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Meditation

Meditation
Serenity (Samatha) Meditation
A Variation on Counting the Breath
Insight Meditation
Joy During Meditation
The Dangers of too Much Meditation
Tapping into Universal Love - Connecting with God
Kundalini
A Still Mind
The Ego and Spiritual Development
  • Mindfulness
  • Walking Meditation
  • Three Ways to Reduce the Ego
    More
    Recommended Reading
    Partial index to articles on meditation on my blog and website.

  • Meditation

    There are many different types of meditation used for many different purposes. One common type of meditation is to sit quietly and concentrate on one thing such as the pleasant feeling of relaxation produced by breathing gently, or on various sensations in your body, or by repeating a mantra possibly in rhythm with your breath. You focus your attention in one of these ways, and when you notice your mind wandering, you bring it back to the focus of attention.

    If you notice an unpleasant thought or emotion during meditation, it is important not to push it away, otherwise you may develop the habit of repressing thoughts and feelings by your practice of meditation. Instead of pushing away unpleasant thoughts and emotions, relax, open yourself to them, observe them, and notice the feelings in your body associated with them. Then after observing them clearly in a relaxed way until they lose some of their force, go back to the focus of the meditation. If you experience very strong unpleasant emotions you can go back to concentrating until you feel relaxed again. Each person must find their own correct balance between observing emotions and concentrating. There is more on this topic below. (It is not unusual for strong emotions to arise during meditation. Some people may not want to deal with them and might prefer to practice relaxation exercises instead of meditation.)

    Serenity (Samatha) Meditation

    A Variation on Counting The Breath

    This form of serenity meditation is derived from a very easy and popular meditation technique called counting the breath. A few modifications to that basic technique make it more effective at producing a relaxed state of mind and feelings of happiness and well-being. To do this form of meditation:

    • Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe gently from the diaphragm in a relaxed way, not too quickly, not too slowly, with each breath flowing smoothly into the next without pausing after inhaling or exhaling.

    • Continue breathing from the diaphragm and count the breaths up to ten. Say the numbers inwardly (not aloud) like a mantra in rhythm with your breathing. After ten, start over again counting from one. You can count both inhalations and exhalation or just exhalations.

    • As you continue meditating, if you notice breathing this way produces a pleasant feeling of relaxation (sometimes it might, other times it might not) observe that feeling as you continue to count the breath. Slowing down your rate of breathing a little bit (but not excessively) might help produce such a feeling. If you feel like smiling a little, do so because it will help you to experience feelings of happiness produced by the pleasant feeling. Every time you hold in a smile you are teaching yourself to suppress feelings of happiness. Every time you smile when you feel like smiling, you are reinforcing your ability to express feelings of happiness. But if you don't feel like smiling, don't force it.

      If you don't notice a pleasant feeling from this method of breathing, continue counting the breath and after a time there are a few things you can try:

      • Open your eyes for a few seconds and see if you feel like smiling. Then close your eyes again continue counting the breath but also notice the pleasant feeling that made you want to smile. (You can also try "looking" with your eyes closed at the colors and shapes you "see" when your eyes are closed. This can produce the same effect as opening your eyes.)
      • Think of something pleasant like someone you love giving you a hug or a cute animal that might make you feel like smiling. It doesn't have to be something spiritual, thinking of winning the lottery might work as well. If you try this, notice the pleasant feeling the thought produces and smile a little if you feel like it. Try to concentrate on the feeling while you continue counting the breath rather than the thought that produced it.
      • When you are first beginning to learn this meditation, it might be easier if you do it after a meal rather than before a meal. For the same reasons people often find their mood elevated after a meal, you will be more likely to notice a pleasant feeling while meditating after a meal.
      • If you are having trouble with this step it might help to try it when you are naturally feeling happy. That can give you experience on how this step works and will increase your capacity to do it at other times.

      If you don't feel anything, that's okay, it might not happen every time, don't force it. Either way, let go of any expectations you might have about what could happen during the meditation session and continue counting the breath.

    The purpose of this meditation is not to make the mind completely still. The purpose is to 1) calm the mind so it is easier to control, 2) to give the mind facility in accessing the brain's capacities for producing happiness, and 3) to increase the strength of the feelings of happiness the brain can produce. This is a spiritual practice because when you are happy, you are better able to live according to spiritual values such as love, forgiveness, tolerance etc. When you are happy, love arises naturally and you feel a connection to all things.

    This meditation should be relaxing. The effort to concentrate shouldn't make you feel tense, fatigued or repressed. However, try not to lapse into the state where you count with half your mind and the other half is wandering off. Try to devote your attention to breathing from the diaphragm, a pleasant feeling of relaxation if you notice it, or the pleasant feeling that makes you smile, and awareness of counting. Counting is an aid to help you maintain concentration. If you feel like you don't need to count you can stop and just observe each breath instead. But if you find your mind wandering, go back to counting. During the meditation session, if you feel like smiling, do so, let go of the thought that made you want to smile, but begin to notice the pleasant feeling it created while you continue to count the breath.

    This technique is, in a way, effortless. It works automatically. You don't have to do anything special. It's like falling asleep, you don't force yourself to sleep by an act of will, it comes over you. Just like falling asleep, if you sit quietly and try to count the breath, eventually the mind will calm down. When the mind is calm you will notice a pleasant feeling caused by breathing in a relaxed way or a pleasant feeling caused by a pleasant thought. As you notice the pleasant feeling while you meditate with a calm mind, the feeling will increase over time into feelings of happiness and love. All this happens automatically. All you do is to make a gentle effort to breathe in a relaxed way, and count your breaths, and without any expectation or further intention, notice what you feel.

    Some people find it more relaxing and easier to observe the pleasant feelings if they meditate with their eyes closed. Others find it easier to maintain their concentration if they meditate with their eyes open. If you meditate with your eyes open, you can gaze at the floor, a wall, a thangka or a mandala. As you count your breaths, try to keep what you are looking at in clear focus. If you notice your vision becomes less clear, bring it back into awareness and clear focus. This will help you to keep the mind from wandering.

