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Meditation

Meditation
Serenity (Samatha) Meditation
Meditation Is Not A Panacea
The Three Characteristics
Insight Meditation
Joy During Meditation
The Dangers of 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 a pleasant feeling of relaxation, 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 for a few seconds, 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 subject in the section on The Dangers of Meditation. (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

    Subsections

    A Variation on Observing The Breath

    This form of serenity meditation is derived from a very easy and popular meditation technique that involves repeating a mantra while observing the breath. A small modification, observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation while breathing in a relaxed way, makes it more effective at producing a relaxed state of mind and positive feelings of happiness and well-being. This meditation should also make you smile which causes the brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, molecules that will elevate your mood. Smiling also reduces levels of the anxiety causing stress hormone cortisol. The beginner should notice feeling more relaxed and calmer after meditating. After practicing for a while, the meditator should notice increased feelings of happiness and a reduction in worrying. With more practice, the feelings experienced may include unconditional love, a connectedness to all things, and those who are religious may feel a closer connection to God. With continued practice, the meditator may experience a feeling of deeply peaceful serenity. This meditation can also be done in daily life and it is truly life enhancing to be able to experience life through the emotions of happiness, connectedness, and love.

    It is suggested that the beginner meditate twenty to thirty minutes once or twice a day to develop facility with the technique and develop the habit of daily meditation. This amount of time is suggested to produce results that will encourage the beginner to continue the practice, but any amount of time is better than none. You may also practice for a longer time and more than twice a day if you like, and you can use the technique in daily life (see below). You will get better results faster if you meditate more. Once you experience the pleasant enjoyable effects of this meditation, you may naturally want to practice more.

    While you are meditating, sometimes you will become distracted by stray thoughts. Don't worry about this, it is to be expected. Just go back to meditating. If unpleasant thoughts or emotions arise during meditation you shouldn't push them away. The section on The Dangers of Meditation explains how to deal with unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.

    This type of meditation does not require the super-intense 100% concentration which is the goal of some other types of meditation. However, you do need a moderate level of mental focus.

    WARNING: This type of meditation can produce very pleasant psychological states. This might tempt you to do this meditation for long periods of time or use the technique extensively in daily life. If this happens, please see the section The Dangers of Meditation so that you can make an informed decision about how much of this meditation to do. It is possible that for some people this form of meditation could be addicting. You should stop using the technique and allow yourself to come out of these states periodically to ensure that you will always be able to do so if you choose.

    If something doesn't work for you exactly as described in the instructions below, don't worry about it, just try to follow the instruction as closely as you can. Don't "try too hard", and try not to have expectations about what will happen during your meditation session. If you try too hard or you try to produce a certain type of experience it, will create stress and that will defeat the purpose of the meditation and the meditation will not work as well. Just try to be relaxed and don't worry about what else might or might not happen.

    Back to Serenity Meditation

    To do this form of meditation:

    Simplified Instructions

    Take a deep breath and relax as you exhale. Notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation? Now breathe normally, relax, and notice the same feeling when you exhale. Notice a similar feeling as you relax and inhale. Continue to relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale. While you do this, also say to yourself, (inwardly not aloud) "in" as you inhale, and "out" as you exhale. Do this with the understanding that are trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming meditation session. After a while, observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation might make you want to smile. If you feel like it, go ahead and smile and notice the pleasant emotions that you feel.

    That's it. You should do this as a form of sitting meditation but you can also do it during daily activities. You might recognize this meditation is similar to other forms of breath meditation. What is unique about this form is focusing your attention on the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe. The pleasant feeling of relaxation will probably make you feel like smiling. Smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which are molecules that will elevate your mood. Smiling also reduces levels of the anxiety causing stress hormone cortisol. These chemical changes will produce a pleasant effect and may make you want to smile even more. This can result in a feedback loop that produces intense feelings of feelings of happiness, loving kindness, and connectedness.

