I recently heard a yoga teacher say that meditation is just all about watching your thoughts in your head while her hands were circling beside her head.
I was taken aback by what I heard. Though I recognise that yoga teachers aren’t perfect, I’m very critical of the information that is shared, especially when in a teaching situation (and I’m careful myself when I’m in such a position) because some people can take that to heart and presume it to be 100% true.
Everyone has a different experience with meditation since our minds each work differently. Different meditation teachers would also teach it in different ways depending on the theories they’ve been taught during their training.
I’m here to share with you my take on it from my own eight years of experience meditating daily using different meditation techniques, and from what that I’ve learned from the formal training I’ve done.
I like to explain meditation in two ways. One being the action of meditating and two being the meditative state. Both of these having and leading to awareness.
The action of meditating is the practice of becoming aware.
On a mental level, you train your brain to become aware of where your mind goes and what thoughts come up.
On a physical level, you become aware of your breath, your sensual experience, and how your body feels internally.
On an emotional level, you become aware of how you feel in any given moment.
On a spiritual level, you become aware of your energy body and how you relate to others.
And there are different types of meditation that target each of these areas. Meditation itself provides a process of becoming aware.
The meditative state is when you’re in full awareness and presence.
You’re neither thinking about the past nor the future. You’re not lost in dreamland. You’re also not lost in the astral plane.
You’re within your body, mind, and spirit at this exact moment. You’re being in this moment fully aware of what’s going on inside your body, mind, and spirit. And you’re fully aware of how you’re relating to your external world.
A study done by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson on “Olympic level meditators” (those who have done 62,000 lifetime hours of meditation) indicated that the meditators describe their state of mind as being “very spacious and you’re wide open, you’re prepared for whatever may come” even if they’re not actually meditating. Daniel Goleman also said that it’s consistent with what’s been written in classic literature from a thousand years ago, where meditation is said to bring liberation, enlightenment, and being awake to name a few.
I believe that this experience of being truly in life is what provides the healing effects of meditation (though there have also been scientific studies that confirm the ability of meditation to bring about physical and mental wellbeing).
After meditating, there’s this feeling of being here but not being here in the sense that reality doesn’t feel like it usually does, meaning it doesn’t feel stressed, hurried, worried, or always about the future. Your experience of reality changes, which actually puts you more here.
Because meditation brings awareness, it also has a tendency to make you aware of the beliefs and habitual patterns that have been running your life until now. What you do with that awareness is up to you. That awareness is a gift because you can heal or change what you’re aware of.
By being more aware of yourself and your experience, you start to become aware of your relation with and place in the world. It brings wholeness within your self and oneness with the world.
This is what I experienced one time when I was away on vacation…
I was sitting on the day bed outside our room during a warm and sunny Bali afternoon. The view outside was a frangipani tree with flowers that had bloomed and I could hear water flowing from the nearby garden.
I had had enough of reading my book at that time so I just decided to be still and be with myself and my surroundings without closing my eyes.
I wasn’t planning on actually meditating but, you see, we can employ the process of meditation even in our day-to-day experience.
So I just decided to soak all of it in. Thoughts came and went though there were barely any. Feelings of gratitude and awe came and went. My eyes moved from one flower to the next, slowly, as I took in all the details. I enjoyed the sounds of nature and life around me, even the TV that my partner was watching inside the room. I felt the heat on my skin and how it was warming up my insides.
And then suddenly, I had this experience where everything was so vivid and I was flowing with the lights, the colours, the sounds, the weather. I could feel the beauty of the flowers. I could feel the energy the water carried. I could feel the strength of the tree. I felt my body hum and my mind be one with everything.
I wasn’t thinking about what could be going on back home or what we were going to have for dinner. I was simply content being in each of those moments that I felt this deep amount of joy that filled my soul.
I felt whole. I felt one with. I was present.
Meditation, if done with full awareness, brings you to being absolutely here and connected. So no, meditation is not just about the mind.
It’s the state of being fully aware, present, and connected that I aim to cultivate when I practice meditation so that I can fully show up in my life and fully show up as a part of this world.
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