Made To Meditate
Download This Free Meditation E-Book and Learn:
- The (only) secret to getting “good” at meditation
- What makes all meditation techniques the same & what makes them different
- The power of an internal focal point
- The difference between “being” and “doing”
- Why everyone (even you!) is essentially hardwired to meditate
- And much more…
In “Made To Meditate” Jess uses her extensive knowledge and experience as a teacher and practitioner to deconstruct the art of mediation. She takes complex ideas and explains them clearly. As a novice, I felt prepared and excited to begin my meditation practice.
Read The First 3 Chapters of the E-Book Now
Chapter 1: Intro
To start, it feels worth it to say that (at this point) I meditate because I love it. Bottom line. I genuinely enjoy it. I don’t meditate to make anything happen or to be or become more spiritual or because I’m afraid of who I’d be without it. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with meditating “for” any or all of those reasons. There’s nothing wrong with doing something for the benefits. In the case of meditation, those benefits are there, they are valid and they are worthwhile. It’s simply to acknowledge that there’s a special beauty that comes when we begin to do something for the very thing itself. And the truth is that now, after 10 years, I sit just to sit – simply because I love it.
It wasn’t always this way.
I didn’t always love it. If I remember correctly I didn’t really even like it. But I needed it. Desperately. The first time I sat, I did so for 30 minutes and they were possibly the longest 30 minutes of my life – seemingly endless. I was insanely uncomfortable – physical, mentally and emotionally. But I had teachers and the “teaching” enticing me with the benefits of this practice, encouraging me to commit and challenging me to “see what happens.” I was intrigued by the promises of the practice. And did I mention that I needed it? (desperately!)
So yes, nowadays I sit to sit. I sit because I love it. But the beginning of my practice required discipline. It required me to believe in something before I experienced it for myself. It required me to trust (even just a little bit) the words of all those who had come before me. It required that I sit with and explore some pretty deep discomfort and some pretty wild inner happenings.
I sat through a lot. I sat through years of accumulated and bottled and stored and repressed and compressed emotions. I sat through lots of deep resistance and pain. I sat with tremendous anxiety and inner turbulence.
And I’m glad I did.
I’m glad and grateful to my own effort that I sat for all those hours, for all those years. I’m glad and grateful to the teachings and my teachers – and to my own heart for believing what it had yet to experience. I’m glad and grateful that the hardest part is over for me and that the sweetness has begun to reveal itself. It was not easy but it was beyond worth it.
That’s not to say that I don’t still experience sadness and grief and struggle and tension when I sit. To say “it has lessened over time” is an understatement.
What’s not an understatement is that this practice changed my life. It changed and continues to change me. It gave and continues to give to me everything I didn’t know I needed and everything that I secretly wanted in this life. I am continuously challenged, inspired, surprised, delighted and humbled by the practice of meditation – all that I experience of myself through it and all the ways that it has bled into every aspect of my existence.
Even with all that, I hesitate to say that a formal meditation practice is for everyone – primarily because I hesitate to say that anything is for everyone. And I don’t believe or intend to imply that meditation, as I describe in in this book, is mandatory for happiness or for humans to undersatnd themselves.
My feeling is that there are nearly infinite ways that we, as humans, can come to know ourselves and see oureslves and experience ourselves more and more deeply. There are nearly infinite ways that we can experience our own depth and our own inner silence. And THAT is what I think is universally important and valuable – that we find and cultivate a way to touch the depth and silence inside ourselves. How you get there – well, that’s up to you and your particular proclivities.
Because meditation, for as much as it refers to a particular practice, more generally (and eventually) refers to a way of doing and a way of being. It’s like the cliche says, “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.” Meditation helps you understand that everything is like that. And meditation itself is also (eventually) like that. Yes, it’s like that.
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Chapter 2: The Most Important Take-Away
This past summer I was at the beach with my dear friend and as we were sloshing around in the ocean, the topic of my older brother came up in conversation. Since my friend and he had never met, I was trying to explain him. In doing so I made a comment along the lines of, “he gets like super-into something and then that’s his entire life. It’s all he thinks about. It’s all he can talk about.” She shot me a look (as only a dear friend can) and without words conveyed “you know you’re talking about yourself right now, don’t you?” I replied with a silent look of my own that said, “ohhhhhhh.” Then we both cracked up.
For the past 10 years I have been studying yoga, meditation and yogic philosophy. Full-time. Like my older brother – one thing to the point of obsession. I’ve read a ridiculous amount of books, spent countless hours physically training my body for meditation and then another set of countless hours actually sitting in meditation. I’ve spent a good amount of time in solitude. Purposefully. Happily. I’ve had one primary teacher, quite an esteemed man, in my eyes and in the eyes of the world. I’ve studied with him, more or less once a week for these 10-ish years. Tack onto that that my full-time career has been to teach yoga, meditation and eastern philosophy and you’re left with…well…a few things: Total reverence for the beauty of these practices, the capacity to explain the nature of these practices to others and (most importantly) an understanding that talking about these practices is a limited endeavor. It can only ever get any of us so far.
