Meditation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What Is Meditation?by Lorin Roche, Ph.D. Adapted from Meditation Made Easy, HarperOne (2001)
Meditation is a name we give to a universe of techniques for accessing inner peace. In general, to meditate you sit relatively still, and let yourself pay attention to some aspect of the way life renews itself. There are thousands of variations on the techniques. For many people, it is wrong to sit still – it is better to undulate, sway, dance, most of the time, then have just a few minutes of relative stillness.
Let's take a breath, and go over that again. Read the following sentences slowly, and breathe a few breaths at the end of each phrase.
To meditate, we sit and pay loving attention to the rhythm and pulsation of life renewing itself.
How does life renew itself? Life is always in motion, rhythmically pulsating as it heals and evolves itself.
The breath, for example. Breath is one rhythm we can pay attention to. Just for a few seconds, notice the way the breath is flowing into and out of your body. There are many little things to love about the way breath feels, and if you start paying attention in a loving way, you will settle into meditation. There are innumerable other rhythms, such as the heartbeat, or the rhythm of thoughts and silence.
Meditation allows us to access a naturally occurring rest state; it is resting in yourself while remaining awake and alert. It is different from sleep, in that the rest is much deeper and happens quickly, and you become more aware than usual. Meditation happens spontaneously for a few seconds or minutes when we gaze at the horizon, a sunset, a river, the ocean, or lie on our backs and gaze upward at the night sky.
We can cultivate meditation intentionally, we can set aside a time each day to meditate, and this has great benefits. Even a few minutes of meditation here and there can help your day to be more full of grace and good humor.
What Are the Benefits of Meditation?
Meditating daily has a powerful beneficial effect on your physical health, your ability to heal emotionally, and your ability to function at your best. These benefits are measurable, and scientists and doctors the world over have been researching them for decades, by having people come into medical labs and meditate. I was part of this research in the 60's and 70's, and have the scars to prove it.
Meditation benefits all levels of life simultaneously and in balance. That is, when you do a meditation practice that really fits your individual nature and your daily life. You'll have to fine-tune any practice to get this kind of fit.
Physically, the muscles relax, the organs rest, the circulation of life energy is stabilized and tuned, and the body tunes itself up for action.
In terms of the senses, all the senses come awake, alert and ready to appreciate life. The brain and nervous system review past experience, heal and let go of painful memories, and prepare to enter action in a balanced, adaptive, successful manner. This is very healing emotionally, because you take refuge in a space of your own creation, get centered, access inner safety. Just knowing you can give yourself such repose gives a feeling of inner richness.
Most people notice slight improvements in their ability to communicate and work.
Some of the research on meditation is discussed on my benefits of meditation page, which also has links to compilations of published meditation research.
Why Do People Say Meditation is so Healing?
There are at least three ways that meditation helps with healing on a physical and emotional level.
– Meditation lets the body rest more deeply than sleep, even though you are sitting up and are awake.
– During meditation your body-mind system lets go of the past, and of the hurts of the past. As if a lot of time has passed.
– After meditation, you are less likely to get stressed over little things, so you will tend to have less stress-related illness.
Rest is one of the most profound human needs. We all need to sleep and dream. We all know how rejuvenating sleep is. Meditation gives us access to that kind of renewal, only on a deeper level.
Life organizes itself in a rhythm of action and rest
, action and rest. And if we do not get rejuvenating rest, our performance degrades. Meditation gives the body a chance to reset its clocks and enter action and sleep in a more harmonious manner.
When we rest, the body (including the nervous system and brain) tunes itself up, repairs damage, gathers energy, and gets ready to go.
Think of the deepest rest you have ever had in your life. You woke up and you could hardly move. That correlates to about an 8 percent reduction in oxygen consumption. Oxygen consumption is an indicator of how much work the body is doing.
During sleep, oxygen consumption gradually declines over a period of four or five hours, to eventually reach this 8 percent reduction. During meditation, oxygen consumption decreases by 10 to 17 percent within the first 3 to 5 minutes. This is a spontaneous side effect of paying attention in a meditative way, and is felt as a powerful sense of physical relaxation and ease. In other words, the body spontaneously goes into this state when you practice a meditation technique that suits you.
Meditation is innate, and your body already knows how to do it. The human body has an instinctive ability to shift into profound rest states in order to heal, energize, integrate, tune itself up and assimilate learning. It is almost a sure bet that you have already experienced this many times in your life. Meditation can happen spontaneously, as when you are sitting on a hill looking at a sunrise or sunset, or when listening to music. Most people I work with remember meditating many times in the past - only they did not call it meditation. It was just a personal time, a special time they had with themselves or with nature.
Meditation is paradoxical in that you are resting more deeply than sleep, yet you are wide awake inside. It is similar in some ways to taking a nap but you don’t fall asleep, you fall awake. You can induce it by attentively doing anything simple and repetitive. We breathe all the time, and breathing is rhythmic, so you could pay attention to your breathing. There are so many ways in.
Meditation promotes a heightened awareness of the details of everyday life. Even a few minutes of meditation will help you move through the world with more relaxation and alertness.
