Meditation is allowing yourself to simply be

“Meditation is what happens when you sit with the intention to meditate”

What’s your image of meditation? What words does it conjure up for you? How might you feel? Many might imagine someone sitting on a rock with a background of a calm sea, with their legs crossed and arms extended and resting on their knees with each index finger and thumb touching. Or on a yoga course after a yoga work-out. Or do you get the idea that’s difficult and only for terribly spiritual or flaky people? You might have tried it and given up, with all those thoughts and no calm, peace and serenity.

Man meditating in lotus pose
Yoga meditation in lotus pose by man in silhouette.

People often have very high standards by which they judge meditation, and often they are standards by which they then consider themselves to have failed. Thus, those words quoted above were very liberating for us. This is what we were told when my wife and I attended a meditation course. It might not be what you expect. However a key part of meditation is letting go, and one thing to let go of is our judgements about meditation, as indeed judgements about just about anything. It’s here that we can get into a space of acceptance, including accepting all that can come up in meditation, including our judgements.

There are of course lots of schools of meditation, lots of prescriptions about what it should be acccording to those schools. I don’t want to get into all that, because they can fit with various people’s belief systems that they like and feel attached to. I’ll just focus on what a simple meditation can be like and how we can make it happen.

Sitting

First you will probably sit, although people do do other forms, like walking meditations. Personally I’d recommend sitting for at least 20 minutes, with practice, and ideally then extend that to whatever works for you, half an hour, 40 minutes or an hour. Busy people might not be able to given themselves much time, but then we live in a time-constrained world and there’s an argument for creating the time and then finding we have the time.

So you’ll be sitting a while, and so it pays to have a comfortable, but not too comfortable, seat which supports your back. You might get rather aware of discomfort and then that can be part of “what happens”. It can become something to let go of. In time you may well not notice it.

It’s good to have an upright posture, and hence a small cushion at your back can help. You might want something warm to put over you if it’s cold or you get cold. Shawls are useful.

Hands are often placed on the lap, resting lightly. Some people place their hands one on top of the other, each facing upwards. Or you can have your hands resting on your thighs, and you might even do the finger/thumb placing mentioned above, with your hands still resting on your thighs.

You could sit on the floor, cross-legged. You will probably want a cushion, with at least a mat beneath. I prefer a chair, but then I’m a Westerner and my hips don’t do crossed-legs postures.

Comfortable arm-chairs can be used. However, I’d caution against too much comfort. It might help send you off to sleep and you might not want that. Some meditations can feel like sleep, and a useful test is if you “come to” at the alloted time feeling reasonably awake, or very sleepy. The first might feel like a kind of meditation, the second like sleep.

So, part of what happens in your meditation can be just sitting there for a while. Nothing inherently “wrong” with that. You at least sat with the intention to meditate.

Or you can get all your thoughts, opinions and views about that, which may serve you, and they may not. From a meditation point of view, they are just thoughts.

Thoughts, breathing and a mantra

What very many people will say about meditation is that what they get is a whole lot of thoughts. You might spend yur whole allocated time thinking about some issue, and come away frustrated. “That wasn’t a meditation”, you might think. More thoughts.

Thoughts can be like that. We sometimes call this kind of meditation a “shopping list” meditation. You could run through your schedule for the day like this! They can happen a lot. The trick is to not be attached to them but learn to accept them when they happen and find a way to let them go or at least become unattached to them. Thus meditation teachers often say that one can learn to regard them as white clouds in the blue sky that float across your awareness and dissolve. What can happen here is that you can learn to be aware of thoughts, to observe them, but not be caught up in them. After a while they can go on in the background, but in a sense they aren’t “you”. You can discover that you are more than your thoughts.

A classic tool in meditation is to use the breath, to feel the sensations of the breath, breathing in and breathing out, and really noticing and observing your breath. When you get caught up in thoughts, you can return your awareness to your breath. And keep doing that.

You can use your breath for various things. One can be to breathe in to any tension or anxiety and then breathe out and release the tension or anxiety – or any other stuff you’d like to let go of. Including any judgments you might have about meditation. You are so much more than your judgements and and not-so-helpful feelings.

