Meditation – 6 Questions

Who? What? Where? Why? When? & How?

WHO? is easy…. it’s YOU! There. Step 1 complete.

WHAT? is meditation, of course; but this is not so easy because even the word “meditation” means different things to different people. Definitions include:

Merriam Webster:

  • to engage in contemplation or reflection
  • to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.

Wikipedia:

“Scholars have found meditation difficult to define, as practices vary both between traditions and within them.”

The list and variations could go on and on, but this only complicates the issue. We shall return to this in the HOW section.

WHERE? is also easy. Wherever you are. You could be sitting, standing, lying down. All you need is your presence. How to get to “presence” is where the “what” and “how” both come in. What meditation practice will you choose? How does one best meditate? Again, hold on… we’ll get to that.

Find someplace soothing, even if it’s only in your imagination.

WHEN? has a cute answer, which is, of course, NOW. The real answer is whenever you can. But practically speaking, it’s a good idea to build it into your schedule at a regular time—a time of day or even time of week —) if once a week is all you can manage) when you aren’t crazy busy, or when you aren’t most stressed. We each have natural rhythms. Find yours.

WHY? The health benefits of meditation and meditative techniques are evidence based and well documented. They include:

The list could go on and on to include productivity, creativity, prevention of disease, etc. etc. So, assuming you are already convinced that meditation is worthwhile, let’s get on with the HOW.

HOW? Here are some suggestions until you figure out what’s easiest and best for you. Lots of people, as discussed in last month’s blog, have a hard time turning off their thoughts. So what’s a person to do?

Make it up if you have to. That’s what I do. Don’t think there’s a “right way” to do it. Be easy on yourself. Practice self-kindness. Take it slowly—a few minutes a day; and if you can’t manage every day, that’s OK too. Just start. Take tiny baby steps. You can time yourself of not. This is your meditation. I usually do my “meditating” sitting down. I tell myself that the everyday, temporal me has done all the thinking necessary for one day.

Then I wait for the “bigger” me, the one that lives in my sub-conscious or super-conscious or perhaps permeates the cosmos, that connected-to-all-that-is-Self to take over. In other words, I “let go and let God.”

I get really, really quiet and show up to whatever state that follows.

I push a  mental button to switch off my everyday, taking-care-of-business thoughts

Sometimes I start by consciously breathing deeply, with long inhale, a short holding of the in-breath, long exhale, and then short holding of the out-breath. Sometimes I hum or tone. There is some evidence that toning is even more effective than meditating.

You can try a scanning technique. Close your eyes and look into your body. Find the tense places and imagine that you are soothing, massaging them. Imagine your body as filled with warm sand, or bright light, or beautiful waves of water. You may prefer to breathe naturally. An infant knows how to breathe without effort. Follow your breathing. Breathe in your favorite incense or diffuse essential oil. Listen to meditative music. Doodle if you are restless and must keep busy. The possibilities for relaxing are endless. You need to relax first so you can enter the meditative state.

Choose your favorite incense. Or gaze at a candle.

Use biofeedback equipment if you must.

Read books, watch videos, or listen to podcasts about different kinds of meditation and try out one that attracts you. This is not unlike trying on new shoes. If it’s comfortable continue. If not, try something else.

Use basic “mindfulness”. Take one step back from your thoughts and just watch them as if they are clouds floating by. If you get “caught” into a thought, as soon as you realize this, go back to a distance from it. IF you catch yourself completely drifting away, call yourself back to the present moment.

Walking meditation. With each step, breathe. You might want to think, “Here I am now.” Every now and then stand still for a moment. Open your senses to the colors, sounds, movement of the air, the clouds, aromas. Take another step. “Here I am now.”

Some people need a mantra. You don’t need someone to create one for you. Create your own. Make is simple. For years I have repeated to myself, “Thank you.” – or “Thank you God.” To keep myself awake, I sometimes count my mantra, “Thank you 1, thank you 2, thank you 3…..”

You could sit with palms open. Imagine that one hand is giving up to the cosmos all that you have experienced, much as a fragrant flower gives its aroma to its surroundings, without effort. With the other hand, receive all that the cosmos has to offer, just as the flower receives the air, the wind, the rain and the sun.

Be present – a present – to yourself. Enjoy the silence of being just you. If you find something new that works really well, please share that with my readers.

BLESSINGS.

Gratitude to pexels.com for royalty free photos.

Thinking as Spiritual Activity

“Our brain is a spiritual instrument and the science of spirituality is the textbook of how to properly play it.”

