Learning to Relax
Some people believe that meditation emphasizes exotic, otherworldly experiences over more tangible benefits. Not so! The PBS documentary titled The New Medicine provides strong evidence that regular meditation reduces stress and encourages a healthier, longer, and more cheerful life. That makes meditation an important corrective, because we all suffer to some extent from negative beliefs ingrained in us during the first five years of our lives.
The two kinds of meditation
I’ve discovered that two brands of meditation exist. One is inquiry, which encourages us to ask questions about difficult personal, social, and work situations. We sit down in a meditative posture and ask a question of the Silence (or whatever you wish to call it), which eventually delivers an answer that prompts better understanding and leads to solutions. The second brand is mindfulness. We again move into Silence, but choose to sink further and further into it. We become surrounded and penetrated by a peacefulness that often includes pleasurable upper body vibrations.
What is this “Silence” that is the core of both inquiry and mindfulness meditation? Well, it’s you—your Inner or Higher Self. Other names for Silence are Cosmic Awareness, Emptiness (Eastern sects), the Light (Quakerism), Witness, Presence, Here-and-Now, Consciousness, Spirit, and Flow. Silence permits us to taste, smell, perceive, touch, hear, or think anything at all.
We walk two journeys in our lifetime. The first, “waking up” or enlightenment, is a walk to know what you are. The second journey, “growing up,” consists of becoming more functional, empathetic, and caring. Growing up reveals who you are. Inquiry and mindfulness meditations can facilitate both our waking up and growing up journeys.
A growing up meditation
Let’s start with a growing up meditation. The movie The Secret was widely watched because it taught that positive thoughts tend to hatch more positive thoughts, and that we can replace a negative thought with a positive thought. How to carry out this mission? First, you don’t need to assume a meditative posture—this is a real-time meditation. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and as often as you want. I suggest practicing this five to 10 times a day. The sole action is to replace a negative thought with a positive one.
I’ve given four examples below. The second sentence in each is the replacement:
1 • My daughter Susie worries me with her rambunctious boyfriends.
Better for her to experience a few now at 16 than to take on one at 20.
2 • I feel guilt because I haven’t exercised enough.
I work out for an hour at the gym six days a week. Screw you, guilt.
3 • I wish my boss, Harry, would quit nagging me about writing more proposals.
Yes! Harry is probably afraid of me. I’m competent enough to replace him.
4 • I’m tormented. James detests being second string on his football team.
If he quits, he can better enjoy learning in class. And no cranial fractures.
The following meditation lessens any negative identification of who we are, helping us become consciously aware that we’re not our negative thoughts or feelings about ourselves.
This meditation and many others use breathing tactics. Whenever you observe a negative thought or feeling, breathe it in with a slow, expansive opening of your chest area. Then slowly breathe it out while envisioning a thousand miles of earth beneath your feet. Then repeat with a couple more in-and-out breaths, until the negative thought dissipates.
A more sophisticated and perhaps powerful version of the above meditation is to in-breathe the negative thought or emotion with a slow, wide opening of the chest area. On the out-breath, exhale slowly and deeply while thinking I am the awareness or witness observing you.
Meditation for enlightenment
Now let’s do a meditation relating to enlightenment. This meditation starts as real-time but ends with a brief sit-down. Practice this meditation before breakfast to set the tone for the entire day. It can, however, be done effectively whenever you want. I suggest dipping into this meditation at least twice every day.
Step One: Select a setting. If you’re at your desk, ask yourself, What does it take for me to experience this pencil? This pen? This desktop? Or anything else?
If you’re walking down the street, ask yourself, How is it possible for me to feel my feet striking the ground? Or, How is it possible for me to watch that car driving alongside me? Or, How is it possible for me to be so delighted with the fresh breeze on my face?
Step Two: After each question, drop all thoughts and enter into the Silence for a minute or two. When you’re ready to drive, ask yourself, What is required for me to feel this steering wheel?
After a minute or two of silence, ask, See this dashboard?
After another minute or two of silence, ask, Hear the engine?
(Of course, make sure that you’re in park and have your brakes on, and that someone isn’t sitting beside you wondering, What’s this weird guy doing?)
There’s no way to estimate how much time it will take for a waking up meditation to show results, but you’ll certainly know when it does in your life. You can investigate many meditations for enlightenment, choose one or two, practice them for months or years, and nothing much seems to change. Then one day you sneeze and, suddenly and completely, you know what you are.
William Blake is the author of A Creative Toolkit of Meditations, featuring 20 meditations to assist in mastering inquiry and mindfulness. He is based in Southern California.