There are hundreds of ways to meditate, and there is no "right way." One of the dangers of learning specific techniques is that we grab onto the technique, and never really get beyond it.
For me, techniques can be so seductive. They whisper in my ear, “If you just do this thing, you'll be enlightened!” or “If you get it right, you'll have a mind blowing experience!” But, I’m going to take the risk of sharing some techniques anyway, because, well, let’s face it, meditation is one of those illusive “shoulds” floating out there that can be quite daunting. I've found that there are some doorways that can help point the way - as long as we don’t turn them into a specific map or formula for our egos to glom onto.
Warning: read the following with caution.
I start with taking deep breaths. The breath seems to be a universal gateway to shift out of habitual patterns of thinking and being. When in doubt? Take a deep breath, anytime, anyplace, and we’ll feel a bit better, a bit wiser. For a sitting meditation, however, it can help to get a little creative. I imagine connecting with pure life force. I visualize pure white light coming into my body, and out from my body like a generator.
I used to imagine the energy coming in through my crown, and one of my dear colleagues and practitioners told me I was getting “too much heaven and not enough earth,” which was throwing off my body's energy system. Then I began breathing in energy through my heart center and I discovered that this was somehow throwing off my thalamus – too much heart energy. That’s why there should be a warning label: experiment, adjust, customize.
So, now I breathe energy in and out through my whole body, and that seems to be doing the trick. Then I mix and match some of the following breath holding techniques (uh-oh, there’s that word):
- Breathe in through your nose
- Hold the breath at the top of the inhale for 3 counts
- Release the exhale through the mouth, almost with a sigh
For a quickie (in- the-moment shift):
- Imagine drawing in what it is you want
- Hold for 3 counts
- Exhale out what you don’t want
For example, inhale trust and exhale worry. This is a good one when you’re feeling too full of stuff to sit quietly, or when you're moving about your day and you feel stuck or overloaded.
Here’s another one I really like. The premise is that in order to meditate, it helps to first have energy built up in the body. So, this practice helps meditation become easier, and I figure I’ll take any help I can get.
With any breath holding practice, I have found that it’s good not to think of it as holding the breath, but rather as a gathering of the prana/chi/energy, allowing it to distribute throughout your whole body:
- Inhale for a count of 4
- Hold for 4 counts and focus on the area around your navel (in Chinese Medicine, this is known as the “lower dantian” – our energy center)
During that count, I used to say to myself, “hold 2-3-4,” but I found this caused tension rather than expansion. So I changed it to “prana 2- 3-4” and I picture a sun radiating in my solar plexus.
- Hold for another 4 counts as you clench and draw the energy upward toward your naval.
The clench draws the feminine energy (in all of us, male or female) upward toward the navel, creating a union between male and female energy. So for that part, I say to myself, “Union 2-3-4” as I hold my breath.
- Then exhale for 4 counts, and begin again for 3-5 rounds
The teacher I learned this from describes this practice as an actual alchemic process of unity consciousness that prepares you for meditation. Sounds good to me!
He recommended a hold of 8 counts for the navel and another 8 counts for the clench, but I haven’t been able to get there yet. As always, we start where we are and go from there. Any amount is still a good practice, and I’m finding it’s getting easier the more I practice, as with anything else.
Here’s another word of caution: I find that I often don't drop into what I imagine meditation should be, aka: a quiet mind.
The thing is, meditation isn't always (and for most us, rarely is), a blissful trip into the void of a quiet mind. Most days it's a scrolling through the favorite concerns and worries, and then an attempt to bless them or ask for help. Or, it’s an uncontrollable prioritizing of my to-do list for the day. Or, it’s a pleasant little vertical nap.
What I’ve learned over the years, however, is that this is not such a bad thing. In fact, the things that pass through our awareness while we’re attempting to meditate, is the meditation. One of the jobs of meditation is to cleanse, heal and return unconscious material to a conscious, purified state. So, when we try and get quiet, it pops up for us to see. And this is such a blessing.
In a state of intention and connection, we sit and allow the material to pass through so it can show us what it wants us to see, or tell us what it wants us to hear. It’s a purging of the unconscious that is hugely life giving and healing. It’s like waves crashing into the shore after a large boat goes by. Eventually, the waves become smaller and smaller, but this takes time. That’s why it’s so important to have some type of daily meditation practice.
Then meditation becomes medication. And all we have to do is sit, and observe, and attempt to love ourselves amidst all the internal chaos. If we can release the Buddha-image ideal, we may just experience something we are yearning for: connection, peace, truth.
Today, after doing the breathing stuff, I thought, “Ok, let go of the techniques now.” I heard myself try and settle into a focus on the word, “love.” Oops, another technique. “So, let go of that too.” A soft inner voice whispered, “Presence is not an exercise of the mind.”
Then, miraculously, I dropped into something very simple. Presence. I was just right there, in the chair, and yet, I was everywhere at once. I could hear the various hums of the house that normally go unnoticed. This heightened sensory awareness (in-the-moment-hearing, feeling, sensing) brought me into a buoyancy, like being enveloped in a sea of loving energy.
It felt like warm goo that connected me to the table, the window, the air molecules….to everything. And when I noticed how good that felt, I naturally wanted more (attachment), and poof it was gone. I took a deep breath, and slowly opened my eyes, grateful for my brief, yet indescribably delightful, taste of what’s real.
I can only hope that this fleeting moment might actually be potent nectar that can’t be measured, yet provides everything I need to move through this world of smoke and mirrors.