That is to say that our intellect can (and hopefully will) inspire our practice . In fact, that’s why I’m writing this book – to your intellect in this way. But please heed this caveat: if you stay strictly in the intellectual arena – trying to figure this all out by thinking or talking about it, you don’t really get anywhere. In other words, whether you “believe” that these practices work or what you “think” will change or happen as a result of this practice is of very limited importance. It may feel really important and valuable but (brutal honesty here), it’s not.
The practice of meditation is a means to get closer to your center – closer to the part of you that exists beyond (and above and behind and between) all of your thoughts. And it is thoughts that comprise whether you “believe” in the practice or what you “think” will happen. Meditation is concerned with what else is inside of you – beyond your thoughts.
If you spend too much time and energy thinking “about” meditation, you don’t actually get closer to your own center. It is akin to trying to get to the center of a circle by concluding that if you run around the outside enough times you’ll eventually be at the center. We all know that’s not going to happen. And so the over-intellectualizing of these practices is like a dog trying to catch hold of its own tail. In meditation it’s the mind trying to catch hold of itself and pin itself down by trying to figure out and contain and catch hold of the practice itself.
If that sounds overly cryptic, I apologize. You will understand what I mean when you begin to practice regularly. Which is really the bottom line – that no amount of intellectual understanding “about” meditation could ever compare to the understanding you gain by actually practicing.
So yes, use your intellect. But more than that (much, much more than that), practice.
Meditate. Sit. Practice.
Ok, now that we’ve covered that…
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Chapter 3: What Is Meditation?
The word alone has the potential to bring a lot of different things to mind – some intimidating, some exciting, some intriguing and some flat-out confusing. With scientific research and all flavors of spiritual traditions shouting the long list of benefits, you have every reason to explore what meditation means to you and how you can incorporate it into your life so you can experience some of those benefits for yourself. Whether you’re approaching a meditation practice from a secular or a spiritual angle doesn’t really matter. The premise of the practice is the same.
Let’s start with the inarguable:
Many of us are overstimulated. We are constantly bombarded by people, sounds, movement, conversations, the constant buzz of our phones and the infinite internet rabbit holes including and beyond Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email and YouTube. We’ve got lists of “to-do’s” that have us booked for years to come and only continue to get longer. And because the outside world has become so loud, captivating and demanding, many of us don’t realize how wild and dissonant our inner world has become.
Beyond the fact – and in part because of the fact – that we have internalized the momentum and demands of the external world, we’re all constantly talking to ourselves. We’re talking about ourselves, about other people and about everything that’s happening around us. Through this inner dialogue we’re caught up in our own unconscious (and conscious) effort to solve, define and figure out things that really have no definition, solution or “right” answer. We are, on some level, trying to get things that are inherently in flux to stand still so we can “catch” them.
It’s quite a pickle.
And it has left most of us in a constant and continuous state of “doing.”
For lack of a better word, this is “normal” – this is the situation we all find ourselves in before and as we begin a meditation practice. What we’ll find as we first sit with ourselves is that this inner conversation has become so “natural” – so ever-present – that we’re not quite sure how to separate ourselves from it. We don’t know how “we” are different from the conversation. In fact, for many of us, it seems that the conversation IS what makes up who we are. It’s what (seemingly) orients us to ourselves and to the world. So not only do we not know how to stop talking to ourselves but there’s this background questions of what would happen if we did. What would happen to our identity – to our idea of “self” – if and when this conversation slows down and eventually stops? Though it’s tempting to want to answer this questions intellectually, the reality is that the only truly satisfying answer comes through experience – it comes through the practice of meditation itself (which is often an annoying thing to hear, but it’s true…!)
Meditation is a practice of paying attention in a particular way. As we cultivate this particular type of attention – this way of being with ourselves – our inner busyness naturally slows down. When this happens, we settle back into ourselves in a similar way that a lake naturally settles back to stillness when you stop throwing stones into it. Meditation is the process of settling back into our own stillness. And so, contrary to how many of us conceptualize it, meditation is not an “out there” state reserved for the devout and esoteric but rather an inborn state that our bodies and minds enter naturally when they are not distracted and stimulated by a million other things. In other words, we were all made to meditate!
Through this practice, as we gradually experience less and less inner noise, we’re left with a feeling of more and more inner space. We naturally come to feel the part of us that is separate from our inner conversation – and that’s where the sense of inner peace comes from. Because finally, instead of constantly trying to figure ourselves out or fix ourselves or figure life out or fix life, we get to just be. And through that we touch our own BE-ing.
