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Thread: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I find myself trying to explain this often enough that I thought a thread specifically devoted to it might be useful.

    Before I begin, let me say that I've been meditating for about 35 years, so I think I know something about it.

    However, my knowledge is limited to and by my experience, so I want to make it clear that I am NOT an expert. There are many types and forms of meditation that I know little to nothing about. I hope that people will add their own understanding, and describe useful techniques here so we can all learn new stuff.

    I'm going to copy and paste things I've written elsewhere here - feel free to do the same. I am imagining this thread as a sort of central hub that can be referred to when certain types of question come up.

    I'm going to begin by giving my own TENTATIVE definition of "meditation."

    Meditation

    Meditation is not a "thing." It is actually a class of things - and a very diverse class at that. It includes things like: intense prayer, the rigorous application of formal logic, observing a sunset, travel to "the other place" (which for me is "inner space" but for others might be "the spirit world" or "astral plane" or something similar), and even daydreaming.

    However, for a thing to be included in a "class," there must be at least one defining characteristic that puts it in that class.

    As I see it, for meditation, that defining characteristic is this: the one who is meditating is making a conscious choice to change the way his/her mind functions.

    It is possible to have the experiences that an experienced meditator has out of the blue - i.e.: without consciously choosing, such as having a "peak experience" or an "ah ha!" moment, but I don't think I can call it meditating unless one has chosen to work toward it.

    It is the choice to use a particular methodology to reach an end (even when the end is unknown), not the end itself, or even the specific methodology chosen, that makes a thing "meditation," if that makes sense...

    - - - Updated - - -

    How to meditate

    I've copied and pasted this from another thread (edited for context) because A) I think it dispels some a common error that beginning meditators frequently make, and B) because it gives reasonably instructions for the basic (but important!) breath-counting meditation that most people who take a meditation class, or learn from a good book, would be taught first.

    There are a couple of things you need to understand.

    1. If you are trying to "make your mind go blank," forget that idea completely. Unless you enter a fugue state, it just is not possible, and entering a fugue state is very undesirable (in a fugue state your mind goes blank because your conscious mind has been shut down leaving you to run on autopilot).

    2. Without entering a fugue state, you can not stop thoughts. Thoughts are generated by the unconscious mind, over which you have absolutely no control (you can only control that over which you are conscious. If you could control your unconscious it would stop being unconscious and become conscious - EXTREMELY undesirable. Doing so would render you entirely incapable of doing anything, including breathing).

    3. The goal of relaxation meditation is to learn to "let go" of thoughts. If you try too hard to let go of thoughts your brain seizes up. It's like trying to let go of a hot coal by squeezing harder. It burns more, so you squeeze even harder... You get the picture?

    It is important to understand that what you want to accomplish can not be accomplished by "will power" (mental squeezing). They can only be accomplished by "not-will power" (releasing).

    Fortunately, the basic breath-counting meditation is exactly what you need. It is usually the first form of meditation taught in a well-considered meditation program, and, with a little practice, is easily learned.

    Remember, the key is "don't try hard, try not-hard."

    Here's what you do:

    1. Sit in a comfortable position. If you tend to fall asleep, don't do this lying down... Although doing this lying down is great if you have trouble falling asleep because of troubling thoughts. Sit, instead, in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.

    2. Close your eyes, but direct your eyes so that, if they were open you'd be looking down your nose.

    3. Put your teeth together, and place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. This will prevent you from mouth breathing and/or getting a dry mouth.

    4. Breath in through your nose strongly, but not strongly enough to hear yourself breathing. Inflate your lungs from the diaphragm (your belly gets larger when you do this, along with you chest) to their full capacity.

    5. Exhale, emptying your lungs completely with the same degree of force (forcefully, but not forcefully enough to hear your own breath).

    6. Mentally count each exhalation (inhale - exhale - one. Inhale - exhale - two). When you get to seven, go back to one and begin again.

    7. While doing this, pay attention only to your breathing/counting.

    8. Here is the critical part! You will get distracted. Random thoughts will pop into your mind. You will forget to count, or discover that you have counted to 27. Believe it or not, this is what is supposed to happen.

