Labyrinth Walking Meditation

August 31, 2010

Walking a labyrinth can be a profound experience. In our town, we have a simple labyrinth, marked on the earth with stones in a circle of redwoods. I love to walk it, using it as a moving meditation.

There are many ways to walk a labyrinth. You can find very specific instructions for what to do as you walk one – even eHow has a page on how to walk one.

I like to approach labyrinth walking more casually, without a set procedure. Sometimes I set an intention, but more often I simply start to walk and see what experiences it brings. It always takes me out of linearity. We are so accustomed to seeing life – our hours, days, years – as a line that progresses from one place to another. The latter place is usually a goal. We try to find the straightest way to the goal. We measure the distance in our minds. If it’s a car trip, we watch our progress on a map. But getting to the center of a labyrinth is like the “long and winding road”. You come closer to the center and your mind may start to try to measure how close you are to the “end”. Just then, you find yourself taking a turn that leads you back out toward the edge.

For me, the labyrinth mirrors life, which isn’t really linear. Walking it is a great way to relax into the twists and turns of life, to let go of the constant focus on future goals and the tendency to try to see how everything leads to something else. It’s a way of being in the Now. Martha Cuffy, who is seen in the photo walking a labyrinth with friends, expressed similar sentiments in a lovely post with a perfect title – Walk your Life in a Labyrinth.

I was inspired to write this post by Eleanor, a seminary student in Hong Kong, who left a beautiful comment on the website about her experience walking the labyrinth. It’s moving and inspiring to read how she uses her walk in the labyrinth to process emotions and gain insights into herself and her life. She has quite an inner journey, and comes out of it with beautiful observations on the nature of silence. This is a beautiful example of the power of walking the labyrinth. Not every walk will be this profound – one needs to let go of expectations and see what special gifts the labyrinth holds each time it is walked.

Have you walked a labyrinth? What was the experience like for you?

My “soothing” “irritating” voice – thoughts on being oneself

February 5, 2010

If you are reading this post, chances are you are someone who likes my voice, the style of my guided meditations and Richard’s music. I get lots of comments about how soothing and reassuring my voice is. That feels good, of course. But everyone’s reaction to my voice isn’t so favorable.

There have been reviews that said I sound like a Valley Girl, a Saturday Night Live skit, too sing-songy, aggravating, irritating, annoying, even drunk! Reactions to a person’s voice and style of speaking, especially in a guided meditation, can be so different. Something in a voice can trigger a difficult or unpleasant association. What soothes one person annoys another.

Obviously, there’s no “best” guided meditation style or “right” voice for everyone. People’s tastes are so varied. Nevertheless, the first time we got a negative review on our first CD, it made me want to quit. I listened to myself and thought “oh my they’re right, I sound ridiculous”. It didn’t matter that many people were already getting benefit from the meditations. My confidence in myself was so low. On top of that, I have a way of seeing things from all different sides. So I could easily feel that someone’s criticism was the truth of the matter.

Thank goodness I didn’t give up. It took a lot of reminding myself that a few people not liking what I do doesn’t negate the value many others were receiving from my work. It took accepting that as soon as you express yourself fully, in your own unique way, some people are not going to like what you do. It also took understanding that the more you express your true self, the more you had to offer those who resonate with you.

For much of my life, I didn’t fully express my creativity and talents because I preferred to hide and not give anyone the chance to criticize me. But that is no way to live. We all have gifts and we need to share them to be really fulfilled. If you express yourself and share your gifts, not everyone will enjoy them, but some people will absolutely love what you have to offer. And that’s what matters – that you give what you can to those who can benefit from it. Perhaps what matters even more is that you give the gift of yourself to yourself!

Now when I hear a criticism, it doesn’t phase me. My perspective is much more balanced, and my self-love and respect so much stronger. Day by day, I gather more courage to be more fully myself. The more I express myself, the less I care what others think, the more fulfilling life becomes. It’s an on-going journey for me. Some fortunate people grow up with that kind of confidence, but others have to gain it later. How about you? What has your experience been?

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?

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.

Aliveness Meditation

December 19, 2007

When I hear the word “aliveness”, it evokes something for me. There’s a recognition of something intangible that is always there in the background of my awareness. It’s always with us, and yet we miss it as our attention is usually focused on things and events. Aliveness is what can make life fulfilling, regardless of anything else. To be able to sense aliveness itself is a great gift.

In many ways all of our meditations are about aliveness — they’re about being more fully alive. I’m much more aware of the sense of aliveness thanks to the process of creating this meditation. I hope you enjoy this latest podcast as much as I enjoyed creating it! (Listen to the Aliveness Meditation.)

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.

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