Meditation is the process of getting in touch with yourself. Touch is an extremely wide set of senses, including the entire skin, with all its discrete areas: hands, belly, face, genitals, feet. Touch also includes the inside of the body: the tongue, mouth, throat, and many other senses that tell us what is happening inside us. When we feel the breath moving in our bodies, this is touch. When we feel ourselves relaxing and our muscles letting go, this is also touch.
Touch is a world of sensuality, with an infinite variety of pleasures. In meditation, because your eyes are closed and visual stimulation (except for your mental images) is reduced, the tactile dimension becomes very strong. It is this rich sense of touch that makes meditation so enjoyable and healing. This aspect of meditative experience is often overlooked.
When we love someone, we want to touch them and be touched. This is a natural and healthy craving, and can be one of the great joys of life. Touch is a silent language that speaks of things more deeply than words. There are many kinds of touch: shaking hands, kissing, hugging, cuddling, massaging, warm embraces. Sex is a special form of touch and we deal with it in its own chapter.
Touch is bonding, and serves to renew and affirm our connections with each other. It is important to know how to both give and receive satisfying touch. In finding the right way to touch each other in the moment, we “stay in touch” and avoid getting “out of touch.”
In the realm of touch there is a syzygy between sensitivity and protection. We may need to protect ourselves, “toughen our skin,” to deal with situations at work. Then we may become unavailable for loving touch, and in this way, an otherwise wonderful relationship may be ruined.
If you have experienced abuse or neglect in the past, or intense emotional pain, you may have developed the habit of chronically tensing your muscles to block out sensations in the skin. Meditation can help to heal many kinds of touch trauma.
This chapter guides the reader through a whole series of touch meditations that can be practiced for thirty seconds here and there throughout the day or as formal, sit-down or lie-down sessions.
HEAR THE MUSIC
Listening to another person is an essential ingredient for intimacy. In any relationship, there needs to be a give and take between listening and speaking. Underneath the content of what someone is saying is a song of hope and fear. As you listen, you get a glimpse of how they perceive the world.
Meditation is the practice of listening to yourself think - but not just your ordinary thoughts in the ordinary way. In meditation, you learn how to follow the sound (or the racket) of your thoughts into the inner world and rest there. You learn to hear the silence underlying thoughts, even when your mind is active.
A good conversation between people is an alternation of expression and silence. Pauses and silences can be eloquent. Meditation trains us to be very good listeners, able to hear the full spectrum of what someone is saying. You hear the song of the soul underneath their words. Everyone wants their song to be heard. When someone who meditates is listening to you, you can feel the power of attention.
Meditation exercises your ability to listen and trains it. This can lead you into hearing the cacophony of life as a form of music. People going about their business, the sounds of nature, can seem like noise or a delightful symphony, depending on whether your nerves are raw or soothed. If you have bathed in the beauty of inner sound and silence, you will be more able to accept the sound of the world. It is as if you have just come back from vacation.
Life is movement. Our heart beats; our breath flows; our brain waves. All of our cells are continually dancing. With each breath, air moves and the body moves to welcome and then expel the air. We are always in motion on every level.
When we meditate, we come into rapport with ourselves. All the different rhythms that are going on come into synchronization. Meditation is like the orchestra tuning up before a performance. The musicians sit down, take out their instruments, and start making notes, at first discordant, and then more and more harmonious.
When we come into rapport with another person, some of our rhythms synchronize with them. If we are listening, we may nod at the end of their sentences, to indicate that we understand. When people are in very close rapport, they may blink at the same time and breathe in the same rhythm. Conversational synchrony is a primarily unconscious, but very vital aspect of communication.
When you are more in tune with yourself from meditation, it is easier to be in rapport with anyone else that you choose. Whether you are speaking or listening, your instrument – your nervous system – is in better shape for communication. Meditation helps you to stay true to your own rhythm even while adapting to the needs of the outer situation.
Sometimes it is necessary to break rapport with someone, or with a group, in order to re-establish your own rhythm. Awareness of rapport can help you to do this. You need to be able to move to the pulse of your inner world as well as adapt to the tempo of life around you.
DANCE WITH EMOTION
Emotion is the blood of a relationship, a stream of vital energy that is meant to be flowing freely, in full color. Emotion is our response to what life presents, and those we love want us to be responsive to them. You can’t have an open heart if you are not feeling your emotions.
Emotion is excitement about life and takes many tones: joy, sorrow, reverence, fear, hate, anger, and love. Emotion is energetic and propels us into action. Emotion can also lead us into our inner world and serve as a gateway to meditation.
Having a rich, full life means being able to feel the entire spectrum of emotion. You need to be able to accept and move with all emotions, and to do so in an appropriate way. This is enormously challenging for any human being.
Emotions are experienced as thoughts and sensations. When you focus on the sensation underlying any emotion, you may sense motion in some part of your body – in the belly, or chest, or throat. You may have butterflies in your stomach, pangs in your heart, a lump in your throat.
In meditation we can track the movement of emotion and learn from it. If meditation is listening to yourself, then the conversation is like talking to a good friend or a therapist who helps you to get at what you are really feeling.