Meditation is giving attention a chance to explore its full range, both inward and outward. It is a conversation between your inner and your outer life. This sounds simple, and it is. But there is no end to the delights of attention; there is always more to learn, more to explore, more to awaken to.
Where Did Meditation Come from?
Meditation was probably discovered independently by hunters, singers, dancers, drummers, lovers and hermits, each in their own way. People tend to encounter meditative states whenever they throw themselves with total intensity into life’s callings. The knowledge of how to intentionally cultivate meditative states is a kind of craft knowledge -- those handy tips people pass on to each other. Meditation does not come from India or Tibet -- those are just places the knowledge rested for awhile, and the hermits in those wrote it all down. Bless them.
Human beings have been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the archaeologists. I consider it very likely they have been using sophisticated mental tools for tens of thousands of years.
Hunters, for example, sometimes have to make themselves still for hours. They have to merge with the forest and not even think, lest they scare the prey away. Then they leap into action with total precision at a moment’s notice -- that’s Zen in a nutshell. Hunters teach each other these skills, through verbal instruction and example.
Singers and dancers often enter meditative states through their passionate expression. Singers work with breath awareness in ways far more sophisticated than yoga. Lovers are often in a state of heightened appreciation which borders closely on meditation. Hermits are the ones we have heard the most from, because they kept the best notes. That is why we always think of yogis and bearded guys in the Himalayas when we think of meditation. But their way is only one small subset of the many different gateways into meditation.
Meditation comes from the human heart and is a way of warming your hands and your life at the fire always pulsing there in your core. It comes from the depths of your instinctive wisdom. Human beings are always wondering and inquiring, and meditation is a natural emergence of that adventure.
On the other hand, cats obviously meditate. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. So it may be a genetically encoded, instinctive talent in mammals. Cats don’t need to be taught to meditate, but humans need a little coaching.
What’s A Meditation Technique?
The word technique comes to us from Latin and Greek words meaning weave and texture. This is apt because in meditation you weave together all of who you are to pay attention to one thing.
There are two elements to any meditation technique: how you pay attention, and what you pay attention to. The how is usually gentle, restful, steady attention, and the what is something simple, yet sensuous and gorgeous — like breath. In meditation you rest attention in a sensory perception, take delight in it, then hang on for the ride.
Breath is an example of a sensual focus for meditation. Breath is infinitely interesting because it can be taken for granted, it can be frenzied, it can be passionate, it can be sweet, it can be energizing and it can be soothing. Breath can wake you up and put you to sleep. Breath can be dignified and it can be wild. If you keep paying attention to breath, you will discover all these feelings in yourself. Breath is a love affair you are having with infinity, and the purpose of any meditation technique is to lead you into being a little bit more in love with life day by day.
There are thousands of meditation techniques, and all of them were appropriate for someone, somewhere, somewhere in time. You can pay attention to almost anything as a meditation focus, if you really want to. The fact of the meditation traditions preserving their records across thousands of years is one of the Wonders of the World.
There are many subtle differences in the rules each meditation tradition advocates, but these are just codifications of what worked in a given situation. They are not carved in stone.
How Do I Know Which Technique To Do?
Explore and find out what works for you. Everyone is different. Some people can learn from a book, other people learn better from an audio program. If you can swing it, call me and set up sessions, or come to a workshop.
The main thing I do when I work with people is to help them shape an approach to meditation that suits their individual nature, personality, body type and daily life.
Human beings have instincts that guide them in meditation. Instinctive Meditation takes the best of classical meditation teachings from thousands of years ago, and updates it for modern lifestyles.
The purpose of any meditation technique is to lead you beyond itself into a more immediate and vital contact with your everyday life. You will know, usually immediately, which techniques you like, and they will be the ones that leave you feeling rested and more available for the joy of living.
There is no One True Way to meditate. You can just do what works for you. The truth is what works, and your truth is what works for you.
Why Do People Quit Meditating After Doing It For Awhile?
People usually quit because their bodies and nerves have changed, and so the meditation technique they have been using no longer fits. So, in a sense, they are right to quit. It's like when a child is growing – if they stop wearing a particular pair of shoes or jeans, it may be because their foot or body can no longer fit comfortably into them.
Your needs will change over time. A technique that fulfills your need in one season or year may need to shift to match your needs a season or a year later. So you need to reinvent meditation from time to time. Sometimes it's only a slight shift, sometimes the change is more radical.
As you fulfill one phase of your evolution, you will need to reinvent meditation also. Instinctive Meditation trains you to sense your own needs and adapt your meditation practice to fulfill your needs. You might crave solitude and silence for a month, then shift to wanting to party or have your life filled with socializing and music. Instinctive Meditation appreciates that life is always changing, and gives you tools to meet life head-on.
One of the main reason people stop meditating after having a consistent practice for awhile is that their life changes. They may have been depressed, and the meditation heals that and leads them out into life. So they need to drop the old form of meditating and invent a new one.
From what I have seen, people do not have a lack of "discipline." Regular people work long hours and juggle many chores - they have plenty of discipline. No, when people are not meditating it is not because of lack of discipline - it's that they don't have some piece of knowledge they need. The technique they were doing no longer fits.
