Why do we resist meditation?

November 19, 2009

Do you ever find yourself resisting meditation? Perhaps you’ve resolved to meditate regularly either because you think it’s good for you, or you’ve enjoyed meditating and what it does for you. And yet, for some reason, you find yourself resisting meditation. Georgina asked about this in a comment:

“I really love meditation and your podcasts have greatly assisted me and changed my life. But even though I love meditation and I know it is good for me, I find myself resisting doing it almost daily… why is that? Do you have any insight on why we resist meditation? Why I find it so hard to sit for just 10 minutes a day sometimes? Is it the mind not wanting you to go away from it?”

Before I comment, I’d like to invite you to share your experience with this. Do you find you resist meditation? How do you experience that resistance? Do you have any idea why you resist?

I know many people struggle with this. As I wrote to Georgina, the best thing is to investigate for yourself why you resist. It can help you get in touch with what the resistance is all about and lead to valuable insights. Often when we become conscious of the feelings and beliefs that underlie our behavior, we can find ways to make changes.

I suspect that the reason for the resistance may be different for different people, but a couple of possibilities come to mind. It may simply be the momentum in our busy lives that keeps us moving at fast speed, as well as our culture which is telling us to do, do, do.

Our culture doesn’t recognize a very fundamental principle, and that is that being rested and relaxed is the most important key to being creative and productive. Getting things done is equated with putting in time. With this deeply ingrained idea, we often don’t give ourselves permission to take time out for meditation. And then when we do take the time, the mind and and body are in such high gear that we feel restless. You may sit to meditate and find yourself feeling like you have to get up and go. Meditating requires that we be prepared for that and continue to experience the restlessness and let it unwind.

The resistance can also be emotional. All of our busyness keeps us from feeling things we don’t want to feel. Meditation gets us in touch with our inner experience, including our emotions. If there is something going on in our lives that troubles us or we are not comfortable with certain emotions, we may tend to avoid meditation. And yet, to be truly relaxed and present, which are both goals of meditation, we have to be able to experience our emotions.

What is your experience with this? Do you resist meditating sometimes, and do you know why?

Celebrating 3 years of podcasting!

November 7, 2009

Three years ago today our first podcast episode went up on iTunes. And now there have been almost 3 million downloads. We never dreamed that so much would come out of the podcast, for us and our listeners, and we’re celebrating that today. Of all of the things we’ve done over the years with meditation and personal growth, I’d have to say this has been the most rewarding.

We hear from our listeners almost daily, and are often amazed at the profound impact the meditations are having on so many peoples’ lives. It doesn’t get better than this — to know something you’ve done has helped another along the way. And yet we know that the positive changes you experience aren’t really about us. Your openness to meditation, your willingness to grow and change, are what makes this happen. The podcast is a joint effort in every sense of the word. What we hear from you – your experiences, questions, comments, requests – help us learn and grow.

So, please lift a cyber-glass to toast with us today, and thank you for taking this journey with us!

Guided Meditation for Stillness, Stability and Balance

October 9, 2009

In the swirl of activity and the intense demands of life, it’s easy to lose ones center. It can be challenging to maintain a sense of stability and balance. Our latest podcast meditation is designed to help you experience stillness in the midst of busyness, and then to create a stable reference point within that stillness.

The meditation helps focus and steady the mind. I’ve had requests for a morning meditation and as well as a meditation especially for students. This meditation may be good for both purposes.

Tips for this Meditation

  1. This meditation is best done sitting up in order to maintain alertness. It’s not a meditation for falling asleep.
  2. Occasionally my guided meditations suggest some use of visualization. In this meditation, you are guided to locate stillness and then a stable balance point within it. That point then becomes the focus of the meditation. It’s important not to strain to create this point or to work at concentrating on it. Just be very easy about the whole process. If what I suggest comes easily, fine. If not, let it go. It may take several repetitions of this meditation to get the hang of it.

I’d love to hear what you experience with this meditation. All comments and questions are welcome!

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.

No one can teach you to meditate!

September 8, 2009

Learning meditation is like learning ride a bicycle. Someone can demonstrate how to ride, tell you where to put your feet and hands and so on, but ultimately you have to get the hang of it yourself. A meditation teacher can give you a few pointers about how to start, how to focus your attention, how to handle thoughts and so on; but like bike riding, you ultimately discover how to meditate yourself.

Of course, there are many different kinds of meditation, and this might not be true for all of them. But this is true for meditation styles that induce a deeply relaxed, meditative state. It’s a natural state. It happens spontaneously at times. Perhaps you will initially follow some instructions, but then a time comes when you close your eyes and there you are. With repetition it can become automatic. A skillful “teacher” can only guide you to your own discovery.

Actually, I think it could be said that no one can teach you anything. When I was teaching in the healing arts, I was always amazed at how people heard and learned things that I never remembered saying or teaching. People learned what they were ready to learn, and I just provided a catalyst for that learning. If you are using our guided meditations or have taken our Online Course, it is because you were ready to discover something in your own awareness and these tools provided a catalyst.

