There are a lot of how to guide's to meditation out there, but I'd like to share some of my personal experiences here. Unlike, teaching an instrument (for example), where you can demonstrate things physically, the hardest thing about "teaching" anything about meditation is that it's subjective and most of it happens internally. The most that can happen is to point in the right direction and hopefully that is helpful. The rest is up to each individual to put into practice. I do however think that "increasing awareness" has a biological advantage in that it is ultimately advantageous to us physically, in terms of functioning with more ease (less stress). So, for most people, I think, there may be a natural momentum in that direction. After all, we all want to feel good and have less stress.
I have never studied meditation formally. Like most people, I had heard of it all my life, but never really gave it much thought. I first tried meditation in a time in my life where everything suddenly seemed to be falling apart. My mind was on overdrive and I had the distinct feeling needed a vacation from "myself". My levels of mental and physical stress were off the chart. So, the first time I tried meditation it felt to me like it was on pure instinct...and a bit of desperation!
I couldn't sleep, so I got up and went to the end of my bed and sat cross legged. I needed peace. My mind was out of control. My thoughts were consumed with worries and fears about what I perceived my life was, and who I was.. without painting too grim of a picture, I'll just say it wasn't positive.. I was determined to try "meditation" and see what I would find.
Here's what I did:
I ended up meditating for a few hours...
At first, as I sat cross legged I just tried to concentrate on my mind. I wrestled with some of the negative thoughts for a while. I tried to focus on more positive things as I sat with my eyes closed. It didn't work.
I stayed with it though, I was determined and I was going to sit here until I found some peace from these thoughts.
Next, I just focused on my breathing. As I focused on my breathing I began to find a space in my mind where I was free from the thoughts. In small bits, I began to be able to find these "spaces" of calm. It was just a little break here and there.
Next, I focused on the "energy" and feelings in my body.
I realize energy is an amorphous term that gets thrown around a lot. So, what do I mean by "energy"? Well, the best way to explain something I think we all feel as "energy", but rarely talk about is through the common experience of sexual energy. When we feel an attraction or resonance, that sexual energy just happens. It doesn't require thought or conscious direction. It just requires an openness and connection and boom there it is. The body triggers the hormones, blood flow etc.. and zingo ...sexual energy has been born! I think it's also important to realize and notice that it all starts in the mind, or "consciousness".. and somehow the body just knows what to do automatically.
So I was feeling a physical energy and as I began to "meditate" I began to allow these energies to grow. I was feeling a gentle pressure in my forehead and a tingling around the top of my head and and sort of pressure growing up from the base of my spine. As I breathed in and out, I allowed my mind to begin focusing on these "energies" as they came more into focus as I continued to breathe in and out.
I imagined this energy growing up my spine and out of the top of my head. As I could feel it.. I imagined sort of wisps of energy, almost like the smoke of dry ice floating up to the sky from the top of my head. I began to allow these physical feelings to guide my visualization. As I was visualizing these energies flowing up and through me and out into space, I imagined too, that my awareness would follow them up and out into space and I would be free of all my perceived problems... Well, that never happened, (hah) but something much more amazing did.
As I mentioned I meditated a long time that night. Occasionally, I took breaks, for a few minutes. Sometimes I would sit, and open my eyes or stretch my legs long from the cross legged position and return to my "thinking mind" and just contemplate what I was experiencing. Negative thoughts kept intruding so I would end my break and return to focusing on my breathing and the physical feelings in the meditation. Each time I returned to meditation after these breaks, I slipped easier and deeper into this space beyond my thinking mind.
My breathing naturally began to fall into a rhythm. Deeply and gently my breath ebbed in and out. Although, it was deep and gentle there was also a power behind it I hadn't noticed before. My breathing began to feel like it was on autopilot and kicking into a gear of it's own. Instead of me breathing, it was like I was being breathed. I could feel the cool air passing the tip of my nose with the in breath. I could feel the strength in my breath as the coolness intensified. I focused on that for a while.
After a couple of hours I guess, my mind began to slip into a calm, deeper space. I began to all myself to "step back" in my mind. I stepped back deeper behind my eyes and behind my thoughts. I began to notice that even though I still had negative thoughts, or just random stuff still pass through my mind I was in a much calmer space observing it all. Still, I was ready to let go, and release as much tension as possible. I was ready to let go of the stress of my life and I was ready to let go of "me".
I remembered a scripture from my childhood, "be still and know that I am God". Since, I was "being still" I thought, that seemed like something good to focus on. I said it over and over as I flowed into the rhythmic stream of my breath. From a deep space in my soul I reached out something greater. "If there is a God"..I thought..."please bring me your peace!" I continued to focus on the scripture and repeated it over and over.
Be still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I am God
As the rhythm settled in, I began to emphasize different words...
