Anyone can meditate. Everyone should meditate. But what IS Meditation?
- continuous and profound contemplation or musing on a subject or series of subjects of a deep or abstruse nature; "the habit of meditation is the ...(religion) contemplation of spiritual matters (usually on religious or philosophical subjects)
- Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of meditation techniques that develop mindfulness, concentration, tranquility and insight. Core meditation techniques are preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through the millennia of teacher-student transmissions.
Well, there you have the LITERAL definitions. But I 'aint no LITERAL blogger-writer OR teacher (former). I am just a little bit different, just a little more REAL as I would like to put it. As a Yoga and meditation instructor, I tend to be really laid back. I hear ya all you serious sages, teachers and monks out there, but that is not how I, personally, pass along the goods.
I will teach you the intense forms. I will teach you the simple forms. And then I will tell you to use your gut and do what feels right to you. If it feels like you need to follow the strict and severe guidelines of a very established and ancient art taught to you by your most favorite swami or guru of all time, then by all means, do that! But do not do it because someone told you it was the only way, no other way, you will be wrong if you deviate. Psh. Whatever. Learn all you can. Then make the decision to meditate how you see fit with the information you have been blessed with. It is better to meditate and/or practice Yoga with little to no confidence and accuracy than to not do so at all, says I. I know some seasoned teachers out there are probably gasping at me saying that. But! I had a very wise Yoga instructor tell me once, that sometimes rather than correcting a student's improper form (within the realm of safety and preventing serious injury), you just have to have faith in the student's inner voice and dialog to KNOW when a knee, ankle or breath does not feel right, and let them correct themselves. This was invaluable advice. After many Trikonasanas (Triangle poses) in a Yoga practice, eventually one day the beginning student will feel something they need to adjust and teach themselves to unfold into their divine perfect alignment. It is different for each, but we, as teachers, should have faith in the student. Of course teachers are necessary. Of course correction and adjustments are valued and important. But there is something beautiful about having blind faith in the beginner and letting them go and believing they will feel the magic that you know is imminent. That is called believing in the Divinity that connects us all. Well to all you beginners or novice meditators, meditation is the essence of this, I have to tell you. You have to do a great deal of work on your own.
I will include my favorite meditation books, DVDs and authors at the end of this blog. But really the best way to get good at meditating is not in an Ashram, Yoga studio, Buddhist temple, on a cold-scary-mountain-top-miles-from-the-park-rangers or in church. No, the best way is regularly practicing, often and in your own, current environment-right where you find yourself living this very day. I have meditated while holding onto Egyptian Healing Rods and with everyone from the most famous Yoga instructors to a meditation-expert Swami from India in the hopes that I would feel a seeping of their good juju come into me or I might absorb meditation tricks from their very presence. Well, maybe this works for some people, but it did not for me. I have heard stories where people feel like they can go into a deep meditative state just from being in a certain location or part of a certain group. I do not doubt that! Good for y'all! And I do believe in feeling shared energy and it can be a beautiful thing. But the best way to get good at meditating and to slip into a deep, miraculous meditation in a really peaceful way, is to practice daily, all by yourself, alone in a typical setting for you. I do like to steer clear of printers, computers, copy machines, electromagnetic static-y things, just for the sake of peace and clarity. But if you live next door to a fire house with regular alarms or in a busy city with honking and banging construction, or near a loud and bustling coffee house or whatever, still meditate!!! Right there. Right in that home of yours filled with dishes or dirty laundry. If you feel the need to set up an altar or sacred space of some kind, that is great. More power to you. But with my lifestyle and house, it is not really an option for me. I let that idea hold me back for many years. "But I don't have a beach, or privacy, or a sacred space in my home, or a favorite Yoga studio in this town, or a great teacher, or whatever......so I just wont do it for now"....I would think. When, the whole time, I just should have been meditating....anywhere and everywhere. And that is what I do now. As I travel, as I move constantly, as I put off cleaning for yet another day....now, I ALWAYS meditate.
Why? Well anyone can google the benefits of meditation but, for me:
-It gives me patience where I lack patience, which is pretty much in all areas that one could acquire patience in one's life.
-It keeps my temper down (and you don't want to see the potential of my temper, it AINT a purty thang)
-It makes me a better Mom
-It makes me a better Mom
-It prevents anxiety
-It improves my Yoga practice
-It gives me problem solving skills and better mental clarity
-It prevents the stomach ulcers I am sensitive to
-It keeps my weight down
-It improves circulation
-It helps me sleep better at night
-It keeps the wrinkles at bay and keeps my face looking young
-It calms and slows my nervous system
-It helps bring oxygen to my blood and brain preventing depression and varicose veins, etc.
-It inspires me and brings me great ideas for art and compassion
-The benefits list is endless, really
Many years ago, my sister had her neighbor and a friend over to her home and they asked me about meditation. One of the girls asked me, "what does it feel like when you are in a meditative state?" So I felt it in my mind and tried to explain it in terms easiest to understand. I explained, when I finally get into a deep state, I feel like my limbs, arms, legs, neck and head are really far away. For me it really feels like you are all heart, or only heart. Sometimes the only sensation or thing I can feel is my center, my gut, stomach and heart area. Other times, I feel like I am just about to disappear completely. But this is not in a negative way, not like I am becoming a void or floating into nothing-ness. Rather, I feel like I am becoming a part of everything. Dissolving into unity and becoming a part of the magic that is this world.