Just like you can tell when clothes fit you and have room to move, not too tight, not too loose, you can tell when a meditation practice fits you. Don't force yourself, ever, to do a meditation technique that feels wrong or feels constricting. This is unhealthy.
What’s a Mantra and Do I Need One?
A mantra is a tool. Mantra is Sanksrit for a tool of thought. Although there are many types of tools of thought — for example, visual images, sounds, and movements — in practice, the word mantra has come to mean thought as sound. Mantras are special sounds that are handy for use in meditation. Yantra has come to mean visual tools of thought for meditation, and Mudra refers to the hand gestures and dance meditation moves.
Thoughts can come in any multimedia presentation — images, inner movies, abstract art, sounds, internal conversations, phrases of words, feelings, bodily sensations, even smells and tastes. When we are thinking, we think in combinations of all these. But because human language uses sound, and because people talk so much to each other, sound is a very useful tool to use in meditation.
Right now, reading this book, you may be hearing the sounds of the words in a very abstract way inside yourself — not a clear enunciation.
You have already heard mantras, many times, in the euphonious sounds sung in church, temple, and in chorale music. Allelujah, Hallelujah, or Amen. Take one of those words and sing it right now, or chant it for a few minutes.
You have even made up mantras, or parts of them. Sounds such as Oh and Ah and mmmmm are the components of mantras, and they are the kinds of sounds people naturally make when they are exclaiming, sighing, and being delighted. Or having an orgasm.
As an exercise, take a piece of paper right now and make a list of all the sounds you have ever made when getting close to orgasm and then coming. Oh Oh Oh oh oh Ah ah ouuuuuhh mmmmmmmm. Make your own list, then construct a mantra from it.
There is a beautiful feeling that’s generated by some sounds. Sounds speak to the body directly, get it vibrating in accord. You can listen to such sounds inwardly, without making any external sound, and the effect is like listening to internal music. It can be wonderful and restful. If you find a mantra you like and listen to it while meditating, it’s as if the areas of the brain involved in speech are getting a massage.
Some people love to listen to mantras while meditating, and some people prefer things such as breath. As you explore the exercises, you can find out for yourself what your preferences are.
How Will I Know I’m Doing it Right?
If you are enjoying yourself, feel restful, and have a sense of ease, you are doing it right. In the long run, you know you are doing it right if you are more adaptable, more resilient, more stable inside yourself, more perceptive, and more appreciative of life.
Can I Learn to Meditate from a Book?
Yep. Some people can. You can also learn to meditate from a sunset, a piece of music, from love, poetry, and from other people. If you are meditating every day and thriving with the practice, then you know what you need to know. If you are not meditating every day, then you don't know enough about your individuality to actually make meditation suitable for you. It is not a matter of discipline. It's a matter of customizing the meditation to suit your unique individual nature.
In all my books, I attempt to put as much practical knowledge about the techniques as is possible, and Meditation 24/7: Practices to Enlighten Every Moment of the Day
comes with a CD containing 14 guided meditations. Put the meditations on your iPod and there you are.
If you want help getting into a meditation practice, just email me or call. I like doing one-to-one sessions, in addition to writing books and teaching workshops.
What Do I Need to Get Started?
A comfortable chair, a couple of minutes and one or more functioning sensory pathways, such as hearing or sight or touch. You can come in with any attitude you have: skepticism, curiosity or enjoyment. Be willing to be surprised and energized and be willing to fall asleep because you are so relaxed.
You do not need to know much to get started. Just treat meditation as if your were doing something you enjoy, such as listening to music, napping, drinking, eating or reading. Put meditation into that slot in your life, of things you do to unwind or have a quietly good time. If you take this approach, you will discover connections between meditation and joyous indulgences you already know, and meditation will quickly become a treasured part of your daily life.
How Can I Accessorize for Meditation?
Clothing: Just wear whatever you are wearing — you can be comfortable or uncomfortable. Some of the best meditations I have ever had were while wearing a suit and a tie. I loosened the tie a little. Other all-time great meditations of mine were 1) naked 2) wearing my favorite silk robe 3) sitting on a rock wearing swimming trunks 4) in bed, wrapped in a blanket. It is good to have a blanket or jacket handy in case you get chilled.
Chair: My favorite chair for meditating is the square waiting-room chair, such as you see in waiting rooms in offices. It is made of wood and has cloth over padding, and some padding on the arms. These chairs are stable, give great back support, let the upper torso be free to move, and aren’t too soft or too firm. The main thing is that your feet touch the floor. If you are short, cut an inch or whatever is needed off the legs of the chair. These chairs, if you sit upright in them, offer just the right amount of back support. The back of the chair supports your back up to about the middle. The shoulders and head are free. But you can sit on a sofa, on any comfortable chair anywhere you like.
What Will Happen When I Meditate?
The main thing you will experience is rhythm, the continuous ebb and flow of many intersecting rhythms, because that is what life is. Your body and mind are composed of complex symphonies of rhythms.