Be STILL and know that I am God
Be still and KNOW that I am God
BE still and know that I am God
Be still and know that I AM God
As I continued I could feel "me" stepping back further and further into my mind. I had asked God for peace and I was ready to find out what was in these depths... Under normal, circumstances I think I might been apprehensive at this stage, I mean this was definitely going into places of my mind I had never been before, but I was ready to just go with it. What did I have to lose? I mean I felt like I was such a loser, I was ready to let go of the stress. I was ready to let go of "me". I could also feel my mind or "me", disconnecting from my breath. My breath was strong and steady as my mind hovered effortlessly above.
Then, I started to break up my silent mantra into bits....
Be still and know
Be Still....be still...be still...
Be still and know.. be still and know..
................... that I am God
Be Still and know... that I AM
Be Still and know
----------------that I AM God
Then in an instant, I lost "me". In a flash, I came to a deep realization about myself. I won't share it here mainly because it's really hard, if not impossible to put into words. I did however realize in an instant, that I was not the "Jon" I had created myself to be in my mind. I realized that Jon was a collection of stories I had created. I realized that, that "Jon" never really existed. In a moment I experienced the deepest peace I had ever known. I was everything, and nothing..
What followed however, in the next week was not exactly peaceful, as I have said before meditation is not straight shot to peace. It opened up parts of my psyche that had been suppressed for a long time. My subconscious mind began to surface. So what followed for me was a battle with my self. While my experience may have been rougher than others might be, I always have to be clear that there may be (probably will be) a mental detox process. That included for me, re-examining old beliefs and behaviors and creating new ones. For me it was (and is) a process of making the subconscious, conscious.
While that is an drastic over simplification of the process I went through, it would be too long to describe for what I want to share here, which is hopefully an insight into the physical mechanics of meditation. I do however think that some "basic training", in understanding the parts of human consciousness would be good to know. I meditated for hours that first time, but it might be a better idea start small and add time slowly. This is especially true if you have experienced a severe emotional trauma, or PTSD.
So, looking back at my experience, I noticed a few key things that I have since incorporated into my practice. Because I am sharing from my own inner experience, I have no idea if this will make any sense for other people. I hope it will.
Some of the things I have noticed:
1. Be willing to let go. Let go of daily worries, stress. Let go of relationship concerns. Let go of the idea of "you".
2. Allow the energy to rise. -- I have noticed that my body is in a different mode in true meditation. Just like the body is in a different mode for having sex. There are different sensations, endocrine function, blood flow etc.. Learn to tune into this mode. Learn the sensations..in the crown of your head, your forehead, face, spine. Learn to release physical tension and resistance to the sensations. I think I learned to stuff down these sensations throughout my life, in order to forge ahead and "work hard" in order to "be successful". Part of this process, I think, is learning to reconnect with our own innate natural instincts in the body.
3. Step Back in your consciousness. As you get into the meditation mode, allow yourself to drop back "behind your eyes", beyond the "thinking mind". There can be many layers to this...keep going.
4. Breathe Rhythmically. Allow yourself to settle into a rhythm and flow with it. This will also help to change the brainwaves and the heart rate.
5. Use an object of focus.. Mantra, Breath, Toning. Allow the mind to focus on one thing. Eventually, this focus will shift naturally, but a focus helps to begin to center away from the busy world of thoughts.
6. Allow yourself to let go of all of the above and BE connected. In the deepest space of meditation there is really no more thought of any of this.. I recently heard someone say, "You don't do meditation..meditation does you." I like that statement, and I feel that true meditation is like connecting in to a rhythm of Life beyond "me".
7. The more consistently you do it, the easier it is to get to #6. It is a "practice", just like playing a musical instrument. You'll get better as you learn You. Eventually, it expands beyond meditation and into all of life.
8. This is really a post meditation suggestion, but when you have "realizations" about yourself, or patterns in your life, write them down! Begin a journal. These are nuggets of truth that can help begin to create a picture of understanding. It may not all come at once. Love (and peace) is born of understanding. Fear and stress, is born of confusion. I have found that choosing Love always leads towards understanding...but it helps to write it down, before it gets lost in the mind again.
So here are so daily practices that I like to alternate between.
1. Observing the breath. This one is about as simple as it gets. Sit still and breathe... The key is to observe the breath. Notice the resistance of the mind on the in breath and out breath. Notice how the mind is connected to the breath. Allow them to separate. Allow the breathing to fall into a rhythm, but don't force anything just let it flow. Don't try to do anything, just let it happen.. Sometimes I use a sound therapy track with an isochronic tone or binaural beat.
2. Toning - The variation in this one includes, creating a tone on the out breath. I usually just do an "ohmm" or "ahhhh". The idea is to allow the tone to direct the flow of the mind, and become one with the tone. I like to imagine that my thoughts are like the clouds in the sky (of my mind). When I begin to create the tone on the out breath, I imagine that it is like a strong wind pushing the clouds out of the sky. That usually works great for me to clear my mind and then on the in-breath, I allow my mind to maintain that focus. I find that the mind wants to re-engage sometimes on the in-breath and begin to produce more thoughts. I allow my mind to separate from the breath and maintain the stillness, that I just experienced with the tone. Then I repeat it all again.
