Monday, November 3, 2014
Those Things You Pick Up After Years of Meditating
There's something I haven't tried yet, meditating inside a gigantic bell! Totally taking a trip to Burma now.
Google how to meditate and you'll find hundreds of sites describing meditation 101. It's usually something along the lines of sitting up straight, following the breath or belly. Those methods are just fine for the average person and will get you started.
I have been meditating using different methods for over a decade and I have found that time and again, the basic descriptions of how to meditate always fell short of truly helping me to meditate effectively. I've spent hours and whole day long meditation retreats in my head.
Such is the power of our normal state of consciousness to sabotage any practice that would take us somewhere else.
I persevered through years of frustration, always keeping to my practice despite mediocre meditation sessions 9/10 times. I went through periods where I stopped meditating and stuck to my other practices such as bodywork and Focusing along with some Gestalt awareness techniques.
What kept me returning to meditating was finding a new angle, a new method of it and experimenting with it. Eventually I let go of the standard teachings on how to meditate and began to figure it out myself.
Through my endless tweaking and experiments I have figured out several things about meditating that are not usually taught or well emphasized, which made a universe of difference to me.
The first thing is that you must figure out what works for you:
Everyone is different, we all have different minds, different emotional histories, different drives and motivations. Some of us may be drawn to more spiritual or religious forms of meditation while others keep it secular.
You'll eventually find an approach or tradition that clicks. Many of us including myself have forced ourselves into boxes, thinking that we have to meditate a certain way or follow a certain path. Let your felt sense of what works guide you. You'll know when/if meditation works and which approach that is.
Next, the body is essential in any form of meditation:
So many approaches and teachers emphasize stopping or wrestling with thoughts. If we can just let go of our thoughts and beliefs we'll be free, or enlightened or whatever goal is taught.
I disagree. Yes meditation gives us space away from habitual thinking until we are much less moved by the mind, it is just one degree of awareness. Beliefs go much much deeper than what can be verbally stated. I believe that beliefs are in the body just as much as the mind.
Furthermore, our mental/emotional history is just as much in the body as in the mind. Fritz Perls even stated in one of his books that the unconscious is stored in the body. Well, it's in both.
I found new levels of experience when I included the body sensation in my practice. If you think about it, all we truly know for an existential fact is our outward senses and perceptions and our inward sense of our body. It may take a lot of meditating for some people to understand this last point.
When you sit with the body, you are significantly more anchored in reality, which is all meditation is truly about. Then, what is repressed in the body can eventually come up to be processed.
A meditation practice should be one in which you can never pin down. Every time you sit, is a growth of practice. You are always learning how to come to a deeper meditation session on a more and more consistent basis.
It took me 5-6 years to finally forget how I was supposed to meditate, begin from scratch and tweak my practice from the feedback I received from it.
That's what learning, is: making mistakes and tweaking behavior from there. Unfortunately, the modern education system does not let one make mistakes...
Find an Induction:
I don't meditate nearly as much as I used to. Maybe 20-30 minutes a day. So I need to be able to get into a meditation state quickly and consistently. What I have found is that some sort of small ritual or focus on intention can help a transition away from everyday consciousness to a focused state.
Someone with a more theistic bent may pray, others may take deep breaths, or chant, or do a few yoga stretches, light candles or incense, or anything else.
Meditation is about an altered state:
Having come from a Zen tradition originally, it was de-emphasized to me that meditating was about reaching an altered state. It was more about being in a sober state of awareness.
Because of this belief, I did not work to stop thinking or keep to a focused, deep state of consciousness. Most of the time, my attention was scattered and I would compulsively go into my head (which is my default place to be).
It has dawned on my recently that any practice of change creates an altered state of consciousness. An altered state is more than being in a deep hypnotic trance, LSD trip, or being drunk, they can be extremely subtle.
In therapy sessions, deep emotional work tends to create significantly altered states. Just guiding a person to listen inwardly to the felt sense in their body about the issue can lead to almost hypnotic like states. Once I led a client through a session on working with parts, or subpersonalities. When she opened her eyes out of it, it was like I was a hypnotist waking a client up out of a deep session. I didn't mean to induce any type of state and I am not a hypnotist!
I have heard it said that a person can meditate indefinitely and never come to the altered brain patterns that is required for meditating. They would essentially be in their head a normal but think that they are meditating because they're in the right posture and their eyes are closed and they're somewhat aware of the breath.
I have heard of people using biofeedback to assist meditators in learning what that (alpha, delta, theta?) correct brain pattern feels like. It's very easy for us to deceive ourselves.
Meditation DOES NOT cure all psychological ills:
When I began intensely meditating I experienced a seam of pain which seemed to go down my entire front, as if I was one of those cadavers who've just been through an autopsy in a crime show. It was a preconscious emotional pain that made me almost double over. But after some time it was gone.
Many things came up and were processed throughout the years, especially with my focus on the sensation of the body and emotions. But it is a grave fallacy to assume that meditation is the magic bullet for all psychological problems. Many gurus out there speak of being able to transcend one's psychological ego self.
I call this "the view from the top." It may seem in theory that with enough meditation, almost any psychological problem will eventually come up. But this is not the case in reality. There is much that can only be dealt with by working with another person. Many problems and issues also require a more active approach to overcome.
Many seekers who depend on meditation and spiritual methods in general to heal their psycho-emotive problems end up with it all further repressed and pushed to the unconscious. Much of the time the solution isn't to rise above a problem but go through it, or work through it.
Meditation is an essential element in healing and growth but it is not at all a magic bullet.
Learn to get into the meditative state by relaxing the body:
What I mean by this is that when you first sit, take a moment to sense the body and to consciously let every muscle relax except for those that keep you upright.
Throughout our day we subconsciously keep many muscles tense, such as the small muscles of the face and shoulders. When we can relax out of these habitual tensions, we can enter the right state much quicker.
I tend to breathe and on my long outbreaths, I let my body relax and sink while keeping myself straight. I also search around for tense places and bring the intention for that part of my body to relax. It really can work wonders.
Bring awareness to yourself and your perceptions throughout your day:
Meditation doesn't "take" if you focus on awareness only when sitting. There should be a practice of being aware of your present reality throughout your day.
Who are you around? What are you doing? What are you feeling? What are you thinking? What habits of character are you re-enacting?
Make the effort to observe yourself without trying to change your experience. It doesn't have to be every second of your day (I've made this mistake), just simply catch yourself and bring your awareness to the moment, both inside your body sensation and outward on your context.
I hope that you can take something from this. I'm always learning more subtle ways of meditating better. I attempt for every day but don't worry if I miss a day. A practice should be able to fit with your life and enhance it rather than being a chore. That's a big red flag when it becomes a chore.