The sensuous texture of meditation is infinitely varied: there are all kinds of subtle sensations, internal imagery, and sound effects. Experience changes moment-to-moment and is always sort of a surprise, like a good movie. One moment you will be in the bliss of an inner vacation, then suddenly you will be thinking of your laundry list. You will never have exactly the same experience twice.
In general, your experience will probably orbit between:
– Sorting through lots of thoughts about your daily life.
– Reviewing the emotions you felt during the day and giving them a chance to resolve.
– Brief moments of deep quiet and inner peace.
– Near-sleep and dream-like images.
– Healing. Re-experiencing and then letting go of old hurts.
– Tuning up. Your nervous system fine-tuning itself to the optimal level of alertness.
You will probably find your body shifting between each of these moods or modes every half a minute or so.
There is often a lot of relaxation during all these phases, but the aim of meditation is not relaxation. Meditation is an evolutionary instinct that works to make you more alert and capable of adapting after meditation.
Do I Have to Make My Mind Blank?
No, nor do you have to empty your mind. This is another big myth. There are moments of inner quiet, but thinking is a major part of meditation. You ride thoughts like surfers ride waves. The more you accept all thoughts, the more inner repose you will get.
The brain does a lot of sorting and housecleaning during meditation and is often tremendously busy. The more your mind wanders during meditation, the more able it is to pay attention after meditation, because it has done its tuning-up process.
Also, since you are relaxed during meditation, you learn to stay relaxed while thinking of things in your life that used to make you tense. You should expect your mind to be noisy part of the time in meditation. You won’t care very much, though, because you will still be very relaxed. After meditation is when your mind will be quieter. And because your mind is quiet, those little thoughts you need to know can catch up with you. Your intuition, your gut feelings, your strategic overview, your hunches will emerge with greater clarity.
Do I Have To Concentrate?
No. People do lots of concentration at work, so it would be redundant to concentrate during meditation. It would be a Busman’s Holiday. In meditation you learn how to do the opposite of concentration, you learn a kind of expansion of the scope of attention. You learn an all-inclusive kind of attention that excludes nothing, and therefore the needy and unknown parts of yourself can come into range. This is what leads to integration of the personality and coordination between mind and heart and body. Unlearning concentration is a big part of learning to meditate.
Do I Have To Slow Down?
No. Leave your speed alone. When you are meditating, just accept whatever speed your thoughts and nerves are moving at.
It turns out that just the attitude, "I have to slow down," or "these thoughts should slow down," can ruin your meditation. Why? Because you have added an element of resistance, and distrust of the natural. Before you started meditating, thoughts were moving at their own speed, and it was not a problem. Now that you have closed your eyes to meditate, if you declare that you are now a legal body that is in charge of setting thought speed limits, and also a traffic cop, then you aren't meditating. You are being a cop.
The brain works much faster than you can perceive. You can't, for example, see the individual blades of a fan spinning when it is at speed. You just see the blur. There are many processes in the brain much faster than a fan spinning. When you get a sense of quick thoughts, all that's happening is that you are noticing a bit more than you usually do.
When interviewing people who used to meditate and then stopped, sometimes the reason they stopped was something as simple as this. They thought you were supposed to slow down your brain. All they needed was to accept speed.
Time and meditation is a hugely interesting phenomenon. Just take an exploratory attitude to time, speed, slowing down, speeding up, and time stopping. There is a whole universe of perception here to learn to sense.
When you are relaxed and attentive, time seems to open up, and there is the feeling of having more time. But you haven’t slowed down. There is just less mental noise, and you have a richer contact with the sensuous world.
Human reaction time is around a fifth of a second. If you see a herd of buffalo or cars racing by, you can recognize the situation and begin stepping out of the way in a fraction of a second. When someone is talking to you, you recognize individual sounds in a hundredth of a second, because recognition time is much shorter than reaction time. That means if you see a friend, you recognize her that quickly. Why would you want to slow down?
The truth behind the fantasy of slowing down is that meditation gives you more choice about your velocity: you can speed up or slow down as appropriate. Also, there is a synchronization of rhythms that happens during meditation that sometimes creates the feeling of there being more time in the day. Anyone can experience this whether they are mothers with their kids, athletes, drivers or musicians: when they are in their groove, they sometimes have the feeling that there’s a lot of time in a second. It comes about from heightened attentiveness.
So don’t think you have to put on the brakes in order to meditate, and during meditation forget about controlling your speed. While meditating, when a thought comes, you can identify what sort of thought it is earlier in the process of its development, because you are attentive. After meditation, there is typically a feeling of harmony, of moving through your day in synch with your inner rhythms. This creates the sense that there is more time in the day. You get to this experience by paying attention, not by trying to slow things down.
How Could Meditation Be Easy?
It is an illusion that there is some oomph that you need to make, as if you have to push the meditation or jump-start it. Meditation is not an old car with a dead battery. Your body is not an old horse you have to beat to get into motion or rest. Meditation is recognizing and then giving in to your desire for rest, inner sanctuary and relaxation. It’s a relief to meditate once you know how. The fantasy of effort just gets in the way of meditation, in the same way that trying to go to sleep gets in the way of shifting from the waking state to sleep.
