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Many people are uncomfortable with the unknown. They don’t mind getting stuck in the same unhealthy routines because they are accustomed to the old way of doing things. For many, the mere mention of the word meditation may cause uneasiness because it is an unknown experience. However, this disquiet comes from a lack of education. Meditation is more than sitting for an extended period with your eyes closed.
Think of meditation like swimming. Remember how wonderful it felt when you realized that after relying on the instruction of a trusted teacher, you were able to glide through the water seamlessly? Recall how you learned how to enjoy the experience of going through the water, because you knew how to do it correctly and safely. Meditation is much the same. When you learn proper techniques, it can be a freeing experience.
Once you have the foundation that comes from practicing with proper instruction, you can trust that anything happening in those twenty minutes of meditation is for the good of your mental and physical health.
This does not mean that all the thoughts that occur in your mind during this time will be positive. As you sit in meditation, stress leaves the body, and it can take different flavors. For example, the stress may feel like sadness, and you may begin to weep. However, tears are only a side effect of the stresses that are being released from the nervous system.
Perhaps you are going through a Dark Night of the soul. A dark night is a genuinely life-shaking experience that affects the deepest part of you. Most people go through this at some point during their lives. Some people may use this as an excuse to avoid meditating because they may be frightened by their thoughts during this difficult time. Others may run from their feelings, perhaps by relying on the softening effects of medication or sleep aides.
Instead of running from the dark night, know you can use meditation to work through your negative thoughts. Meditating during this time may allow the problem to dissolve. Meditation can also let us shift our attention on which action to take or which direction to go, so we can experience inner peace.
In the Vedic worldview of Nature, there are three operators. Creation (or Brahma) is an operator of rebirth, creativity, innovation, new direction, and expansion. Maintenance (represented by Vishnu), the second operator, cultivates and maintains that creativity and innovation. The final operator, the destruction operator, (represented by Shiva) removes that which is no longer relevant in or on your path.
The three operators work together for one purpose – to help us evolve into the best we can be. All three operators are necessary for this process, especially the destruction operator. Shiva allows us to clear the path so that creation or rebirth can take place once again.
If you are going through a dark time or depression, do not be frightened or afraid. Understand that your feelings are not something that is happening to you. Those feelings are happening for you.
Perhaps you are going through a dark night of the soul that was brought upon by a painful breakup. Maybe you are having a difficult time letting go of the other person, or even the idea of the other person. Instead of focusing on the failed relationship, visualize how the destruction operator is working for you.
Take comfort in knowing that nature knows how to organize best. Even though you may be grieving, remember that there may be another partner in the world that could be more aligned with your preferences. You can use this time to self-nurture and to cultivate your highest version of Self.
In the dark night, practice meditation to listen to your feelings and decide how to move forward.
Use meditation to think about how these feelings are happening for you. The destruction operation is not inherently harmful, it is merely clearing your path so you can evolve into a higher version of Self.
Allow meditation to assist you in recognizing your feelings. Be mindful to pay no attention to the thoughts surrounding those feelings, and instead bring awareness to the feelings themselves. In this way, you can utilize the process of meditation to understand where you are entirely in that moment. With that, meditation can help you decipher which direction to take going forward. Trust that you already have the answers inside you.
Remember that meditation is a tool to use to unlock the answers that are within us. While you are going through this darkness, remember that nothing is ever happening to you. Everything is happening for you.
We’ve all experienced pressure.
Pressure, defined as “the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it,” and it manifests in our lives from expectations. These can be expectations that you have for yourself, or expectations that a loved one, or family, or lifestyle may impose on you. Pressure exists in many parts of everyday life, often manifesting in areas like work or personal life. You feel pressure at work, pressure to meet the standards in a company or organization, and pressure to exceed those standards and obtain a raise or promotion. Then you head home, and might feel the pressure of being a provider for yourself, a loved one, or a family.