A teacher is sometimes someone who passes on facts or know how. It might be tempting in that case to feel the teacher is actually teaching you, but you have to be able to absorb the information you are being given and access it when needed. You have your own understanding of the “facts”. You have to apply what you’ve learned in your own way. Two people using exactly the same recipe produce different results. It may seem like a paradox, but ultimately I’d say someone can learn, but no one can teach.

What do you think? Do you feel someone taught you to meditate (or play music, draw, cook or…)? Do you feel you learned it totally on your own? Or has your experience been something in between?

Rest in the Source Guided Meditation

August 31, 2009

Our latest podcast meditation is yet another variation on a theme. It’s along the same lines as the Letting Go, Simply Being, Effortless, Let it Be and Trust meditations. Each has a slightly different angle that points the mind to the same place, a place which isn’t really a place. They help us to achieve a state of being in which there is a lack of resistance to the natural flow of life. This state of mind can be described in so many different ways. “Lack of resistance to the natural flow of life” is only one way to talk about it. “Resting in the source”, the name of this new meditation, is another. And yet, words always fall short. Words have meaning, but the words used in these meditations are used to help the mind move beyond meaning. They are words to undo words.

The word “source” in the context of meditation is full of meaning for many people. I asked what it meant to people on our Facebook page, and it was interesting to read the responses. For some, source has spiritual or religious meaning; for others it is more secular. And yet, it’s my feeling that the most fundamental meditative state is the same regardless of how we approach it. Sometimes images capture it best. In the meditation, the image of a fountain came to me. All of the water flows from the source and falls back into the source. Hopefully the meditation sets the stage to allow your mind rest at the still point from which everything emerges and to which everything returns.

Are prayer and meditation the same?

August 24, 2009

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I just re-read a beautiful piece by Adrianne Murchison examining whether there is a difference between prayer and meditation. She questions whether there is a difference because she learned to meditate through prayer. Saying the rosary transformed into silent meditation and the experience of Oneness for her. Here is how she describes her experience:

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“I’m Catholic and first learned to meditate years ago by saying the Rosary –a recitation of the “Hail Mary” prayer. I start by whispering the words. After a few minutes I am no longer whispering but, instead, mouthing the words in silence. Soon the words and my thoughts become laboring, because I am with God and they are not necessary. I let my words and thoughts go and simply experience Oneness.”

What I’ve been exploring is at which point did the prayer become meditation? Is prayer the part where she is saying the words, since prayer is usually associated with speech and communication? Does it become meditation at the point when she lets go of the words and thoughts?  Is meditation arriving at the point where she feels “with God” and no longer needs words? But then, isn’t that how some people would define meditation, as a means of getting close to God or becoming one with God? Is it the transition from words to Oneness that defines it as meditation? Perhaps it becomes meditation because the experience of Oneness happens and there is no possibility of prayer in Oneness. If prayer is communication between self and “other”, how could there be prayer when self and other have merged into one?

What struck me about her experience is that, although it occurred in the context of prayer and her religious and spiritual practice, it contains elements common to many meditative practices whose goal is to transcend thought and reach a deeper level of the mind where all is one. Many practices provide an object of attention as a means of allowing the mind to relax its focus, expand and move beyond duality to the experience of Oneness. It can happen with the repetition of a mantra, staring at a candle flame or even watching the breath. Letting go of thought is an essential element of this experience, as meaning keeps the mind engaged in distinctions like self and other, past and future, and in Oneness these distinctions dissolve.

The experience of Oneness can also happen spontaneously without prayer or meditation or any other practice. We love to do things that help that to happen — like sitting and watching the fire in the fireplace, looking at the ocean waves come in and go out, and listening to music that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts.

I’d love to know what you think. Perhaps you meditate but don’t pray. Or you might pray but not meditate. Maybe you do both, and maybe you do neither. But chances are you’ve had the feeling of being at one with everything at some point in your life. Have you experienced Oneness and, if so, do you know how it came about? What is prayer? What is meditation? What, if anything, makes them different?

Related posts:

Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?
Is prayer meditation? Where prayer and meditation meet

Decluttering and the Meditative Life

August 17, 2009

Was wondering what I’d blog about this week and a trip to our sunroom screamed “decluttering” to me. I hate to say why, but I’m sure you can guess. The sunroom has become a storeroom for our business — full of boxes for things received, bubble wrap envelopes for CDs to mail, and all sorts of related stuff. Richard is great at keeping things neat. His tolerance for clutter is way lower than mine. But still sometimes we get busy and the boxes start to take over. Hence the room’s cry for help. Well, truth be told, hence the cry for help by my psyche!

As soon as I walked in the sunroom, I felt the energy of the clutter. It’s unpleasant to say the least! I’ve promised myself to take care of it by day’s end. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to doing it. I find decluttering to be a lot like meditation. It’s a kind of meditation-in-action for me. It has the same calming and grounding effect when I do it in a relaxed, non-pressured way. It has to be done in a loving way. It can feel so self-nurturing when I’m not chiding myself for what I find, for having let it get out of control. It feels good when I allow myself to be there, fully present to all the sensations, emotions and thoughts that accompany the work, and that includes being present to the self-critical part of me! If I’m present to that self-critical part, I have a chance to cut myself some slack. It feels good when I allow myself to relax into it — when I give myself “all the time in the world” to do it, not being pressured by the clock.

