(please someone tell me)
What Is It?
What is Meditation?
Some Great QUEST-ions…
What is Meditation?
What is the Connection Between Yoga & Meditation?
How Do I Sit for Meditation? What Are Some Asanas (Postures) for Sitting?
Where and when should I meditate?
How do I make my mind stop (darnit)?
Why do I sometimes have great meditations,
and other days horrible?
My Personal Journey with Meditation
I loved meditation from the start. I found it so challenging, yet also so rewarding. When I found out that I didn’t need to fight with my mind to make it stop, and that was actually probably making it worse, meditation became so much less of a wrestling match. Because what I noticed early on was that with everything I was doing – meeting master teachers, kundalini and mantra initiations, intense Hatha Yoga, cleansing, chanting, etc. – it was bringing a lot of stuff up. So when I sat for meditation, I got to see all these apparently ugly, unconscious things about myself (most of which I was projecting outside of me onto the world), and it wasn’t pretty! It was painful to see, actually, and yet it actually inspired me on my path, because I really didn’t want to be THAT kind of a person.
It was actually years later when I had an experience of finally being able to disassociate from my mind so that I began to see that the “mind has a mind of its own” and that really whatever it’s doing is not what we truly are. It’s really all just mental garbage – clouds that obscure the sun (Self) that is always shining.
That wasn’t the end, though! No, the process keeps being refined, going to subtler and subtler levels, peeling back smaller and smaller layers of the proverbial onion, as I head toward Union (Yoga).
What IS Meditation anyway?
Oh, just the most important thing you’ll ever do,
You know, nothing much.
Actually meditation IS nothing, and it is much.
Much to do about nothing! & Nothing much doing!
Just like Ze Great Yoga Quest!
(maniacal laughter, lmao)
Seriously, I do want to share this with you here, because truly this might just be one of the most profound and helpful things you ever learn and practice.
The practice of meditation (and yoga, because meditation is yoga) really all boils down to this:
Siddown & Shuddup!
( : more general hilarity all around : )
Well, that’s part of it, but actually you don’t have to sit down to meditate, you can take it with you. Yes, wherever you go. So what it really comes to down to is…
What does this mean?
Just what it sounds like: You witness.
No, not like a witness in a court, witnessing like you’re observing something happening.
And what are you observing?
And what is yourself?
Your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, attitudes, beliefs, patterns, tendencies, habits, internal judgments, negativity, memories, attractions, aversions, hopes, fears, resistances, avoidances, and so on and on…
But really this is who we mistakenly BELIEVE ourselves to be, these things are not who we truly are. Indeed, to be in the “witness state” (sakshi bhava in Sanskrit) is really to be established in the Self (with a capital “S” not little “s”), for to be in this state is to identify with what we essentially are, which is beyond all of these mental modifications. So our practice is to just NOTICE/OBSERVE/WITNESS all of these things – to note when we’re judging, or feeling angry, or getting stuck in the past, etc. – and then to gently but firmly bring ourselves back to the Center, back to NOW, back to the One who sees all and allows all with loving awareness, with radical compassion and radical forgiveness. As we do this, we begin to dis-identify with all of the false identities that the ego-mind has constructed to avoid the fact that one day it will have to go, it will have to die. We can’t take it with us!
Ok, let’s stop a moment here…Does this all make sense so far, or does it feel too abstract and esoteric?
If it does, maybe an example will help. Here it goes, kinda like “Ground Hog Day”…
Someone does something to you to upset you… You fly into a rage and begin to curse this person out, feeling like you want to punch them out, or maybe even kill them. You might even find yourself acting upon these impulses. These feelings linger on long after this experience, and you feel it really impossible to forgive this person. You might never be able to forgive them in this lifetime…
Now, most of us would actually never do this — an extreme example, right? Right…? You would never do that would you? Would You? Ok, well let’s just say you wouldn’t. Yet you might resonate with one of the following scenarios, which show how as you practice witnessing, your experience will become subtler and subtler. Let’s read on…
Someone does something that upsets you… You begin to have very negative feelings about this person. You WANT to hurt them, yet you do not. You might say something negative to this person, yet you refrain from doing much other than saying something to chasten them or correct them so that they feel bad about what they did. The negative feelings that you have linger on for a good while after, yet eventually you let it go and release it, finding space for forgiveness.