What toll is this taking on you physically, mentally, and emotionally? Is the pressure affecting your body, and if so, how are you adapting to it? Have you done anything to self-correct, or are you simply allowing yourself to burn out, getting pulled underwater again and again?
How long can you hold your breath?
How are you currently handling pressure?
We as humans have an ability to stuff down or cover up the pressure or stress we feel. We do this by procrastinating, consuming prescription drugs, doing excessive exercise, or indulging on alcohol or other substances. However, those are quick fixes. They take you out of present moment awareness and momentarily allow you to escape the reality you’re currently in. Those outlets are fleeting -- it’s not the external situation that we need to change, it’s our perception of the external. We are best able to relieve pressure, and stress, when we are rested.
Our bodies are built to relieve stress when we sleep. If your body is not sleeping effectively as it was designed to, you are not rejuvenating the way you are supposed to. This can cause stress to accumulate over time.
When is the last time you took a minute to close your eyes, and let your mind go? How would that feel? Do you feel many thoughts would come, do you fear you may not be able to adapt to those thoughts? If an exercise like this is uncomfortable for you, it’s likely because you’re not getting the rest you need. Rest is the antidote to stress, and one of the best ways to rest and dissolve stress is through meditation. Meditation allows an opportunity to rapidly release stress that’s been accumulating for long periods of time.
Performing a temperature check
Let’s take a quick temperature check, a quick 30-second pause. Hit play on the video below, close your eyes, and sit quietly for 30 seconds.
What did you notice? Was it busy, was it loud? Many thoughts tend to rush in as soon as we quiet down the body and let the mind go. This means there’s stress that needs to come out. Sitting down quietly with yourself and allowing your body to address it, even if it’s uncomfortable, is necessary to allowing the stress to release from the system. There are several ways to go about this, but learning a simple mental technique of meditation could be something you do daily on your own.
Have you ever tried to meditate, only to fall asleep? This is a sign your body needs rest, and when it gets a chance it will do so. If you don’t have a regular meditation practice, everyone sleeps. How are you sleeping? Look not at how much sleep you’re getting, but how much rest you’re getting in that sleep. Are you feeling fatigued throughout the day? Are you having trouble falling asleep? Do you lie awake thinking about events of your day today or tomorrow? How many times do you hit the snooze button, are you reluctant to start the day?
These are all symptoms of the body not being able to accomplish the rest it needs. Your body wants to reset. It’s not possible to get more rest by taking an Ambien, you’re just sleeping more. The difference between sleep and rest is the amount of REM sleep you’re getting. When you have a lot of stress built up, in sleep you get little REM sleep, and your resting body is only able to address the top layers of stress, nothing of the deeper layers. Whereas in good sleep, you achieve more REM sleep, and you are able to release those deeper levels of stress.
What about motivation? Are you feeling motivated to do other tasks outside of work? What are your passions, are you creating space and time to be in the moment with your loved ones? How is your ability to adapt to daily situations? Lack of motivation can stem from lack of adaptation energy. Adaptation energy is a finite energy source for dealing with different types of stress. For example, using energy to deal with one type of stress, like staying up late, can lead to less energy for other things, like a workout. Think of adaptation energy like a bank balance of energy, and meditation as a way to add more energy to your balance, twice a day.
Handling pressure through meditation
A lot goes into building pressure and stress, but to effectively handle it, a regular meditation practice is key.
Regular practice allows you to attain the full benefits of meditation. For example, think of going to the gym. If you’re only going once a month, you’re not achieving the same results you could be achieving if you were to commit to going a few times a week. Meditation allows the body to release the stress that’s been stored, while at the same time getting more energy. With that, imagine the transformation that could take place in your everyday life, the highest version of Self, operating at its fullest potential.
Everyone has an idea of their highest version of themselves. What’s yours, and wouldn’t you like to be it?
As humans, we tend to want to hold on to things tightly.