    9. When the inevitable happens, go back to your breathing and begin again with one. Do not worry about it. Do not think you are failing. Do not try harder. Remember! Let it go!

    10. Over time you will go longer and longer periods during which you remain focused on your breaths, but ONLY if you learn to try without trying.
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I recall one early form I learnt was to use the breathing and color regression to meditate. You could start at 1 and count up or start at 100 and count down then avoid chasing the rabbit down the hole by using a color string. Was funny in that the color string is basic chakra colors I learnt later but it did help greatly in relaxing and growing beyond the mind as it where.

    For me at times I use the movie projector screen method where you imagine your sitting in a movie theater and you place any and all images upon the movie screen. You don't attempt to really do anything with them other than let them play across the screen and sort of let them run their course. In some ways I suppose its another example of growing beyond the confines of the mind and body and growing larger.
    I'm Only Responsible For What I Say Not For What Or How You Understand!

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    Live and learn anunitu's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I was lucky in that I kind of had a natural affinity as far as meditation goes. I have been described by family and friends as "Spacy" and I will admit I can be what they termed "Flaky" .
    I met a math teacher that was kinda like this,the absent minded professor type,and I could relate.
    MAGIC is MAGIC,black OR white or even blood RED

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    sea witch thalassa's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I'm going to add to this, specifically for people that have tried seated meditation and just sort of suck at it or are frustrated and not having the experience they expect--maybe you aren't neurotypical, or maybe you just can't relax, it depends.

    (some of this is also from some other places where I've talked about meditation, with some editing for context and clarity)



    Meditation isn't about "clearing your mind" (although it can be), its about training your mind ("clearing" your mind through meditation is a way to train your mind and its really a huge misnomer--its supposed to be about clearing your mind of unwanted thoughts, not all thoughts AND meditation is not the only way to "clear" one's thoughts). And you can do this. I promise.

    Probably, if you are having trouble with meditation, you are starting too big and too long. Probably you are trying to do the wrong sort of meditations. And probably you are trying to meditate while sitting still. And if you are like most people that I know, you've given up too soon. Toss everything you thought you knew about meditation out the window. You are going to have to try different stuff to make it work, but you CAN make it work. Remind yourself that meditation makes very real physiological and anatomical changes to your brain chemistry, neuronal connections and even (over time) your brain's very structure (such as folding patterns and the size and density of tissue in different structures.

    This is one way that I have found that works for people like my son and my husband, both who have ADHD...it also works for people that don't have ADHD, like my daughter and the people I've worked with as new Pagans that had meditation troubles (I don't normally talk about it, because I don't claim to be any sort of "teacher" or "elder", but I've been doing the Pagan thing for a while, and have occasionally worked with newbies who wanted some guidance beyond a 101 book without the pressure of a specific tradition). I've never worked with anyone that it hasn't worked for (if they've stuck with it with due diligence), but I'm sure there are exceptions.


    Make a list of the things that you do or places you go that make you feel the most focused and in the moment--in my experience, ALL people (especially those with ADHD or other atypical neurological conditions) have something that they can hyperfocus on. For my husband, its running (or video games). For my mom, its crochet and gardening. For my son, its being in the woods or at the beach, completely in nature and playing with his army guys (also video games). For my daughter, its gymnastics and the beach. For me, its the beach, painting, and swimming. If you have something that you can do and be completely immersed in for more than 15 minutes, you have the ability to focus (and focus doesn't mean you have to sit still--when my son plays video games, he looks like he's a jumping bean). Don't worry about sitting (much less sitting still), because if you have problems with meditation, one of your problems is that you spend too much time thinking about sitting (and then thinking about how uncomfortable your butt is, or how your foot has fallen asleep)...

    Establish whether or not your "one thing" is a good activity to meditate to (or with)--depending on what this one thing is, it might be a great way to meditate. Swimming, running, dancing (there's a book called Sweat Your Prayers that is a bit cheesy and definitely written in the 90's. but offers some good insight here)...even stuff like doing the dishes and folding clothes can be done meditatively (I don't recommend video games or reading a book though...too much distraction there! Your mind is a bit too much outside of itself). Singing, chanting, drumming, etc work well too. Establishing what works best for you at this beginning stage is a matter of trial and error--and even if you try something today, and it doesn't work, you can come back to it later and it might, because you've had more practice and done the ground work of changing your brain.