Someone does something that upsets you…You immediately notice that feelings of anger are welling up in you, perhaps at the pit of your stomach. Your body is heating up, you’re breathing faster, adrenaline is being released as the body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode. You notice these things, and then you do things to calm yourself down so that you don’t act upon these feelings. Perhaps you take some deep breaths. Perhaps you remember that you have also made mistakes, maybe even the same mistake at some time in the past. Perhaps you remember that this person is just acting out of their own pain, and they are really deep down calling out for love. Certainly they are doing the best they know how. It is not too long that you are able to let go of this. Perhaps you have some lingering feelings of resentment, but they are released not long after.
Someone does something that IN THE PAST might have upset you…You do notice feelings and thoughts coming up for you, yet you can immediately release those and forgive this person for what they did, reminding yourself that you are both one in essence, and that being one, you are as much responsible for what is manifesting in that moment as they are. You understand, correctly, that the Witness that sees all without judgment is the same is them as it is in you. And so you take the deeper lesson of this interaction, whatever it is, and you lovingly let the rest go with forgiveness.
No one does anything to upset you…Because you now understand that THERE IS NOBODY OUT THERE & YOU CANNOT BE UPSET, there is no space for it. You do not even attract “others” (apparent people or events) into your energy field that might cause upset. If anything like this does arise, it completely rolls off of you like water off a duck’s back. A person who is attempting to cause upset is immediately made aware of their folly, and this becomes a teaching for them, perhaps a life lesson. It is rather more often than not the case that others are attracted to be around you because they feel such love emanating from you, and your love inspires them to be more loving, too. And to you, anyway, it is all One Love, there is no Other. [See also the section on “A Course in Miracles & Yoga” below.]
I hope all of this helped to understand this concept better. It’s really such a simple practice, this witnessing, and the great thing about it is – you CAN take it with you! Wherever you go. It’s a 24/7/365 moment-to-moment inside job. So easy, yes, yet for most, “nailing it” seems to take many lifetimes. It’s like that Youtube video “Sickest Buddhist” (have you seen it?)…”It was a 45 minute meditation, I nailed it in 10!” You know, these things take time. Why? For many reasons, want to hear a few? K…
~ We cannot even understand the teaching
~We’re not ready to give up certain things yet (such as our mental projections, blame, and victimhood).
~We’re so outwardly focused on making something happen on the outside, we have a hard time making time to look within
~ We don’t believe in this teaching because this material world seems so real and there’s a kind of security in it, too. Anything but going within and looking at my stuff!!! (Avoidance)
~ We’re afraid of losing ourselves in the process – the ego doesn’t want to die!
This last one is the kicker, really. Because when we speak of the Witness (or, The Watcher, Oberver, All-Seeing Eye/I, etc.), we’re talking about the Cosmic Mind, or Big Mind (or “The Mind of God,” “Christ Mind,” or whatever works for you). Obviously, the ego feels itself to be separate from everything, especially Big Mind, so the last thing is want to hear is that the party’s over and it’s going to have to return to Source (i.e., the Witness). The show must go on! Come on, play on! Let me just play just a little bit longer! Yet what the ego doesn’t realize is that its death and our return to Source is so much better than anything it could ever offer us. It has a big stake in the Illusion of Separation that we are experiencing. It doesn’t want to go quite yet!
And so this process of witnessing is one of slowly, slowly returning to identification with who we really are, not what we’ve been led to think we are by falsely identifying with the world of name and form (namarupa, in Sanskrit), which is not truly real.
Let’s look at this now in the context of the Paths of Yoga (remember them?), especially Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga.