This can take many forms. It can be a desire to acquire objects, people, or certain relationships. In short, we have a desire to acquiring happiness.
The truth is that our natural state is happiness. Our nature is bliss.
Meditation for bliss
We are all oneness, and we are all bliss.
When we sit to meditate, we have the opportunity to tap into that bliss state, showing us the process of who and what we truly are.
Operating from love, happiness, or bliss becomes not an end goal, but the whole process. By accepting bliss as a part of the process, we can find bliss.
Each moment contains bliss; each moment is bliss.
Give yourself the chance to let go of what you think should or could make you happy, and allow yourself to just be. The art of letting go is surrendering preference to the outcome; it is stepping away from the concept of who and what we think we are.
Happiness in steps
We live in a culture where happiness is acquiring a goal, achieving it, and then setting another one immediately.
Instead, consider letting go of the outcome. Remember: the magic is in the process
For example, let’s take a look at Nancy. She wants to lose 15 pounds in 60 days, so she sets a goal. On day 50, she still has 7 pounds to go. She decides to consume a total of 500 calories a day the last 10 days of the diet in order to meet her goal.
The question is: What did Nancy learn? She was focused on acquiring the goal, but did she learn a lifestyle of nutrition and healthy eating? Did she take time to learn how to prepare food, or how to choose which foods to eat? Or did she only want achieve the number on the scale and then walk away from the process, to set a new goal?
Our culture tells us that happiness is to be acquired. Once we acquire and achieve a goal, we set another one immediately. Happiness in this way, in steps, is fleeting.
Happiness in states
To see happiness in the process, break it down. It is the mental, physical, and spiritual process. It is expanding awareness around what we’re trying to better in our life.
Let’s stay with the example above, and think about the goal of losing weight.
Instead of focusing the narrow solution of counting calories, Nancy could take a look at the big picture. She could ask herself what is her Why: Am I trying to look good for others? Am I looking to be healthier because type 2 diabetes runs in my family? Is it both?
By understanding her Why, Nancy can focus on the mental, physical, and spiritual process.
The mental process is about what is going on in her mind. For Nancy, is she doing the research necessary to achieve her goal? Is she reading the books, watching the videos and listening to the podcasts that will educate her for success?
The physical process deals with the body. For Nancy, is she doing the physical activities necessary? Yoga, swimming, cycling are all great activities that are very easy on the body. Or does she choose bootcamp, Crossfit, or long-distance running -- quick fixes that are tough on the body?
The spiritual process is not the sense of a belief system or structure, but rather a connection between mind and body through the ancient practice of listening. Your body will always tell you what it needs, it’s a matter of tuning to the connection, which meditation can help us achieve. For Nancy, listening to what her body wants could mean being less likely to reach for the bag of chips or candy bar, and more apt to reach for the nutrition her body is actually calling for.
Happiness in letting go
Our culture tells us we can acquire happiness, but in reality happiness is what we already are. It’s very simple. We complicate it. Happiness isn’t found in the future, it can’t be relived from the past.
Instead, happiness can be found in each moment. Acquiring it is not a long, drawn out process -- it’s right here, right now. It is sustained through subtle changes you practice and implement over a lifetime, by letting go of the thoughts surrounding fear of the future or shame from the past.
When we let go of the results, we find magic in the process.
In meditation, we let go of expectation and speculation. We become the process, and have the ability to connect to our truest self. We can recognize that mind, body and spirit are not separate; they are all one. We are all consciousness, we are all oneness. In meditation, we have the chance to dip into that oneness, and to glimpse the truth of who and what we are.
Are you feeling overwhelmed and anxious?
As you read this, I want you to analyze your body. Do you feel a tension in your neck, shoulders, or wrists? Is your brow furrowed? How is your breathing? Do you feel tired and run-down?
Are you overwhelmed by your “to-do” list? Are you worried about work, finances, relationships, and health? Maybe you are glancing at this blog because you promised a concerned friend that you would learn how to de-stress. Perhaps you are searching for answers because you don’t know how much longer you can live with this stressful lifestyle.
