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?

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.

Gratitude Guided Meditation Podcast

February 22, 2008

Gratitude is the highest, most fulfilling, emotion we can feel.  Yet so often we’re focused on what we don’t have, what we want to be different, what we think is wrong rather than on what we can be grateful for. There’s nothing wrong with that — it’s human nature — it happens to all of us. Yet most of us would certainly prefer to feel grateful.

When feeling grateful is so rewarding, what can we do to feel it more often? We can’t manufacture gratitude. It comes on its own. But we can give it more opportunity to appear in our lives, simply by taking time to focus on what is good in our lives, to “count our blessings”.

I feel it’s important, however, not to get caught up in the feeling that we should be grateful. There’s nothing we should feel. Gratitude has become a hot topic among spiritual seekers and often when something is seen to be spiritual, it starts to get associated with being virtuous, or being a good person. I’m not interested in gratitude because it somehow makes one a good person, or because I feel we need to learn to feel only positive emotions. I’m interested in gratitude because it uplifts our spirits and feeds our hearts.

I make this point because when I led a gratitude meditation with my local guided meditation group, it wasn’t until I gave them permission not to feel grateful that they were able to relax and have a genuine experience of gratitude arise. As you listen to the Gratitude Guided Meditation podcast episode, be easy with it. If you don’t feel grateful at times while you are listening, let that be OK. Don’t try to make yourself feel anything. Next time you listen, the experience will be different, or you might find that feelings of gratitude surprise you later on during the day. The meditation is simply designed to give you an opportunity to feel gratitude by taking the time to focus on the things in your life you are thankful for. We’re just giving gratitude a chance to come up naturally. Chances are you will at least feel moments of gratitude during the meditation, and when you do, let yourself sink into that feeling. Notice the details of the experience of gratitude — how it feels in your body, how your energy feels. Let it permeate your whole being when it comes up.

We hope you enjoy this meditation, and would love to hear about your experience with the meditation and with gratitude in your lives.

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.

What is my philosophy and background? Part 1– Keeping it universal.

February 15, 2008

“Erica” asked a the following question today on the About page of this blog.

“I am wondering if your style of meditation is rooted in any specific philosophy. I have had an interest in Buddhist Vipassana meditation (Insight Meditation) for several years. I seem to hear many of the same principles in your meditations and on your website. Could you share a little more about the origins of your meditations and life outlook? Sorry, I know it’s kind of a big question… I’m just curious.”

I’ve hesitated to write much about my background and philosophy for a number of reasons. One reason is that I’m much more interested in people formulating their own philosophies and having their own unique journeys with the meditations than I am in having people focus on mine. Another reason is that I can’t really say I have a philosophy of life. I’m definitely interested in becoming more alive and more at peace, but when I try to put that journey into words, the words can be misleading. In addition, my philosophy of life, if I have one, is constantly evolving. What I might say today is not what I might say tomorrow…

As for my background, it’s something that happened in the past. True meditation is a fresh, new experience. It is influenced by everything one has done and studied before, but it’s always an opportunity for a new discovery. If I look to the past, I may limit what can happen now and my desire is to become increasingly present to the here and now. I try not to limit myself or anyone else by the past.

I also hesitate to be really specific about my background because I want to leave the door open to anyone who may resonate with the meditations I create. In truth, my background has exposed me to many teachers and teachings, but what I have discovered is that there are common elements among different teachings and those elements that are universal seem the most useful and “true”. For me the experience of meditation is what is important, not the ideas about it and philosophies. What is fascinating to me is how different people can have such different insights and results from the meditations. What we get from meditation or a teacher is based more on our own process and intentions than it is on what is put forth by the teacher.

Erica did ask me to share something about my background and philosophy, however, and we do learn something from hearing each others’ journeys and experiences. So now that I’ve told you some of the reasons I like to avoid talking about these things, I think I’ll go ahead with Part 2 of this post and get a bit more “up close and personal”. Thanks for asking, Erica!