So what I just introduced is what would be considered a “Jnana Yoga” meditation. Ramana Maharishi called this form of meditation atma vichara (self-inquiry) based on the ultimate quest-ion, “Who Am I?” It’s based in Advaita Vedanta, which is the philosophy of nondualism (advaita literally means “not two”), and the process is perhaps best approached via negating (Via Negativa, in Latin) what we are clearly not – not my name, not my social identity, my job/career, car (I know that’s a tough one, guys), even my body, mind… This process is referred to in yoga as “neti neti,” meaning “not this, not that.” Doing this process on a moment-to-moment basis can be very liberating. And it’s all based in this simple practice that I have called “witnessing.”
[Note: One nice relatively recent book on this subject is Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul. Of course, the yoga scriptures also work, too, yet sometimes it’s more helpful to read something more contemporary, and by a Westerner (if you’re from the West).]
Great Quote: “Fire the Judge & Hire the Witness.”
RAJA YOGA MEDITATION
We have already spoken about Raja Yoga meditation. This form of meditation follows the 8-fold path (Ashtanga Yoga)
BHAKTI YOGA MEDITATION
Meditation in the tradition of Bhakti Yoga is said to be the easiest and quickest way in the age in which we live. Not all of us can walk the path of radical negation of Jnana Yoga, or the path of concentrated focus on one thing as is required in Raja Yoga, yet most of us have had the experience of falling in love, of crying our eyes/heart out, of dissolving in bliss (maybe even in yoga class), etc., which is the domain of Bhakti Yoga. When these things happen, the boundaries of the ego crumble – many veils of illusion fall away – and we find ourselves facing a more authentic self, perhaps our most authentic Self. This itself is a meditation. On the Raja Yoga path, we strive for “one-pointedness” (ekagrata) to enter into meditation, yet when we are in love, there is no need for striving or practice, it just is happening. Do what we might, we can’t stop thinking about our beloved. This is true meditation, though some might also call it obsession!
Yet this is not possible for all of us all the time. In which case, there are some things that we can do or practice that might help to bring us into this beautiful state of being in a process of gradual awakening. So here are some Bhakti Yoga meditation practices…
When Neem Karoli Baba’s young western students asked him how they should meditate, all he said was.
“Meditate like Jesus – he lost himself in Love,”
as tears rolled down his face.
Connected with this, my teacher, Sri Karunamayi, often said to us, her devotees:
“Children, pray to God with tears.”
This was Karunamayi’s way of getting us into meditation, which for her is the most important spiritual practice.
Other paths might be to listen to evocative, heart-opening music (see the section on Kirtan), or watching a heart-warming film (One that really brought me into the Bhakti heartspace recently was “Dolphin Tale.”) Or perhaps better yet, connecting with your partner in a deeper way than normal, maybe deliberately going into your pain together as a way of accessing these deeper layers of our being, to get down to the “heart of the matter.”
One other practice I’ll mention is Ram Dass’ personal mantra, which is simply to remind himself
“I Am Loving Awareness.”
Or more simply even:
“I Am Love.”
(aham prema, in Sanskrit)
So once again, there are many ways to get there…
”Paths are Many, Truth is One.”
INNERCISE: What is your own relationship to Bhakti Yoga? What heart-opening experiences have you had that have changed the way you look upon your life? Did you spend some time to contemplate/meditate/integrate these experiences? If so, what did these experiences mean to you?
“I’ll Stop the World And Melt With You.”
KARMA YOGA MEDITATION
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Karma Yoga. Doing without doing. Meditation in Action. Karma Yoga is how we act in the world without attachment. To be “in the world but not of it.” To do this consistently generally takes practice! Mantras and other mental reminders can certainly help.
One nice mantra for the Karma Yogi is “I Am Not the Doer.” That is, the ego is not the doer, yet thinks it is. This is what is sometimes called non-action, or non-doing, or non-effort. Another mantra for the Karma Yogi is the prayer, “Thy Will, not My Will.” This puts Source-consciousness in control, not the ego-mind.