Life is too short to constantly feel like you are on the verge of panic. It’s hard on your body and keeps you from being able to enjoy the moment. Let’s first analyze how you traditionally deal with daily stress. Then, let’s stop a moment and think about how you are feeling. Finally, I will help you find a solution to alleviate your anxiety.
What is your current method of relieving your stress?
When I ask others how they relieve their stress, I almost always hear the same response. “I go for a run.” “I take a brisk walk.” “I lift weights while listening to loud music.” Of course, exercising is extremely important for the body, but it is not a long-term solution to anxiety or stress. While you are exercising, your body is operating in the sympathetic nervous system. This is also called the fight-or-flight response. Your body is increasing blood flow to the muscles, your pupils dilate, and your heart and respiration rates climb. Your become sweaty and your blood pressure rises. After exercising, you may feel physically tired, but does your anxiety leave your body? Or do you almost immediately go back to your worries? Exercise is not a long-term solution to handling stress.
Some people use bullet journaling to help reduce anxiety. This growing trend, which is a combination of an organization system and sketchbook, has been touted on blogs as a great way to mind dump. Users say they keep their bullet journals next to their beds to write down ideas that come to them in the middle of the night. Even though this creative way to organize your thoughts may appeal to you, this is not an effective way to reduce anxiety. Instead of quieting the mind, this method keeps your mind whirling with activity. You may enjoy this activity, but it is not an appropriate way to de-stress your body.
The body’s natural way of relieving stress is through sleep. But when you are sleeping, are you getting the rest your body needs? How are you sleeping? Do you have a difficult time falling asleep? Do you have to watch TV or read before you drift off? Once asleep, is it a restful sleep? Do you toss and turn? Do you wake up periodically to check the clock or phone? Ask your sleep partner if you are sleeping well. Sleep is only good for relieving stress if it is quality, restful sleep.
How are you feeling right now?
Stress can make you feel restless. Some people describe stress as if they are crawling inside their skin. Others describe stress as the feeling of being enclosed. Both of these are reactions of the sympathetic nervous system. This fight-or-flight response is what happens when stress has hacked your body.
This is how it works. According to your body, your stressful lifestyle and toxic environment feel like a threat to your survival. Your internal fight-or-flight switch is turned on, and your body goes on the defensive to survive.
How do you know if your sympathetic nervous system has been triggered? Consider these symptoms:
Do you have trouble falling asleep?
Do you have trouble staying asleep?
Do you have a hard time waking up in the morning? (How many times do you press the snooze button?)
Do you feel restless during the day?
Do you bite your fingernails or crack your knuckles? Science shows that the body is a direct printout of the mind. Biting your nails or cracking your knuckles are indicators of a busy mind.
How do you quiet your mind and fully release your stress?
The only way out is in. Take the dive inward. Try meditation.
Meditation allows the mind to quiet. Meditation de-excites the body. Meditation works as the antidote to stress.
Meditation takes the mind from the grosser, or action-oriented fields of awareness down to the subtler, quieter layer of consciousness. View meditation as a stress-relieving tool. You don’t have to change how you dress. You don’t have to change your lifestyle, and you don’t need to compromise your philosophies of life. Meditation does for the mind what exercise does for the body.
If any of this has resonated with you, and you don’t feel like you are living to your full potential, click here to learn more.
Matt and Sean from Subculture Coffee sat down and spoke about India, lost luggage, burning the candle at both ends, and of course, Vedic Meditation.
Check out other episodes of Sean's podcast here!
A year ago today I had resigned from the corporation I had been with for two years and was, at this time settling into a three month long training to become Vedic Meditation teacher. It was an eyes closed leap into the unknown. Having said that, it was a situation, in which, I was rendered choice-less. With all of the relative world fears at hand there was this innate feeling that everything would work out. Over this past year, it has. Now heading back to the same beautiful area, halfway across the world to a sacred place tucked into the foothills of the Himalayas, I continue to step into the unknown over and over again. The Universe is speaking to us every moment of everyday. I ask, are you open to listening?
