Do our meditations contain “mixed messages”? (How to listen to our meditations!)

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.”

You don’t have to sit yoga style to meditate!

January 15, 2009

I just spent at least an hour on the web searching for the right picture for our Online Meditation Course. Currently we have an image of someone sitting in lotus. That picture made someone wonder if she had to sit in yoga posture to meditate. The answer is absolutely not! You can have deep, relaxing meditations and even very profound experiences sitting comfortably in a chair (or on the floor or a bed or sometimes even lying down…). Seemed like it would help to find an image that sends that message.

Searching the web, I hoped to find a picture with someone just sitting comfortably meditating. I went to all my favorite photo sites and it seemed like every single image of a person meditating was always in lotus, or at least cross-legged, and often with the hands held in some sort of special way. While different postures and hand positions do have different effects, they are not really important for most aspiring meditators. Many people can’t even sit cross-legged comfortably for any length of time, and even fewer can sit in lotus.

As for what we recommend about posture — usually meditation is best sitting up with the spine fairly erect. I say “fairly” because the most important thing is to be comfortable. When you are comfortable, you can relax completely. Sitting up fairly straight helps the mind to be alert. If you lie down (which you can do for some kinds of meditations) your mind will not be as alert and you may tend to fall asleep. Most meditation styles are not suited to the lying down position, although many guided meditations will be. But if you can’t sit up for some reason, better to meditate lying down than not at all.

We hear from people who are using our podcast meditations in all sorts of ways — sitting, lying down, walking, exercising, gazing at a lake — and people are getting benefits and having profound experiences in all these ways. Ultimately posture is up to you and will depend on what you are using the meditations for and how you are using them. So often when I hear from someone about their experiences, I remember that these meditations are your meditations. It’s your journey and your process and your truth that counts.

We do recommend sitting up to meditate for our Online Course. The course is a more structured, systematic process aimed at helping people learn to meditate on their own. The sitting posture helps facilitate mastering the fundamentals of meditation. But it is not necessary to be able to assume a pretzel like position to do it. Like our podcast meditations, ease and naturalness are essential. After all, meditation is all about being natural and being at ease!

New Online Meditation Course

January 6, 2009

Many people are happily meditating with our podcast and we hear from so many of you about the wonderful changes happening in your lives. It’s amazing that the experience of meditation gets transmitted in this way on the web and we’ve been inspired to find more ways to bring meditation into peoples’ lives.

We’ve created on Online Meditation Course for those who want a simple, yet effective way to learn meditation online. Not everyone can find or attend a local meditation course. Not everyone gets the hoped for results simply listening to our podcasts and reading the information on our website. Some want more structure and support. So we created a course that distills the essence of the principles of our meditations. Through a systematic sequence of meditations and written materials people can master the basics of meditation. We’ll also be offering very personal support through four email consultations which are part of the course. It’s exciting to see how our work evolves as we connect with people through the internet. Everything that we learned in teaching people in person is reflected in the course.

The course isn’t just for beginners. It’s also for anyone who is already meditating but not satisfied with their practice. Even those who are enjoying our podcasts could benefit from the course if they want to be able to meditate on their own, as could anyone who has struggled in any way with our meditations. 

We know some of you will have questions about the course. Please feel free to ask, either in the comments on this post or on our Online Meditation Course page.

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.”



You already know how to meditate!

May 19, 2008

I just received an email from a woman who said:  “Most importantly, your guidance also helped me recognize that I already knew how to meditate, but that I just thought of it as ‘being still’ or ‘paying attention.’ ”  Eureka — that’s it!  When we experience a meditative state during meditation, we tend to think it’s something special that happens only in meditation.  In fact, it’s something we all experience from time to time outside of meditation, but don’t notice.  We could actually think of it as the mind’s “natural state”.  It’s a very simple form of awareness, uncomplicated by the mind’s habits of judging and comparing.  It’s a state that’s there when we are neither resisting or trying to change what is naturally coming up in our experience.  It’s a state of “simply being”.

Much of the time, we are “simply being” but don’t make note of that, because the mind isn’t in the mode of standing apart and observing our experience at that time.  Sometimes, however, we’ll notice a dramatic shift into the simply-being-mode.  As I mentioned in the previous post, meditation often happens spontaneously when something we see or hear or touch jars us out of the preoccupation with the past and future.  The sight of a hummingbird at my feeder always does it for me.  What does it for you?

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!

Meditation without Borders

January 26, 2007

From my point of view, there is no wrong way to meditate. I didn’t really give voice to this viewpoint until I received an email from someone who is enjoying our podcasts. She said she liked them for a number of reasons — “There are a few aspects of the meditations that stand out for me. One I like, is that they don’t seem to have an agenda. Another is that you stress that there is no wrong way. The open endedness is lovely.”

When I received this email it reminded me of the name a woman in my local meditation group suggested for my meditations — she called them “meditations without borders”. Hearing this same sentiment again caused me to reflect on the meditations I lead and how they may differ from others.

My goal, if there is one, is to create a space for people to have their own meditative experience. I trust in the natural capacity of the mind to shift into a more simple, relaxed mode given the chance. I trust in each individual’s process and how their unique spiritual path unfolds. “Open endedness” is such a lovely way to describe it. While all meditation styles are suitable for some people, those which require concentration and effort do not allow us to relax into a spontaneous and natural way of being. What I hope to create is an atmosphere where one can relax into the natural flow of life and living. I hope to encourage trust in life as it is unfolding in each moment, and trust in oneself.

I’ve been enjoying receiving emails and feedback from people listening to the podcasts. I hope this blog can become a place for a lively exchange and encourage you to leave your comments!

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