Tag Archives: equanimity

The ‘magic’ of meditation

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It’s often said that, if you can find the words to describe your meditation, then you weren’t really meditating. That is certainly the case. In the very deepest meditation, there are no words. Just feeling. Just peace. Afterwards, the meditator is left with the feeling of calm, but the experience itself cannot be fully conveyed to someone else. A meditation practice is deeply personal, and deeply transformational.

Which makes it all the harder to explain why meditation makes such a difference to daily life. If you can’t put into words how you feel, what that elusive ‘bliss’ feels like, then how can you explain why it’s so important? The only way to know is to experience it for yourself. But how do you know if you even want to experience it if you don’t know what to expect?

But, what you can describe is how you feel as you enter the state of meditation. The word ‘meditation’ is often used to represent the whole event, the act of meditation  – sitting down in your meditation posture, getting comfortable, focusing on the breath, slowing down from your busy day. But it can also refer specifically to the state of meditation, the moments of utter peace and ‘bliss’ which may make up a much smaller proportion of the total sitting time. You may sit for 10 minutes some days before there’s even a hint of the state of meditation. Maybe longer. Maybe much less. It varies from day to day.

So at this stage of the act of meditating, there are still words. There are thoughts (usually too many!), there are feelings, there are impressions. There are sounds, smells, all manner of physical sensations. There may be the sound of a buzzing insect, birds outside, rain on the roof, children playing, a lawnmower…… There may be the smell of coffee, or baking bread, or dinner being prepared….. There may be an ache in your ankle, your back, your shoulders….. There may be thoughts racing around, a shopping list, yesterday’s argument, a dream you woke up from this morning, what to cook for dinner, how long have you been sitting here for, is this really what meditating is supposed to be like?

But then, something starts to change.  All these things are still there. But there’s a distance. A space starts to open up. They all seem further away. They no longer grip your awareness. There’s something else, deeper, more profound. The body may feel like it’s letting go, sinking deeper, whilst at the same time feeling like it’s lifting taller. You may feel both heavier and lighter at the same time. The thoughts are there but there’s a detachment now, they don’t have the same power over you. There’s not the same emotional involvement. There’s not as much narrative going on.

There’s a sense of relief, of rest, of space, of peace. Before words are no longer there.

At least, that’s how it is for me. You’ll have to try it for yourself!

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Alison x

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Putting meditation to the test

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a small spider joining me during my meditation (A calm clear mind). I speculated that there may have been some difference in my composure if it had been a larger creature.  Well, this morning the test came! I had just settled down in my conservatory at 5.40am, having completed Surya Namaskara and had just started working through Pawanmuktasana 1 when I noticed three long, thick legs sticking out of the gap beneath the cladded wall. I continued my practice but kept looking out of the corner of my eye to see if the legs had moved. They didn’t, for the longest time.  They were just there, every time I looked. So, whilst continuing calmly, I decided this needn’t interrupt my practice.  Live and let live, he wasn’t bothering me, so why should I try to remove him?  Plus, taking a spider outside at that time of day would mean going all the way back through the house – risking waking my family – to get something to catch him with, unlocking the front door, getting some shoes and then trailing out into the garden to find somewhere nice to put him.  Plus potential running and even more commotion if he started scurrying out of the container with those long legs on my way through the house!

So, there I was, and there he was. He came out of his little home and had a walk.  Not far, just enough to make me move over a bit! As the long legs would have suggested, he was BIG!  Really big.  But not fast.  He walked a few inches  – not even in my direction, to be fair – and then stopped.  I continued my practice, on to my arms and shoulders by this point, risked closing my eyes, and then peeked again.  He was walking back.  Back to his original spot, until I could just see his legs again!

At which point, I finished pawanmuktasana and settled in for meditation. I turned my back on the spider so I couldn’t be tempted to check on him, and had a lovely practice, letting go of all the anxieties – it really wasn’t strong enough to call fear, let’s say disquiet.  And yes, he was still resting in the exact same spot when I finished at 7am. I hope he had as peaceful a time as me!

Then I rushed on to my day, breakfast, school run, classes, shopping, and now writing before the ironing, school run, swimming lessons – oops, have I missed out lunch again??  I haven’t had time to see if my long-legged friend is still there.  I guess he might be joining me again tomorrow!

And the thing about meditation is – there is room for all these distractions and unscheduled things.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Yes, my mind could have taken over – but it didn’t.  I was fully aware of how I was feeling – a little wary, assessing how fast /far he was likely to move. I reminded myself that, however big he looked, he was still tiny in comparison to me, and that he certainly wasn’t going to hurt me, even if he did come and sit on me like the other spider did. I experienced how it made me feel to share my space with him, but didn’t let myself spin off and ruin my own practice. Not something that would have been possible in my pre-meditation days. Mindfulness, being present with whatever comes up – that is the heart of meditation. Today might not have been utter bliss from start to finish, but it was fine.