It is often good to start your meditation with a little deep breathing, down into the diaphragm,  and breathing out long, and then settling into a pattern of regular breathing as suits you.

Many people also use a mantra, often from various spiritual traditions, both Western and Eastern. There are masses. They’re not obligatory. One can repeat the mantra on the in-breath and out-breath, or across both in- and out-breaths. Again it can both help to motivate you, as you might get inspiration from the mantra, and it can help manage thoughts. As with observing the breath, once you notice yourself engaged in thoughts, you can simply return your awareness to your breath and your mantra. Again, keep doing that.

Meditation at sunrise
Meditation at Sunrise

The intention to meditate

I’d suggest that one key is to sit with the intention to meditate, allowing what happens but with the intention to continue the kind of procedure I’ve outlined here.

I’ve avoided trying to define meditation. More head stuff, when the idea is to let go of all this intellectualising. However, this guy on this link has a good approach, although personally I think he talks too much! I like the space created by silence. But you might like it – a lot of people do.

Intention is a powerful tool. It is the focused direction of the mind on a purpose, employing the will. It is creative. When we intend, we harness the forces of the universe behind our intention, to bring it into reality, but not being attached to it. Instead we allow it to happen, trusting in the creative process. We might take action according to the intention, but we’re not engaged in fear or anxiety about it, but trusting that it will happen. This too is a thought, but it’s a powerful one.

So, one sits with the intention. Lots may get in the way, like life. Interruptions, noise, cats, children, the phone, someone at the door. Do we allow ourselves to get caught up in that, or let it go. It’s good to make arrangements so that these things don’t interrupt you in practical terms. Then all you have are your thoughts about them, and your feelings. Like guilt, worry, anger, and the rest. A bit like life.

You can get your whole life going on as you meditate. And then you can just notice it – and return to your practice. It’s superb way to learn to be more calm, unattached, accepting, and aware.

Practice it

I think it is important to practice it. Every day, on a regular basis. Keep doing it. Yes, really, every day, even when lots seem to get in the way. That too can be part of the mediation, and what needs to be let go of. That’s when people start to get the benefit. Regular, sustained practice.

It changed my life.

Time to light a light for ourselves and for the world

When there’s conflict around us, or we’re caught up in it, and we feel like there’s no light around us, it can seem like all that there is is this stuff going on. We might lose hope and feel like that’s our reality and that’s all there is. Then it’s hard to trust that there is more than this, that there is somewhere that is peaceful, harmonious and contented. What can we do about this? How do we move on?

Right now, in the UK, our politicians are caught up, it seems, in a mega-conflict, and the signs are that much of the population is too. So, the question could be, for the self-aware who also feels caught up in all this, what can we do to move on from this?

How do we move on?

As I’ve written on these pages before, the self-aware person is still human. They can get caught up in stuff too. We might of course be very exceptional and live in constant bliss. But for very many of us, that may not be so, or at least not seem so! We might be so completely caught up in the drama that we’re not aware we are. Self-awareness may have taken a holiday, so to speak! Some holiday! Or, we might be aware we’re stuck in the drama, and carry on with the drama.

It can be like a dream we perversely don’t want to awaken from. The dream has its own pathway and we’re absorbed in it. We know it doesn’t serve us, but carry on we do.

We might feel so strongly about the issue that we won’t let go of it, like a dog with a bone. We’re really determined to see it through. We might feel very self-righteous about it, like we’re the ones who are right and it’s the others that are wrong and they are the ones who are causing problems for us. If they changed, or we forced them to, them everything would be OK.

Or would it? Is this really the path to healing?

What to do?

What is so hard to see in the midst of conflict is that both parties (I’m assuming two here, but there might be more!) need to let go of something in order to come to an agreement. We could work on trying to facilitate that and that can be worthwhile for us. Peacemakers are needed!

However, there’s another space entirely that can get overlooked.

That space is where we let go of it in ourselves, irrespective of the choices others might be making.

This is an internal process, within ourselves, that I am referring to.

This is where we unconditionally let go of things that are keeping us stuck in the drama: like to let go of the attachment to being absorbed in the drama; or let go of the outcome we want; or let go of our ideas about how things are; or let go of being right and others being wrong; or let go of the whole thing itself.

