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.”

Present Moment Awareness Meditation

August 19, 2010

“Present moment awareness” isn’t something that can be captured in words. It is a holistic awareness of “what is”. This short meditation is an opportunity to explore what is “here and now”.

This is a more advanced meditation in that the instructions are very subtle. The words I say in meditations are never meant as instructions to be followed precisely, and that is even more true for this meditation. Since there’s so much interest in the idea of the “present moment”, it might be easy to get caught up in concepts about it and what it is. Any idea we have about the present moment, however, is not what it is. As you listen to this meditation, listen easily. Treat it more like poetry than prose, allowing it to reveal something to you that can’t be named. Let go of the need to understand!

We’d love to hear your experiences with this meditation!

On the “Effortless Effort” of Meditation

September 17, 2009

Usually the term “effortless effort” is associated with Taoist philosophy and its concept of “Wu Wei”. It has to do with how we act, or experience action, in daily life. I like the Wikipedia description of Wu Wei as “natural action” giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing it.

I like to use “effortless effort” when talking about how to meditate. It’s indicates that the art of meditation is not one of following instructions. It’s the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.

I often tell people not to take what I say in my meditations too literally. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by something like “not minding thoughts”. It’s impossible to answer those questions. The words I use aren’t meant to be instructions to follow precisely. The words are more like confirmations of the correct experience. Quite naturally the mind will start relaxing into a state of “not minding thoughts”, and if there is some resistance to that happening, words can give you permission to let go. My words are more like “reminders” to gently prompt the mind to let go of effort. But that letting go is an effortless effort!

How can effort be effortless? It’s a paradox. The paradox happens because in guiding someone in meditation, we pretty much have to use words. You can’t demonstrate meditation like you can dance, because it’s an internal process. Although music alone can sometimes induce a meditative state, more often than not some verbal guidance is necessary. And yet, using words and phrases to guide that process is full of pitfalls. The meditative state is actually something that the mind falls into, not something you can make happen through following instructions. The instructions can only set up a situation where the mind can slip into that state.

Meditation is a state of effortlessness and sometimes a phrase here and there can help us to let go of effort. For example, I might say “let thoughts go”. The idea isn’t to actively let them go, like when you open your hand to drop a ball, but rather hearing the phrase “let thoughts go” may help the mind let go. That’s because the mind is naturally drawn into a meditative state when given the opportunity, and there may be some resistance to that happening. The words can help dissolve the resistance. Letting go is not an active doing. No words or concepts can tell you exactly how to do it.

Blackberry picking and lessons on creativity

August 3, 2009

Blackberries can be sooooo delicious when they’re soft and sweet, and sooooo disappointing when they’re not. I’ve been picking them on a nearby road where they grow on a fence by a field. It’s a great summer for blackberries. There are tons of them, enough to lure me back into berry picking after having given up on it last summer when I seemed to always come home with a bag of tart berries. But this year I discovered bring sweet, juicy berries home. What’s more, honing my fruit picking skills has given me insights on creativity and life.

It all began with our plum tree in June. The plums are outrageously delicious — incredibly sweet, juicy and perfumed with their own unique fragrance, but only when they’re really ripe. We learned last year that when they fall off the tree, they are just perfect. Only problem is they often split open when they land, and a bagful of split plums soon degenerates into a mess. The trick then is to get the plum when it’s just getting ready to fall, and you can do that by grasping them ever so carefully and giving just the slightest tug. Not a tug even, a faint whisper of a tug… If the plum falls into your hand, it’s ripe. If it resists your tug, it’s not ready. It may still be good, but not incredible, and why settle for good?

Having mastered plum picking, I was ready for the more delicate task of picking blackberries. One has to be ever so careful, not just dodging thorns, but tugging on the berries just right, being careful not to mush the ones that are truly ripe. It’s a delicate operation. It takes patience, sensitivity to the bush’s readiness to let go of its fruit. After all, the bush thrives by having bird’s eat the berries when they are ripe, when the seeds are ready to be dispersed. There’s a reason the fruit gets sweet when it does.

