Thursday, 26 September 2013

Meditation - It's Not What You Think It Is

Buddhist Man Meditating

Over 10 years ago I started to meditate for the first time, as a part of a group. We sat on chairs in a circle, and were taken through a guided meditation. It was lovely, very serene, and we were taken into a magical landscape inside our imagination. I left relaxed, peaceful and serene. But, this is not the real purpose of meditation to me. That is, meditation that gives you tools you can take out into every day life.

Until this year I was led to believe meditation was something I did to bring me peace of mind, a welcome relief from daily life stresses and for some it is, but real meditation is hard, challenging and takes real commitment. To me meditation was a way to escape.

What Is Not Meditation?


The above interpretations of meditation are very nice and pleasant, but if you want to learn self acceptance, self compassion and to love who you are you may want to consider the following regarding meditation.

  1. It is not something you do to silence the thoughts.
  2. It is not something you do to bring peace.
  3. It is not something you do to reach enlightenment or experience bliss.
  4. It is not something you do to become psychic.
  5. It is not something you do where you visualise a future dream or goal.
  6. It is not positive thinking.
  7. It is not an escape from every day life.
Some of the groups I was part of used meditation to awaken people psychically. The problem with this is that the human ego gets attached to these things. Interacting with guides and angels, receiving outstanding information to share with the world. In Buddhist practices if bliss, joy or psychic experiences occur, you just continue meditating. They are similar to thoughts in that they are like cloud formations passing overhead, nothing for you to attach yourself to. It is something you can get stuck in where you don't go beyond that general escape.

You Meditate WITHOUT Expectations


I know how easy it is to meditate hoping and wishing for a particular experience. I did this for a very long time. Those moments when I saw images and had a visually amazing experience, I kept trying to repeat, but of course this can't be done. Meditation is a moment-by-moment experience. If you feel crap, stressed or depressed, you don't meditate to feel better. I know... this can't be... makes no sense huh? Well nonetheless it's true. You meditate to be with those feelings, to embrace them in the moment, because otherwise you're simply avoiding them until the next time.

What Is Meditation?


So meditation begins very simply.

Sitting, eyes closed (or open focused on one un-moving point in the room), begin by observing your breath. No need to deep breathe or do some kind of yogic breathing; its all about being natural here, being you in the moment. You sit feeling the breath go in and out of your lungs, or your mouth or anywhere you feel it the most. After a few moments your monkey mind (the chatterbox inside) will start (if it hasn't already). In the beginning the monkey mind is super loud and very busy. It will tell you 'you're bored', 'you feel stiff', your knees hurt', 'your nose itches','what you are having for dinner', 'what you need to do after meditation', 'what you need to plan in a conversation you are having in an imaginary future'. It will project worrying thoughts into the future, and if you are depressed it will project thoughts into your past comparing you with others. It will project fear, anger, sadness... the whole range of human emotions, judgements and thoughts.

Most of the time your mind is like this, 24/7 (not so much when you sleep), but you are unaware of this internal chatter, as you are often distracted by life's goings on. So initially you may want to just do 5 minutes sitting meditation and gradually increase it over the coming weeks.

So you sit, you breathe and you watch your thoughts. Sounds really simple and easy doesn't it? It's not! (smile). Your ego will want to engage you in countless dramas, take you in circles. But over time you will begin to realise that you are not your thoughts, that you are the observer of your thoughts, you are so much more than the thinking that is taking place.

Labelling Thoughts In The Monkey Mind


Man Screaming Monkey Mind


Jon-Kabat-Zinn introduced me to labelling thoughts and I find it so helpful. He recommended labelling each thought that comes up during meditation. After several months of doing this I now see how many of the same thoughts (wrapped up in different packages) are rattling through the mind. Most playing on a loop. By labelling the thoughts as they come up, and not engaging with them, you begin to see a pattern and realise they are tapes that have been on re-play for a very long time.

The labels I currently use are:

'Critical Mind' - Includes judgements of myself and others.
'Fearful Mind' - Includes anxiety feelings, thoughts.
'Worrying Mind' - Thinking and worrying about the future and what needs to be done (this is a powerful one for me).
'Memory Mind' - Thinking about the past and comparing it with the now, often in a sad way.
'Angry Mind' - Anger at self and others.
'Sad Mind' - Feelings of sadness, this does not necessarily mean thoughts but feelings too.
'Thinking Mind' - Any random thoughts popping up.

Feelings And Thoughts


When meditating, just sitting watching essentially your inner world, you may feel anxiety, sadness in your belly, heart or throat. And you may not be aware of any thoughts coming up. This is okay. There are often thoughts happening, just deeper thoughts beneath the surface. It could be some repressed hurt, pain or memories playing that you don't need to know the details of right now.

So when this happens still label:

'Welcome.. fearful mind'  'Welcome... sad mind'

I say welcome because it feels a soft gentle feeling inside. No resistance and no pushing away. Ordinary meditation (guided) is often used to distract us from the 'negative' or the monkey mind, but in the long run this does not make a difference to a person's life. It's like taking a bath once a week, it's nice, warm and comforting but it does not allow the real feelings to be embraced.

We could do a guided meditation for example, leave the meditation space and be overwhelmed with anxiety about something or anger towards someone. Real meditation practice gives you real tools you can carry over into day-to-day living.

Life Is Meditation


As you become more committed to daily meditation, you can carry over this experience into everything you do. I am not great at this yet. I am learning day-by-day to be more mindful. You can drink tea, wash dishes, clean your home, walk, all in a meditative way. Being fully present with your feelings, the ground beneath your feet, the soap suds in your hands, the vacuum cleaner sound, anything you do can become a part of your practice.

This is where genuine meditation practice becomes a real way to live a compassionate life. We are being present here - now, with what is here. No escapes, no distracting, simply being with you - all of you.

Are You Ready To Face Your Inner World?



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