Just give it up. Surrender.

This is not surrender as in giving in to others. It is surrender as in letting go of things, stuff, drama, attachments, emotions, thoughts, attitudes. The whole bang shoot.

Take in a deep breath…and then another…breathe in deep… and as you breathe out…let it go…breathe in again…and as you breathe out…let go of all that stuff…yes, the whole lot of it.

Practice That

And now, instead, choose a positive intention for yourself.

Sit for a while in meditation. You could this today. Light a candle, like this one, a candle in the dark, to bring light to the dark.

Candle flame - light in the dark
Candle flame – light in the dark

The dark is not bad, it’s just not light. The dark can be threatening, or it can be warm and comfortable, infinitely comfortable. It depends how we have it. The light can shine in the dark, and bring light to the dark.

Sit with this light. You can do this while it seems there’s stuff going on “out there”, but for for you now, it isn’t. There’s just you, and the light shining.

Then, close your eyes, taking that light within you, into your inner awareness, to your heart centre, knowing that that light always shines within you as your inner candle flame. Take some deeper breaths, and let go as I have described. Now focus on your light.

Sit for a while in meditation, holding that space.

Then, when you are ready, recall your intention. Then, take a deep breath and send that light and that thought out into the world.

Send out your thought, your light, in a great, big, powerful beam of love.

Send out healing to the world.

It needs it right now.

Getting to know the different parts of ourselves can be healing

You might think that the good person whom you like to think you are is always perfectly nice and reasonable, pleasant to be around, positive, calm and agreeable, and that that’s what others want. Then you might also want to throw your toys out of the pram, have a tantrum and be perfectly obnoxious. These different parts of ourselves can feel uncomfortable to be around. For example you may know you can’t be like that, having tantrums, quite simply for various reasons of a social kind, like that’s not what one does, others don’t like it – and they certainly won’t like us – and we might not get what we want. But then again you might get home and out it comes in yelling at the kids or at your partner or at the dog. What’s this “other side” of us? I mean, are we really like this, and might we really be nasty people trying not to be? Well, who are we?

Being a nice person of course is a very effective strategy for getting what you want. In ego terms it is a survival strategy. Not everybody does it. Some just get what they want by being beastly. Period. Not that people I work with necessarily see it like that. They may want to be “nice” (such an English term, folks!) and they may want others to be the same. They may be fearful of others being beastly and so being nice helps to prevent that. Then again they may simply want peace and calm (who doesn’t?!) and this strategy seems to do it for them, well most of the time, or they’d like it that way. But people aren’t all like that. Bother.

There’s another factor: ourselves. There’s what Jung called the Shadow, the  disowned part of us that we’re not comfortable with and that we project on to others. Somehow we learned early on that being beastly wasn’t OK so we suppressed it, made it “not me”, and instead we experience it in others. That’s how projection works. It seems to be others who are like that, and we don’t see that we have a bit of that quality within us too. Uncomfortable realisation.

Effective personal growth work, building self awareness, can involve getting to know that part of us, and not disowning it but rather learning to find a non-toxic way of integrating it into our lives. It often has something to teach us. The paradox is so often that when we own our different “sides”, and really know these different parts of ourselves, we start to become more “whole”, authentic and real. For example, some learn to stand up for themselves a lot more, and find shouting for example and being unreasonable releases pent up rage, and lets go of rules they grew up with that don’t serve them, so that this underlying energy dissipates (I did say, in a non-toxic way, please bear in mind). Then people buy us a lot more, trust us more and actually feel more comfortable with us. Comfortable outcome.

So the bit of us that wants to throw the toys out of the pram is invaluable. Paradoxically too, for some of us that way can lie peace.

Letting go can be so hard to do

You might hear people say, when someone is struggling with a problem or challenge, “why not just let go of it”? Letting go can sound easy to say, but it can also be really hard. Like letting go of relationships we’ve been in, breaking up with someone we love, where we’ve invested a lot of energy and emotional capital. You might know you need to let go of a situation you are in but a part of you just keeps on at it, like a dog with a bone.