Most people wouldn’t describe sitting on the sofa watching their favorite TV show as hard. Then why would it be hard to close the eyes and watch the ongoing sitcom of your mind for half an hour? There might even be fewer commercials.
If you let meditation be a simple pleasure, then it is easy to do. And if you meditate just for the joy of it, it will be good for you and self-reinforcing.
The amount of effort in meditation is about the same as that of listening to music you enjoy, especially if it’s the kind you close your eyes to. Physiologically, meditation is a deeper rest than sleep, so it is by definition easier than even sleeping. The capacity to meditate is built-in, so you just need to trigger it, and this means you allow your body and mind to go into meditation.
Many things in life can be hard: finding someone to love is often hard, working out a relationship is hard, breaking up or staying together can be hard, jobs are hard. People dying is hard. You don’t have to make meditation hard in order to create an aura of romance about it.
Is There Anything Difficult About Meditation?
Yes. Because you are relaxed, you will feel everything. Because you are aware, you will really feel your nerves, muscles, emotions and sensations. Coming down off of emergency functioning is hard. If you meditate after a really stressful day, where you have been running on adrenaline, you’ll feel pain for awhile because your nerves are buzzing with stress. Sometimes it is that familiar pleasure-pain of resting when tired, and sometimes it is more pain than pleasure. Once I was meditating after a really long, tiring day, and was in the midst of feeling my nerves buzz with pain. I peeked at my watch to see what time it was, then went back to paying attention to the fatigue and pain. An hour later, it seemed, I checked my watch again, and less than three minutes had gone by! Gradually over minutes, as you pay attention, the sensation turns into a pleasurable fatigue.
Meditation really speeds up the process of shifting from emergency mode to pleasure mode, but you have to be willing to pay the price. The price is, you feel everything, every little buzz and ache in every nerve. The upside is you feel a lot better after meditation. That’s a huge upside, because it means you can walk into a room after a stressful day and walk out refreshed half an hour later. This has an immense impact on your life if you choose to do it — you have your nerves back, you have your pleasure back, you have real energy instead of the false buzz of emergency. You won’t need a glass of wine to relax, and when you eat dinner, you will actually taste your food instead of unconsciously gulping it. But this is the down-and-dirty, bottom line, nitty-gritty of meditation: are you willing to stay there and pay attention to your own healing?
Another thing that’s hard is experiencing the deeper layers of your own healing. Anytime you are deeply relaxed and feel safe, your brain will at some point bring up memories of past events when you felt unsafe and tense, in order to erase the trauma and free the body of residual fear. To heal a painful memory, you have to relive it while in a safe and relaxed state. Often your brain will review a memory over and over until you can look at it and stay relaxed. This happens spontaneously during meditation, and it only happens to the extent that you can stay relaxed. This is part of meditation people have the trouble with, because they don’t understand it. On the other hand, pulling a thorn out of your foot hurts, but it’s a lot easier than limping around, trying to not put any pressure on the part of your foot with the thorn in it.
Because you are relaxed, your residual tensions come to the surface to be reviewed, evaluated, and let go. This same process goes on during sleep, but you are unconscious so you don’t notice it. Meditation takes some of the load off of sleep, because you have worked through the tensions of the day before even going to bed, and this tends to make sleep more restful and renewing.
Can I Meditate Just Out of Curiosity?
Yes. As a matter of fact, the instinct to inquire is a major power source for meditation.
Meditation is not just one sappy mood of reverence or quiet. It is a platform from which to witness all your moods. You can come as you are and meditate for any reason under the Sun. You can meditate just to check it out, you can meditate in order to have better sex, or because you are stressed-out, or because you want some enlightenment. You do not have to be sincere, or serious to meditate. You could be making fun of the whole thing and still get a lot out of it. When I talk this way, it absolutely infuriates traditionalists, who demand respect. But I am not against tradition. I am in the tradition.
It's just that there are many ways to meditate, many yogas. And the ones that take everything seriously and deaden the spirit are over-represented.
Curiousity, humor, wonder, and delight are way under-represented in the field of meditation. So that is what I emphasize.
Will I Need to Make Lifestyle Changes?
Not really. Just start, and then over time if you feel you want to make a change, then go ahead. But just adding meditation time to your day is a big change. Don't think you have to "improve" yourself in some way before you start meditating.
On the other hand, be alert to simple basics. I was 18 on the day I went to learn meditation, and I got pulled over because the registration sticker on my VW bug had expired. Then my fake ID fell out of my wallet in front of the Highway Patrol guy. I had gotten the ID in order to sneak into jazz night clubs in Los Angeles where they had a two-drink minimum: Shelly's Manhole, The Playboy Club, The Lighthouse. But I was never carded, and had forgotten it was in my wallet. I had actually never used it.
Over the years, I have heard all kinds of stories like mine, indicating that it can be good to clean up our act a bit before going across the threshold. It really helps to be ethical. So if you get a hunch to change something, get rid of an artifact from your previous phase of existence, then go ahead.
Other than that, don’t change anything unless you want to. Your lifestyle got you this far, why change it now? You can smoke cigarettes, eat meat, drink coffee, have wine with dinner. With regard to food, eat with gusto whatever makes you feel strong and energetic. In the long run, this will probably keep you healthier than following any particular set of rules.