    After a meditation session, you might feel relaxed and peaceful, even happy. You might also feel unconditional love and a connectedness to all things. It can be instructive to notice what disrupts this state as you go about your daily activities. If you find that certain activities or attitudes or opinions make you unhappy, you might want to give them up or change them (be warned, this can have effects on career and relationships). In particular, activities that involve analytical thinking will take you out of this state (see below). And if they cause stress, which causes mental fixation, it can be very hard to get back into this state. This is not to say you should avoid tasks that involve analytical thinking, just that you should understand how they influence your mental state and interact with the practice of meditation.

    You can also breathe this way at other times during the day to produce a pleasant relaxed happy state and stay relaxed and happy in situations that you otherwise would not be relaxed in. The real benefit from this meditation comes when you can use during daily life, the skills you learn during your meditation sessions. In a way, the sitting meditation sessions, while they should be pleasant and refreshing, are really just practice for what you can do in daily life.

    This type of meditation can produce a very pleasant psychological state. This might tempt you to do this meditation for long periods of time. If this happens, please see the section The Dangers of too Much Meditation.

    More information about this meditation technique can be found at Joy During Meditation

    This form of meditation integrates aspects of meditation from several different traditions. I learned of diaphragmatic breathing from Himalayan Yoga. Counting breaths is described in a number of books on Zen Buddhist meditation. Smiling during meditation is advocated in books by Thich Nhat Hanh. Observing the pleasant feeling from breathing gently or from a pleasant thought as a way of implementing instructions found in the Anapanasati Sutta, was something I discovered myself (although it may be known to others as well). I haven't seen these components put together in this way anywhere else but I find they work extremely well when combined in this integrated approach.

    The book Breathe! You are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh includes a translation of the Anapanasati Sutta including the following lines:

    ...
    5. 'I am breathing in and feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.' That is how he practices.

    6. 'I am breathing in and feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy.' That is how he practices.

    ...

    10. 'I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace. I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.' That is how he practices.

    When discussing how to put this into practice, the author says:
    ... practice breathing with a half-smile. You will feel great joy.

    Research has shown that because of the structure of the brain, analytical thinking and empathic thinking are mutually exclusive. Humankind in general and Western society specifically owes its success to analytical thinking but as a result we are out of balance as a species. There is nothing wrong with analytical thinking, it is only a problem when it is out of balance with empathic thinking because a lack of empathic thinking results in callousness which is the cause of many problems in the world today. We need to focus more on cultivating empathic thinking. The type of meditation described here, as well as insight meditation (see below), will help you develop empathic thinking. It can have the effects of making you more sympathetic to other people which is a spiritual virtue, but it can also make you more emotional and it might cause you to experience psychic perceptions as well.

    When you focus your attention on your breathing, you are abstaining from analytical thinking and when you do that, the brain defaults to empathic thinking. When you focus your attention on a pleasant feeling during meditation, you are exercising the part of your brain that supports happiness and love and connectedness and you are reinforcing neural pathways involved in empathic thinking. This type of meditation is a fundamental spiritual practice.

    This meditation is different from other types of meditation in an important way. In most types of meditation, if you notice a thought distracting you from concentrating, you stop thinking the thought. That represses thoughts and feelings. But if you observe a pleasant sensation during meditation, it naturally attracts the mind because it is pleasant - like the way an interesting movie attracts your attention. When you do something with your mind, the neuronal connections involved are reinforced. If you meditate on a pleasant feeling you will train your mind to produce pleasure - and the old unpleasant pathways, for example, those producing worry, or anger, will become unused and atrophy.

    The phenomenon of reinforcing neural pathways when you use them is called neuroplasticity. When produced by meditation, because it is caused by mental intention, it is called self-directed neuroplasticity. Some neuronal functions use quantum phenomena and it is believed by some scientists that self-directed neuroplasticity may be mediated by the quantum Zeno effect in which observation prevents unstable quantum states from decaying.

    When you induce the pleasurable feeling by breathing gently or by a thought, the pleasure centers of the brain turn on. Observing the feeling continuously prevents it from fading away. Because of neuroplasticity, meditating this way causes the brain to wire itself to more readily produce feelings of pleasure. The result is spiritual: increased feelings of happiness, love, and connectedness. This type of meditation is also a form of insight meditation (see below) because you are observing your breath, your counting, and your feelings.

    We are born without an operating guide for the brain. Most people let their brain and the events around them determine their mood. But you don't have to live that way. You can train your brain to be happy. The result is a more spiritual less callous way of life.

    Some people feel that because they have trouble concentrating, they can't meditate, or they aren't any good at it. In this situation, it may help them to change their understanding of what meditation is. It can be better to think of meditation not as an exercise where you hold the mind still, but as an exercise where the mind is given a chance to become still. Like a wild horse put in a pen, when you start a meditation session, the mind may run around and around in circles. But just as the horse will eventually calm down and stop running, so will the mind eventually slow down and become calm if you sit quietly and persist in meditation. The more turbulent your mind is, the longer it will take to calm down. (When the mind is very turbulent, it may help to combine meditation with relaxation exercises.)

    In this view, a meditation session is a process of letting out and letting go which leads to a calmer and more relaxed state of being at the end of the session. As you concentrate, you make the effort to let go of thoughts and emotions by thinking of the object of the meditation (i.e. a mantra) to displace other thoughts from your mind. As you do this, you know that letting go is not the only important thing you are doing during meditation. When you notice you are distracted by a thought or emotion you also understand that this distraction is part of another important process - letting out. There is no need to feel any regret or annoyance that you have lost concentration. When you notice you have become distracted, you understand that these thoughts and emotions that arise are an equal part of meditation. Their arising is part of the process of letting out. After each distraction, the mind is a tiny bit calmer. It may help to think of it as if there are a finite number of times you will lose concentration before the mind becomes calm and you have to experience each of those distractions to get to the final state of being calm and relaxed. When the mind is very turbulent, distractions will come fast and furious. No matter. Just keep going back to concentration knowing that this is the natural way a turbulent mind becomes calm, and if you are patient and persistent you will find peace through this process of letting out and letting go. (Also see, Why is it so hard to concentrate? Sources of distraction and obstacles to concentration during meditation.)