Is this sounding at all like meditation to you? It does to me. It’s the same art. Meditation is all about the art of living, the art of how we do things. How we do something is totally about how we handle our inner world — how we handle our thoughts, emotions and the experiences that come our way. We can make decluttering a meditative experience. Instead of starting out with a logical plan, I like to just dive in. I enter the room or area that needs to be cleared and organized and just start — taking one step at a time as my intuition guides me. It’s so much more relaxing that way.

I read an article with all sorts of tips about decluttering — practical things to do. It sounded so intelligent, logical, effective. But I balked at the idea of following some rules, of having to things set up and plan in advance. That’s the way that person decluttered — it worked for them, but I can guarantee you that they didn’t start out with that list. That’s just how it developed as they did it and then they said — wow, that worked — now I can tell someone else how. I much prefer to get in there and discover how I do it. Like meditation, it’s an exploration that reveals my own path to me. If I start out with a instruction manual, then I think there’s a right and wrong way to do it. I start getting awkward and ignoring my own intuition and inclinations. What’s more it becomes work when it can be play!

It’s like writing this post. I had no idea when I started where it would take me. I just started writing and discovered where it took me. Just like meditation. Just like life.

A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

August 10, 2009

Something happened a couple weeks back that made a deep impression on me. I was walking a very familiar route I take around my neighborhood. I rounded a curve where I habitually speed up to get past a home where a dog barks loudly at me from a patio hidden by bushes. The barking is invariably followed by a gravelly woman’s voice telling the dog to stop barking. This would be enough to make me want to hurry up, but the additional irritant of cigarette smoke wafting out to me adds to my scurrying. Sometimes I avoid that route altogether, but I like other things about it and on the day in question had elected to go that way.

Here’s what happened on that day and here’s why I titled this post “A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing”. As I was hurrying by, I heard a voice call my name and turned to see a woman I know sitting in the patio. She was obviously there chatting with the gravelly voiced woman. Turning to say hello to my acquaintance, I heard the dog’s owner say “Let him come out and see you so he’ll get to know you and not bark next time”. A few seconds later, “Bandit” emerged from behind the bushes.

Bandit was a most surprising, and welcomed, sight. Such a soft presence, he approached me gently and silently. He had the nicest, softest coat and I was sure he was a puppy (although I later learned he’s 15 years old). He was the kind of dog you can’t resist petting and seemed to have the sweetest disposition. I was stunned!

I accepted an invitation to join the two women on the patio, and there behind the bushes was the gravelly voiced lady, smiling and warm, and not at all like I had imagined. Hidden in the bushes was a birdbath surrounded by a skillful arrangement of beautiful plants. I felt I had entered a lovely little retreat. I stayed and chatted a bit, then continued my walk knowing my little neighborhood world would never feel the same.

The memory of this event has come back to me so often. I’ve wanted to blog about it and on my walk today pondered how it might relate to meditation. What occurred to me is that in meditation we have the opportunity to discover the sheep in wolf’s clothing as ourselves. Do you ever feel like the “big bad wolf” when you are stressed? I do! And when I do I know I need to meditate. Meditation can bring out our inner sheep even in the most wolfish of times.

Meditation and Creativity

July 20, 2009

It’s always a surprise to me. Every single time. I record a guided meditation, do some editing and pass it on to Richard. And then before I know it, he’s added some music and voila — it’s done. Just like that, he listens to the meditation at his keyboard and the music seems to get composed effortlessly. And I always love it. It always feels just right for the meditation. And I’m always in awe. How did that happen? How is it that every single time, on the spot, the music comes?

Even though I’ve experienced how effortlessly things can get created, I’m still amazed. And yet, when something new does come into existence, it is by nature a spontaneous, effortless event. If it’s new, it’s never been seen, touched, heard, known before. How could that come with effort? When we make an effort, we are working at something. We have an end in mind — we draw on everything we know and have experienced before; we use our logic; we try to connect the dots. But something completely new can’t be found in what we have heretofore experienced and known. It comes from the source of all of that, and the functioning of the source lies outside the functioning of our own will and actions, even though it influences them. So “true creativity” can only be effortless. While we may work at shaping an inspiration once it arises, we cannot force the inspiration to come.

While that explains to me the effortlessness of Richard’s composing, it doesn’t explain the consistency of it. And here I turn to my understanding of meditation for answers. Meditation can align us with the source of all creation (and hence creativity). The mind shifts into a more open, intuitive mode, beyond intellect and logic.  Composers have to “get out of the way” for their music to come into being. Meditation in its most essential form gets us out of our own way.

Richard gets into a meditative state to compose. After all the years of meditation, it’s easy for him to do that. So Richard gets out of the way and the music comes. I should understand that — it’s how my meditations come. It’s how everything I’ve ever accomplished creatively has come. And yet it still surprises me when it happens. It is always a wonderful, awe-inspiring mystery. It is always a gift.

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Richard’s beautiful, meditative music is available on our Pure Light album (a compilation of background music from our podcast and CDs.)

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