If you are meditating as part of a health regimen or a healthy heart program, follow whatever suggestions the doctors have made. And if you are taking prescription medications, then keep taking them. Some people can reduce their blood pressure medication if they meditate consistently, but get a monitor and chart your results over the course of a year and talk about it with your doctor.
Cherish your vices, whatever they are; meditation will work its magic on your relationship with them. A lot of what are called vices are ways of letting off steam, releasing tension. When you are less tense, then you may find you don’t need to do unhealthy things to unwind.
Do I Have to Sit Cross-Legged?
Sitting cross-legged works well for some people and it looks really cool. But this pose does nothing for meditation that can’t be done in other ways. The main virtue of the cross-legged posture is that it’s handy if you have no furniture, are homeless, or are outdoors.
Recently two yoga teachers came for meditation sessions in the same week. They were both lean young women, and they sat cross-legged on the floor during the session. They shifted around and had to adjust their feet every few minutes. I didn’t say anything at the time, because I just wanted to observe. But later I asked each of them and they admitted that they always sit in the cross-legged pose and their legs always hurt after awhile when they do so.
On the other hand, or foot, I enjoy the cross-legged pose. It just feels nifty sometimes. I’ve used it about half the time in my thirty years of meditation.
If you can sit with total comfort that way for half an hour without your feet going to sleep or getting uncomfortable — even a little — then go ahead. Remember, though, hurting your knees has nothing to do with getting enlightened.
Most of the meditations in this book are to be done sitting in a chair or sofa in your favorite place, standing, walking, or lying down.
Why Do People Meditate?
People meditate for innumerable reasons and all of them are valid. To name a few, people meditate because:
• out of curiosity, wonder, and a desire to explore.
• they are worried, tired, bored, lonely, horny, or tense.
• they are happy, grateful, in love, streaming with delight and glad to be alive.
• they are grieving, sad, despairing, resigned, frustrated.
• they have lost someone or some part of themselves or lost the joy of life.
• they feel out of place in the manmade world and feel the need to live in the world of Nature.
• as an attempt to escape from life and from Nature.
• they are sick in body or soul and need healing.
• they feel perfectly at home and want to savor the feeling.
• in order to touch the essence of life and bring its magic into everyday living.
• they have not touched the essence of life but they suspect it is there for the touching.
• it is an urge in they have long felt, and finally gave it to it.
• as a response to the calling of their own souls.
• they are so excited by life they figure they could use a little calmness.
• in order to keep their intuition and senses sharp.
Each of these impulses has generated a variety of techniques and traditions. Honor them in yourself, as they come and go. And whenever you read or hear something about meditation, you can wonder, which emotion does this emerge from?
It is always good to take a moment and feel what it is you want out of meditation Ü what impulses are moving you? That is part of the preparation for meditation. The list above is by no means comprehensive -- make your own list. Your list can be a description of how you want to feel, or the practical outcome you want, or a mingling of the two.
Meditation is there to help you fulfill your everyday needs. Things like getting a little rest and relaxation. Clearing your mind a little. Getting some perspective on your life, like you would if you were on a vacation. Having more energy. Being able to go into action with relaxation, even if it is a test, an interview, or something crucial.
The key is to always know what you want, or at least be open to what you want out of meditation. That is the passion that will lead you to invest the time in meditation. Then, the moment you enter meditation, let go completely of your expectations.
Why Should I Meditate?
During meditation we can rest more deeply than in sleep, yet at the same time, the mind is free to think deeply about what is going on in our lives and to come up with a new perspective. Often what we have perceived as a threat is downgraded to just a challenge, or "something interesting on the horizon." The nerves can stop their emergency functioning. Or it could be the opposite: we might be missing the real urgency of the situation because we were flooded with distracting details. In either case, meditation promotes the ability to be relaxed and focussed while engaged in action, and to get tense only when it is absolutely necessary.
Even a few minutes of meditation can help you shift gears at the end of the day, from work mode to being with the family mode or play mode. In the morning, a few minutes of meditation can help you feel more alert and relaxed all day.
Since most human illnesses are caused by or worsened by stress, meditation is really good for your health. A lot of problems in relationships are caused by one or both partners being under stress. Meditation really helps relationships by giving you a way to let off stress without dumping on your partner. Also, because in meditation you give yourself a lot of attention, you’ll find you have more attention to give to other people. If you aren’t as needy, and you can give as well as receive, all your relationships go a bit easier. Meditation is a kind of social lubricant.
The meditations in this book encourage greater adaptability, resilience, realistic appraisal of stress, emotional expressiveness, and appreciation of life’s simple pleasures. What it asks of you is steady inquiry into your own nature, which is something you are doing anyway — it’s called having desires.
I Don’t Have Time For This, What Do I Do?
You can meditate for one minute here, three minutes there. Properly done, meditation always gives you more time than it takes.
As you learn to love meditation, you will create more time for it.
The busier your life is, the more you crave a vacation. That ?wanting a vacation? feeling is one of the main reasons people meditate, and is a gateway right on in. People who work hard want rest and renewal, and that is mainly what meditation is. Just don’t make a big deal out of it, an impossible-to-achieve ideal.