    Each person must find the right balance between letting out and letting go for himself. Too much letting out might cause you to develop the habit of dwelling in unpleasant emotions. Too much letting go might cause you to suppress thoughts and emotions and feel tense instead of relaxed. While you meditate, as you notice distractions and go back to focusing the mind, there may be a tendency to suppress the intruding thoughts and feelings. This may lead to developing a habit of suppressing thoughts and emotions during other times. The way to avoid this pitfall is when you notice a distraction in meditation, if you find you are also experiencing an emotion, take a moment to notice the sensations of the emotion in your body and note to yourself what the thought that caused that emotion was. As you bring your mind back to the focus of meditation, you may also allow your awareness to linger on the sensations in your body that accompanied the emotion.

    Meditation Is Not A Panacea

    Many people are attracted to meditation because they hope it will help them cope with stress or calm mood swings. However, if they are suffering from an organic metabolic imbalance, neither meditation, nor other mental approaches such as cognitive therapy or self analysis may be the best solution.

    For example:

    • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can cause anxiety and/or depression. Sugar is the body's source of energy. If there isn't enough sugar in the blood, the brain may not get enough energy and the body may react by producing stress hormones which then causes the body to release sugar into the blood. These stress hormones produce the symptoms we call anxiety. Another symptom of hypoglycemia is caused when the brain does not get enough energy and is unable to produce sufficient quantities of neurotransmitters. In this case depression may result.

      No amount of meditation or any other mental exercise will cure such an underlying metabolic imbalance. Trying relaxation exercises to relieve anxiety will not supply the brain with more energy. (You might temporarily reduce the brain's need for energy and reduce the feelings of anxiety by entering a deeply relaxed state through relaxation exercises, but this is not really a solution because you can't function in daily life in a state where you are half asleep.) Trying positive thinking to relieve depression will not give the brain energy to produce neurotransmitters. Engaging in cognitive therapy or self analysis may result in a remarkably well adjusted person who still has anxiety and or depression. In the case of hypoglycemia, the best solution to anxiety or depression may be to try changing one's diet to avoid over indulging in refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice) as well as avoiding caffeine, tobacco and alcohol and eating nutritionally balanced snacks to keep blood sugar level stable. This is explained in more detail at
      http://www.hypoglycemia.asn.au.

    • Stress hormone levels are highest in the morning. This makes sense since we don't eat while sleeping at night and blood sugar levels can get low. Exercise increases blood sugar levels. Exercising a little, just enough to get you breathing faster and your heart beating faster, first thing in the morning, and then eating a balanced breakfast can have a calming effect that lasts for many hours.

    • Magnesium deficiency can also cause anxiety. Two foods that are a good source of magnesium are peanuts and sunflower seeds.

    The effects of diet on moods are numerous. If you are attracted to meditation for it's calming effects, you may also find it helpful to do further research on the effect of diet on moods and emotions. Each person is unique and you may have to experiment to find what works best for you.

    The effect of diet and metabolism on moods and emotions has consequences for meditators and those interested in spiritual development. If one's nerves are on a hair trigger because of high levels of stress hormones, then any minor thing that might upset one can cause a stress reaction. One consequence of a stress reaction is that the mind can become fixated on the thing causing the stress reaction. (This fixation can result in symptoms such as obsessive compulsive disorder, misophonia (dislike of certain sounds), and phobias.) If you are trying to meditate but your mind is fixated on something that has caused a stress reaction, you may find it hard to concentrate correctly on the meditation and you may feel that meditation is too difficult. Also, if one is subject to strong emotions of anxiety or depression, those emotions can make meditation more difficult. In meditation one tries to reduce the influence of the ego by letting go of attachments and aversions. If those attachments and aversions are the result of this type of metabolism induced anxiety, depression, or fixation one may become easily confused and think they are being selfish or self centered and unable to let go and spiritually immature when in fact they are simply affected by their metabolism. Understanding why one is having a difficulty like this may help one work through it.

    Meditation, as well as relaxation exercises, self analysis, cognitive therapy, and positive thinking have many benefits and may help one cope with symptoms of organic disorders causing anxiety, fixation, and depression, but you should understand mental approaches have their limits and realize meditation is not a cure-all as you read the rest of this chapter and especially the sections on "Insight Meditation", "Kundalini" and "Three Ways To Reduce The Ego". Furthermore, meditation will be easier and more effective if this type of organic mood disorder is under control.

    The How-To Mantra

    Another good meditation technique is to repeat inwardly (not aloud) the following mantra in time with the rhythm of the breath. This form of meditation is helpful because the mantra helps you to remember what you should be doing during the meditation. Breathe from the diaphragm as explained above and say the mantra in time with each inhalation / exhalation:

    Sitting / still
    Body / relaxed
    Breathing / naturally
    Mind / calm

    Sitting still is helpful because movement tends to reduce the depth of relaxation that you can attain. Being completely still is necessary in some forms of meditation, such as meditations that help you to learn to be detached from physical sensations and discomfort or some meditations that induce altered states of consciousness. However if you force yourself to remain completely still and you are in an uncomfortable posture, you may injure your body. So, for the purposes here, it is not necessary to be too strict about being completely still. If you feel like fidgeting or scratching an itch go ahead, just understand it is better to be still and avoid unnecessary movement.

