By Gail Brenner
Meditation Is a Gift to Yourself
By Gail Brenner on February 4, 2010
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
As I look back, I can see that meditation saved me. Before I started meditating, I had had many years of therapy, but somehow I still wasn’t happy. It was 1995 (ages ago!). I had been reading about Buddhism for a year, but was avoiding meditation like a peeping tom avoids knocking on the door. I was curious and interested, but was too scared to actually sit in silence with myself.
I finally bit the bullet, and the true healing began.
The beauty of meditation is that we intentionally stop the momentum of our patterns so we can see what we are really experiencing. When we unconsciously play out our habits and addictions day after day, year after year, nothing changes. We may try to modify our thoughts or analyze our childhoods, but the root of the problem still exists.
Meditation is the dam on the rushing river that allows us to discover what the swirls and eddies are all about. It puts an end to avoidance and rationalizing, and invites us to directly investigate our actual experiences in the moment and come to peace with them.
Sitting in quiet offers the possibility of deconstructing our habits. Over time, we begin to see that we run the same boring stories through our minds or that our bodies are wrought with tension that we never noticed before. These illuminating observations are almost impossible when we are traveling through our lives at warp speed.
How It Works
Say that you have a tendency to snack mindlessly at night. Most people would agree that this kind of eating is about dodging emotions rather than assuaging hunger. In meditation, you stop acting on the momentum of this pattern. You feel the urge to snack, but make the choice to explore your inner experiences instead.
Here is where a whole new world opens up! It might be uncomfortable, but you finally see the feeling of fear or lack that has been driving you. A behavior as seemingly mundane as snacking can lead you to a deep understanding of your most basic belief systems and world views.
And when all of this is allowed space to be in meditation – specific emotions, contractions in the body, churning thoughts – you are able to make a conscious choice about what you want to do. You learn that these driving forces can be a part of your experience, and you can refrain from acting on them. This is true freedom.
The Secret Treasure
As these identities and habits begin to fall away, the ultimate secret treasure of meditation is revealed. We discover that in between the stories and emotions is space. When we explore the space, we see that it is clear, alive, shining, and expansive.
And it is steady and enduring. We see that our experiences come and go, but this aliveness is always here. This is the space of the unconditioned, prior to any learning. It is obscured by our busy minds, but completely available to be discovered. Here is sanity and peace.
Have you ever had the experience of intense well-being come over you for no reason or an insight that the objects of the world are not real or your heart so filled with love that it is impossible to contain in your physical body? This is the unconditioned, pure consciousness, always present.
And if you haven’t had these experiences, no cause to be concerned. Once you commit to self-discovery, the identities that you take to be you will eventually begin to shed, and glimpses of this essence, your true nature, will be available.
Sitting quietly is a refuge, and offers an incredible opportunity that brings us back to ourselves. The next post will offer the how-to of meditation. I welcome any questions and would love to hear about your experiences with meditating.
“If you could only keep quiet, clear of memories and expectations, you would be able to discern the beautiful pattern of events. It is your restlessness that causes chaos.”
How to Meditate
By Gail Brenner on February 9, 2010
“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself. “Henry Miller
In the last post, we talked about the purpose of meditation. I mean the real purpose. Sure, meditation can lower blood pressure, improve sleeping, and help people cope with physical pain. These are not small benefits and are valid reasons to meditate.
The Role of Meditation
But if what we want is freedom from self-defeating habits of all kinds and the realization of enduring happiness and peace, the practice of meditation can be a huge support.
There is no law that says we must meditate or we must know ourselves. The choice is completely ours. Some people avoid it like the plague, and others simply aren’t interested. But for those lucky ones (you?) who want to be truly happy and cannot help but ask the big questions, meditation is a tool that helps to shed habits and realize freedom.
When we are under the influence of our habitual patterns, inner discovery is next to impossible. Take an alcoholic as an example. Could he possibly see what is driving his need to drink while sitting at the bar with a gin and tonic?