Melvin Morse, M.D.
MONKEY MIND

Meditation is a way to stop the “monkey mind” (a Buddhist term for uncontrolled and confused thinking) and to learn how to “properly play” this great “spiritual instrument”: the brain. But, many people struggle with meditation (and its many forms) because if they try to stop thinking they crave thinking even more. Thinking then takes them over. Thinking controls them and not the other way around.

When we attempt to exert conscious control, a subconscious horde of arguments rise up fighting our resolve. This is why New Year’s resolutions are usually so short-lived and ineffective. Sometimes resolutions and affirmations backfire and make the habit or pattern worse. You intend to go on a diet and exercise and almost immediately become tired and hungry, thinking of all the “wrong” foods you want to eat. The fact is the 5% of the conscious identity is fighting the 95% subconscious, unconscious self that directs and thrives on repetitive thoughts. The conscious, full-of-itself-self (ego) thinks it’s the CEO but ideally would be the  perfect Administrative Assistant to the wiser, healthier Higher Self. But the ego hates and fights that demotion.

ROTE THINKING

My philosophy professor at university called the constant, non-stop chatter that generally passes for thinking, “grocery list thinking.” I understood that he meant by this the repetitive, rote nature of thoughts that deal with everyday “taking care of business” and the thoughts that are a bunch of already-been-thought thoughts. What we call thinking is often just repetition of thoughts already thought over and over again until they become thought habits, thought patterns, and thought belief systems. Ultimately they become thought addictions. To not think these thoughts or to have someone challenge them is painful and can cause strongly adverse reactions such as hurt, denial, anger, argument, aggression, or internal stress.

When I realized that thinking is probably the addiction that underlies all other addictions, I had a “Eureka!” moment, only to stumble onto Eckhart Tolle addressing the same condition of addictive thinking.

Repetitive, out-of-control thinking is stressful and impairs life because it fails to listen to anything but itself. It’s the thing that keeps people awake at night and causes knots in the stomach.

Stressful Thinking

To remedy this common problem, spiritual teachers and healers have over thousands of years created techniques to calm and master thinking and gain awareness of other ways of being. Some techniques are designed to stop thoughts. Others, because it is so difficult to stop thinking, are designed instead to give distance from thoughts. Centering Prayer for example works by witnessing thoughts. An example would be, “I am worthless.” [implied statement of fact, but really a belief]. In Centering Prayer, one might witness the thought and think, “I am having a thought that I am worthless.” (This begs the question who is thinking and who is observing the thinking).

[Next blog: different kinds of mediation and the subconscious saboteur.]

In my last blog I said, “I do NOT think—Therefore I am Aware” (boldly taking on Descartes’ proclamation, “I think, therefore I am.”).

Am I saying that thinking has no value? Of course, I’m not saying that. Of course, thinking has value. It is, along with the opposable thumb, one of the great gifts of humanity. But thinking has been elevated to an importance that exceeds its purpose; and now what often passes for thinking has fallen into a state that often renders it far less valuable than intended because it lacks insight, creativity and wisdom, and is merely a “laundry list.”

As I stated in the last blog, we do not need to think in order to BE. We do need to BE in order to think. The higher value goes to BEING. When I switch off my workaday thinking and enter into the silence then the thinking that follows is fresh, new and creative. The empty mind is open to inspiration—to creative thought. The brain becomes then the spiritual instrument it was always intended to be.

Nature is a constant process of creation and destruction only to create again and destroy again–an exquisite cycle of being. Empty becomes full only to empty – over and over.

This ability to be in Silence and Stillness was made easy for me by a profound near-death experience when I was 27. During that experience I lost my identity as a temporal being (and consequently returned with partial amnesia). Admittedly, it left me ill-prepared for daily life. It took me years to remember words, personal biography and to be able to read and write again. The challenge also contained a gift. The gift that has remained is being able to be at one with all that is. Despite the practical necessity of a persona (which took me years to re-establish), I did not and I do not possess a spiritual, emotional or intellectual desire for a separate ego identity. My persona (ego) is an instrument that serves me.

Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (56)

In my “meditation” (which is really just showing up to Being) the result goes way beyond watching the thoughts drift by like clouds. My experience informs me that we are meant to transcend the clouds—the appearance of forms—to emptiness where Silence and Stillness resides, to Rumi’s field (see last blog). To say it another way, at the point between light and dark, true and false, good and bad, there is nothing to judge or interpret and therefore no need to think.

He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (24)