    A How-It-Works Mantra

    Concen- / trating
    Calms / the mind
    Distractions / are fine
    Don't dwell / on them

    This mantra helps to remind you how to balance letting out and letting go. Concentration helps to calm the mind. When distractions arise they are not a problem. They can be beneficial in that the my be thoughts that need to arise from the subconscious into the conscious to help you learn from the past or deal with emotional issues. However too much focus on negative thoughts and feelings can be counterproductive (this is discussed further in the section on Insight Meditation) so once you become aware of the distracting thought, don't dwell on it but go back to focusing your attention on the mantra.

    Practicing Peace

    Letting go / of thinking
    Relaxing mind / and body
    Practicing / peace

    This mantra is another how to mantra. It reminds you of what to do during the meditation session. It can be used during sitting meditation, relaxing while lying down, or as mindfulness practice during daily activities such as cleaning the home or taking a walk.

    • "Letting go of thinking" means that for the time you are meditating, you take break from worrying, planning or other types of thinking. Let your mind be entirely filled with and focused on the mantra to give it a rest from the other types of habitual mental activity. Notice how pleasant it is not to be worrying about the past or future.
    • "Relaxing mind" means that if your mind is filled with an emotion, attitude, opinion, or pose, like hurriedness, annoyance, aversion, attachment, impatience, anger, sadness, anxiety, superiority, inferiority, pride, shame, or frustration, try to just drop it for the time you are meditating. Examine your state of mind. Is it neutral? These mental states can be so habitual that we don't even notice them or they can sneak up on us again after we dispel them, so look carefully. Let your mind be neutral. Notice how pleasant that is.

      If you find it difficult to let go of a state of mind, try to think of something that will fill you with pleasant feelings. You might imagine you have something you want. It's okay if it is something materialistic like a lot of money, or a nice house, or a special relationship with another person. It could be a memory of a time you felt good, maybe when you were with a cherished pet. It could be anything that happened that made you feel good. When you think a pleasant thought, notice how you feel. (See the section on Visualizing a Pleasant Situation in the chapter on Relaxation for more information on how to do this.)

    • "and body" If you are sitting or lying down, relaxing the body may mean you let yourself go as if you were going to sleep. Notice if you are physically tense. Try to relax your muscles. If you are moving, try to move in a relaxed manner rather than with jerky or hurried movements. Notice how pleasant it is to be relaxed.

    • "Practicing peace" means that you are trying, for a short time, to cultivate inner peace, or peace of mind. You can do this for a short time just by letting go of every-day worries and cares and annoyances and relaxing as if you were drifting off to sleep. Notice how peaceful you feel when you do this.

    With practice, you will find that you can hold this attitude of peace for a longer and longer time and through more and more stressful situations.

    This meditation can be especially helpful when used in combination with self healing meditation.

    The Benefits of Concentration Meditation

    The benefits of this type of meditation include, calming the mind, helping you to understand the nature of the mind because it can be understood better when it is calm and you can see what is happening. You gain understanding of the temporary nature of thoughts and emotions and other sensations which helps you to have more equanimity since you understand that ultimately thoughts and emotions are not reality they change and cannot be trusted. Observing the thoughts that arise to distract you is also useful since that helps you to understand what is bubbling up from your subconscious. Concentration in meditation interrupts the habitual patterns of the mind, of thought, tension, attitudes, poses, and negativity. The more these are interrupted the more their hold on you is weakened giving you the freedom to throw off unconscious ingrained habits, and to choose consciously how to use your mind.

    Using meditation to calm the mind can help you live according to spiritual values because meditation allows you to be relaxed and peaceful more of the time and you can more easily be loving, forgiving, tolerant etc. Meditation also helps you develop the habit of keeping the mind calm and focused and the body relaxed during daily activities. Another benefit of meditation is that when the mind is calmed by meditation, the practitioner will see from their own experience that selfishness and negative attitudes, attachments and aversion are undesirable and unpleasant. It helps the practitioner to become more aware of these undesirable qualities and allows them to notice those qualities when they arise. Because of this learning experience that comes from calming the mind with meditation, the practitioner naturally begins to change of his own volition and these undesirable qualities begin to diminish. Meditation is like a microscope used to identify an infection, not like a tranquilizer use to medicate away undesired psychological traits.

    One of the important consequences of this type of meditation is that it reduces the strength and force of your ego. When you see how ephemeral the mind is, how flimsy are the attachments we hold on to so strongly, it makes you less selfish, less self-centered.

    This is important because when selfishness is eliminated, love is what remains. This type of love is not selfish like romantic love, it is not controlling like parental love, it is not ambitious like the love of those trying to solve the great problems of the world.

    It is a very simple type of love for other people. For example when you are on the highway and you see someone driving wildly, you wish for that person that they could have the same peace that you do and you remember how unpleasant it was when you were in a similar state of mind, rushing somewhere, feeling out of touch and at odds with other people. At the grocery store you see the other shoppers and hope they have a good dinner with their families and enjoy a pleasant evening. When you are in a crowd you see each person and realize each one is unique and has a unique experience in their life. All this diversity interests you and you want to understand and appreciate each person, their ideas, their values their difficulties and their successes.

    When you notice the blessings in your life you are moved to sincerely pray that others may have similar blessings because the thought of others doing without causes you fear and anguish.

    This is one of the most important aspects of spiritual development. It is seeing others through the eyes of God, a loving father. You start by looking at the activity of your own mind but you end up moving closer to God.

    Top

    Insight Meditation

    Insight meditation is good for helping to increase awareness and understanding of emotions. While you meditate, observe the physical sensations in your body that accompany emotions. This is similar to what cognitive therapists call "defusion". This awareness helps to change your experience of emotions from a "reality" to just another temporary sensation. It also helps you to see how your thoughts create your emotions.

    With each emotional state be on the lookout for its characteristic:

  • Thought patterns.
  • Sensations in the body.
  • Effects on posture and facial expressions.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Effects on breathing and tension in the abdomen and chest.
  • Tone of voice and manner of speaking.