When a separating couple are in dispute and won’t let go

I’ve been reminded recently of this struggle in a situation where two people have been in dispute, during the process of ending a relationship. Each had a very clear view of their position and believed they were right and could “win” their case. However, while for one party it didn’t hurt, for the other it was likely to be very painful. Somehow she needed to let go of the matter and make a settlement, even if it was costly. That would be a strategic move that would avoid worse to come. However, it was hard to let go. She had invested a huge amount in the dispute and believed strongly that she had suffered injustice. Despite being aware at one level of the need to let go, another, very big part of her was very caught up in the injustice. She would even have all sorts of fantasies about engaging the other in a physical fight and being very violent, and of course “winning”. It would keep her awake at night.

I put “win” in inverted commas because I would suggest that people don’t really win, since it tends to come at a cost and victors end up with further issues later on. Yet “win/lose” and its concomitant, “right/wrong,” is another of those ego games that go on, another way we play out the drama of relationship at the ego level.

So what is this investment that we make that we find so hard to let go of?

Our investment in holding on and not letting go

Is it that what drives us forward, that keeps us engaged and with antlers locked, is really the fear of losing, of seemingly admitting we’re “wrong”? And what’s that about? Often it is the fear of the shame we might feel. People really dislike shame and will do all sorts to avoid it. Yet, what we resist we get and it keeps driving us. Is it the feeling of injustice, of having been “wronged”, of something not being “fair”, or a sense of having suffered an injury, or of being a victim? All sorts of old hurts can come with this of course, going back a very long time.

Maybe also there’s even something else behind that. It can be very useful to explore our own pain in a conflict and get what’s really going on, what’s really driving our behaviour, even if it seems like the other has “caused” it. Using the power of developing your self awareness is one way to do this. So, in our example, there’s perhaps the pain of separation, the “breaking of the interpersonal bridge”, as Kaufman calls it in “The Psychology of Shame.”  This is primal stuff, going way back, and yet is so often core to how we are in the world as humans. It was when we fundamentally expected something of another but were thwarted or got the message that it was wrong. The severance of the connection is felt as shame, and we can feel it acutely, but we resist it and over time get into battle over it.

Hence the connection also with relationship, which we don’t like to let go of either!

It’s a tough one, since we are really only playing out our drama with ourselves. The real disconnect is within, but we play it out in the experience of duality in the world out there. Letting go of the drama of conflict and injustice opens up the pathway to inner peace. We are no longer at conflict with ourselves. Letting go is often accompanied by a sense of peace. All there really is is One. So, it’s worth remembering, whenever we feel reluctant to let go, that what we are really resisting is our inner truth of Oneness. It’s another way to re-member.

Where is your sanctuary?

Do you have a place of sanctuary to which you can periodically retreat, get away from the world at large and feel safe and at one? What for you is a place of sanctuary? For some it’s perhaps a religious place and many may think of a church, monastery, or other spiritual place. In the Middle Ages, sanctuary was also where one went for safe keeping against the vengeance of some one, say in a Cathedral or other religious institution. One example in England is Beverley Minster. For others, it might be a special place, such as in your house or garden, or a place you go to to get away from it all, a place you is there for you. For me, it’s a quiet place suitable for peace, reflection and contemplation, for going within, to read, to meditate, to write or to connect with nature.

People often have special places to which they need to go to rest, recover and restore themselves from the stresses of life and living.

Our inner sanctuary

In another sense, the place of sanctuary is also within us. One might find one’s special place is a great place to notice one’s still point within, where one feels at one, peaceful and contented. Feeling joy at experiencing the environment and nature is another gateway to access one’s inner joy. There are many gateways. It might be the delight in a small child’s face, as she totters past you with a beam all over her face. It might be music, it might be poetry, it might be laughter, it might be memory, it might be inspiring words, it might be an intimate moment with a lover, it might be prayer or meditation. There are many moments when we can pause, take time out, breathe deeply and allow ourselves to connect with ourselves, with our inner vibration, with the vibration around us, with our own bliss-full inner essence, with the vibration of others – and remember who we are.

What is so important is to do it, to connect. It can need an effort, and maybe to take ourselves out of our ego state we may feel reluctant to come away from our absorption with the temporal, but by so doing we open ourselves up to be able to harvest the fruits of what is so easy and effortlessly available – another of life’s paradoxes.