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?

Do Twitter and meditation mix? Ramblings of a twittering mind.

July 6, 2009

What I am really asking is — am I cut out for Twitter? “Do twitter and meditation mix” just sounded like a good title. Meditation mixes with anything — meditation can be a part of any lifestyle. But for someone like me who was drawn to meditation partly because of my “twitter mind”, Twitter can be a challenge.

My twitter mind is a lot like the Buddhist “monkey mind” — jumping from thought to thought like a monkey from tree to tree. Some of us are more that way than others. In Ayurveda, my mind has a lot of vata energy. For those conversant with Ayurveda, I’d say Twitter would aggravate vata, pacify kapha and be neutral for pitta. But that’s a whole ‘post in the making…

Noticing anything about this post — does it seem to be jumping around? Too much time spent learning the Twitter ropes got my mind going. The energy there is incredibly frenetic for someone like me. It’s also exciting. My mind tends to go off on tangents and free associates. It’s great for creativity, but it has to be tamed. I’m sure that’s what lead me to the style of meditation I learned and the style I teach. 

In my guided meditations, I consistently encourage letting go of thoughts — not following the train of thought. This allows the mind to detach and settle down. Not only does this allow for deep rest, but it allows for the discovery of what lies beneath our thoughts. When we meditate, we experience the quality of awareness itself — the silence and stability within. We call it getting centered. It is the opposite of having a scattered attention. The attention becomes one-pointed, anchored.

Twitter could easily scatter ones attention as you jump from tweet to tweet, clicking on links wandering here and there through blog posts, videos, and more. It’s all a matter of balance — finding the right mix of activities that keep us balanced and grounded. The “right mix” isn’t the same for everyone. What we need to learn is what works for us.

As I said, for me Twitter is a challenge. It’s a fun challenge — I love the interconnectivity and especially the opportunity to connect with more of our podcast listeners. But because of the way I’m wired, I can’t spend a lot of time on Twitter. (And that’s a good thing — I have so many projects to work on!) I have to find a way to make Twitter work for me. I need to tweet my way, and how that will look is just beginning to evolve.

For now, if you follow us on Twitter, you will receive updates of new blog posts, podcast episodes and other news. I’ll try to follow you back if you look like a podcast listener. Let me know if I miss you, and suggestions are welcomed!

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Follow Meditation Oasis on Twitter

Thanks to Vincent Abry for the great Twitter button.

Can you meditate too much?

June 5, 2009

Unfortunately I have to disagree with Mae West who said “too much of a good thing is wonderful”. When it comes to meditation, as well as almost every other “good thing” in life, there can be too much. Food, water, sunshine, exercise, rest — everything in life — needs to be in balance. As wonderful as good as meditation may seem, too much is not wonderful at all, but may cause discomfort and interfere with our functioning.

LoraC left a comment today saying that since starting meditation, she finds herself crying more easily and also has become clumsy and has been tripping and even fell. She loves the relaxation of meditation, but these things concern her. Of course, I didn’t have enough information to know for sure what is happening with her, but it is certainly possible that she is meditating too much.

Too much meditation can make you “spacey” and ungrounded. It can weaken your mind-body coordination. This could be why LoraC is feeling clumsy and tripping. As for her crying more readily, it’s just possible that some emotions are being released as a result of the deep relaxation in the meditation. Usually emotional releases would happen during meditation time and not create any concern. But if there starts to be a lot of release or intense emotional processing outside of meditation, it could be that too much is happening too fast. Since these things seem to have started after LoraC began “meditating in earnest”, an easy way to find out if it’s from meditation is to stop meditating for awhile or cut back on the meditation time or frequency. If the clumsiness and crying go away, then clearly too much meditation is the culprit and the time and frequency of meditation can be adjusted accordingly.

What is the right amount of meditation? How often and how long should you meditate? The answer is it depends. It depends on you — your constitution, lifestyle, goals for meditation and many other factors. It also depends on the type of meditation. For most people and most meditation styles, usually once or twice a day for 15 – 30 minutes, would work well. Unless you have the personal guidance of a teacher, you will need to experiment and find out what works best for you.

If meditation is enhancing your life, you’ve found a good balance. If it seems to be creating problems, it may be that you are meditating too much or that you might need to be doing a different kind of meditation. LoraC might find that if she does the grounding meditation or body awareness meditation, she would feel less clumsy as these meditations can help strengthen mind-body coordination.

Is prayer meditation? Where prayer and meditation meet.

May 20, 2009

I just read a beautiful and thought-provoking quote from Ramesh Balsekar’s Net of Jewels.

“True prayer means not solicitation but communion. Prayer is communion in the same sense as that in true meditation there is neither a meditator nor anything meditated upon.”

When I read it, I felt a “yes!” inside. It was one of those “that-feels-so-true-but-I-can’t-say-why” moments. It seems to describe a state of oneness that could be seen as both the goal and means of both meditation and prayer. What the quote conveys to me is beyond words, and yet usually I associate prayer with words. Perhaps the deepest form of prayer is indeed beyond words. 