    When you learn to recognize emotions by their own characteristics, you learn they are temporary and you stop believing in them, they have less effect on you and on your experience of reality. It causes you to be less focused on yourself and thus less self-centered. When you understand yourself better, you become more tolerant of others.

    Just be aware that you may find a lot of hidden emotions this way so go slow if you need to.

    When you learn to be more aware of your emotions in meditation, you will also find that you are more aware of them in daily life. You will see more clearly when they arise and what the cause is, so you can deal with them sooner and they will have less impact on other situations.

    As you become more aware of your emotions, you will see that they are impermanent, constantly changing, they lack any strong foundation in reality, they are subjective, illusion. However, if you believe you cannot control your emotions you will probably be correct because you will not try or you will give up too easily. On the other hand, if you believe you can control your emotions, you may discover you have some ability to do so. Learning to control emotions is part of the normal maturation process that all people go through as they pass out of infancy. Yet little children do not worry the same way adults worry, they do not get annoyed at the same things adults get annoyed at. This indicates that many negative attitudes and mental patterns are learned. They are not much different from other aspects of personality, like posture, facial expressions, and tone of voice, that are also learned. If emotional reactions are learned, it must be true that they can be unlearned and that different and better ways of reacting and thinking can be learned in their place.

    At this point you may ask, "Should I let my myself experience my emotions and in that way release them and let them out? Or, would that just reinforce a negative habit? Should I try to let go of emotions - just drop the train of thought? Or would that be suppressing them?"

    Control means the ability to start and stop something at will. Therefore at times you will find it appropriate to release emotions by allowing them to express themselves fully in all their characteristics. When you do this, ask yourself, "why am I feeling this way?". When you answer, again ask "why?", probing deeper and deeper for understanding. Are you being reasonable? Are you being realistic about your expectations of others? Is there a more reasonable or realistic way to think about the situation? For example, rather than thinking: "that person is a *!@#$" you might observe: "that person did ___ and I am reacting angrily". Also, a dislike of strong emotions can compound the difficulties caused by them so it can be helpful to face emotions in this way and in doing so lose that fear.

    At other times you will find it appropriate to observe your initial emotional reactions to an event and decide not to go down that road. It is possible to allow yourself to think a thought and at the same time not give emotions control over your mind and body. Relax the body and mind, don't tense up, let go of that mind set, drop any attitudes or poses you find yourself taking on. Try to see if there is a deeper cause of the emotion, but sometimes you will see that your emotional reactions are just habits that you picked up over time, maybe from your parents when you were very young or elsewhere. If you learned to react in a certain way, you can also learn to react in a different way. It can be helpful to relax and repeat a phrase such as, "I don't have to react this way" or some other phrase based on a better way of thinking about the situation. Other examples might include "I have plenty of time" when you are unnecessarily hurrying, or "that person doesn't see himself the way others do" when you see someone doing something wrong. Sometimes just resetting your perspective with, "Relax, don't take things so seriously, lighten up, don't be so intense" can really make a big difference in your attitude. Always remember to be relaxed when using a reminder phrase.

    If you reach a point where you find that you have done all that you can but you still can't let go of an emotion, then it is time to ask for help from a higher source. Try lying down, doing some deep relaxation exercises and then self healing.

    There is no hard and fast rule on when to practice letting out and when to practice letting go. Often it will be useful to practice letting out emotions that have a long history, that you are having trouble with from your past, that you have been holding in and need to bring out into consciousness. At some point when you feel that you have done "enough" letting out of a certain emotion you may decide it is time to let go of it. Practice letting go of the emotions that come and go during the various annoyances and inconveniences of the day. If you find things happening faster than your ability to let go and you find emotions building up inside, then letting them out may be better. In time you should find that letting out and letting go are really not opposites but part of the same process. You may find yourself thinking about something, noticing an emotion in the back of your mind, deliberately letting it out into your consciousness to see what it is, and then letting go of it and moving on.

    One method of balancing letting out with letting go is found in concentration meditation described in the previous section. In that type of meditation you attempt to concentrate on some focus of attention. When you notice you are distracted you simply go back to concentrating. When distractions arise, that is the process of letting out. Going back to concentrating is the process of letting go. As you meditate this way the technique itself provides the balance. The How It Works Mantra is one way to keep in mind how to balance letting out with letting go.

    If you find you are considering whether to let out or let go of an emotion you should also consider there are more than just those two approaches. Ultimately what you should do depends on the cause of the emotion.

    • If an emotion is caused by your internal self talk and is due to an issue you have analyzed in the past, then letting go and quieting the mind with concentration meditation may be helpful.

    • If you have an emotion and you don't know why, then self-analysis may be helpful.

    • If you have an emotion and you don't know why, another possibility is that the emotion due to metabolic causes. For example, someone with hypoglycemia may have have emotional swings simply because their blood sugar gets low. In this case letting out or letting go will not deal with the root cause. A better approach might involve modifying the diet to better manage blood sugar levels.

    • If the emotion is caused by an irrational fear such as a phobia, or past negative experience, or misophonia, then desensitization through relaxation exercises may be the right approach.
      http://www.guidetopsychology.com/sysden.htm

    Insight meditation is used for the purpose of learning to perceive how and when thoughts and emotions arise. As described above, in insight meditation you observe the physical sensations associated with emotions. However, it is possible to over do this. When you dwell on the sensations that make up an emotion you are in effect practicing to create that emotion within yourself. If you dwell too much on negative emotions you may develop the habit of making yourself unhappy. However this principle can be used constructively. When you think of things that make you feel good and dwell on the sensations of those emotions, you can develop the ability to fill yourself with good feelings. See the Practicing Peace meditation (above) for a practical method of using this principle.