Meditation can have the same feeling of relaxation and ease as going to a bar after work. The relaxation of meditation is what you would seek in a bar if you drink, in getting a massage if you could afford one each day, if you could somehow be transported to Hawaii instantly after work. The most important thing is to approach meditation in the same natural way you would having a glass of wine, taking a nap, listening to music, or going for a walk. Be completely unpretentious with yourself.
Don’t I Have To Have A Guru?
No. Although, if you ask a Guru, they will probably say yes.
What is a Guru?
A guru is like a “dog whisperer,” only with people – they have the gift of getting others to be calm and submissive.
Do I Have To Sit Still?
No. Stillness is an illusion. Life moves. Life is motion. So move all you want in meditation. You only sit still in meditation in order to better follow the movement of life. It is a natural repose, not something forced.
When you are deeply absorbed in something — a conversation, a book, or listening to a piece of music — you will sometimes be very still. You become poised in order to better follow the flow of the conversation, the arc of the plot in the story, or the movement of the music. But you are not thinking about being still, it just happens spontaneously. That is the way to be in meditation as well. It is not something you focus on or make a rule out of.
Life is movement, an infinite dance on every level -- atoms move and vibrate, cells undulate, blood pulses, breath flows, electrochemical impulses charge through your nerve pathways. As you are sitting reading this book, your postural muscles are making lots of tiny little corrections to keep you upright, and the muscles in the diaphragm and ribs are moving with the gentle rhythm of respiration. Each of these little movements is part of the meditation experience.
When Should I Meditate?
You can meditate when you want to, or when you decide you should, or whenever you can sneak it in. It is up to you. The basic principle is to meditate before periods of activity, so that your ability to work and play and socialize can be enhanced by the relaxed alertness you are learning to function in. The standard approach is to meditate soon after arising in the morning, and then again before the evening meal. This works really well for a lot of people, and it creates a beautiful feeling of rhythm to a day.
Other options are to meditate once a day in the afternoon, or to have several mini-meditations throughout the day. If you do meditate before sleep, keep it short and select meditations that are soothing.
How Long Should My Meditation Sessions Last?
Start with five minutes in the morning or in the evening. If that seems like not enough time, then meditate in the morning and in the evening for five minutes. Then when that seems like not enough time, increase your time little by little.
For the first month, the most important thing to develop is to develop the sense of being at ease with yourself and having a good time. You could read this book for ten minutes or so, then meditate for five minutes, and call it a day. Then come back tomorrow and continue. In the beginning, meditate less than you want to, so that you are looking forward to the next session.
After a month, if ten minutes seems too short, then you can let yourself go a little longer. But do not meditate more than twenty minutes in the morning and in the evening until you have been at it for several years. It takes a long time to get used to being relaxed while in action, which is one of the main effects of meditation. There is a lot to learn about handling relaxation.
If you are really busy, even a few minutes of meditation is beneficial. There are lots of meditations in this book that require less than a minute, and can be adjusted to last for anywhere from a few seconds to five minutes.
Where Should I Meditate?
Wherever you are when you have the time. Some people meditate at their desk before leaving for lunch or at the end of the work day. If your schedule permits, pick a favorite spot in your house or garden or in nature to use for meditation. When I began meditating, I was a freshman in college with an intense study schedule and a 15-hour a week job. I left the house early and didn’t come home until late, so I used my car as a meditation spot in the late afternoons. There were lots of places to park that were under trees, in empty lots bordering on fields. I also meditated in churches and the library. If you can arrange to have your own private spot, so much the better.
Pick spots that match your mood. Approach meditation as you would listening to music, if you love music. Be that informal and easy with yourself.
What Can I Do Wrong?
Working at it, trying, or forcing — that’s almost the only thing you can do wrong in any meditation. If you are too carefree, it’s easy to move in the direction of alertness when you want to. But if you are rushed or tense in your approach, you may build habits that prevent you from resting in meditation, and then you won’t want to do it. Take a modified HANDS OFF attitude toward your mind.
Meditation is a natural response of the human body. With all natural movements, if there is any trying, it ruins the process. Trying to go to sleep, even if you are tired, can make you miserable. Trying to be sexually turned on to someone because you feel obligated to, is disgusting. Trying to exercise when you don’t want to is boring. Any sense of obligation or stuffiness kills the joy of it. If you find yourself taking meditation too seriously, rent your favorite comedy video and watch it for five minutes before doing the meditation exercises in this book.
What is Meditation?
Meditation is a naturally-occurring rest state – you are wide awake inside, and yet the body is relaxed into a state more restful than sleep. Half an hour or so a day of this state is enlivening and revitalizing. This is incredibly good for your physical and mental health. You function better and are more glad to be alive.
You have probably come close to meditation many times in your life, when gazing at a sunrise, sunset, stars, being in nature, or listening to music. There are thousands of ways to access this natural meditative state, and some form of meditation has been practiced in all the world's great cultures.
What is Instinctive Meditation?
Instinctive Meditation is an approach to learning and practicing meditation that emphasizes naturalness, spontaneity, and inner guidance. Meditation feels like something that comes from within, and seamlessly fits into your daily life.