What do you feel? What do the words “prayer” and “meditation” mean to you? Is prayer the same as meditation?

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 Visualization in Meditation

May 4, 2009


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We just had a comment from someone who has a hard time with visualizations in meditation. So do I! Actually, I almost never enjoy a meditation that tells you to see this and see that. The more specific the instructions are for exactly what to visualize, the worse it is for me. As I’m working to construct the tree or light or animal or whatever it is I am to see, the guide is already on to the next image. I can never catch up and I’m so busy working on coming up with the visualization that I can’t really relax and get whatever it is I am supposed to get by seeing the image.

Though most of my meditations don’t involve visualization, I know that it can be very powerful. I do use a form of visualization in a few of the guided meditations (Intuitive Healing and Inner Child meditations are examples). I like to call what I do “intuitive visualization”. It’s what I do on my own sometimes for myself. It’s something we all do spontaneously when we daydream. I just suggest that you let something appear, such as a helper, and allow it to appear in whatever way it comes. It can be clear or vague. It may not even come as a image — it could be something felt or heard. It could come through any of the senses — touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell. Or it could just be a feeling sense. A helper, for example, could just be an energetic “presence”. This way of visualizing, which perhaps would be better called “intuiting”, works best for me and I like it in general because it allows you to draw on your own inner, creative resources to come up with just the perfect thing for you.

I know the other kind of visualization meditation, or imagery as its often called, works well for some people. What about you? What works best for you?

Knitting as Meditation

April 9, 2009

It’s so easy to enter a meditative state while knitting. Something about the rhythmic movement back and forth between the right and left hands, something about the soothing repetition of movements. Something about it…

I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about knitting as a meditative art. People have tried to understand it in right brain/left brain terms. It has been compared to EMDR with its right and left eye movements. There have been lots of attempts to explain why it works, as if people need to prove its therapeutic benefits. I don’t really care why it works, it’s enough for me that it does.

I picked up knitting at a particularly stressful time in my life, not realizing that it had become a craze. Having learned it when I was young, my mind-body must have remembered the feeling of it and signaled my intuition that it was time to start knitting again. I find knitting to be so comforting and relaxing. I’ve known that it produces a meditative state, but it was just a couple days ago that I fully appreciated its power. When I was thinking about the similarity between meditation and knitting, I realized that you can’t worry and knit at the same time! 

When you worry, the mind gets involved in a train of thought — a story about what might happen, what could happen, what might have happened and so on. Worrying engages the emotions in a way that creates anxiety.  The use of your hands and the sight of the stitches being formed breaks that pattern. I challenge you to see if you can worry while you knit! To test this out, I knit a few rows actually trying to worry. I couldn’t do it. I could come up with worry thoughts like “what if that pain is a horrible disease” and “what if I can’t pay the bills next month”, but no matter what thought I conjured up, there was no emotional juice that came with it.

So many of the phrases I use while leading guided meditations aim to do this same thing — to disentangle the thoughts from the emotions, to allow the mind to break free of its usual patterns so that one enjoys a simple, open state of awareness. When I say things like “not minding the stories of the mind” or “let thoughts be a meaningless activity in the mind”, I am encouraging the mind to do what it does while we knit — disengage.

If you decide to knit to meditate, I think you’ll find the effect is the most powerful when you do a simple knit stitch over and over. In knitting, it’s called “garter stitch”. You just knit and knit and knit and don’t try to follow a complex pattern. It’s easy to learn, and you may find you also love handling beautifully colored yarns with various yummy textures. You might even end up with some great scarves in the process!

OK, so you’re behind the curve on the knitting craze. For all I know it’s over. Who cares? Knitting makes a great meditation. And, if you are hesitant because you are of the male gender, please know that, to borrow a book title, “real men knit”. Russell Crowe does it. Brad Pitt does it. The big, talk Ghi McBride character on Pushing Daisies does it. Just do it!

Mindfulness vs. mindlessness.

March 6, 2009

Because so many people seem to associate my guided meditations with Mindfulness, many of whom both use our CDs and listen to our podcast, I often find myself wondering exactly what Mindfulness is. I’ve often thought that my meditations have more to do with “mindlessness” than “mindfulness”, and have thought of writing a post about that. It took a really interesting blog post in the New York Times today to get me to begin to tackle that subject. Check it out — peoples’ comments are really interesting to read:

Being and Mindfulness – Judith Warner Blog – NYTimes.com.

Well, I said “begin to tackle that subject” and I am literally only beginning to try to formulate by thoughts about it and don’t know if I’ll ever get past the beginning on this one. For one thing, having practiced meditation for a long time before ever hearing of Mindfulness Meditation, I’ve never really be able to relate to mindfulness instructions when I come across them, so how can I compare it with what I do?