    Believing that emotions are inevitable can have a negative impact on your life because it may lead you to avoid various activities if you believe negative emotions will be associated with them. However, if you believe you can control your emotions you will be open to a wider range of experiences because you will not be so afraid of the emotions that may occur. If you change your belief and come to recognize that emotions are not inevitable, then you may find that it causes you to change your behavior. You try new experiences and are not put off by negative emotions and see all that has been explained here is true. This reinforces your new belief which leads you to try more new things and change old habits and expectations in a positive feedback loop. This is similar to what psychologists call "behavior modification". Since people come into this life to learn from their experiences this can be a help in one's spiritual development. Letting out and letting go of emotions also helps one to eliminate a lot of negative thinking and attitudes thus making one more fit for the higher spheres in the hereafter as well as helping you to find peace in this life by freeing you from your self-centered delusions. If you change your beliefs about emotions you may notice immediate changes in your experiences but in general this process of learning about emotions will be something that you develop gradually over a number of years. If you find you can't let go of an emotion, try to get help from a higher source through prayer or through self healing.

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    Joy During Meditation

    This article is on my blog: Joy During Meditation

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    The Dangers of too Much Meditation

    This article is at: buddhistgeeks.com.

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    Tapping into Universal Love - Connecting with God

    God is love.

    People who experience being in the presence of God during near death experiences describe having an overwhelming feeling of being loved.

    God is omnipresent.

    You can tap into this source of universal love and connect with God without having a near death experience.

    To do it you use your spiritual capabilities - the capabilities that all spirits have and that as an incarnated spirit you have access to even while you are incarnated.

    Spirits interact with their world through their mind. They think of a place they want to go to and they start moving there. They are telepathic. They think of someone and their thoughts go off to that person. Spirits use their mind the way an incarnated person uses tools. Spirits create by using their mind.

    We also use the word "create" to describe how people use their imagination because it is the same thing.

    To create a tap into universal love, use your imagination. Imagine a light beam of love coming down to you from above. Hold your hands in front of you with your palms facing upward to receive it. Relax any tension or tightness you may feel in your chest, open your heart, and let the love flow out into the world.

    Try this meditation:

    1. Invoke assistance from God or your spirit guides. For example, ask, "Oh God, please help me to connect with joy and love from the spirit planes."

    2. Imagine a light beam of love coming down upon you from above. Hold your hands in front of you with your palms facing upward to receive it. If you feel love for God, be aware of that feeling too.

    3. Relax any tension or tightness you may feel in your chest, open your heart, and imagine love emanating from your heart and flowing out into the world. You can also imagine love flowing from you to a situation you don't like to desensitize yourself to the situation, or flowing to someone who might be a problem for you to develop forgiveness and tolerance.

    4. While you are doing steps 2 and 3 repeat or chant something inwardly or aloud to help you keep in mind that you are connecting with spiritual love. For example, during step 2 you might think, "Love is all around why don't you take it?" And during step 3 you might think, "Love is all around why don't you make it?" (If you know the tune, you may sing it to yourself). Once you are experiencing the feeling of love you may skip this step if you want to, or you may continue to do it if you prefer or if you find it helpful.

    Repeat steps 2 through 4 for the duration of the meditation session.

    If you feel like smiling while you do this meditation, go ahead and smile. It is probably an indication that you are doing it right.

    If you find that this meditation is working, if you feel love flowing through you, you might also try to cultivate a feeling of connectedness to all things. Imagine an invisible barrier surrounding you dissolves and you merge with the environment around you, that you and the world around you are all one mind.

    There are a few other things you can try to help you connect to universal love:

    • Try smiling a little bit - but don't force it.

    • Breathe deeply and slowly and relax. As you inhale imagine an atmosphere of love and joy filling your torso. As you exhale imagine it circulating throughout the rest of your body.

    • Try thinking about something you love like a cute animal or a person you are close to.

    • You don't need to have a strong feeling immediately during the first instant of the meditation. If you can get a glimmer of the feeling, you can let it accumulate and build within you over the period of meditation. This is like filling a glass of water slowly with a slight stream of water rather than holding it under a fully open faucet.

    • If your mind is turbulent, or upset, it might be hard to tune in to the feeling of love. In that case it might help to do relaxation exercises and then concentration meditation to quiet the mind. When your mind is quiet, calm, and at peace, try this meditation again.

    • If you are happy it is much easier to tune into the love. If you are not feeling happy, try experiencing joy using the method described in this article from my blog: Joy During Meditation

    • Sometimes you may feel the love coming through your spirit guides. Most people think of spirit communication as being pictures or logic or words. But sometimes it is just emotions. Someone may sense a faint feeling of being loved and not understand what it is and ignore it. But if they would sit quietly, noticing it, they might develop a stronger channel for communication with the spirit that is sending them that love.

    • If you experience kundalini energy, try letting it flow. Tapping into universal love seems to be a way to focus kundalini flow into a positive experience.

    You can do this meditation while listening to music. I recommend some songs to listen to while doing this meditation in this post on my blog. You can use lyrics from these songs for step 4.

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    Kundalini

    Sometimes during meditation, something called "Kundalini energy" is released. This may be experienced as a tingling or feeling of energy rising up the spine, or it may involve muscle contractions, twitching and grimacing, or sobbing. There are differing opinions on the cause of this. One hypothesis is that stress causes unconscious muscle tension and over a life time that can effect the nervous system. When one begins to relax and explore the inner realms through meditation, the conscious mind can become aware of that tension. As this tension transitions from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind, the Kundalini phenomena may occur.

    Often the Kundalini energy is confused with or thought to cause whatever emotions a person is experiencing at the time. However, experience shows that it is actually independent of emotions. When a person is depressed he may think the phenomena is causing or caused by depression. The same thing occurs when he is anxious. However when he is neither anxious or depressed the phenomena may continue to occur.