Myth Three: I don’t have time to meditate.
We make time for things that are important. These things fall into two categories; activities we want to do and activities we need to do. Meditation applies to both categories, and as it becomes habitual, it no longer appears to be taking time from other activities. The idea of meditation has changed for me over the years. At first, I found it difficult to sit for even a very short period of time. I knew meditation was good for the mind, body and spirit, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy it when I was “dabbling.” And when I say “dabbling,” it varied from a few times a week to a few times a year. In reality, I was doing the best I knew how but I did not have a foundation to build on. It was like trying to figure out how to swim after being dropped in to the vastness of the open water ocean.
My lukewarm approach to meditation changed when I learned the simple techniques behind Vedic Meditation, a practice whose use is backed up by hundreds of scientific studies. My practice went from something I “had to do,” to something I “got to do.” This shift in mentality made all the difference, with the fruits of my meditation appearing in the first weeks of persistent practice. Events that use to upset me no longer controlled me, and I developed a new level of introspection. I was now able to sit with myself, alone, in a quiet room, and not feel the urgent need to do something. For me, that was huge.
Myth Four: I can meditate while doing other things.
Now that we’ve covered some primary misconceptions surrounding meditation, I’d like to turn to a question I’m often asked. “Can I meditate while doing other things, like exercising?” The short answer is, no. When we partake in high intensity physical activity the body utilizes the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response). The brain then induces a release of chemicals (e.g. cortisol or adrenaline) indicative of what would have been needed to survive a prehistoric altercation. With the sympathetic nervous system on high alert, or body is unable to alleviate stressors using the parasympathetic nervous system. This precludes proper meditative practice from taking place.
Beyond exercise, there are a couple other things to avoid before meditation. With meditation, we are in the business of de-exciting mind and body. This can’t happen anytime we ingest food or have an intake of caffeine. These catalysts light up our body’s mechanisms, blocking an enjoyable meditative experience. When both mind and body start to de-excite the body can then go into a deep state of profound rest. This is critical as approximately 90 percent of our body’s repair occurs during rest states.
Meditation does not have to be boring, something you struggle through or something you are afraid of doing. In fact, meditation should be none of that. There is a technique it which it can be easy, effortless, beneficial and quite enjoyable.
In February of 2014, I was ranked number one in the nation for a Fortune 500 company’s sales division. Two weeks before our national meeting I totaled the company car crashing into a telephone pole at 50mph. Three days later, I was arrested for DUI in a rental car the company had provided for me. I was bare-chested, in gym shorts and house slippers. Soon after, I received a call from the Vice President and HR agent relinquishing me from my position within the company. That wasn’t enough for me to stop. I kept using, and in May of 2014, woke up in a treatment center after an overdose.
Learning about myself was an inside job and would start with a psychic overhaul via a 12-step program. One of the foundational steps in continuing spiritual growth is the daily practice of prayer and meditation. My early attempts at meditation were weak, at best, until I heard what I needed at a Santa Monica AA meeting. I can still remember it, “If you are not meditating, then you are not working the 12-steps.” The meditation I learned is a practice of when the mind and body silently experience a mantra and settle down. It takes the mind beyond thought to its most settled state while maintaining full alertness, a state of inner contentedness.
For several years now I have been implementing the effortless practice of Vedic Meditation and, as a result, both my personal and professional lives have completely transformed. Having traveled to India frequently to study under some of the greatest masters of our time, I have accumulated thousands of hours of meditative reprieve. I now teach regularly throughout the United States, implementing Vedic Meditation in corporate environments, recovery communities, and meditation workshops.