Gandhi’s quote recommends finding ourselves (again, the True Self) by losing ourselves in seva, selfless service to others. Once again, this means service without attachment to the fruits of our actions, as the Bhagavad Gita teaches (Gandhi’s favorite scripture, apparently, though he read it metaphorically). We also might recall The Golden Rule and the biblical dictum to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Mostly we read this that we should love others as we love ourself, but really the deeper teaching, going back to Advaita Vedanta (the teaching of Oneness, Nondualism), is that if all is truly One at the end of the day, then our neighbor is our Self! To continually remind ourselves of this is meditation, is yoga, and is a great practice! (And while you’re at it, don’t forget to laugh!)
SOME GREAT QUOTES ON MEDITATION
Understanding without practice
is better than practice without understanding.
Understanding with practice
is better than understanding without practice.
Residing in your true nature
is better than understanding or practice.”
~ The Upanishads
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.
~ Upanishads (this is called “mindfulness”)
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!” “It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly. A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!” “It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly. ~ Unknown
BASIC GUIDELINES FOR SITTING MEDITATION
[Note: There are many types and methods of sitting meditation – Vipassana, Zen, Raja Yoga, Nada Yoga, Visualization, etc. These are just some general guidelines for guiding any meditation in a class setting.]
~ Sit or Kneel on the floor, or if this is difficult, use a cushion or block to prop you up so the sacrum is above the knees. It is not generally recommended to lie down to meditate, though of course, this can be done if necessary. [For a great meditation tool designed by my friend and colleague, Eric Eccles, click HERE ]
~ Sit comfortably in a meditation asana, which include Padmasana (Lotus), Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus), Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose), Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Gomukhasana (Cow Face), and Vajrasana (Thunderbolt/Diamond, Kneeling). Most students will generally choose Sukhasana, easy cross-legged position (aka, “Indian-style”).
~ Remember “Sthira Sukham Asanam” from the Yoga Sutras which means that your posture will be both steady/stable/straight and light/easy/comfortable. So…
feel the connection to the earth through the sit bones. This is “sthira,” your firm, foundation. As you ground in with the sit bones, simultaneously feel a lengthening in the spine, as you perhaps sit just a bit straighter, keeping a nice alignment of the head, neck, and spine. This lengthening, and the feeling of floating upwards along with the relaxation of your body is “sukha,” the ease, grace, and lightness that you feel.
~ Relax Your Body. Sometimes it is helpful to systematically relax each body part by bringing awareness to each and giving it the suggestion to relax.
~ Attune Yourself to What You Are Feeling in this Present Moment. What thoughts, emotions, or other feelings are present right now?
~ Notice the breath, flowing in and flowing out. To stay a bit more present with this, you might notice the coolness of the air as it comes in through the nostrils, and the warmth of the air as it flows out.
~ Sit Still. Paradoxically, the only way to be still is to be still! So don’t necessarily indulge in fidgeting. The more you can still your body, the more your mind will begin to calm down. And vice versa – the more your mind grown calm, your body will follow suit. Funny how that works, but that’s why we call it the body-mind connection!
~ Take Some Time to Integrate the experience when you are done. My favorite way is to lie still in Shavasana for a few minutes afterwards, taking it all in. This also feels so good after sitting! At this time, it might also be helpful to tune into a personal intention (or intentions) that you have, perhaps making affirmations out of them in the form of “I Am” statements.
General Guidelines for Personal Practice
When to Meditate:
Anytime is good! Except while operating heavy machinery! Early morning before sunrise is a great time, or at least right when you wake up (and after heeding the call of nature : ). Also, at dusk and prior to bedtime. Yet again, anytime is good. Best to do a little preparation before you start, such as basic pranayama like Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). Generally not a good idea to sit for meditation when you are emotionally disturbed as it might just make you much crazier. Do deep breathing instead, or some kind of physical activity, or even better: Change your thinking about it, forgive, and/or do something practical to resolve the situation.
How to Meditate:
There is no how to meditate. This must always be your personal preference. A good way to start is just to sit, as in the Zen tradition of “Just Sitting,” and observing the body, breath, mind, and interaction between the three. Generally the mind takes 5-15 minutes just to calm down, so don’t fight it thinking you can’t meditate for beans – you’re in good company!
