I came across a YouTube channel I really liked lately, and thought I’d share it, ‘cos this guy has some interesting thoughts about meditation, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I like the auld bit ofno-thinkiness myself. But how on earth do you calm your mind, if you aren’t feeling a baseline of calmness, and can’t seem to get calm enough to even be able to focus enough on sitting, let alone sitting in meditation? Richard Grannon talks about styles of meditation suitable for the chronically stressed out person to choose, and points out in a humorous way how modern media is more effective in training us to work off our emotions than our logic, and why this isn’t such a great thing when we want to get into a calmer, more focused state of mind. Sound advice which I reckon is well worth a listen.
Here’s a video I made on my YouTube channel, about the same topic, and how it related to my own experiences on the Tube.
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 daywhiling 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. Samadhiis 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 esotericphilosophical systemswhich 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.
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.
I’m sure you’ve got at least one friend like mine, the type that gazes off into space when you are talking, then says ‘What?’ when you get to the end of your sentence. I have an acquaintance who does this constantly, and odder still, forgets whole conversations we have had previously. She worries that she might have Alzheimer’s, or some other progressive brain disease, which is robbing her of her powers of concentration and her memory. A little further investigation revealed the fact that she was off somewhere else in her thoughts while the conversation was going on.
I admit, I’m not the most interesting person you could be stuck in a room with, but this habit of being off somewhere else while someone is talking is a thing most of us do; maybe we even get caught out once in a while nodding in agreement when while our friend looks at us expectantly, waiting to know whether we would like to order pasta from the menu, or go with the chef’s special?
It’s very human of us to be constantly thinking ahead, indeed it’s a strategizing tool the mind is equipped with to help us with survival. We also spend a lot of time living in the past in our heads, because we have a mental schema or map that we need to fit together, and when we get a new piece we have to find where its place is in the jigsaw that comprises our outlook of the world and our individual take on reality.
We use heuristics, mental rules of thumb we have developed from past experience, to help us deal with new situations; they are a kind of mental short-cut we can take to save us from taking all day over every decision. A schema can be described as the script we follow when in a particular recurring situation. The result of using some of these useful tools in our mental toolbox can be helpful, undoubtedly, as problem-solvers. The side-effect of our efficiency as problem-solvers, however, is that we may miss what’s going on right now, because we are either thinking ahead, or looking back, in order to sort and file our experiences into a coherent reality. The implication of this failure to stay in the moment, and experience fully what is happening right now, can result in a feeling of unreality or dullness of experience which robs us of some of our joy in living. Further down the scale of spending too much time in the present or the past lies the depressive outlook, in which distorted ideas based on the stories we tell ourselves about what reality consists of, result in our capacity for logical thought as well as our joy in living to become so eroded that it is difficult for the person to function well at a mental, and often physical, level at all.
The mental and physical realms are connected; science is now confirming what many traditions have asserted, as for example, in Chinese ideas about ‘Chi‘, that the body has an intelligence or brain, as important to our health and vitality as the ‘mainframe’ brain in our head.
One way to get the mental and physical aspects of our bodies hooked up to reality is to do a little meditation on a regular basis. Meditation can take many forms; we have had a look at a popular form of meditation, exercises the body as well as getting the ‘chi’ flowing in a mind-awareness sense, in an earlier post over here. Another popular type of meditation which beginners might like to try out is known as ‘mindfulness‘ meditation. This is a very easy one to get into, because the idea behind it is very simple. Put plainly, this technique makes use of paying attention to one’s breathing in order to access the mind’s ability to stay in the present moment.
That’s basically it, but if you fancy reading a whole book about the concept, you won’t do better than Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power Of Now‘, which is a beautifully written book about what a wonderful thing it is to be noticing everything your body and mind is experiencing right now, rather than being off with the fairies thinking about the future, the past or even comparing what’s going on now with either of these. Eckhart’s book became an even bigger success after he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, but don’t let that put you off har har!
When you get a bit further into meditation, there are all sorts of meditations you can do, all of which are designed to expose how you think, and by exposing it, iron out some of the flaws and traps in thinking that we all tend to get ensnared and entangled by, opening up new vistas where you might surprise yourself in a million ways. Meditation is different for different individuals, but most people find it can be like a wonderful voyage of self-discovery and also a discovery of some of the jewels of living that we all possess as our birthright, and which some of us may have dropped here and there on our way to adulthood. And it’s all right there on front of us, just waiting to be noticed!