    Pick something that you know you can do for 15 minutes, and while you are doing it, think about what you are doing and how you are doing it and how you feel when you are doing it. Think about the angle of your hand, or the feel of the muscles moving in your legs, or the blueness of the sky. And when those pesky little distractions--did I turn off the coffee pot? when is recycling day again? oh crud, I forgot to call my mom... When those thoughts come up, the trick isn't to let go of your thoughts and what is in your head, but to embrace it--think each thought through, acknowledge it, and move back to the something you are doing. In your 15 minutes of doing this, if you could hold that focus for 30 seconds, its a success. If you could hold that focus for 3 minutes, its a success. If you could hold that focus for 15 seconds, it was a success. You can't fail at this.

    Do this on a regular basis. Twice a day is best if you can manage it. Once a day or 2-3 times a week is good. Weekly will work, but it will take you that much longer to get good. Over time you will get better, if you keep it up. Set an alarm on your phone or clock or whatever for a time of day when you know you usually have 15 minutes. Maybe (if you are anything like me) you need two alarms. Meditation depends on repetition, as does rewiring your brain.

    Pick a meditation spot--find a place where you feel the most connected and in tune and make that your meditation spot. When I meditate, I go to the beach, I take my phone and turn off the ringers and all that and put it on Hindu, Buddhist, or even Gregorian chanting (or drumming, etc) on YouTube with the headphones in, and practice breathing in and out with the waves...as I breathe, I endeavor to become part of the beach--the sun, the surf, the wind...sometimes it takes me 30 seconds and sometimes I go home sort of frustrated but still somewhat relaxed and recharged after 30 minutes, not having entered "the zone". I can do this in other places, but the beach is the easiest place for me.

    If you miss a day, forgive yourself and try again the next day--don't let your sense of impending failure be your excuse to give up. You will have bad days. It might take you months to practice mindfulness for 5 mintues, and then you have a bad day and spend a week back at 30 seconds. That's still success. Most people don't ever take any time to tune into themselves.

    The next step...Once you get to the point where its easy to tune into yourself and your action (regardless of the length of time), practice turning your attention to your breathing--count how long it takes to breathe in and breathe out, visualize your breath moving in and out, visualize your breath as the vehicle by which you bring in something desired and get rid of something you don't like--this right here is the simplest and most effective way to do magic (whether you think magic is something supernatural and without or something natural and within)--one of our members, Mrs. P, has a book called Magic on the Breath that is a lovely read (and whenever I read one of her books, I imagine her voice reading it to me, since she has an awesome accent).

    When this is easy for you, when you can do this for even 5 minutes, try your hand at guided meditation or guided visualization--there are some great audio and video ones on YouTube and other internet sites, or you can develop your own. Guided meditation offers you a "story" that distracts you from the unwanted thought problem and takes you along a journey to whatever goal you want to achieve. Don't expect immediate success at getting totally into the groove of the experience. This isn't a one size fits all sort of deal--guided meditations need to match your intent...and they don't work for everyone for every purpose.

    Don't give up. It takes deliberate and conscientious repetition to get good at something. While the precise time involved is individual, the old adage is true--if at first you don't succeed, try, try again (and again, and again). If the method you are using doesn't feel like there is improvement after a few weeks of dedicated practice, try something else. As a sort of off topic example, studies show that a child (on average) needs to be exposed to a new food somewhere between 7 and 20 times (different studies have slightly different numbers, but the general consensus seems to be around 10-15 times)...my point is that if it takes a kid trying peas a dozen times to figure out if they like them (and that's not taking into account the many ways they can be prepared), how many more times might it take you to try meditating to figure out just the basics, much less something far more complex like trance work*?



