How do I meditate? I don’t know how to ‘do’ meditation. How can I learn to meditate?
Lately I’ve been hearing people ask these questions a lot. No big surprise – meditation is the new black. I’ve written about meditation a lot in the past (in most of my books, come to think of it) but I felt a sudden urge to write a less formal ‘thing’ about it.
Now I go to a lot of retreats and the vast majority of them include meditation. And you know what? Every single one has taught it differently. What do you take from that? Yup, there is no one way to do it! You can’t get it wrong. Really.
There are guidelines of course, things people have found useful in the past, but hey…those guys, those gurus were living a long time ago in very different circumstances. When I’m on retreat, surrounded by other people meditating, in a somewhat sacred space, my meditation is very different from when I’m meditating on my own at home, or out in the woods, or on the train or whatever.
Do you have to make your mind ‘go blank’? Nah. I think we beat ourselves up way too much over meditation. We tell ourselves that, unless we can sit motionless for hours (ideally in lotus) with our minds still as forest pools, then we’re crap meditators. Bollocks.
Often I sit and all manner of ‘stuff’ comes up. Sometimes I just notice it…if it’s everyday stuff, mind chatter, I just say ‘mind games’ to myself and let it go. Sometimes a part of my body might ask for attention and I will explore that – find out what’s going on. Or a sound will push itself into my consciousness and I’ll nudge up against that. It’s a more active form of meditation (check out Arnie Mindell for this) that explores the ‘edges’.
Sometimes a feeling will emerge and I will give that attention. Kind attention. I will sit quietly and breathe deeper (I am rubbish at breathing!) and try to be aware of what’s going on. Usually it will be a feeling of discomfort, or boredom so I ask myself what lies beneath that. There are always layers, layers upon layers. Often underneath it all is sadness, a heart-wrenching sadness.
The Buddhist teacher and Harvard psychologist Jack Engler described meditation practice as primarily a practice of grieving and letting go. Interesting, huh?
Sometimes, I just can’t seem to do it. I’m nadgy and restless and even exploring that restlessness doesn’t seem to get me anywhere. And then I Om. Often my Omming is rubbish – thin, reedy, off-balance – just like me. But then, who gives a shit? So I keep Omming and eventually it will come clear – or at least clearer. I find it’s like mental Windolene – clearing the crap so I can go back and either explore my turbulent heart more, or sink into pleasing calm.
Sometimes I hit the jackpot and I get the full Monty – deep pools of colour, visual pyrotechnics, overwhelming feelings of love and connection. But, let’s be honest – not that often. And, you know what, big deal. It’s just the mind hitting a particular frequency.
Sometimes I don’t have time. And then I remind myself that the less time I have, the more I need to meditate. So I give myself the present of ten minutes and watch time expand for the rest of my day.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves…” – Mary Oliver
Meditation. Loving kindness to heart, mind and body. No rules. No getting it wrong.