Substitute for “alcoholic,” procrastinator, commitment-phobe, overeater, or self-deprecator, and you will discover your version of avoidance. When we allow the momentum of our patterns to carry us, we are too involved to see how they actually operate.
Freedom Is Possible
Simply sitting in quiet on a regular basis becomes a refuge of sanity from the pressure of our habits. It provides the space for us to stop and see what we are actually experiencing. It is a step away from the endless hamster wheel.
We learn that thoughts are just thoughts, feelings just feelings, and that we don’t need to react. It is so amazing to see that we can feel angry or recognize a recurring story of woe in our minds and we don’t need to do anything. We are simply present.
This is the freedom that stopping makes possible. Our choice is this: we can stay blind to what motivates us and continue playing out habits, or we can stop, notice what we are thinking and feeling, and allow those experiences just to be present.
Meditation is extremely simple – we sit quietly and allow everything to be as it is. Whatever we experience, we simply see it without doing anything to it. We might notice physical sensations, sounds, thoughts, or feelings that may be subtle or strong. We might notice urges to do something or tendencies to resist or avoid.
Our job in meditation is simply to be aware of these comings and goings without involving ourselves. We may feel the urge to move our attention in a given direction, but instead of acting on the urge, we stay still and allow it to unfold. That’s all there is to it.
You can think of yourself as the boundless sky. Clouds and weather pass through, but the sky is present, unmoving, unaffected.
For many of us what I am suggesting is easier said than done. The point of meditation is not to instigate a fight with what we experience. It is to be with what is. If avoidance or self-criticism appears, then that is the experience to receive in that moment. If you feel a fight brewing, then be with those feelings, thoughts, and body sensations.
When we meditate, we have a neutral, friendly attitude to everything that arises – the hard experiences as well as the mundane and blissful ones. Most of us wish to be accepted unconditionally by people. Meditation is the opportunity for us to be unconditionally accepting of ourselves, of every experience that arises in the moment. All are welcomed in the space of open awareness.
The Nuts and Bolts
Start to meditate by setting aside a few minutes for yourself. If the idea of meditating scares you, just try it for maybe five minutes, eventually working up to fifteen minutes or more. The idea is to be alert, awake, attentive, open, and receptive.
Settle your body into a comfortable sitting position, and close your eyes. Once you are settled so your body can be still, begin to pay attention to your breathing. This, alone, can be amazing. Simply track your inhale and exhale. Notice what happens around your nose, chest, back, and belly. All you are doing is noticing.
Another way to start is to open to sounds. Let your awareness be receptive to any sounds that appear, close or far. Be the still point in the center, and allow the sounds to come to you.
After a minute or so, let go of paying attention to the breathing or hearing sounds, and open your attention completely to everything that arises. You might notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations in your body. Just be a loving presence.
Thinking Is Not a Problem
At some point, you are likely to notice that you have gotten caught up in thinking about something. This is completely natural, and not a problem. When you realize you have been lost, simply shift your attention back to the space that receives everything.
This may happen thousands of times, if not more. Still not a problem. Each time, gently return to loving awareness. This is the movement to presence that stems the momentum of playing out habits unconsciously. This momentum is highly conditioned, so it takes some time to soften. Be kind with yourself.
One of the misunderstandings about meditation is that the goal is to stop thinking. You will realize that this is impossible. Thinking may stop, but it happens on its own and not because you are doing anything to make it stop. Thinking is part of experience, and all experiences are welcomed unconditionally.
The goal is not to get anywhere or accomplish any particular state, including states of rapture or bliss. The “goal” is simply to be with what is. Be awake to the ordinary, everything as it is.
Meditation serves as long as it is needed. Some people have been meditating daily for decades and for others the practice comes and goes. There is no assignment or “should” about it. If you feel moved to meditate, then enjoy. If not, life will bring you exactly what you need in some other form. If you are aware of avoiding meditation out of fear, you may consider examining your resistance.
