced” because to experience the love that the meditation points to requires that your mind be settled enough to notice some subtle experiences. The meditation prompts you to become aware of tendencies to resist what is happening in your thoughts and emotions, and even further to the feeling that underlies those tendencies — a sense of things being not quite right. It’s a sense of not being alright as you are. It’s a sense of life not being alright. It’s at the core of the suffering which is part of the human condition.

Of course, we all like some feelings and experiences more than others. That’s natural. But suffering results when we feel that things should be different, that we should be different — that we should feel differently than we do. When we are able to let go of the resistance to how we feel and stop trying to make ourselves be or feel something else, then what is left is love.

I’m not talking about love in the way we usually think of it. When we say love, we are usually referring to a sentiment or feeling. The feeling of love can be mixed with affection, respect, gratitude, infatuation, passion, all sorts of things. What we usually identify as love is something we feel in response to someone or some thing. The love I am talking about is not an emotion, and it is not dependent on anything. It is the very essence of our existence and reveals itself when we let go of resistance and attempts to manipulate our experience. It is the natural state of our own awareness, of our “beingness”, which is always there in the background but is largely ignored. My hope is that with this meditation, you will be able to recognize and enjoy it.

You may need to use this meditation a number of times before this love is clearly experienced. If you are new to meditation, it might help to try the podcast episode one (Relaxation Break) or the Breath Awareness Meditation until you are able to settle down enough for this meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with this meditation. The feedback we’ve received here and at the meditationoasis.com website has been really helpful. And, as always, we welcome your questions.

Gratitude Guided Meditation Podcast

February 22, 2008

Gratitude is the highest, most fulfilling, emotion we can feel.  Yet so often we’re focused on what we don’t have, what we want to be different, what we think is wrong rather than on what we can be grateful for. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s human nature — it happens to all of us. Yet most of us would certainly prefer to feel grateful.

When feeling grateful is so rewarding, what can we do to feel it more often? We can’t manufacture gratitude. It comes on its own. But we can give it more opportunity to appear in our lives, simply by taking time to focus on what is good in our lives, to “count our blessings”.

I feel it’s important, however, not to get caught up in the feeling that we should be grateful. There’s nothing we should feel. Gratitude has become a hot topic among spiritual seekers and often when something is seen to be spiritual, it starts to get associated with being virtuous, or being a good person. I’m not interested in gratitude because it somehow makes one a good person, or because I feel we need to learn to feel only positive emotions. I’m interested in gratitude because it uplifts our spirits and feeds our hearts.

I make this point because when I led a gratitude meditation with my local guided meditation group, it wasn’t until I gave them permission not to feel grateful that they were able to relax and have a genuine experience of gratitude arise. As you listen to the Gratitude Guided Meditation podcast episode, be easy with it. If you don’t feel grateful at times while you are listening, let that be OK. Don’t try to make yourself feel anything. Next time you listen, the experience will be different, or you might find that feelings of gratitude surprise you later on during the day. The meditation is simply designed to give you an opportunity to feel gratitude by taking the time to focus on the things in your life you are thankful for. We’re just giving gratitude a chance to come up naturally. Chances are you will at least feel moments of gratitude during the meditation, and when you do, let yourself sink into that feeling. Notice the details of the experience of gratitude — how it feels in your body, how your energy feels. Let it permeate your whole being when it comes up.

We hope you enjoy this meditation, and would love to hear about your experience with the meditation and with gratitude in your lives.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 2 — Up close and personal.

February 15, 2008

And now for a more “up close and personal” answer to Erica’s question (on the About page of this blog)…

Erica asked about my philosophy of life, and my dilemma is that I don’t really have one in terms of having a set of fixed beliefs. At the same time, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent a good deal of my life philosophizing. After taking a vocational aptitude test in college, my advisor scratched his head and said, “this indicates that you’d do best at being an armchair philosopher”. I love to think about the nature of life and look at things from all sorts of angles. I love to question things. I’ve also had a love of asking the question “why” which doesn’t really have an answer, and I suppose much of my journey has been to give up the need to know answers and to be able to embrace lovingly what is here in this incredible play of life, with all its contradictions and paradoxes, and with all its joy and pain.

So it’s difficult to say what my philosophy is, but I can say something about what’s behind my guided meditations. Behind them is a quest, a quest for greater acceptance, peace and to be more fully alive. My guided meditations are as much for me as for those who listen to them. It’s not like have a specific philosophy to share. It’s more like I see us all on a journey together. Along the way on my journey I started meditating, then teaching meditation and eventually leading guided meditations. It’s in my nature to communicate and share what I learn and experience.

When I create a guided meditation, I close my eyes and drop into a meditative state and see what comes. I am literally meditating with you, and the meditations speak to me in the same way they speak to those of you who enjoy them. What they speak about for me is trust in the natural flow of life and relaxing into that. For want of a better way to describe it, I view life as a flow of energy, much like a river. That flow is governed by the same natural laws as those that move the river along its path. Everything that we do and experience is a part of that flow. Events are a part of that flow, as are our reactions to those events and all of the thoughts and emotions that arise within us. My path has been one of developing trust in that flow. Relaxation is a reflection of that trust.

Some of the guided meditations I lead are simply about that — about relaxing into life as it naturally unfolds. The Relaxation Break, Simply Being, Effortlessness and Letting Go are examples of that kind of meditation. When I first started leading guided meditations, I thought that was all that I would do, because that is the kind of meditation I had always taught. But things evolved and I found it was useful to sometimes direct the attention in ways that helped to create balance and enhance fulfillment in life.

So there are meditations about healing, the chakras, nature, etc. I enjoy the process of creating these new meditations, and a lot of this is happening thanks to the podcast and the requests and feedback I receive. I decided not to restrict myself to just one kind of meditation. All the other meditations, however, are based on starting with a relaxed, open state of awareness. That’s why they all start out in much the same way. Then the meditations that have a specific focus will be much more effective if one starts with that non-resistant, going with the flow, state of awareness. If we are tense and fighting with what’s happening within us (or noise or something going on around us), then all our energy goes to that and we can’t direct our attention in other ways.

As for my background, it’s been very eclectic. At first I learned and taught meditation in a style from India. I was trained in a very specific technique and the essence of that technique was effortlessness. This had a great deal of influence on me. After years on one path, however, I began to study with some other teachers and learned other practices and was exposed to a number of philosophies. I also studied and taught energy healing for a number of years and that too has shaped my meditations. I also worked as a counselor in mental health and hospice, and the insights and understanding I gained from that certainly influence the meditations I create.

I’d have to say that my guided meditations today are a synthesis of all of these different influences. Of course, this synthesis is unique because I am a unique individual just as we all are. Ultimately, everything that has happened in my life contributes to the meditations, because everything in life is a teacher.

It’s interesting that people often recognize their paths in my work. Erica asked about whether I have a background in Buddhist Vapassana meditation and I don’t, although often people have found that in my work. People have also found similarities to Christian centering meditations and other traditions. I think that’s because the same principles and concepts are arrived on many different paths.

Often as I am creating a meditation, I am surprised at what comes out. It will not be quite like anything I’ve heard before. That’s part of the fun of it, and part of the reason I don’t relate too much to tradition and what’s gone before. What’s really alive is what is fresh in this moment, in the infinite creativity of the life force as it expresses itself here and now.

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