    *The words "meditation", "trance", hypnosis, etc are often used very loosely among spiritual practitioners, and nearly just as loosely among psychologists...but in brain scans, the resulting imagery of meditative, trance, and hypnotic states look remarkably similar. While these words differ in meaning and technique, depending on the individual, the actual (physical and chemical) neuronal pathway that achieves them (in terms of neurology) seem to be remarkably similar (if not the same), and it has been my experience and observation, that a good grounding in meditation makes one better at journeying.
    Last edited by thalassa; 04 Aug 2015 at 17:09.
    “You have never answered but you did not need to. If I stand at the ocean I can hear you with your thousand voices. Sometimes you shout, hilarious laughter that taunts all questions. Other nights you are silent as death, a mirror in which the stars show themselves. Then I think you want to tell me something, but you never do. Of course I know I have written letters to no-one. But what if I find a trident tomorrow?" ~~Letters to Poseidon, Cees Nooteboom

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    ~~Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    Beauty, Thalassa!

    Your statement "...even stuff like doing the dishes..." sent me on a hunt for this poem. I read it years & years ago, but couldn't remember the author or title:

    The Zen of Housework
    Al Zolynas

    I look over my own shoulder
    down my arms
    to where they disappear under water
    into hands inside pink rubber gloves
    moiling among dinner dishes.

    My hands lift a wine glass,
    holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
    It breaks the surface
    like a chalice
    rising from a medieval lake.

    Full of the grey wine
    of domesticity, the glass floats
    to the level of my eyes.
    Behind it, through the window
    above the sink, the sun, among
    a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches,
    is setting in Western America.

    I can see thousands of droplets
    of steam—each a tiny spectrum—rising
    from my goblet of grey wine.
    They sway, changing directions
    constantly—like a school of playful fish,
    or like the sheer curtain
    on the window to another world.

    Ah, grey sacrament of the mundane!
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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    bibliophibian volcaniclastic's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I'm not as verbose as you lot, but another thing which works very well (for some people) is guided meditation. Apps like Headspace (which is my favourite, but hella expensive, so I torrented the files), Calm, etc are available for phones, or really, any number of places on the internet, including youtube will have great guided meditations.

    It's exactly what Corbin described above, but with soothing music and guiding words to give you an idea of what to do. Focus on the breath, pay attention to your 'third eye spot', etc.

    When I stayed in the monastery in Thailand, we did a lot of walking meditations, where we slowly paced up and down just letting our minds wander into stillness, while our bodies moved.
    “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” – John Muir

    Mostly art.

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    Live and learn anunitu's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    I like Tabla drums,and sitar to meditate also Buddhist chants also work for me.

    - - - Updated - - -

    There was this church in SF that had a "Path" called a spiral path to meditate

    Kind of like this,you walk the path for meditation
    .
    MAGIC is MAGIC,black OR white or even blood RED

    all i ever wanted was a normal life and love.
    NO TERF EVER WE belong Too.
    don't stop the tears.let them flood your soul.




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    Silver Member monsno_leedra's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    That last part reminds me of the idea of walking the Grail at Glastonbury in England.
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    bibliophibian volcaniclastic's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    Quote Originally Posted by monsno_leedra View Post
    That last part reminds me of the idea of walking the Grail at Glastonbury in England.
    I did that!
    “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” – John Muir

    Mostly art.

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    Moderator Azvanna's Avatar
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    Re: What is "meditation" and how do you do it?

    My meditative practice is a little bit all over the shop at the moment in that I'm trying a few different things.

    For a long time I'd only been doing something like what Corbin might call 'intense prayer' where I'd sit and just be aware of the presence of God until I could feel His presence all around me. Sometimes I'd be singing, sometimes I'd be sitting quiet in different positions, sometimes standing.

    Over the past few years I've been trying to connect my meditative state with my breath and also movement (Asanas) thought I haven't ever achieved that same imminent presence that I could achieve so effortlessly before.

    The other thing I did yesterday was listen to a drumming track with my earphones in and find a vocal note that made my chest and head vibrate. I'd hold the note for a few beats and then breath in for a few beats.

    I think at the moment I'm just really experimenting with a few different methods and finding out what I like to do. I think intense prayer is still my very favourite as I really like to be fully present and pulling the divine into my physical space rather than trying to mentally move to wherever I think it may be.

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