Sensing emotion utilizes an entire universe of circuitry in the brain, senses, muscles, and glands.
During meditation, we witness an infinite variety of ever-changing emotions, like inner fireworks. This is one of the most interesting and tricky aspects of meditation practice.
There is a syzygy between passion and equanimity. Because meditation is intrinsically so calming, it is necessary to cherish emotions so that we do not become overly complacent. We each have to work out our best balance.
Meditation is often interpreted as suppressing emotion, because for the past 2500 years or so, meditation has primarily been practiced by renunciates living in religious communities. Their day job is to be calm at all times and not get excited. However, when people who are living in the world mistakenly practice suppression of the emotions in meditation, they can become dull and devitalized.
One practical effect of meditation is that it gives us a half-second lead time when emotions arise, where we can witness them, enjoy them, sense the underlying perception, accept the energy of the emotion, and express it. If we are in a situation where we have to keep quiet, meditation helps us to do so without suppressing ourselves. This enhanced awareness helps us to receive the gift of emotion, join with the energy and let it take us into a more passionate connection with life.
FEEL THE CURRENT
Your body is an energy system in continual flow. This system works so seamlessly that we usually take it for granted. For example, as you read this page, light in the visible spectrum is taken in by your eyes, and turned into electrical and chemical impulses in your nerves and brain.
The sum total of all this body electricity, and the movement of life through us, generates a field of energy, a bio-magnetic field of life force. This dimension of the human body has been mapped and used in healing by many ancient cultures, for example the chakra system of yoga and the meridian system in acupuncture. This subtle body permeates and surrounds your physical body and extends out in all directions for several feet. In heightened states of awareness such as love, your field may extend out for a hundred feet.
We can learn to sense this energy field. Most people can readily sense the energy as a very subtle kind of touch. A few people can see it, and some can hear it. Certain parts of the body – the hands, the heart, the genitals, the belly, the head, are especially sensitive to subtle energy.
The energy body plays a very important role in all intimate relationships. When you are alone, communing with yourself or meditating, the energy body and the physical body come into close harmony and interpenetration, like lovemaking. When you are with another person, your energy bodies mingle.
The energy body often feels magnetic, in the sense of attraction and repulsion – you get a quiet impulse to move toward something or move away, even when your other senses, such as vision, aren’t telling you anything. When we are alert to the tiny sensations in our energy body, they inform us of hidden blessings as well as hidden dangers. The energy body is one of the factors behind “intuition.”
IGNITE YOUR SEXUALITY
Sex is how we all got here, and is a doorway back into the universe at large. Orgasm is both death and birth. The French call it “le petit mort,” the little death. We die to ourselves and something new is born.
Sex itself is a meditation. When we think about sex, we are deeply engaged with the forces of life. They call us to share sexual energy with another, to caress and excite, build up a charge, and move toward simultaneous release. We surrender to the power of life flowing through us. Sexual energy is spiritual energy. The two are one and the same, just different expressions.
Meditation serves sexuality in profound ways. A daily meditation practice tunes the body for satisfying sex. Men who meditate are more easily able to slow down to a woman’s pace, to linger and savor subtle sensations. Women who meditate in a sensual way come to bed already suffused with their feminine essence and are able to relax and surrender more fully.
When we are truly relaxed in sex, stereotypes dissolve. Women also can be yang, active, and penetrating. A touch, a kiss, a look, a word can penetrate another very deeply. Men can be receptive and in fact must be at times in order to appreciate a woman.
There are innumerable tones to sex, from earthy and raw to the most sublime and delicate. Keeping sex fresh and exciting is part of keeping love alive. There are at least three major tones of sexuality to know, in meditation and in bed: animal, soulful, and cosmic.
Meditating on the sexual parts of the body is a powerful and profound way to ignite your sexuality. In our love relationships, we need to be finely tuned animals, ready to give and receive love in a physical way. We need our genitals and our hearts to be connected, and connected to our heads as well. In other words, we need to be all together, a unified, erotic body. Meditation gives us fantastic gifts in this realm.
FALL IN LOVE WITH SPACE
Space is the context within which our interactions take place. If you are talking to a friend, there is a certain amount of space between you, usually between two and four feet. Too little space and you feel crowded, too much space and you feel distant and disconnected. Every relationship has its little negotiations about space. Spatial awareness is a great resource for relationships.
Being intimate with space is a way to be intimate with yourself. When you meditate, you “give yourself space,” room to breathe. You can let yourself expand, dissolve into space, merge with the vastness. Learning to be at home in space is a tremendous relief because you don’t have to “hold yourself together.” Falling into space is like falling into love – you let go into the unknown and merge with something larger than yourself.
In meditation and in relationship, it is important to not to cramp your own style or try to squeeze yourself into a tiny inner space. Becoming intimate with space can give us the sense of having vast inner resources and plenty of room to move, wherever we are. Having this kind of inner spaciousness is a great boon to our relationships, because we can get as close as we like and not lose ourselves. Meditation teaches us to be spacious with ourselves and with others. There is breathing room, room to spread out, room to grow.