3. Rhythmic Breathing - Similar to number one, for this one I use a sound therapy track to breathe in time to the rhythm. This helps to synchronize my breathing and brain waves and little quicker.
4. Combo of #2 and #3 - I also use sound therapy tracks for these, and use them to lock in to a predetermined brainwave state. Here are some tracks I use.
The idea of all of these is to sync into a lower brainwave state...generally an alpha or theta state. In these states it's easier to open the subconscious mind and then have access to core perspectives, beliefs and thoughts patterns. After the meditation you may want to write down your thoughts, and decide whether these thoughts are true or useful. From there, you have the freedom to change the thoughts that aren't really serving you, which can help you to create the life (relationships, situations, etc) you want.
Terms and Technique
Terms: I am attempting here to create some terms that I hope will help explain some of the internal process that I go through during meditation.
When I first sit down to meditate I close my eyes. as I close my eyes I am aware of being just behind my eyes looking out. My thoughts are still very present and I am still very engaged with the world just outside of my eyes.. gradually as I meditate and relax I am more aware of stepping back into my consciousness. In this process, I feel I am stepping backwards "in my head" and putting more distance between my mind and my eyes (and thoughts). This "stepping back" helps me to eventually rest into the space of being an observer of my thoughts, while not being actively engaged in them. During this I also start to become aware of what I call "down cycling".
What I call "down cycling" is letting go of the mind/consciousness.. It is the process of going from the "stepping back" from thoughts to letting go of thoughts and separation from them. Every night we unconsciously "down cycle" into sleep. As I drift to sleep, with each out breath, I let go. As I am headed into sleep I am letting go of muscle tension and also letting go of the conscious mind and thoughts until I am eventually drifted off into sleep and unconsciousness. With meditation too, I have discovered that this same basic process helps get into the deepest state of meditation, (which opens into the subconscious). So, in my view, there is no mysterious or esoteric practice needed. Everyone is doing this everyday, just without awareness.
For myself, with each down cycling of the out breath I am releasing tension.. I can also feel myself going deeper (stepping back) each time.. with each breath I let go into a deeper layer.
So, for example, there is a spectrum we have between the mind we are in when we get in bed, to the mind we are in when we sleep, right? This is a mostly unconscious process, however, try being more conscious of this process as you go to sleep. Obviously, you can't be conscious of the whole thing because you ultimately lose consciousness and go to sleep, but begin to be aware of this process. This general awareness,I think, can help in understanding this process as it occurs during meditation...and noticing the body sensations in you as the "stepping back" and "down-cycling" begin to occur.
I also notice the energy awakening in my head/brain. sometimes a gentle pressure in my forehead around the third eye (front of forehead). Sometimes, I notice more energy, an almost electrical energy in front part of my brain (frontal cortex).
It is estimated that we use about 5-10% of the conscious mind.
Here is an article to consider: 95 percent of brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness: http://www.simplifyinginterfaces.com/2008/08/01/95-percent-of-brain-activity-is-beyond-our-conscious-awareness/
In my opinion, opening to the subconscious realm allows the mind and heart (conscious and subconscious) to become more fully integrated. In other words, in that state I can become more aware of subconscious core beliefs, perspectives and behavior patterns that are shaping my everyday actions and ultimately my life.
A few more thoughts:
Implementation - Relax with each breath and let go. Tune in to the absence of trying. Simply allow the mind to sleep, and to for the subconscious to awaken. As you have probably experienced, insomnia and sleeplessness happen when you are "trying" to sleep. So, don't try, just let go and allow yourself to drift towards this space naturally. Later, as you become familiar with the "feel" of this space the easier it will be to direct the mind towards that consciously.
Detach the mind - allow the mind to ride on the breath. The breath is the horse and the mind is the rider.
Fear - sometimes I have noticed in meditation (my own) and from talking to others that there is a fear of letting go. There is a fear of altering our consciousness, or losing touch with it. This concept is not as intimidating when we realize that we "let go" everyday when we go to sleep. I think this "letting go" becomes easier with practice.
Also, spiritual/psychological teachings can give us the training to understand what we might encounter as the subconscious mind opens into the conscious. This training is key in making sense of what a person may encounter. Nothing can prepare you for this fully, but being willing to do some advance psychological study, of issues that you may be facing, can be very helpful. Also, working with a counselor, if for nothing else than to "vent" can also be helpful.
Please, do not be fearful, but also do not to take this lightly. This can be intense psychological work...but totally worth it. Go easy on yourself!
Choose Love, not fear.
Just a personal note: There is nothing new under the sun. I am just attempting to present info. here that has helped me. I hope to present it in a clear way based on my experience with anxiety which was a spiritual, psychological and emotional awakening for me. In retrospect of this experience I have been reading as much as I could to come to a deeper and more grounded understanding of this seemingly mystical thing that happened to me (so that I could share it with you). I'm not a doctor or a scientist. Please know this is only my experience. Yours will obviously be different, but since my experience was so similar to others I've talked to, I am hoping this may be helpful or useful to you in some way. It's also a way that I hope to share the love with you. That is my purpose here.