My step-son asked me over the holidays - how do I meditate? YES! I thought (aged 12!) ... and then I thought … ah help … what technique do I teach him? What is going to be easiest for him? What will get him hooked?
Which led me on to thinking so much more about meditation….
In the recent years of teaching, guided mediation has become THE THING. People have produced apps and online courses and recordings and promised this mediation is for calm, this meditation is for grounding, this meditation is for peace …. etc etc. (I have done it myself.) Not to say this is wrong or misled and it sure helps people begin an awareness practice.
But true meditation is an unguided practice and isn’t easy. It definitely isn’t always calming, or peaceful and shouldn’t be practiced with this ‘aim'. It is a practice that orientates us to all our reality. It is a place where we sit. And every time we sit we are deepening into our seat. Deepening into the seat of who we truly are. The ancient tantric texts tell us to sit in this seat (of meditation) it will give us the best view. If you sit here, you will have the most penetrating sight of the spectacle before you. Sight of what? I hear you mouth back at me…
This reality. Sight of this reality. Our reality of this life time is all a viewpoint - right? It is the viewpoint that you take in that particular moment, literally with your eyes but also with your senses, it is the way you read the world.
Over the years I have practiced and taught so many different types of meditation techniques….
Mantra led meditations
Breath led meditations
A combination of the two…
Centring prayer meditations
Metta (loving kindness) meditation
Clear seeing meditations
The list is endless. We now roll mediation into all sorts of different practices and other healing modalities.
What is certainly true, from my viewpoint and my years of practice, is that every time I choose to sit, the colours get brighter, the seat gets deeper, the view becomes clearer (even if the process of sitting is not always comfortable, not always smooth, not always pretty). It is like dying a cloth. If you want the colour of the cloth to be bright and vibrant you soak it in dye daily.
There are many doors into this practice, but essentially what you are ‘doing’ (note the practice is not goal orientated) - is orientating yourself to reality which is everything. Orientating yourself to everything in your reality and everything in that reality is awareness and energy. Meditation begins to give you a direct understanding of how this thing ‘reality' works, i.e. everything is energy and awareness (these are universal mechanics).
There is a lot of research that has gone into meditation in recent years. We know neurologically that mediation actually activates more experience-orientated parts of the brain versus the ‘auto-pilot’ modes of being within our story-telling default network (Farb and Legal 2007). We know that meditation impacts many of the body systems as it modulates our stress response and their pathways. The nervous system, the neuroendocrine system, immune system, epigenetic, telomeres, ageing and of course the neuroplasticity of the brain creating cognitive changes.
This neuroplasticity is the piece of the puzzle that really interests me. The fact that as humans we have this capacity for change. That the brain can learn and adapt and molecularly restructure itself on the basis of thought and emotional experience. If you have read Dan Siegel’s you will be familiar with the phrase ‘Neurons that fire together WIRE together’. Our brains can grow thousands of neuronal connections each day in response to how we use it.
Actual structural brain changes that have been linked to meditation are things like increased brain cortical thickening. These are areas of the brain associated with our decision making, attention and our processing of emotions, thoughts and senses. There has also been links to increases in gray matter. These regions of the brain are associated with our learning, memory and not surprisingly our PERSPECTIVE. Our viewpoint.
So what technique would I offer to someone wanting to begin an unled meditation practice age 12 or otherwise?
Something I have found really helpful recently is this concept of 'lifting the needle'. You use a mantra and you can choose your mantra… it could be something like ‘Guru Aum’ (translation ‘I Am Wisdom’) or So Hum (translation ‘I am that’ i.e. creation) or you can create your own mantras (see my article here on how to create your own mantras).
And then you sit. (For ease I have recorded for you all a guided ‘unguided' route into this practices which you can watch here) or read on...
Your seat has to be comfortable - shoulders on top of hips, head on top of shoulders.
Find a point of focus for your eyes, shut down or open and soft.
Relax your body.
Put your attention on the outgoing breath.
Let your attention ride your outgoing breath.
Try it now….
Relax the thinking mind - if the thoughts come in …
Bless the thoughts ‘bless you thoughts' or label the thoughts ’thinking… thinking’ - just gently acknowledge them.
And then offer up your mantra. Gently.
When you notice you are thinking again or sensations are present … offer up the mantra.
Offer the mantra as if you are lifting the needle of a record really delicately, you are trying not to scratch it.
Trust the space on the other side of the mantra.
Trust yourself to offer the mantra that is appropriate, with the right tone.
Offer it, utter it - like you are lifting the needle off a record player.
Offer it with care.
To come out deepen the breath. Move your hands. Stretch the body a little.
The delicate nature with which you lift the needle is the essence of the practice.
As a by-product after this practice, you may feel calm, you may feel peaceful, you may feel grounded, connected, focused...(feel free to replace with any adjective). You may feel like every cloud you gaze at has a silver lining. You may not.