To quote a famous and favorite teacher of mine Paul Grilley (who quoted his favorite teachers), he speaks about the fact that no one, no doctor or scientist to this day can explain why muscle that is ripped, regenerates. No one so far can explain why a piece of connective tissue or muscle in the human body that either gets injured with a tear or ripped at the gym not only heals itself over a short amount of time, but gets stronger in the process. What is the source of this power? Paul believes this is Chi. In India they call it Prana. In Japan they call it Ki. In China they call it Chi. We have no name for it in American medicine. This is the life force energy that is all around us and within us. It is the Yin/Yang of nature. The reason for Thunderstorms, rainbows and blades of grass that break through concrete to reach the sun light. It can be felt and controlled, if only we open up to it. Meditating gives me a chance to have a conversation with Chi. And this improves my life.
The other day I was meditating. I was reflecting on one of the exercises my Yoga instructor who certified me, taught me. He taught us several kinds of meditation techniques. The one I speak of now is the simplest, most ancient way to meditate. It is known by many as the oldest practice of meditation. It is a technique called: 'Just Sit.' How lovely. You mean I don't need to pay bills, buy groceries, wipe poop off butts, mow the lawn, go to work or sit in a traffic jam right now? Nope. All you need to do right now is JUST SIT. So there are many mantras or scripted sayings, prayers or songs that can help people clear their mind when going to sit for a meditation. This one, 'just sit,' is the most simple and eloquent of all. While you go to meditate, inevitably THINGS start coming up. Many have called it "the monkey mind." Your grocery list, who you have not sent thank you cards to, the exam you need to study for, the apology you never said, all the THINGS in your life you have sort of pushed or filed away, yea! they inevitably come right on up when you go to meditate, so be ready for that. And meditation is the art of DISTRACTION AND RETURN, DISTRACTION AND RETURN, DISTRACTION AND RETURN, DISTRACTION AND...you get the drift. So each time a distraction comes up, you repeat your simple mantra over and over and over: just sit.......just sit....just sit.........and so on. So the other day I was ....just sitting, and a beautiful realization came into my brain.
There is a book called Be Here Now, by, Ram Dass, my main squeeze. I love this man. He rocks. I got this book of his at my Yoga certification. It is a crazy book! It is filled with drawings and blurbs and mantras and whatnot that Ram Dass had come up with while studying alongside his guru in India some 40 years ago. Be Here Now was one of his first published books. He was one of the first Americans to bring mindful meditation to this country and Yoga, etc. On the cover if this book is a curious illustration and I never knew what it meant. It might seem obvious to some, but it always baffled me. It is a picture of a chair and a mystic diagram behind it. I always thought it was some mysterious symbol I would never really know the true meaning of, heck half of the book seems that way to me as well! This simple kitchen chair, I always wrote it off and ignored it really. And in my meditation the other day, it hit me. Just sit. That is ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW! Meditation. A simple chair, it unlocks the key to the Universe. It really is the key to a happy life! When nothing else is there, we always have our minds. Even when a person is paralyzed from the neck down, they are still HERE. Their mind is here, so their presence and energy is very much still here. They, along with each one of us has the power to do anything, as long as we properly use our minds. So we must take care of our minds. And how? I will tell you: with a regular meditation practice.
Where to start? Sure, classes and instructors are good. Yoga is great. But you need not seek anywhere outside to get going immediately. All you need is 3-5 minutes per day to yourself to begin. And remember, the breath and your focus on it, sets you free, it is the only tool you need. The breath sets you free when you are monkey-brained, trying and frustrated in meditation, or when you feel fear or loss, and the like. The breath is our involuntary gift of life, of rhythm, of patience and flow. Follow it, it is a tool that costs nothing.
I could write 2,000 blogs on meditation techniques, but this one is just to get you going. Some teachers say you need to sit on the floor, cross legged, and DO NOT MOVE. Do not move even if a mosquito lands on your cheek or a hurricane comes to your window. DO NOT MOVE while you are practicing. And while there is a huge power in that stillness and discipline, it is not a great way for a beginner to get started, in my opinion. Sit in a comfy chair, couch or on the floor with or without a bolster or pillow under your hips, legs crossed or straight (for some people it is not possible to sit with crossed legs and that is perfectly OK). Crossed legs are good, only if possible, as they lock you into stillness. The practice of Yoga (it is thought) was created for blood circulation aid, just so monks could stay in meditative positions for longer without their legs falling asleep. Any way you sit, make sure to be with your spine straight, shoulders down and as relaxed as possible around this posture. Relax your entire face and head. Relax your belly. Have your arms rather straight and hands resting on thighs, palms face down to ground you, or palms face up to receive stillness and peace, whichever feels best for you that day, that moment. Then close your eyes. There are open eyed meditation techniques, shoot, there are moving meditation techniques, but this is not discussed here. So! Eyes lightly closed and turn your mind inward and do (with patience and ease to yourself) try to stay as still as possible. Follow your involuntary (NOT controlled or forced) breathing. In, and out. Up, and down. Out and in. Expand, and shallow. Breathe peace in. Breathe out tension and release out anything that you wish to let go of and offer to the air outside of and around you. Start there. As simple as that.
3-5 minutes a day. It CAN and WILL change your life. Promise ;)
To build from there, add time on each day, slowly. Buy books, DVDs, learn deeper, longer techniques. Unfold in the the amazing kaleidoscope of magic this practice will bring. I had about a 3-round (friendly) argument one day, with one of my Yoga teachers about; if you can meditate while laying down, or not. Jury is still out in my opinion. BUT, It is best to be sitting, more alert, but DO WHAT WORKS for you NOW. Get started. Feel better, no matter what. Imagine your self as you dream to be, meditate on that image. It will become your reality. Remember that frustrations definitely will arise. Just look at those obstacles as gifts to bring you into a deeper, more evolved state of peace and well being. And as always, there is more info to come on this subject, so check back often :)
In loving honor of all my readers and students,
Suggested meditation references:
Meditation Books by, Ram Dass
Meditation DVD by, Paul Grilley
Meditaiton DVD by, Rodney Yee