It takes patience to cooperate with the timing of the bush. It takes respect for its natural rhythms to enjoy the treasures it holds. You learn to listen, to cooperate with the life cycle of the bush, and when you do you are rewarded with a berry that drops effortlessly into your hand and tastes incredibly delicious.

Picking berries this way has allowed space for reflection as I pick. Since I am still in the midst of creating a new set of meditations, the parallels in the process of berry picking and giving birth to a new project became obvious. The ideas have to gestate and grow, and when they are ripe, they come easily. Like the berry bush that I return to day after day to cull the berries that are ripe that day, I have to leave the project to mature and ripen at its own pace. I spend time with it and then leave it. It percolates inside me and then when I work on it again, the latest “fruits” are ready for the picking. Inspirations come in their time, and I can’t force them.

Letting the new project grow requires the same respect and trust that I’m learning in berry picking. I can’t make the berries ripen faster. It’s always tempting to try to pull off a berry that isn’t really ready. It just doesn’t work. It’s not fun, actually. It feels as if the bush is resisting. If I do manage to get one off, it doesn’t taste good. Creativity can’t be forced. It comes in its time fueled by the same vital force that ripens the fruit. Sure, you can make sure a fruit tree is planted in the sun and gets enough water and fertilizer, but then you just have to wait. You can nourish yourself with adequate rest, exercise, meditation — but you still have to wait.

My fruit picking is teaching me that patience, respect, and trust. The blackberry bush is teaching me its lesson as I learn to listen. The new project will be finished on its schedule, in its time. I can try to push it, but it will only result in frustration and will get me nowhere. Or I can surrender to the process. I don’t have any more ability to hasten the creation of my new meditations than I have the ability to make the fruit ripen. This realization is humbling, and it’s also a relief. If I don’t seem to be making progress on a project, I can just let it go, knowing it will come in its time.

Related posts:

Meditation and Creativity

Enhancing Creativity Guided Meditation

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.

Relax and float down stream…

March 10, 2008

We named our podcast Meditation Oasis. The name came to Richard early on. Then we spent a lot of time brainstorming to find the “best” name, but Meditation Oasis stuck. We didn’t realized that the name would have a life of its own. I recently did a search on iLike.com in order to “claim” our artist pages. Not only were we listed as Mary and Richard Maddux and Mary Maddux, but Meditation Oasis was there as well. When we started a page on MySpace a couple weeks ago, the only kind of page we could fit into was a “band” page and now we’re a band called Meditation Oasis on MySpace!

Instead of just “going with the flow”, I found myself saying hey, whoa, is this really the name we want? Let’s sit back and think this thing over. Maybe there’s a better name. It’s something about how I was raised. It’s always been a challenge for me to buy the first thing I see. I can find the perfect pair of jeans right off, but end up having to try on all the rest “just in case”. I measure my progress sometimes by my ability to go with the first thing that comes along when it feels just right. But this one really challenged me — the name our work is coming to be known by. Life once again is challenging me to walk my talk (or I should say follow my own meditations!)


“Meditation Oasis” has a life of its own. Life itself is a life of its own. It’s not mine to direct in what I may think is the “best” way. It happens. And once more, I’m learning to go with the flow.

As Lennon and McCartney once sang it, “Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream…”.

Effortless Meditation

September 11, 2007

True meditation is by its nature effortless. A meditative state is a state without effort. The basic nature of life itself, actually, is effortless. So what is trying in meditation all about? That’s something worth investigating!

Of course, we can’t become effortless by trying. Hopefully our latest Effortless Meditation podcast will support you in being effortless.

Much of what I wrote about the Letting Go meditation applies here. This is simply another angle on the same theme that runs through all of my meditations and blog posts, and yet I truly feel the less said on this the better!

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.

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!

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