MEDITATION IN PICTURES
This means that we need both! Many yoga classes and teachers today are failing to emphasize that yoga practice is one of the greatest preparations for meditation, and that meditation and yoga are not separate practices! We have tended to become fixated on the body. Ironically, if we are fixated on perfecting our bodies and our asanas, meditation is one of the greatest tools for this!
How Much Should You Meditate Each Day?
AND…There are no “shoulds” : )
Quality not Quantity!
Content over Form!
The Spirit of the Law over The Letter of the Law!
Nowhere to Go, Nothing to Do, No One to Be…
I Sit Corrected
(ultimately, I feel, this is the simple truth, yet really fully KNOWING this is by no means easy!)
More Great Meditation Quotes
~ “A mind free from all disturbances is Yoga.”
~ “Meditation – It’s Not What You Think!” ~
~ “Don’t just do something, sit there!”~
~ “Doing nothing is really doing something.” ~
~“Go within, or do without.” ~
~ “When we pray we talk to God;
when we meditate, God talks to us.” ~
~ “Hatha Yoga without Meditation is Blind;
Meditation without Hatha Yoga is Lame.”~
~“Be Still & Know…I AM”~ (Psalms)
~“Meditation takes you off the roller coaster of life…Elation and dejection will no longer be a part of your reality/vocabulary.”~
QUEST-Essential Lessons of this Session
~ Meditation is the practice/state to which all other spiritual practices point, as they are all intended to bring us to a state of still, silent, nonjudgmental witnessing to discover or realize the “True Self.”
~ There are many different paths and styles of meditation available, and there truly is something for everyone.
~ The Yoga Tradition acknowledges 4 main Paths through which meditation can happen: Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti. Which one we choose will depend largely upon our individual temperament, as well as conditioning.
~ Meditation is actually really simple: Get comfortable (seated or lying down), relax the body, sit quietly and become aware of body and breath, nonjudgmentally observe the mind without getting caught up in the thoughts, and utilize your chosen method of meditation (mantra, breath, visualization, etc.). Finally, integrate at the end.
1) True or False: There is really only one way to truly meditate.
2) How does meditation in Bhakti Yoga differ from Jnana Yoga, and would you say that they truly are different?
3) What does “paths are many, truth is one” mean?
4) Do you believe that ultimately all is truly one & that the notion of a separate self is an illusion from which we will eventually wake up? Or is the “real world” very “real” even in an ultimate sense?
5) What is the “Witness” and what is “witnessing” as discussed above and do you feel this will be a useful practice to you?
6) Is it possible to meditate all of the time? Howso?
7) What do you make of the statements:
“Stillness…the cure for every illness”?
“Meditation…the best medication”?
Do you have a sense that this is at all true?
8) What do most people not tend to think meditation is not very important…Is it? It is, isn’t it? Isn’t it? How important?
SOURCES & RESOURCES TO FURTHER YOUR QUEST
The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer.
A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle.
The Teachings of Ramana Maharishi, Arthur Osbourne.
Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahamsa Yogananda.
I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta, Maharaj Nisargadatta.
The Diamond in Your Pocket, Gangaji.
The Gospel of Selfless Action, Gandhi.
Mindfulness Yoga, Feuerstein & Boccio.
“The Science of Meditation,” Time Magazine, 2003
“Stages of Meditation,” Ken Wilber Interview
“Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana),” Georg Feuerstein
“Vedantic Meditation,” David Frawley
Adyashanti (True Meditation)
“Simply do this: Be still, and lay aside all thoughts of what you are and what God is; all concepts you have learned about the world; all images you hold about yourself. Empty your mind of everything it thinks is either true or false, or good or bad, of every thought it judges worthy, and all the ideas of which it is ashamed. Hold onto nothing. Do not bring with you one thought the past has taught, nor one belief you ever learned before from anything. Forget this world, forget this course, and come with wholly empty hands unto your God.”
~ A Course in Miracles, Lesson #189