How to REALLY Meditate
Last night a fellow student approached me about meditation. He shared that he has been making the effort lately to sit, yet he couldn’t taste any results. My answer seemed quite helpful to him, so I thought I’d share it here.
It should be known that this is all based upon my experience, not based upon the words of some book. I had some deeply meditative periods of my life, and I thus I know the difference between “trying” to meditate, and “surrendering” into meditativeness. Let my years of groping and discovering be of benefit to you.
You Can’t Rush the Process
Meditation is not an activity, it is a state of expanded consciousness. Unlike an activity that can be rushed, the state of meditativeness takes time to develop.
A useful metaphor offered by a mediation teacher to me is that one’s presence is like a river. It takes many tributaries or streams to flow into a river to make it a great river. The conscious cultivation of presence, which is known as practice, delivers an additional stream to one’s presence. The more diligently and regularly we gift ourselves the opportunity to come to the now, the more water in our river.
So, if one wants to develop from their status as a stream to that of the mighty Mississippi, we can approach it like an engineer to understand the most efficient means to that end. And, if one is successful, then one day he/she might be given the grace of Existence and over flow beyond one’s banks, and experience the transpersonal states of nonduality.
What Does the Practice Need to Achieve?
Once you recognize that patient and regular practice is essential, then the natural question is which practice will deliver the most water into your river. The answer to this questions is complex, as the answers are as plentiful as there are people asking the question. However, there is a basic understanding that I’ve developed through my years of experimenting across the spectrum of practices that might help you in navigating this terrain.
Much of our initial stages of practice address our existing energy blockages. Our energy system has certain channels and patterns to it. These have been described as meridians (the energy pathways of TCM- Traditional Chinese Medicine) and the chakras (the seven wheel-like energy centers of the Hindu yoga system). Intertwined with these energy systems, and their related blockages, are the blockages of our mind and emotions.
The first stage of meditation is then spent on releasing these blockages. You can think of the blockages like a clogged artery, which becomes so encrusted with plaque that the blood cannot even flow through it. Or, you can do a similar visual, yet with the plumber’s pipes- a pipe that is so clogged with crud cannot be an effective delivery system.
If our inner pipes are all clear, then the natural energies of life flow through us unimpeded, and we live deeply in the present, totally calm and confident in our true nature, and meditation permeates every moment of our lives. This is the path to real joy. This is our natural state of being. We now live as cripples.
Types of Beginning Practices
How to unclog those blocked pipes ? There are several approaches, all of which, I deem, are worth exploring.
Relaxation Practices & Activities:
The first category of approaches can be lo0sely termed relaxation. Relaxation’s effect is that as the pipe itself relaxes, much like when you relax a tense muscle or your fists, there is an expansion that takes place. Within this expansion of the pipes comes the opportunity for the crud to dislodge and flow away. Without tension holding our pipes/channels tightly together, there is no gripping effect to hold our crud.
Relaxation approaches are many. And, they need not “look” meditative. A simple way of tapping into meditation is to lie down on your back, on a firm (not bed/sofa) surface. Place your right hand on your hara, the point just below your navel, and the left hand on your heart. Invite your attention to the body. Notice your weight of the body on the floor, notice your breath, be with the experience of the body in the moment. If your mind drifts into thought, see it, accept it, and move on… back to being mindful of the body. Always invite, not demand, the mind to take interest in the body. You’ll see find the movement and feeling of the body to be fascinating and comforting. Do this type of practice once or twice a day, for one hour per session (set a subtle alarm).
This practice can also be done in the sivasana, corpse pose, yoga position, which is the same, yet the arms and hands are at the side of the body. This can be done in total silence, or with soft, meditative music. My music of choice is Tom Kenyon’s Soma. It is an extraordinary three-stage album that lulls one into deep relaxation using beta/theta waves and masterful touches by this superb musicologist and spiritualist. I used to do this for 1-2 hours per day, and another practice Breema for 3-4 hours per day, and I was enveloped in grace.
More common techniques of relaxation, such as getting massage/bodywork, sitting in a sauna/steam room/hot tub, etc, are all of value. In addition, to really achieve the relaxation necessary to progress in meditation, one needs to bring this relaxedness into their daily life. “Don’t sweat the small stuff- and it is ALL small stuff,” needs to become the posture. Or, from a different angle, develop “an attitude of gratitude.” Don’t worry, don’t rush. Don’t be the type-A superhero that America so badly wants you to be. Be willing to disappoint others. Realize that you have “no where to go, no one to please,” that all is available in the “Here and Now.” That you are good enough just being you. That you have nothing to prove.
This relaxation stage of spiritual practice is usually the greatest stumbling block. It is easy enough to sit for 20 minutes a day for “Buddhist” meditation, but that is 100% worthless in my eyes and my experience, if the whole of one’s life doesn’t become a supporting force.