 

Blue Monday

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Today is Blue Monday, the Monday which is supposed to be the most depressing of the entire year to come.  Several years ago, the third Monday of January was decided upon for this dubious honour, after taking into account the weather and the time still to wait for spring, the time since Christmas and the debt we may have accumulated over the festive period, as well as – for many of us – having had long enough to have given up on our New Year resolutions.  But as I wrote in a recent post, we can resolve on positive change at any time of the year, so we can start anew at any time that suits us – and spring is often a great time for doing just that, when we have the whole of nature joining with us!

And as for the weather, well it is snowy and cold, but it IS January, and it could be a lot worse!  I am definitely in the wrong country for year-round blue skies, but I like the variety of the weather through the seasons, which is often echoed in our own mental states.  It isn’t all that realistic to expect to be happy all the time, and in fact our pursuit of happiness may be what causes us the most distress.  We try to hold on to the things which we perceive as making us happy, whilst pushing away those things which make us miserable.  But to experience true moments of joy, we  need to embrace all aspects of our lives, not just those we label as ‘good’.  We have to have winter as well as summer, we need Mondays to follow the weekends, and life cannot be one long holiday for the vast majority of us.  And so true happiness involves acceptance and an ability to flow through the seasons as well as allowing our feelings to come and go without trying to hold on to the moments of happiness.  In ‘The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking’, journalist  Oliver Burkeman questions the validity of happiness as a goal, being as chasing after happiness can make us so unhappy.  This insight is fundamental to the practice of both yoga and Buddhism, and perhaps we would find happiness easier to achieve if we practised acceptance of all our states of mind,  of  all the events of our lives, not just those we label as good, but of those we might initially consider ‘bad’ as well.  We would likely achieve a more balanced and calmer mind, and that in itself can lead to greater contentment with our lives.

Changing ourselves

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Recently I have been noticing that so many people say they hate this, they hate that……about themselves, about others, about the circumstances of their lives. Whilst hate is a strong word to use, it is bandied around on a daily basis – I hear it all the time.

Being unhappy about a particular part of our lives can be an important instigator of change. It can give us the push we need to address an issue which has maybe got out of hand. We try to change the circumstances which are bothering us, and perhaps we may manage to improve the quality of our day to day life.

But what exactly is it we are attempting to change? Ultimately it is only  ourselves we can change.  We can temper our reactions to others and to the events of our lives. And by doing this, we might get a new insight; we might realise that the thing or person that was bothering us is not so bad after all. We might take ourselves out of the equation and realise that not everything is a personal attack – that that way of thinking is just our ego putting us in the centre of the universe.

And sometimes, just by seeing the events and people of our lives in a more impersonal way, a little bit of magic happens and those who were upsetting us seem to change along with ourselves. As Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world.  Whatever we want to change in the external world, we need to start internally, with our own hearts and minds. And until those changes begin to manifest, we need to practise an equanimity, an acceptance of all the people and events of our lives, and to know the difference between what we can change, and those things we cannot.

Wishing you a Happy and peaceful New Year!

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Despite writing an earlier blog entry on how much easier it is to adopt new patterns and positive habits in our lives in the spring time than the depths of winter, I cannot resist the new year.  I relish the opportunity to start anew yet again, to try to do better than last year, but also to look at the positives that have come out of the preceding year. 2012 has been a good year on so many levels. Nationally, we have celebrated the diamond jubilee, closely followed by a spectacular Olympic games. We have every reason to look back fondly on the past year. And the world didn’t end last week, which is a huge bonus!

On a personal level, this has been a mixed year, one in which I have experienced both highs and lows, both loss and gain, but one in which I have learned to see the blessings in disguise, the lessons in the events I’ve been tempted to call ‘bad’, and have learnt to lessen my attachment to the ‘good’ things. I have learnt the importance of taking better care of myself, so that I can take better care of others, and to that end have renewed my commitment to a daily yoga and meditation practice – something which has been ongoing  for several months now, so if you find your resolve weakening over the next few weeks, you always have another chance to start again, whatever the time of year.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a daily practice of Kriya yoga, which requires me to learn a new practice each week, whilst reducing the number of rounds of previous practices. Prior to that I was working on specific exercises for individual chakras for a month at a time. Several times, I’ve found a particular practice so beneficial that I haven’t really wanted to move on, but I find it helpful to continue to follow my practice schedule, thereby not allowing myself to get too attached to one specific kriya, but instead flowing from one practice to another, accepting the individual benefits whilst still uncovering the secrets of the whole picture.

When first learning to meditate, we may feel nothing until one day we suddenly experience something which makes us understand why we are doing this in the first place. And then we may wish for this experience every time we practice. And it won’t come! It may take days, or weeks, before we feel that way again. But we persevere. We accept that our meditation practice, just like life in general, offers us the highs and the lows, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. We learn to see beyond the way we usually label things; we see both the good in the bad and the bad that sometimes comes from what we see as good in the first instance.  We learn that we don’t always know if things are good or bad, and so we learn acceptance and equanimity.

So this New Year, I resolve to maintain and develop my practice, and to foster these qualities of acceptance and equanimity as much as I possibly can. And to be kind to myself on those occasions I don’t manage it, but to allow myself to start anew again and again!