    Often, allowing the phenomena to occur can have the effect of relieving stress or tension or releasing whatever emotion the practitioner may be experiencing at the time. For this reason allowing the phenomena to occur can be beneficial at times. However, if the phenomena is felt to be undesirable there are several alternatives one can take. One alternative is to simply stop the meditation practice. Another is to do a different type of meditation. This might be either a more relaxing form of meditation or a less relaxing form of meditation. In general, lying down is the most relaxing way to meditate. Besides lying down, relaxation exercises can be combined with meditation during a session. Alternatively, a less relaxing form of meditation that might be helpful is walking meditation. Experience shows that Kundalini energy flows when the practitioner is in a state in between that of the normal busy waking mind and the deeply relaxed state attained through deep relaxation exercises.

    Sometimes meditating on the chakras can help tame the kundalini energy that arises spontaneously during other types of meditation. Meditate by focusing your attention on each chakra and visualize its associated color, starting at the lowest and moving upward to the highest and then downward to the lowest. Repeat this for the duration of the meditation session.

    If you are experiencing Kundalini energy and find it troublesome, it would be wise to investigate it further and seek other sources of information beyond this article. Kundalini is experienced differently in different people so you should read as many different opinions on it as you are able to find. When first experienced, the strangeness and persistence of the phenomena may be disquieting. However, over time when one gains familiarity and observes that it is not causing emotions, one begins to accept it as something that just happens, neither good or bad.

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    A Still Mind

    One reason to practice keeping the mind still with meditation is to learn from experience that when the mind is still, you don't make emotions. In a healthy person, for an emotion to arise, there has to be some conception in the mind to which the emotion is a reaction. You have to perceive and recognize danger before you feel fear. You have to remember the past before you feel regret.

    When you see that attachments and aversions disappear when the mind is stilled, that attachments and aversions can be let go by calming the mind, you are no longer a slave to attachments and aversions. You are not an emotionless zombie either. You can go through life normally except you are no longer controlled by attachments and aversions, you are free. You can still get angry if you want to, but now it is your choice.

    Attaining this insight - that by stilling the mind you become free - is easier said than done. It cannot be accomplished through reason. You have to develop the skill yourself. It requires time spent in meditation observing the mind, the bodily and sensory reactions to thoughts which are the reactions to the distractions that arise as you try to concentrate during meditation.

    Complete absence of mental activity is not necessary. What is necessary is the skill of being aware of emotions as they arise, of the thoughts that precede the emotions, and the ability to relax the mind, refrain from thinking, to let go of all thoughts, for just a moment to let go of any arising attachment or aversion. This skill is developed by observing the mind and bodily sensations as you try to concentrate during meditation.

    Letting go involves relaxation. Letting go can mean relaxing your grip on something. Relax your grip on thoughts. If you find you are becoming tense or feel repressed from meditation, try to relax more during meditation. In the beginning, you may have to let strong emotions have their way until they naturally dissipate to the point where you can let go of them.

    The human mind has a great capacity to deny, hide, and suppress thoughts and feelings and only time and effort can allow one to bring all that is occurring in the mind into awareness. As awareness deepens, letting go of more and more becomes possible, and one becomes more and more free.

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    The Ego and Spiritual Development

    Many spiritual philosophies recognize the ego as an obstacle to spirituality. Buddhism is one doctrine that offers solutions to the problem through its meditation practices.

    Part of the "ego problem" is due to the physiological fight or flight reaction. This is the evolved response to perceived threats to safety, status or territory that occurs in many animals. The result of the fight or flight reaction is anger or fear or other negative emotions. You can counteract the fight or flight reaction with relaxation. Because relaxing meditation or relaxation exercises can help reduce the flight or fight reaction, it can have the effect of reducing the ego. This is one reason meditation and relaxation exercises can help promote spiritual development.

    To actually diminish the ego, however, is easier said than done. Several Buddhist practices provide help. These include:

    1. A daily practice of relaxing meditation or relaxation exercises. The previous sections in this chapter describe meditation in more detail and the chapter on relaxation describes how to use relaxation exercises.

    2. Development of the habit of trying to do things throughout the day in a relaxed manner. Sometimes this practice is called "mindfulness" and may involve doing daily tasks in a meditative manner.

      Mindfulness

      A helpful aide to mindfulness is to use the following mantra in rhythm with inhalation / exhalation:

      concen / tration
      relax / ation

      This mantra can be used during various daily activities such as cleaning the house, washing the dishes, showering, etc. While you use the mantra, be aware that "concentration" means to fill the mind with the mantra to displace negative thoughts like worries or other things that are upsetting. "Relaxation" should remind you to be as relaxed as possible. The mantra should be used in a relaxing manner not hurried or tense.

      Walking Meditation

      Walking meditation can also be part of a mindfulness practice. As you walk, inhale for three steps and think "and", then exhale for three steps and count "one", continue counting to ten. You don't have to use three steps if that is uncomfortable. Use whatever number you find most comfortable with the rate at which you are walking. Then after you count ten breaths, say the following phrases to yourself:

      My mind is relaxed and empty.
      I am not thinking about anything
      Or attached to anything.*
      All my delusions have fallen away.*
      I am awake to the present moment
      Not caught up in my own thoughts
      And not caught in any ego traps.

      * If either of these two lines reminds you of attachments or delusions instead of helping you to let go of them, then omit these lines.

      Then repeat counting ten breaths in rhythm with your steps, repeat the phrases and continue like that as you walk.

      The phrases remind you to let go of whatever thoughts might be in your mind and to relax your mind and body. Attachments might be any thoughts that are causing you to be upset, something you want and don't have, or something that you don't like. Delusions are the thoughts and feelings associated with attachments. When you are not thinking about those situations you will not have those delusions. Being awake to the present moment is not any special state of awareness or special focus of the mind. It is simply the state of being when you are not caught up in thoughts in your own mind. Not worrying about the past, future, or deep in thought about anything in particular. If you are simply conscious of what you see in front of you while you walk without thinking about anything else, you are awake to the present moment.