Meditation is ancient, and has been preserved by the wisdom traditions of the East, so some other meditation schools emphasize artificiality, discipline, and a dependence on outer authorities. To each their own.
The secret to letting meditation work for you is to customize your practice so that it truly suits your individuality and your daily life. That's what we are here for – with books, workshops, and one-to-one coaching – to help you find the techniques that really work for you.
How Do I Learn?
Some people are naturals, and need no instruction. If they need a teacher, it is more to help prevent bad habits from forming.
The best way to get started is one-to-one instruction, about an hour a day for four consecutive days. In these sessions, we explore what techniques work the best for you. Then, as you meditate each day, you get immediate feedback on how to handle experiences. Some people can just meditate, and need no instruction. Others need a little or a lot of coaching. Whenever you begin meditation, or begin again, you get a fresh start. All my books are written in such a way that you can start meditating and building the skills you need.
What is the Difference in the Way You Teach?
I teach meditation in a straightforward way: here is a set of skills you can learn. These skills let you access a reservoir of instinctive intelligence and healing power within you. All my books are about these skills.
Other people teach meditation as part of their overall plan to convert you to some form of Buddhism or Hinduism. They may also seek to condition you to accept a guru or a dominant male from one of the religious traditions as your superior, who you must obey. This is the religious model, and the teachers are missionaries. The religious model is vastly more popular than my skill-based approach. Pick the model that works best for you.
Can People Get By Without a Teacher?
Yes. Most people who meditate never talk about it with a teacher.
You can improve the odds that you will get into a meditation practice you love by reading my books and working with the exercises. And you can get in touch with me and have some individual coaching, or come to a workshop. Remember, though, that the percentage of people who find a meditation practice they can do every day seems to be less than 5%. I have always been concerned about this and do what I can to up that percentage.
Over the years, I've worked with many self-taught meditators, who were doing very well. They just wanted a little coaching. And I have listened to plenty of self-taught meditators who are usually too shy to talk to meditation teachers – it's too intimate and natural to them to speak about it. In my research, and teaching, I meet meditators of all kinds, all techniques and traditions, plus self-taught meditators who have never before spoken with a meditation teacher. I have also met many people who just make up their own meditation techniques, without reading about it. Since 1975 especially, I have gone out of my way to talk to self-taught meditators. Many of these are doing much better than meditators with lots of training directly from teachers. I think this is because they have to follow their instincts right from the beginning, and they don't make someone else an authority. This was an incredible teaching for me. I did not realize that I myself had been self-taught – I'd forgotten that I meditated for several months before learning TM.
My teachings on meditation are inspired by what works, as taught to me by the thousands of people I have listened to over the past 36 years. And also what does not work – there are tens of millions of people in the Americas and Europe meditating, trying all sorts of techniques, and I have heard from some of them describing what didn't work.
The purpose of a teacher is to shorten the path, so that you can get the benefits of meditation right away, rather than spending ten or twenty years exploring the wrong type of meditation.
Each different type of meditation technique was developed for a specific type of person, with a certain body type, lifestyle, daily rhythm, religion, culture, and definition of success. Because of an odd set of historical circumstances, we mostly have records of the meditation techniques developed for males who have taken vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience and live in retreat centers or spiritual communities – that is, monks. If you are not a monk and you start to internalize monk attitudes, you may actually go backwards in your evolution. The monk vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience make you lonely, broke, and submissive. Almost all meditation teachers in history that we know about are monks. Almost all books on yoga and meditation transmit some form of monkish attitude.
Your daily life is probably very different from that of a monk. If you try to practice his techniques, it will probably harm you, in the way that taking random medicines will probably harm you. The field of meditation is full of confusion in the sense that techniques that were designed to be practiced only by monks or nuns living in very sheltered environments are being taught to people who have families and jobs. It is very odd, by the way, how clueless many otherwise brilliant meditation teachers are. So it is dangerous to abandon your common sense and instincts when you enter the path of meditation.
I myself have studied with monks and feel very blessed by them. But the toxic attitudes monks have toward sex and money have harmed many householders. So beware.
You will have to explore and find out what you need in order to get into meditation, get lots of benefits from the practice, and stay with it. You may be fine just reading books and meditating on your own for 5 or 10 years, and then you feel the need to work with someone. Or you may be the kind of person who benefits from getting personal instruction at the beginning. Probably there are different types of people: some can learn from nature, some from books, some thrive with personal coaching, some are OK in large classes. Find out what works for your needs.
When you get the feeling you want to study with someone, the choices are vast - you can study voice, dance, art, martial arts, sculpture, photography, massage, or music, for example. Often these are better ways to learn meditation than studying meditation directly.
Most of the above FAQ is taken more or less directly from Meditation Made Easy
, which is a good presentation of the principles of meditation and how to get going with a daily meditation.Meditation 24/7
is a great short book, and it comes with a CD of 14 guided meditations.
If you are female, you really must read Meditation Secrets for Women
soon. Read three pages a day for a couple of months.
If you want to work with me in person or on the phone, read the set up a session page and call or email me.