Also, it seems like Mindfulness isn’t just a technique of meditation, but is often (if not always) associated with an intention to be a certain kind of person or to behave in a certain way — a way that is better than ones current way of being or behaving. My involvement with meditation has had to do with self-awareness and with inner peace, but I’ve never been involved in order to be a better person. If anything, my hope has been to learn to accept myself the way I am. I’m not saying that I don’t want to be a “better” person. Who doesn’t (depending on how each person defines that)? I just never saw meditation as a means to that unless it came as a welcome by-product to greater ease with myself and with life.

As I write, I am beginning to understand some possible distinctions between Mindfulness Meditation and what I do. I say “possible” because  as I said I don’t really know Mindfulness Meditation. I also suspect that all Mindfulness Meditation is not alike. Certainly not every Mindfulness teacher understands and teaches it in the same way. Certainly not everyone who practices it understands it in the same way. Also, Mindfulness seems to involve more than a technique of meditation. It seems to involve a way of being in the world — something you apply outside of a period of meditation practice. While I do think meditation “my way” creates changes outside of meditation, there is no specific recommendation to try to consciously make something happen in daily life.

So why do I feel my meditations have to do with Mindlessness rather than Mindfulness? My sense is that in Mindfulness Meditation there is a kind of noting of things. There is the idea that here I am being mindful. So in Mindfulness there is a awareness of “me” sitting here “being mindful”. The difference I’d see is that in my meditations (the ones like “Simply Being” that don’t have a specific focus), there is a letting go of what is noticed. Noticing is not noting. It’s not a taking note of what you experience, or a labeling of it. It’s more of a letting go of what is noticed. We aren’t looking for anything. Noticing happens spontaneously. We are spontaneously aware of what is going on. We don’t need to try to notice something. It just comes into our awareness. Or it doesn’t. Doesn’t matter. It’s just a matter of letting go when we become aware that the mind has gotten involved, or tangled up with, what is being experienced.

As I write, I see the impossibility of conceptualizing what happens in meditation. And perhaps this is my difficulty with understanding Mindfulness Meditation. Perhaps it is the problem that is inherent when we try to put the meditative experience into words. It sounds like we mean something we don’t really mean. I can certainly see that what I was just writing in the paragraph above could sound like something other than what I mean.

So I’ll just stop. I began to try to write about Mindlessness vs Mindfulness, and I found that I can’t really. But I think you might enjoy the New York Times piece I mentioned, and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with this subject. So for that reason, I’ll go ahead and publish this post about what I can’t really put in writing. I think this has liberated me from any compulsion to explore how what I do is different than Mindfulness (if it is). It doesn’t really matter in the end. I’m happy with what I’m doing!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and welcome your comments.

Do you have to be spiritual to meditate?

February 16, 2009

In a very interesting, enjoyable blog post, “K” describes her experience with our meditation podcast. Her post is fun to read, and it raises a lot of interesting questions. First of all, she begins by saying “I am not what you would call a spiritual person”. In view of this, she was surprised to find herself listening to the meditations. That raises the question as to whether only spiritual people meditate, or whether meditation is necessarily associated with spirituality. And then, of course, there’s the bigger question of what spirituality, or being spiritual, means. At one point K asks “Was I actually meditating?” (when listening to the podcast). This brings up yet another question — “what is meditation?” These are all interesting questions to explore. My feeling is that asking these kinds of questions can lead to worthwhile self-discovery.

One thing I loved about K’s post is that her bottom line was that whether or not meditation is spiritual and whether or not she is actually meditating — “there’s no way I’m giving it up”. For whatever reason, regardless of whether what she’s doing is spiritual (as a supposedly “non-spiritual” person) and regardless of whether what happens as she listens to the podcast is meditation, she likes it. And isn’t that what really matters? There are so many ideas about meditation and what it is to be spiritual. Often these ideas can become stumbling blocks that keep us from what we are really looking for. They can become “shoulds” that get in the way.

I’d love to hear from you — how do you define spirituality and meditation? Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person, and if so, why? What makes you spiritual? Do you feel spirituality and religion are one and the same, or are they two different things? Do you feel you have to be spiritual to meditate? Do you feel that meditating makes you spiritual?

Meditating in the London tubes

January 22, 2009

Today Mike MudIsland Mike let me know that he’d blogged about our podcast. The post was so much fun to read that I thought I’d link to it for you to read (read the post). He writes colorfully and with a great sense of humor about listening to the podcasts on his daily London commute.

Everyday I hear from people about their experiences with the podcast. It’s so fulfilling to be connected through meditation with so many people all over the world. I love hearing about the many ways and places people enjoy the meditations. Chances are most people are simply sitting or lying down with eyes closed while listening, but I’ve heard from people listening while exercising, walking, traveling, watching a pond and more ways than I can remember.

I can’t tell you how fulfilling it is for Richard and I to hear from all of you. Sometimes your stories are so heart-warming. Often what you share is so full of wisdom and the enthusiasm of your own inner discoveries. What an adventure this podcast has been! Thank you everyone who is taking this journey with me. And thanks to the techies who have created this incredible thing called the internet and all the software that allows us to meet in this way across the world.

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