Finding Silence in a Busy Mind

February 12, 2010

Lyn emailed me about a statement on our Difficulty Meditating website page that she found confusing. This blog post is an attempt to explain it, but I’m not sure that I can anymore than I can explain the taste of an apple to someone who has never tasted one. Here’s the statement she found confusing:

“Although meditation can be a way to experience inner silence, this comes about not by eliminating thoughts, but by becoming aware of the silence that is naturally present in the mind along with the thoughts.”

The statement refers to the experience of silence in a meditative state, and a meditative state is very difficult to describe in words. It’s about the space between words, the space between thoughts. It’s about becoming unhooked from thoughts and concepts so that the background of consciousness in which everything is experienced becomes apparent.

Trying to describe this experience is like trying to describe space. It’s easy to describe the objects in space – a tree, an apple, a human being – but how do you describe space itself to someone?  Everything exists in space – it’s that no-thing in which every “thing” is! How you put words to that?

Our awareness could be thought of as the space in which all of our experiences take place. It is an “aware space”. It is there all of the time, but we don’t put our attention on it. Our attention is focused on the experiences, rather than the awareness underlying the experiences. Meditation can bring about an awareness of awareness. And the nature of that awareness could be described as silence. As we disengage from the meaning of thoughts and they are allowed to flow through, the experience is one of silence along with thoughts. The gap between thoughts, the space in which they happen, is being noticed.

Does the statement make sense to you? How would you explain it to someone?

How does how we meditate relate to how we live life?

December 1, 2009

Is the purpose of meditation to create a frame of mind that continues outside of meditation? “Paul” asked some great questions related to this in an email. Here’s what Paul wrote:

“The meditations seem to follow a similar format applied to different themes. I enjoy listening to them. They are relaxing. Is the frequent use of “easily bring your mind back…” or “doesn’t matter” etc by design? Is it intended to get the listener in that frame of mind even when out of meditation? Does it have some other purpose?”

Paul’s observation that the meditations follow a similar format applied to different themes is absolutely true The way I think of it is that there are core meditations like Simply Being and Letting Go that embody the essence of meditation. They help the mind let go of its usual outer-directed focus and expand into an easy, open state. Other meditations, like the Nature, Inner Child and Grief meditations, are more effective if that relaxed and open state is achieved before doing any visualizing or imagining. That’s why all the meditations start in pretty much the same way.

The frequently used phrases that Paul mentions help the mind and body to relax. In particular, they help us to let go of the habit of straining and working at things, so that we can experience a state of effortlessness. They help us to relax into the natural flow of things. That seems pretty obvious, but what has really had me thinking is whether or not the purpose of these phrases is to get us into that frame of mind when we are no longer meditating. The answer I’ve come up with is —-  (drum roll)—– “yes and no”!

The answer is yes in the sense that what we practice in the meditations — letting go of resistance to what is happening, relaxing into our emotions, and being more present in the moment and so on — will hopefully carry over into our activity. In a way, we call meditation a “practice” because it is practicing certain skills that become applied in our lives. So it could be said that the things I frequently say are meant to get us into that frame of mind outside of meditation, except that it’s not exactly the same frame of mind. Only some of the elements of meditation are meant to be carried into our activities. That brings us to the “no” part of my answer.

The answer is no in the sense that in meditation we are letting go of the evaluating, analyzing, accomplishing aspects of the mind. We are allowing the mind to let go of its focus on doing. When we return to our activity, we have to focus on things. The analytical aspect of the mind is important in our daily functioning. In meditation we let go of thoughts, whereas in activity we sometimes need to pursue a train of thought when we are problem-solving. So in this sense, the purpose of these phrases isn’t to get us to be in exactly the same “frame of mind” in and out of meditation. The frame of mind while meditating isn’t appropriate for most of our time outside of meditation.

Bringing meditation into our lives definitely changes how we experience life outside of meditation. That’s one reason we do it. We can certainly live our lives in a more meditative way, but how we apply the principles of meditation during meditation and outside of meditation is different. I’ve been thinking more and more about how we can approach daily living as meditation. Our new Walking Meditation album is a “step” in that direction. We’ll see where that step leads!

What has your experience been? How has your life changed with meditation? How do you think the changes are related to the practice of meditation?

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 Meditation and Philosophy

November 20, 2008

Discovering that today is World Philosophy Day inspired me to reflect on the relationship of meditation and philosophy. It all started when Richard showed me this BBC article by David Bain – Four Philosophical Questions to Make Your Brain Hurt. I’m not particularly fond of having my brain hurt, but I am fond of philosophy. This fondness isn’t about reading philosophy, as that can make my brain hurt. It is more about a natural tendency I have to question things. It’s about having a mind that’s always exploring the meaning and nature of things.

When I was in college, I took a vocational aptitude test. The idea was to help discover what I would be good at as a profession. When I met with my advisor to learn the results of the test, he scratched his head and looked perplexed. Poring over the results, he said that it appeared that my abilities would make me well suited to be an “armchair philosopher”. Since this didn’t offer a path to earning income, he scrambled around for another option — sales. Well, selling things has never been my forte, and I certainly haven’t earned a living through philosophizing.

What’s interesting to me is that my income is currently related to lifelong involvement with meditation. Thinking about it today, I see that meditation and philosophy go hand in hand for me. Both involve investigating the nature of things, the nature of oneself. With philosophy the exploration is intellectual, and with meditation it is experiential. And yet, there is a point where intellectual and experiential exploration meet and can’t really be separated out.

Perhaps this is most clearly seen in the case of inquiry as a path of spiritual realization. The great sage Ramana Maharishi indicated that asking oneself the question “who I am” could ultimately result in realization of the truth of ones existence. Although the question can be answered intellectually with descriptions such as “I am a woman”, “I am a doctor” and so on, taken to its final conclusion this question reveals ones nature as it exists beyond such descriptive terms. 

Meditation involves a shift of attention that takes the mind out of its usual ways of perceiving and experiencing. It seems that asking philosophical questions has the potential to do the same thing.

I can’t speak as a professional philosopher, but as an armchair philosopher I can say that asking questions about things we don’t usually question has been part of my path with meditation. It jogs the mind from its usual assumptions and opens the perception to seeing things differently. At times, it’s a great recreation for my mind. It loosens the grip of tightly held assumptions and in that sense is mind-expanding in much the same way that meditation is.

In working on this post on and off throughout the day, I ended up Googling “value of philosophy” and found the following from Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy. It was fascinating to find in the last sentences a description which could just as easily have been about meditation (in bold type):

“Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

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?

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