One practice that has helped me tremendously in this stage is Breema Bodywork. It is an approach to meditative mindfulness, to Being Present. In the bodywork itself, there is an opportunity to passively receive. And, Breema offers us the 9 Principles of Harmony which are directional principles. The direction is towards harmony, and the path to getting there is to drop all of the resistances and tensions that we habitually carry. The principles help unclog the pipes, so that we can be natural.
We’ve all heard that in Buddhism life is considered to be rooted in suffering. We only resist this notion so long as we escape our suffering through tricky methods. We avoid feeling by thinking, fantasizing, becoming dramatic, or watching dramas on the tube. We are masters of avoiding ourselves. Whether your drug of choice is booze or pot, Dungeons and Dragons or chess, movies or sports, we have mastered avoiding our experience in this moment.
If you want to face the suffering that you’ve been running from your entire life, then a great place to start is with Goenka’s Vipassana meditation. The introductory 10-day retreats are offered around the world, and throughout the ten days one must obey the codes of personal conduct that include no self-pleasuring and “noble silence.” Noble silence simply means that not only can you not talk, unless it is with the mediation leader in a private session, but you cannot touch or make eye contact with anyone.
I’ve done this 10-day meditation twice. If I remember correctly, it is about day 4 that people begin freaking out inside. When the whole outer world is silenced, and when you are constantly pointed away from your habitual escapes, you end up having to face the horrific monster of yourself. You’ll clearly see how insane your mind is, how addicted you are to thoughts, and how deeply uncomfortable your body is with its lifetime of built-up tensions.
The whole point of confronting your suffering is that by shining the light of consciousness on it, by seeing and accepting it, it will fall away. What keeps us in the dark is our fear to admit it. Once we see how deeply tense our minds, bodies, and feelings are, we have gather the strength to face them. Otherwise, we will live like the rest of America, if not humanity as a whole, like an ostrich with head in the ground, thinking that we are safe.
The 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, with the teachings, food, and housing, is by donation. It works on a pay-it-forward system. The advantage of this is that in your peak of suffering you won’t be blaming them for taking advantage of you.
Walking meditations, chi practices (tai chi, chi gung), yoga, sufi whirling, Gurdjieff movements, and Breema bodywork are some of the practices offering active components. Some people just do active practices, and think that it is complete. These people tend to be athletic types, and they avoid the necessary relaxation and feeling of one’s suffering that is necessary for the average person to transcend.
Active practices all directly approach “flow.” They get you moving in a non-mental way, so that without your mind’s involvement a deeper flow of energy can be achieved. Use these as supplements, but do not expect that they will fulfill all of your needs. If they seem like “all” to you, then you are avoiding a deeper level of feeling. Let these be your joy, not our ground.
These are active practices on steroids. They are intense, and totally push you beyond your comfort zone. These practices are spectacular in bursting through our repressions.
Repressions are like pipes that are totally closed. When someone reaches the extreme of total repression, their natural sex drive turns into a total condemnation of others sexuality. They begin to see sex as the work of the devil, and they deny that they have any sexual urges themselves. In some way they are being honest, as when the sexual pipeline is totally packed up with hardened crud, there is no sexual flow happening.
The belated spiritual teacher Osho offered the world some wonderful explosive practices. Some are stages within one hour meditations, so that their is cathartic release before their is spiritual surrender. Others are part of workshop “groups,” which are often multi-day experiences led by experienced group leaders. I’ll mention a couple of these that have lasting impressions on me.
Emotional Freedom, not to be confused with the more well-known Emotional Freedom Technique, is a group often led by Veet Mano. In this group, which I experienced many times and trained to be a group leader, the participants are led through stages of full-on emotional release. This includes anger, sadness, joy, laughing, and tapping into one’s sexual feelings. With padded walls, pillows to beat, loud music appropriate for each emotion, and very clear boundaries and directions, this safe, well-planned opportunity to tap into one’s emotions is priceless. Veet does an excellent job at detecting where people’s blockages are, and works with them verbally and using role-playing to better uncover and release the emotional crud.
At the end of the process, I truly felt emotionally free. I first tried this 15 years after I began mediating, and I was surprised how many pipes I had that were still clogged up with crud- emotional crud- much of which was rooted in my early childhood before my adult mind could understand why the world was as it is.
Other components of Osho meditations which have explosive effects include: acting out insanity in whatever way it comes out, doing gibberish and moving one’s body wildly simultaneously, and multiple approaches to screaming and shaking the body.
Not Starting With Intermediate Practices
There is this stereotypical guy in my head that we all want to avoid being. In this case he is a real estate developer, and he spends his days buying, building, and selling building. He makes a ton of money, and he feels like this reflects on his greatness. Then he decides to go chill out. He decided to tap into some zen-like calm. He heads to the Buddhist meditation center, and he walks in with the intent to master meditation in his first week or two. He wants it as another tool on his belt, another sign of his greatness.
