What is it supposed to feel like when you’re meditating? We might have some ideas about what meditation is, based on something we’ve read, or seen in a film, or something a friend (if you hang out with hippies this is quite likely) or acquaintance who meditates told us (if you’re not a hippie, maybe you were stuck beside this person on a bus, or at the juice bar after a pilates class ).
Mental images like these come to mind, of patchouli-smelling spaces inhabited by baggy-trousered, joint-smoking, perma-smiling dreadlocked hairy-underarmed kafir eating hippies living the life of leisure, usually sponsored by rich parents somewhere in the background, without a care in the world, while the rest of us plod our way responsibly through life, with hardly enough time left over after the daily grind to wipe our noses, or other end, let alone spending hours every day whiling away our time without a care in the world. Or maybe not, anymore, since meditation is becoming a much more mainstream thing since it first came to the West and exploded into Western consciousness in the last two centuries, introduced by people like the Theosophists, and of course the hippies of the 1960s.
So, it seems we have lots of preconceptions about what meditation is (some of the reasons for our preconceptions about everything we encounter in our existence are discussed in another post where I talked about meditation, over here), but have we got much of an idea about what goes on in the mind or body during a meditation session, or sitting ( or sesshin if you wanna get all Zenny about it).
Well, first off, there’s this idea about bliss. Samadhi is just one of the names used for the state of concentration that can arise during a meditation session. The theory is that if you don’t have too many mental hindrances getting in the way of it, a state of deep concentration will arise, and that state is experienced as a very pleasant one. It is our base state of consciousness, according to many esoteric philosophical systems which use meditation as a tool to train the mind to observe dispassionately and live in the moment. The point of doing that it makes life so much nicer for you and everyone else in your life, cos you tend to be a nicer person, when you get truthful with yourself and those around you, and stop creating wars in your head because of the stories you tell yourself about who you are.
Whew. That’s a lot of baggage for a little bit of breathing (breathing is used as a way into a state of concentration in many meditations). But, I don’t want to give the impression that meditation is all about feeling nice all the time. One of the most powerful meditations I know is all about opening up oneself to other people’s pain and distress, in order to develop compassion and loving-kindness in yourself, without which, meditators might argue, you aren’t really living well at all. It is called ‘Tonglen‘ and one of its other purposes is to help free you from the fear of other people, and yourself, that often accompanies the human predicament. This meditation is led by Pema Chodron, a lady I like to think of as ‘Auntie Pema’, ‘cos I’m so fond of her, and grateful for her instruction in meditation practise.
Resources: Here’s a link to some interesting short audio files you might find helpful for beginning meditation, and here’s that link to my earlier post on meditation, and for those that might have missed the link in that post, here’s a download link to Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power Of Now’.
Here’s a link to the meditation instruction sheet, for anyone feeling brave enough to attempt a Tonglen meditation.
A short article on the brain and meditation, and an article about how different types of meditation effect different parts of the brain. Finally, one on brain waves and different states of consciousness.
A movie I would highly recommend is ‘Crazy Wisdom‘. It’s about the teacher Chogyam Trungpa, one of my favourite meditation go-to guys ever, and it’s a fascinating movie. Here’s the trailer for you, plus a short taste of his excellent book, ‘Training The Mind And Cultivating Loving-Kindness’ for you to read. Chogyam Trungpa, in this book, says that our hearts should be open and tender, like a deer’s new-grown horns, as it is in this rawness that we discover our compassion. I love that image, and I hope you will make a little time to investigate for yourself some of the things that meditation has to offer for living well. And it feels good to live well.