Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Flourishing Within, or the Lost Art of Meditation

Meditation is not like falling asleep, or just letting your mind relax, which is a common misconception. It's really just learning how NOT to respond to anything. You are still aware, engaged, awake, but you are letting the normal stimulus-response trigger go. You are yielding.

What I like to do to get into a meditative state is to listen. I close my eyes and try to isolate my sense of hearing. I just want to let the sounds in, to recognize them, but without feeling a need to react to any of them. I begin with the sounds I can hear easily or close by, and as those begin to feel smooth and run-together, I expand that little bubble of awareness as far as I can. I've gone so far as to imagine “listening” to the layers of dirt and rock that must lie beneath me, and to stretch out my conception of hearing all the way up into the clouds, and to try to encompass both and all at once. When you manage to do that, to “hear” the layers of clouds brushing by, the rustle of the leaves of a tree, the tick of a clock, voices or traffic in the distance ebbing and flowing, and the infinitesimal whisper of an ant colony under the earth, and to let them all exist without judging and responding to them, then you are in a mental state ready to yield.

Then, you can begin to ask yourself some simple questions. I have a few cards with simple mental affirmations or starting points for meditation, and I think the one that has brought me the most spiritual experience is this: “If my heart were planted, what would it grow?” It's been fascinating, absolutely moving at times, to see what my mind pictures in answer to this question when it is in a true, yielding state. My mental image has varied more than I might ever expect – apparently my heart is not the constant compass I would have guessed it to be. I don't ever have words at this point, but I would describe my visualization as starting out gently, cupping my heart to plant it, noticing what type of soil it's going down into (rich and brown, or dry?), then waiting to see what appears. It may be a vine, sort of like Jack and the beanstalk, going up and up and up in a spiral-y way; or a poor, shriveled little pair of leaves, quivering with effort and yet failing; an odd albino glowing plant; or, more consistently in the last few years, a large, spreading tree, overshadowing a pale green meadow. Sometimes this question has been more like a prayer than anything, as my heart's truth comes bubbling up, and I see my true self and its needs, strengths, and weaknesses in a way that makes me want more than anything to nourish it, help it, see it grow. Then when I open my eyes, it's always a shock to see the real world again, I had forgotten it so completely. It's always beautiful to see it again, and still with that sense of smoothness, of evenness, of not needing to judge and compare and respond to every last thing around me. It has bright edges, and a wholeness that is very satisfying.

I don't have to get to that deep point every time I meditate to get the benefits, though. As long as I get there every so often, I can dip out of that psychological well just by closing my eyes and starting to listen with intent to yield. Truthfully, I haven't been in consistent practice in a while, since I was often motivated particularly by preparing to have a baby and experience natural labor. I haven't been pregnant in 5 years, so somehow I can always put off a meditation session, and that wonderful grounding and sense of self is farther out of reach. But, when I was really in practice, it was amazing how quickly I could reach a peaceful, secure state if I really needed to. Meditation really is a marvelous tool for rooting and renewing your spirit.

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