But the sitting practice that he steps into is far beyond his capacity. He should be learning his ABCs, not trying to create poetry. So with all of his repressions and tensions, with the swirling of thoughts in his head, and his total disconnection to his body, he sets out in his ambitious endeavor.
Buddhist mediation centers are hotbeds of repression. Tread cautiously. There you will find people who are deeply familiar with spiritual texts, yet have limited, if any, spiritual experiences. Buddhism is not a style, it is not something to identify with. It is a practice pointing one deep within. If one isn’t ready for it, it’s like teaching poetry to a 2 year old.
The Buddha came from a different time and place. And, he didn’t have any 21st Century Western disciples. His words don’t necessary point to what we need in order to open. That is why modern teachers, such as Osho, have so much to offer. They can see our neurosis, they can see our sense of performance, they can see how we beat on ourselves for not being perfect, and then they can devise methods to supports us from where we are starting.
If you step into the world of Buddhism before you blow through your anger and other emotions, and before you move deeply into relaxation, I believe there is no other beneficial way than to jump into an extended retreat, like Vipassana, so that you really face the suffering fully upfront. Without that, it will be too easy to use your Buddhist practice and community as a crutch, as another tool of the ego to be better than others and to indirectly try to stop hating yourself.
The more you focus on cleaning those pipes, the more water will flow to your river. Eventually the water will continue to flow without even trying as the pipes will all be wide-open.
Relaxation has to be the core of your practice, as tense pipes will always squeeze in again and cause more blockages. Part of relaxing is the physical practice of stillness, and the other part is opening up your sense of self so that you don’t take yourself and life so seriously.
If you get disappointed rather than angry at situations, if you can’t release anger with the intensity of a ship’s horn, then you need to practice opening up that channel. If you can’t feel your disappointment with your parents, with the life, and most of all with how people treat each other, then your sadness is blocked, and you need to reopen that channel. If you can’t laugh without control or concern for how you look, if you can’t tap into total drunkenness on life, then your laughter is suppressed. Release your emotions and any other energy blockages so that you can be free and flowing.
The psycho-analytic term for the crud that is blocking the pipe is the shadow. It is the crud that our we fight to avoid seeing. A sign of psychological health is a willingness to see that crud. In seeing it, the releasing of it begins. If you ever have spoken with someone who is deftly defensive- someone with no desire, capacity, or availability to discuss their shortcomings- it is this crud in their channels that they are hiding from an crippled by simultaneously. A hallmark of these people is that they can’t laugh at themselves. This likely originates in their parental relations up until they were about four years of age.
So, before you jump into some deceptive sitting practice, go on a long retreat- 10 days minimum- so that you can get the grounding necessary to make strides on that path. The masters all say that one should never begin meditating alone because the ego is a master of deception.
You have to value peace: It takes an enormous commitment to simplifying your life in order to release the necessary stress for meditation to blossom. If you don’t have a burning desire for freedom, it won’t work, so don’t waste your time and the frustration of failure. If you are ready for meditation, you’ll need to cut off the voice of the other as much as possible. This includes disconnecting from the mass media. No tv, no newspapers, no web news. You’ll likely need to cut all entertainment, and stop using Facebook. You will need to take on the Breema principle of “no extra.” You are complete as you are, and nothing extra can make you more complete.
You might have to leave your current life: For centuries spiritual seekers went to the forests and mountains to find solitude and to connect to the natural rhythm of life. As spirituality became more organized, there developed the retreat center. In many traditions, particularly the Eastern ones, it is expected that you leave behind the householder life. It is expected that you leave begin all obligations and attachments. Some Western traditions, particularly Judaism, practice spirituality in the family and community and marketplace. Yet my personal exposure to the mystics of Judaism, in Tzfat, Israel, and with those in India and Tibet, informs me to value the paths of isolation and retreat more. Thus, retreating from the culture of your conditioning- which tugs your strings like a marionette- might be in your best interest. May I recommend a couple years (or ten) in India?
Right livelihood: In simple terms, if one finds a way to earn a living that allows them to flow mentally, energetically, and emotionally, without facing resistances, then they have discovered right livelihood. It is marked by the experience of grace, not by how closely it matches the ideas in our heads. When one has found their right livelihood no energy dissipates, no pipes have leaks, no crud blocks one’s flow. The grace of relaxation, heightened consciousness, and right livelihood, would be the perfect catalyst for transformation of our world into a more heart-centered, gentle, supportive place.
Goenka’s Vipassana: American Centers
Breema Center: Oakland, CA
Osho: Articles and Mediation Resort in India