      All the phrases have one thing in common. They remind you not to be wrapped up in your own thoughts. This is the heart of meditation. Meditation is a practice that takes you out of the delusions you construct with your thoughts and brings you to a more fundamental experience of reality. That experience is the perception of reality through your senses. It is trivial to experience this for a moment, but the more time you spend in this state, the clearer you will see that the attachments and aversions you construct in your mind are simply delusions. This knowledge, when internalized from long practice of meditation and mindfulness, leads along the path that can allow you to free yourself of those delusions.

      An ego trap is any situation that tricks you into acting egotistically. It is like a Zen koan that ordinary life offers up to you. In Zen, a teacher may ask a student to explain mysterious vignette or riddle called a koan. Often the question is designed so that if the student has not reached a certain level of understanding, the question will trick the student into answering incorrectly - often this means egotistically. Life offers many of these koans or ego traps to us every day. Anything that annoys you or irritates you might be one. If someone cuts you off in traffic, or something doesn't go the way you want and you get annoyed, ask yourself if you are just being too self centered? If you watch out for these ego traps and start noticing them, you will start to be less and less annoyed at those types of things and that will help you to become free from the illusory bonds of the ego.

    3. An awareness throughout the day as to whether you are tense or not and making an effort to relax when you notice tension arising. The previous section in this chapter on Insight meditation can be helpful in increasing awareness of when tension arises.

    The walking meditation can be used for mindfulness during other daily activities or during daily relaxing meditation practice. To do this breathe naturally rather than in rhythm with your steps. If you have meditation beads or a rosary you can use them to combine the concentration-relaxation mantra with the phrases in the walking meditation. Repeat the concentration-relaxation mantra ten times (counting with the beads) in rhythm with your breathing, then say the phrases from the walking meditation and continue in that manner.

    This is a life-long process. It is not something you can attain once and then coast along afterward.

    One of the pitfalls of this path is the tendency to use concentration in meditation to suppress thoughts or emotions. This is not the right use of concentration. To avoid this, one must be aware of tension - tension is a sign of suppression. The antidote to it is to increase the amount of relaxation in the practice.

    The correct approach is to use both concentration and relaxation. Concentration, for example on a mantra, or on a guided meditation, keeps the mind from dwelling on and reinforcing negative mental habits. Relaxation counters the fight or flight reaction those mental constructs may have induced.

    Learning from the past and planning for the future are both necessary and deserve time allocated for them. However, you don't have to be totally wrapped up in your thoughts all the time. When you make a effort to spend part of your time living in the moment, you see, by what happens in their absence, that your regrets and fears can create a delusion of unhappiness, and you see that the delusional mental state is self induced and also optional.

    However, in some cases thoughts and emotions need to be analyzed consciously. This is especially true when we don't know why we feel a certain way. Sometimes, strong emotions need to expressed. The proper balance between analysis, expression, concentration and relaxation is something that each person must find for themself. It is part of spiritual development because it allows one to live according to their spiritual values by reducing interference from anger and fear, the fight or flight reaction, the ego.

    This balance, when developed, has eternal value - it's something you can bring with you from the earth life to the afterlife. This is one of the reasons we benefit from incarnating into the physical plane. The physical plane provides a situation were we have a mechanism for developing selflessness (lack of egotism) something that is of benefit to us for all of eternity.

    One other interesting point about all this is that these practices can appeal to anyone because they bring peace and tranquility. Religion, belief in God, the afterlife or spirits are not necessary for someone to make progress in their spiritual development.

    Three Ways to Reduce the Ego

    Here are three approaches to diminishing the ego. These methods can be used together, they do not invalidate each other and they do exclude each other. A person can try to develop in all three ways at the same time.

    1. Recognizing that thoughts and feelings are things we observe arising in our selves but they are not ourself. This awareness comes from watching the activity of the mind. When we see that thoughts and emotions are not reality they lose some of their force and we become resistant to habitual reactions. By trying to be aware of the present moment we see how thoughts of the past and future can create a delusion of reality. Ultimately the benefits of this are through diminution of the ego. It transforms our sense of self. This is very similar to certain forms of Buddhist practice and philosophy.
    2. Relaxation Power: In this approach the ego is seen as arising from the fight or flight reaction. When a person recognizes a threat to their physical safety, their status, their territory the body generates a fight or flight reaction. This is a physiological basis for the ego. The body's natural method of counteracting or recovering from a fight or flight reaction is through the parasympathetic nervous system. By "exercising" or stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system through, for example, relaxing meditation, one can develop relaxation power. Just as lifting weights can give you muscle power, meditation can make you better at relaxing so that you can resist and counter the fight or flight reaction better. This doesn't mean one session of meditation will give you enlightenment. It means that a persistent dedication to daily relaxing meditation will help you to reduce the influence of the ego through your life.
    3. Love: When you feel loved for who and what you are, you can love others for who and what they are. When you can love others in this way you can drop fear, attitudes, poses, and self importance. You can accept things as they are and avoid reacting egotistically. This is because when you feel loved it gives you a feeling of confidence and of being accepted and that causes you to become resistant to thoughts of being threated by other people and by events.

      You can feel loved if you can tap into the ultimate source love which is spiritual in nature. Different people have different beliefs about this. Some people may look towards God, other may look to their spirit guides. Either way, to tap into this you just have to calm the mind with relaxing meditation and open yourself to this love. One way is to use a mantra such as: "Loving God, Loved by God, Loving others." keeping in mind your idea of God, your love for God and His love for you. Then you just extend your love a little bit to include all people. One session of meditation will not give you enlightenment. You have to practice this with regular meditation and have realistic expectations that it will have an effect over the course of your life if you practice consistently.

      Some days you may develop a very strong connection to this love and feel great benevolence towards other people. Other times you may barely get a glimpse of this love. You have to recognize that other conditions in your life will affect you too and so you have to be patient and accept that this process will have it's ups and downs and is something that develops over a life time.

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    More

    More articles on meditation can be found on my blog:
    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/search/label/meditation

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    Recommended Reading

    More information on meditation can be found in the books suggested in the meditation section of the Recommended Reading chapter.

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