Entering the heart space

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You may have heard of the ‘heart space’.  If you’re lucky, you may have encountered your own heart space during meditation.  It’s that space in the chest, around the heart chakra, anahata, which feels supremely still and peaceful, and which – on a good day – we may find in our meditation practice.

But it’s not really just in the chest.  There is such a sense of spaciousness that it cannot be contained within our physical body.  It is a space which transcends the physical heart, in which we feel boundless joy, peace, equanimity, love and compassion.  It is, like all our experiences of meditation, hard to describe fully, as it is beyond mere words.  But my own experiences of the heart chakra in meditation, and my reflection upon these experiences, has led me to some interesting realisations and insights into the Safety Energy Locks (SELs) located around the heart and chest area, and which I use when treating with Jin Shin Jyutsu.

The only way in which we enter the heart space, and attain an experience of our heart centre, is by letting go of our attachments to the way things should be.  By gaining an acceptance of what is.  By letting go of our overwhelming emotions that live in our lower chakras.  And so it’s interesting that SEL 9 is located at the lower end of the shoulder blades, within the heart area, and is associated with ‘the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the new’.  Whenever we feel ‘stuck’ in our lives, trapped by familiar patterns of behaviour and reactions, we are trapped in the lower energy centres and are resisting the natural flow of energy in our lives, and in our physical bodies.  At these times, we are less likely to experience the peace of our heart space!  But when we let go of our resistance, and move through whatever is blocking our peace we step into this vast space.  So it’s really interesting that the next SEL, half way up the shoulder blades, is SEL 10, known as the ‘warehouse of abundance’.  If we are not feeling abundant in our lives, we  need to let go at SEL 9, and step into the peace and joy which is waiting for us at the heart.  We learn to recognise that:

‘The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe’

~Chandogya Upanishad

Another Safety Energy Lock situated in the region of the heart chakra, at the level of the third rib, is SEL13, which teaches us to ‘love our enemies’.  To develop unconditional love and compassion- maitri – for others and for ourselves.  To see ourselves and others clearly, with all our faults, and love ourselves anyway.  To embrace the lessons others present us with, rather than pushing them away,  and to see the blessings within all the events of our lives,  without labelling them ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’.

When starting out in meditation, it can be hard to rise above the churning of emotions at our lower centres, but once we find the stillness and the joy of the heart, we are encouraged along the way.  If you have a lot of emotional issues surrounding the heart centre, it can take time and perseverance to step into the peace of the heart, but rest assured that it is there, just waiting for you to let go, and to step into your warehouse of abundance.

 

 

A place of peace and stillness

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Recently, a student asked me what  are the benefits of meditation. I answered truthfully, from my own experience, but felt afterwards that my answer had perhaps been inadequate in conveying all that meditation means to me.

The answer I gave was that meditation helps me to attain a calmer, steadier state of mind, and that a regular meditation practice helps me to carry these benefits over into the rest of my day.  All true, but there is so much more.

When I first established a daily practice, many years ago, I found that over time I became less reactive to the events of my life, dealing more calmly with the unexpected, and becoming more resistant to the ups and downs that we all experience. I found a new equanimity, calming the attachments (raga) and aversions (dwesha) to which we are all so prone. The ceaseless chatter of my mind was stilled, first in formal meditation  and subsequently in my wider life.  I found a deep and pervasive stillness and peace within myself, and a clarity of mind that would be impossible without taking the time to stop and simply be.  I developed a more tangible awareness of my chakras and began to truly experience the subtle movement of energy around my body. In truth, I became a different person.

But over the years, it became harder to maintain such an intense daily practice.  Long working days, marriage and parenting made it difficult, if not impossible, to find an hour a day to meditate, as well as another hour for asana practice. At first, I found that with missing the occasional day, I was able to maintain the benefits. But of course, with motherhood, I rarely had time to sit in formal meditation. I continued to chant, and to practice mindfulness, but it wasn’t entirely the same.  My sitting would get interrupted, and I learned to deal with the interruptions in a mindful way, but my practice wasn’t so profound.  Over time, that inner peace started to become more and more elusive.

I missed my daily practice dreadfully.  Whilst I loved my new life, the challenges that parenting sometimes presented would have been so much easier to deal with from that calm, centred place within.  And finally, it became essential for me to renew my commitment to my yoga, and to my meditation, in order to regain my full self.  Going back to a daily practice has been a revelation,  all over again.  I have been reminded of the healing and nurturing that can happen in deep meditation.  In meditation, in the stillness, I become fully aware of the work I  need to do on a physical and an emotional level;  I become aware of specific Safety Energy Locks (SELs) that are in need of some attention.  So as well as providing me with a tremendous sense of space and peace, my meditation practice also informs my asana practice and my Jin Shin Jyutsu practice too.  So much valuable information which would be hidden in the hubbub of daily life, but which makes itself heard in the silence of meditation.  Once again, I find an increased equanimity and a capacity to deal more calmly with the challenges of my daily life.  Once again, my intuition is enhanced.  So whilst I stand by the belief that something is better than nothing when it comes to yoga, and empathise fully with anyone who, like me,  has found their practice gradually squeezed out by other commitments, there does come a time when we all have to find a way to move our practice  forwards again, and to fully commit to that.