The term, “expansion of consciousness” is sometimes used to describe meditation. A common meditative experience is the sense that your awareness extends into space in all directions. After meditation, this spaciousness changes your whole perspective. You see the big picture that is holding the details of your life.
In relationship, you want to develop spaciousness with each other, and also containment. You respect each other’s boundaries and at the same time honor and strengthen the bonds.
You can “hold space” for someone, meaning, you create a field of loving awareness. For example, when you really listen to someone, you hold a space for their being to be revealed. This is both containment and spacious, a masterful art. Everyone craves being held in this kind of awareness.
REVEL IN DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Everyday life is structured around alternating sessions of light and dark. Even though the electric light has given us the ability to have light all the time, still, there are always plays of dark and light. Exposure to both light and dark is a physical need. Physiological studies show that we sleep better in total darkness. And our bodies, our brains and our bones need sunlight daily, and without it we get depressed.
Light and dark is the realm of vision, including inner vision. When we are thinking in images, we see our thoughts with our “inner vision,” on the mind’s screen. When we close our eyes in meditation, this sense of internal sight is heightened. We do not just see blinding inner light or black nothingness; we see an interplay of dark and light with infinite gradations of color, contrast, shadow and brightness. Shadow helps things to stand out; it gives depth.
Metaphorically, everyone talks about enlightenment as radiance, an illumination to consciousness. Endarkenment is neglected, and it is easy to become one-sided, and blinded by the light. Darkness is rich, fertile, and mysterious. Just think of how great dark chocolate is. When you are snug in the darkness, you can rest and resupply, take nourishment. It is a great relief to the eyes to be in darkness. It is restful, physically.
When you can see the full range of darkness and light, you can see reality. You have depth perception. You can see yourself in wholeness, not just sweetness and light. You can see another person in their wholeness, and accept them.
SURRENDER TO TIME
Time, like gravity and space, is one of the primal elements within which we live and move and have our being. Humans have the mixed blessing of being able to perceive time. We fight time, we waste time, we try to save time, we feel short of time. We are “time-poor.” The stress of time pressure gives us high blood pressure.
Being aware of time also means we are aware that everything changes and that eventually we will die. Everyone we know will die. We will lose everyone we love, one way or another. This awareness can be intolerable, and we will do everything we can to avoid the terrifying vulnerability. Awareness of death can also lead to profound appreciation of the time we have with each other, and take us into the most soulful, tender intimacy with others.
Obliviousness of death makes us take life for granted – oh, I’ll get to that later. Some day, later, I will tell her that I love her. Fear of death keeps us out of life and love. Our hearts never open because we are afraid of the inevitable loss.
Death is sometimes called “the long sleep.” In meditation, letting go feels like dying. Every exhalation is a little death, and every inhalation is a little rebirth. During meditation, according to scientists, the body settles into a profound state of relaxation and restfulness that is much deeper than deep sleep. In this utter repose, we learn to face death, over and over. We have a safe place to practice facing the intolerable and shattering realization that what we love will die.
When we surrender to time, we gain a sense of both eternity and the preciousness of the moment. The human heart needs to be immersed in this mystery. The paradox of present moment and eternity co-existing breaks the heart open to love.
APPRECIATE LIFE AS ART
One of the greatest gifts of meditation is the capacity to see the world anew each day. Things seem to drip with freshness, as if they had just been born. Our senses are opened, so we can perceive and appreciate the details of life. Meditation stretches awareness, so that we have a sense of both the big picture and the little details.
The little details that delight us are unique to each individual. You have to hunt and learn to discern both your individuality and your connection to the whole. This is why it is important to have a sensual approach to meditation, one that honors your uniqueness and individual style. If you take the greatest meditation teaching ever, and apply it to yourself in a diligent, austere program, you will likely miss the point and wind up impoverished in heart and soul.
An obstacle to intimacy of all kinds is the principle “familiarity breeds contempt.” We live with someone, or ourselves, and think we know them. We take them for granted. This is an illusion. Each person is a continually unfolding work of art. You never know anyone fully. Our map of another person, or ourselves, continually needs updating.
During meditation, the brain is intensely busy updating its map of the world. At the same time, the map becomes more translucent, so we can see though to the essence beneath. This is a soulful perception.
Soulful perception is aesthetic appreciation. Life is art. When we open to this sensibility, we move into seeing with the eyes of an artist, hearing with the ears of a musician, feeling with the soul of a poet, and sensing life with the touch of a lover.
Artistic perception leads us into daring choices. We realize how some detail of our life is not in harmony with the big picture we see; it has to change. This is wonderfully clarifying but can also be extremely uncomfortable. Like a sculptor, you may have to chisel away at the parts that do not fit, so that the true form of your life can be revealed
Seeing the world artistically is awe-inspiring. Our souls are touched with wonder and gratitude. We gain a sense of abundance and inner wealth, which makes us feel generous. We want to give back to life, give back to the world, and be part of the marvelous movement of creation.