Gratitude

October 18, 2007

This morning I spoke with a man who called from London (UK) to express his gratitude for my guided meditations.  Our local meditation group had just left and I was already feeling quite mellow, but the phone call brought me to a deep state of love and gratitude that has remained with me all day.  I was so deeply touched as he related how much our podcast and CDs have helped him.  As he spoke, I felt such gratitude that this is happening in my life, that in some mysterious way people receive the same grace from me that I have received from so many teachers and others through the years.  It could just as easily have been me thanking him for how much he has enriched my life.

When I sit with my meditation group or to record a meditation, I enter into a meditative state and speak from that place.  It seems that those who resonate with my meditations are somehow brought into that state with me.  Today on the phone, it felt as if the gratitude my caller was expressing was my own.  What a gift to be brought into that state of gratitude!  Gratitude is said to be the “highest” possible emotion we can experience.  To me, it is an experience of love — not the emotion of love but of the very essence of life itself.  There’s no way to describe or understand intellectually what gratitude is, but when we have the good fortune to feel it, it’s good to dwell in it and allow it to nourish our spirits.

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.

Letting Go Meditation Podcast

August 10, 2007

Someone found this blog by searching on “letting go meditation”. Letting go is an essential element of all of our meditations. While many of them have a focus, such as the breath or awareness of the body, the focus always occurs on a background of letting go, so it made sense to do a meditation with this theme. Even though it’s a variation on other themes I’ve used, such as “simply being”, each theme gives us a slightly different angle and allows us to refine our meditation experience.

Letting go has to do with allowing whatever happens to happen. It has to do with not resisting thoughts, noise, emotions, sensations — not resisting anything. It gets tricky, though, when we try to allow things to happen. If we are in meditation with the intention to allow, chances are we will be manipulating our experience in some way. Everything will be buffered through the filter of the idea of allowing. It’s more a matter of noticing when we are resisting what is happening or trying to manipulate our experience in some way. When resistance or manipulation is noticed, it can be let go of quite naturally.

The value of guided meditation is that it can allow us to let go more, because we don’t so much have the sense that we are steering the process. It can allow us to relax more into the meditative state. Of course, guided meditations can have many different styles and approaches, so I am speaking about my own. Hopefully once you’ve used these meditations for awhile, you will be able to enter into a similar process on your own. If you are meditating on your own, you can always go back to the guided meditations anytime if meditation has become difficult and you need a refresher.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with meditation. Please feel free to comment on the blog!

Grounding Meditation

July 12, 2007

When I hear my husband saying “earth to Mary”, it’s a sure sign I’m not grounded. It’s such a perfect phrase — “earth to…”. Being grounded has to do with our connection to the earth and to our own physical existence. When we are grounded our attention is focused on the here and now. Our minds are coordinated with our bodies. We are more balanced, less likely to make mistakes and have accidents.

There are lots of ways to get grounded. If you’ve become ungrounded because your are over-stimulated and your mind is scattered from multi-tasking and the general fast place of life, unplugging from your computer, TV, cell phone can help. Spending some time in silence helps the mind settle down and brings you back into your body. Time in nature paying attention to the sensations, sights and sounds also helps reconnect us to our bodies and the earth.

For those who are ungrounded because of too much meditation (which makes you feel “spacey”), focused activity can be a great antidote. Doing sudoku or crossword puzzles or something that requires that kind of mental concentration can quickly make the mind more focused. Doing some physical work or household tasks carefully and with full attention also helps.

There are many kinds of grounding meditations and visualizations. One very common one involves imagining your feet growing roots into the earth. Another involves visualizing a line dropping from your tailbone (or root chakra or tan tien in the lower abdomen) straight down into the earth and anchoring it.

We’ve just added a podcast episode which helps you ground by focusing your awareness on the lower body, feet and sensing your connection to the earth. Once you’ve done this process a number of times, you will be able to repeat the process automatically when needed.

What helps you to ground?

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