In the ultimate state of awakeness, meditation is the enduring way of being. Even the concept of the meditator falls away, and all that exists is pure awareness. Thoughts and emotions may come and go, but awareness, you, remains untouched. This is what Adyashanti calls true meditation.
If you haven’t meditated before, give it a try. I’d love to hear how it goes. If you are a seasoned practitioner, feel free to share your experiences. Any questions are always welcome and will help everyone.
By Gail Brenner on February 24, 2010
“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that - then that will take you are far as you can go. And then you’ll understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught.”
In a comment on the recent post, How to Meditate, reader Linda wrote about the peace and calm she experiences when meditating, then acknowledged, “I want to find the way in to that state more often.” I imagine Linda is not alone. Does anyone out there want to feel peaceful and calm more often?
Discovering a state of inner tranquility, through meditation or any other means, is revolutionary. In this busy, driven world we live in even a few moments of silent awareness can change everything. When we discover that this haven of calm is always available within us, we realize that a moment of stopping and dropping in brings sanity and perspective. This is everyday meditation.
Meditation in This Moment
As we addressed in a previous post, true meditation is simply being aware of everything without resistance. Being aware takes a movement of our attention away from outer circumstances and the stories we tell ourselves about them. We go from being involved with the contents of our restless minds to being the space that everything arises in.
Why not try it for a second right now? Close your eyes, and move your attention first to your breathing, then to the space prior to the breathing from which the breath arises. Or look at the space in which these words you are reading is appearing. You will notice that that inner space is clear, quiet, and undisturbed. It is peace itself.
As we can see, this space is available, always. When it is revealed, it is just like the clouds parting to reveal the sunlight that has been there all along. A formal meditation practice is a training ground that adds a great deal of support to this realization, but the only requirement to be aware is a willingness to shift our attention.
Obsessively engaging in thinking, most of which is unproductive, can be thought of as a habit. Moving our attention away from thinking can feel like we are trying to stop a freight train barreling down the tracks. But freight trains can slow down, and becoming aware that we have been thinking is like the moment the brakes are applied. There is a stopping – and then the opportunity for a conscious choice. These moments are overflowing with possibility. Where do you choose to place your attention?
Every time we realize that we have been caught up in thinking and shift to the space of awareness, the habit of thinking softens. Every time we make the choice to stay awake to what is actually happening, we know peace.
We cannot make ourselves become aware that we have been thinking. These moments simply happen. But, by implementing the suggestions below, we can nudge ourselves in the desired direction.
* Meditation Practice. A regular meditation practice is a great support to increase the moments of awareness. When we set aside a few minutes every day to sit quietly, we are removing ourselves from the outer stimulation of the world and inviting in moments of awareness.
* Investigate the Habit of Thinking. Become very familiar with the experience of being caught up in thinking about something. What is happening in your body? What emotions are arising? What is the energy like that is motivating the thoughts? Do you feel depressed, anxious, or conflicted. Any of these experiences can signal you to wake up and make the choice to shift your attention to the space of awareness.
* Be with Like-Minded Others. Go to a meditation group. Connect with people who are interested in exploring inner stillness. Read blogs that support truly knowing yourself – rather than fixing yourself.
* Know Your Triggers. Make conscious choices about the stimuli you expose yourself to. Be fully in the world, but be wise about how you do it. If violent movies agitate you, if you find the news disturbing, make another choice. See how you can orient your life toward stepping off the spinning hamster wheel and allowing yourself to be still.
* Give Yourself Reminders. It might sound mechanistic, but it can be helpful to get into the habit of stopping for a moment before getting out of bed in the morning or starting your car.
When we become aware, we wake up from the lives we create in our minds to experience what is actually here – this breath, these sensations. Peace is closer than we could ever imagine. Be still, and you will know reality as it is – fresh, clear, and alive.
By Gail Brenner