One of the biggest misconceptions about a meditation practice is that we’re trying to stop thinking or that we’re trying to stop our thoughts. In some ways, that’s not 100% untrue – but it’s also not 100% true. And the distinction is important. To best understand it, let’s come back to the image of ripples in a lake. Imagine trying to suppress those ripples using your hand. We all know that no matter how gentle you were – even if you were as gentle as an angel’s whisper (whatever that means!) – you would inevitably only create more ripples. As you tried again and again and again to stop the ripples with your hand, you can imagine that you’d gradually get more frustrated, because the task itself is impossible. And the more frustrated you became the more you would lose your capacity for gentleness altogether. Eventually you’d probably just punch the lake and scream, “forget it!”
This is what happens to a lot of people when they sit to meditate and try to “stop” their thoughts. The problem isn’t that they “can’t meditate” it’s that their approach has set them up with an impossible task. And that’s frustrating.
When we initially sit for meditation we find ourselves immersed in a cacophony of inner voices. To try to “make” them stop is akin to using your hand to try to settle the ripples. What that entails internally is just adding another “voice” to the mix – a voice with the tone of, “ugh! why can’t I just sit quietly with myself?! why can’t I stop thinking? I suck at meditation!” This approach is not only incredibly frustrating but it’s also counterproductive. It leaves us feeling like we’ve waged war against ourselves and as a result creates a tremendous inner tension that sometimes ends with us declaring that meditation is “impossible!” or that we are one of those people who was born simply unable to meditate. (I promise, the ability to meditate is not genetic).
Ok, so how do we get the ripples of this lake to calm down? Well, if we just sat patiently and quietly by the side of the lake for a bit, the ripples would stop on their own. Right? In fact, that’s really the only way to get them to stop.
The same holds true in our inner realms.
Wait a minute…So we’re just supposed to sit there until the cacophony of voices stops?! Well, yes. But again, that’s not 100% true either.
If you try to do that without any type of guidance or instruction you’ll most likely find that it’s overwhelming to the extent that you (again) feel frustrated, tense, probably pretty anxious and maybe wanting to return to the declaration that meditation is “impossible!” That’s because, when we first start to practice, the momentum of those inner voices is often so strong that if we try to just let them “be,” we feel like we’re drowning in them. They’re pulling our attention in every direction – voices saying, “don’t forget to send that email,” “can you believe that bitch said that?” “We have to pay that loan off by June, where are we going to get the money? Maybe I should get another job. I should get my resume together and stop buying lattes,” “I need to exercise more,” “I hope the Mets win the world series,” and on and on and on and on. (Note: we will later refer to this tendency of the mind as “monkey mind” because of how it jumps around so wildly).
As these voices jump from topic to topic we feel as though we’re completely at their mercy – like we’re being pulled along by them and we have nothing to hold onto, nothing to keep us steady amidst all the movement. We have no inner anchor. It’s the internal version of being in the ocean amidst constantly crashing waves and having nothing to float on or in. As we all know, the experience of the ocean is incredibly different when you have something to keep you steady amidst the waves. The same holds true for the inner world.
So we need an internal anchor – a home base for our attention.
For that, many techniques have been developed. These techniques are a means to consciously focus our attention on something other than our inner busyness – all the topics our mind wants to jump to and from. This “something” is the focal point of our meditation techniques
When we develop a relationship with this focal point we find a steadiness amidst all the movement of our inner world. As we cultivate that steadiness, the inner ripples naturally begin to settle. Relating to the anchor is what allows us to “sit by the side of the pond” and wait patiently as the ripples slow down and eventually stop. And when that happens we’re left with an experience of ourselves that (I will argue) is well-worth the energy and effort we put into navigating this inner world.
So technically, when someone says “I’m going to meditate” what they are actually saying is, “I’m going to create a relationship with my internal anchor so that the ripples of my mind can naturally begin to slow down.” In other words, they are purposely putting time aside to practice a technique that encourages and allows their body and mind to enter a meditative state. Doing so gets easier with practice.
The technique itself is not meditation (again, technically speaking)
The technique sets the stage for meditation to happen spontaneously. And though the techniques vary, they are all meant to helps us learn to navigate our inner space in a way where we are:
1. Purposefully and “actively” relating to our anchor (our chosen “focal point”)
2. Passively relating to the movement and the “pull” of our inner busyness.
I point this out becaue one of the most common questions I get asked is, “What’s the difference betwen ‘this’ meditation and ‘that’ meditation?” The answer: essentially, the only difference is the focal point – the point or area of concentration. This is not to say that your experience of meditation techniques won’t be different, it’s just to point out that there is a common denominator to all meditation techniques. Understanding the nature of this common denominator can be helpful even though the techniques themselves vary.
Which brings us to our next big question…
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Jess is such a complete writer. In a very matter-of-fact style she includes very wise directions on how to meditate. It feels like she went through everything herself; and I figure she has, or she couldn’t write such concise, inclusive directions. Her style of writing invites willingness to try. What a relief and encouragement this book is.
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