A fascination with, and exploration of, the spiritual-self is a common thread, binding all cultures of the world, and traversing space and time. We can see it in the centuries-old use of ayahuasca in the Incan cultures of the Amazon Basin. We can imagine it in the spiritual drive that resulted in the building of the pyramids; a sanctuary offering safe-passage for the deceased pharaoh’s soul. And, we can feel it, in the Sanskrit texts from the Vedic period, detailing the workings of a complex spiritual movement on the Indian Subcontinent, long before the monoliths of Hinduism came into existence.
It is from the Vedas that I developed my understanding of meditation, a practice providing the tools necessary for intrinsic exploration. We all have the ability to easily and effortlessly transcend the mind and journey to the source from which these thoughts are coming. This is the truest essence of what we are, our Atma. From here we can develop a conscious contact with a new spiritual plane; one that has been accessed since prehistoric times by ancient Rishis in the Himalayas. Yet, with all the possibilities for growth that meditation offers, there remains several misconceptions. For that reason, I want to clear up four myths of what meditation is not.
Myth One: I am bad at meditation because I can’t stop thoughts or quiet my mind.
The nature of the mind is to think. The average brain fires off between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day. Take solace in this finding; we can’t forgo the automatic workings of the mind. That said, everyone can learn a simple technique and begin implementing it daily with ease. If you can think, you can meditate, it’s that simple.
The only goal we should have with meditation is to do it. The practice of meditation is process-oriented rather than goal-driven. Pivoting to this mindset is freeing; we’re no longer bound to speculation and can relax into the practice. I recommend setting aside fifteen minutes of your day to start. This mental reprieve is just one percent of your day, and with consistent practice, will begin to quickly yield the fruits of its labor. Consistency is important for meditation, as it is for all behavior where you hope to improve over time. If I have a membership to the gym but never went, I can’t blame the gym for lack of muscle growth.
Myth Two: There is no correct way to meditate.
One of the most common questions I receive is, “Why do I need to be taught meditation if it’s a process of self-discovery?” I can best answer this question with a personal anecdote from my childhood. Swim lessons boggled me as a kid. I remember my initial fears early one summer, as I learned to slowly build up a stride, diving head-first into the deep end, and swimming across to the pools side. By the end of the summer I had mastered this sequence, coming back the following summer to learn a variety of strokes from the same instructor. Had I not learned the proper techniques in sequential order from a coach, would I have figured out how to swim efficiently and with grace? Probably not. Would I have been able to get certified as a lifeguard and be able to utilize the techniques learned to then be of service to others? No.
Meditation, like virtually all disciplines, improves with proper instruction and consistent application. Two individuals; one using the doggie paddle and the other slicing through the water with freestyle and flip turns, are both swimming. But, if you asked yourself, who you’d most want to offer you tips on your own swimming, it’s an easy answer..
Part 2 of this series on the 4 Myths of Meditation will be coming to you next week.
Finding fulfillment from outside things in my experience is a result of social conditioning in our society. Reminds me of a book I read a while back, 'Water for Elephants'. It tells a story of how a baby elephant is integrated into the circus. In its infancy they chain up one of its legs attach that to a stake and place the stake deep into the ground. As hard as the baby elephant tries it can not go any further than six feet in any one direction and it certainly cannot remove the stake. But it tries over and over many times. Now into its adolescence and early adulthood it tries less and less up to and until it's a full grown adult. This animal weighing tons could easily remove the stake with even just its trunk but it's been conditioned to think that there is no way. That's what made the story so great for me because that was me. Is me. I had to and continually have to remove the stake in order to experience all that is love and fulfillment. The human condition or the mind is constantly seeking three things. Survival, Reproduction and Comfort/Pleasure. When I can recognize more fully that I am not my mind nor am I the thoughts associated with the mind, that is when I feel most full. When I can bring that 'fullness' back into the world and use it by means of service and sharing that, that's when I stay fulfilled. Its a consistent and constant process of refilling the cup.