For decades, Westerners have sought meditation traditions to ease anxiety, manage stress and improve performance in both athletic and corporate sectors. There are many different styles: Transcendental, Zen, Mindfulness, Tantric and Yogic- and there many ways to get there. You can study with a meditation teacher, become part of a community, go on a silent retreat, or even meditate with an app in your car on your lunch break. While the benefits of meditation are unrefuted, the path to developing a daily practice is not easy. And maybe that’s because the experience is so deeply personal. Why we are inspired to do it, what techniques are most accessible, what comes up when we are alone on the landscape of the mind, and what we sense beyond that, are as unique and varied as we are.
I found this quote from Vinod D. Deshmukh in an article he wrote about the Neuroscience of Meditation, for the Scientific World Journal.
“ Meditation is an art of being serene and alert in the present moment, instead of constantly struggling to change or to become”. -Deshmukh V. D. (2006)
The description of meditation as an art form leaves room for our meditation experiences to look differently and addresses questions like: “How do I know if I’m doing it right?” When we step into the moment of being, whether it includes thoughts, or colors or altered states of consciousness, or nothing- we are doing it right! If these moments happen while sitting in lotus position, or gardening, or making dinner, or mastering a spreadsheet or running a marathon, we are doing it. I recently watched my daughter put together an entire lego model in one sitting. She did not speak for 2 hours, (unusual for her)- she focused her attention in a calm and methodical way, she was in a state of flow. This is meditation, or at least meditative.
For several years, I tried to carve out space in the early morning to do my yoga practice before my family awakened. I loved starting the day on my mat in the pre-dawn quiet. But no matter how early I started, my son would wake up just as I had finished the asana (physical postures) and pranayama, (breath work), and my mind was still and prepared for meditation. I would hear his little footsteps on the stairs and he would come down and plop into my lap and start chatting about his dreams or his breakfast requests. Even though I felt a little disappointed that I wouldn’t get to “finish”, I knew it was the most authentic practice of being present to sit with him when I was most able to give him my focused attention.
I’ve long held the belief that a successful meditation is one that leaves me feeling simply equalized. I’ve learned not to seek the grandiosity of “enlightenment”, “nirvana” or “samadhi”, and I’m grateful for the alleviation of life’s ordinary concerns. When my meditation practice has been regular and consistent, stress, pain and worry come through as temporary and as fleeting as outfits on a paper doll. What remains is a weightless, enduring certainty that I’m held in a matrix of unity, with love at the root of it all.
Occasionally, and when it’s least expected, something magnificent and transformative happens in these moments of stillness. Late last year, I was run down and very depleted. I’d just had COVID and could barely do my asana practice, but I did a meditation I learned from Mary Baumgartner every single day. It gave me some much needed energy, but more than that, it allowed me to feel connected to an expansive potential that was already within me. During this time, I received a call from my sister asking for prayers for the child of a close friend. The boy had contracted the flu, developed a staph infection, gone septic and was unimaginably fighting for his life, as all his organs began to shut down. Though I didn’t know the family, the reality of how fragile life is and how quickly everything can change touched me deeply. That day and for several days after, I held my awareness around this boy and meditated on his healing. I don’t always have visuals in my meditations, but this particular day was very powerful and gave me a glimpse into the unseen world that is available to all of us.
Settling into meditation, I would typically ground myself and visualize my aura field. Imagine a bubble around you filled with your own life force energy- whatever that looks like. As soon as I popped up the aura field and called the child’s name in, I saw myself as a tiny bubble of light in deep space, connected to many, many other bubbles of light across the giant field of darkness. All points converged on a much larger figure inside of his own aura, and I knew it to be the boy. Again, I did not know this child or his family personally, but I later learned they had amassed a huge prayer chain during the most critical days. What I was witnessing was the collective intention of all those people’s love and energy flowing into his energy body and magnifying it, healing him. I felt as though I had really prayed, for the first time in my life.
Miraculously, the boy made a full recovery.
There are jewels that come from every meditation experience, but the best way to know that it’s “working”, is the way you feel when you aren’t focused on the practice. When you walk though your life in a connected and loving way, at peace with being in all its states, you are there.
Here’s wishing you all the gift of presence in your moments big and small. I would love to hear about your meditation experiences. What styles have you tried? Which techniques work for you? What are your challenges?
Up next: “How Our Habits Shape Our Experience: Using Yoga Therapy to Create New Patterns”
Much Love, Sarah Jane