    Please read the detailed instructions below which include many details that will help you to get good results from this type of meditation:

    Back to Serenity Meditation

    Detailed Instructions

    If the instructions below seem too complicated to master all at once, you can start meditating with just the first step and, at your own pace, as you feel more comfortable with the technique, you can add one step at a time.

    1. Observe the breath. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe gently from the diaphragm in a relaxed way, with each breath flowing smoothly into the next. Notice any sensations you feel in your abdomen or chest as you breathe.

      There is no specific rate of breathing that you should follow, but rapid breathing, panting, or very forceful breathing should be avoided. At times it may help you to relax if you breathe more slowly and deeply but other times you may find it most relaxing to breathe more naturally with shallower breaths.

      If you find breathing to be uncomfortable or awkward, try to inhale from the diaphragm while keeping the chest relaxed and exhaling by gradually fully relaxing the diaphragm without tightening the abdominal muscles. Inhalations should be about as long as exhalations.

    2. Counting breaths. Continue breathing this way and count your breaths up to ten. Say the numbers inwardly (not aloud) in rhythm with your breathing. You can count inhalations, or exhalations, or both inhalations and exhalation. After reaching ten, start over counting from one. Continue counting your breaths like this throughout the meditation session.

      Counting is an aid to help you maintain concentration. If you prefer, you can also try counting up to four instead of ten, or instead of counting, say inwardly "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale.

    3. Observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation. As you continue counting the breath, relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation. Relax as you exhale and notice how that feels. Relax as you inhale and notice how that feels. Continue relaxing as you inhale and exhale and observe how it feels as you count the breath. If you need to slow down your rate of breathing to clearly observe the feeling of relaxation while inhaling and exhaling, that is okay.

      If you don't notice a feeling of relaxation, try taking a slow deep breath and letting it out all at once like a sigh. You might notice a feeling of relaxation when you do that. That is what you are looking for during the meditation. It is easiest to notice it while exhaling but you should be able to notice it while inhaling too.

      If you don't notice a pleasant feeling of relaxation while counting the breath, here are some things you can try:

      • Try slowing down your rate of breathing.

      • While you count the breath, imagine you are on vacation at the beach dozing in the sun feeling pleasantly relaxed, or imagine you are inside in bed warm and snug and pleasantly relaxed under blankets while it is cold outside. You can also try to imagine you are drifting off to sleep feeling very relaxed.

      As you continue to meditate by observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale while counting the breath, every time you notice your mind wandering, release any unpleasant thoughts or emotions that may have arisen and bring your mind back into meditation. Take a second to notice the contrast between how it felt to be thinking and how peaceful it is to just observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you count the breath. When you appreciate this contrast, you will naturally want to have a calm mind and it will help to motivate you to meditate and to restrain your mind from wandering.

      As you meditate, try to maintain the attitude that you are just trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming meditation session.

      The feeling of relaxation can be subtle and it is possible while you are counting the breath, to forget to also notice the feeling of relaxation. This is particularly likely if you have previously meditated by counting the breath or done another type of meditation on the breath. If you notice you are no longer observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation, sigh a few times or try one of the above visualizations if necessary and resume counting the breath while observing the feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale.

      Observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation might make you want to smile. If you feel like it, go ahead and smile and notice the pleasant emotions that you feel.

    4. Distractions While you are meditating, it is likely that you will become distracted occasionally. When this happens take a second to note what you are distracted by, whether it is a thought or emotion. Try to understand the distraction in terms of the three characteristics of all things: unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, and not-self. Do this by asking yourself, "Is this about desire, impermanence, and/or ego?" If you are distracted by an unpleasant thought or emotion, something you don't want to think about, or something you want to push away, try to release it. Then continue meditating as you were doing before you became distracted.

    5. Meditating with the eyes open. This meditation technique should help you to feel relaxed and your mind to become calm. Meditating with the eyes closed will help you to relax the body and relax away unpleasant emotions if you are feeling stress or are upset. You should start the meditation session with your eyes closed. When you feel you are more relaxed, open your eyes and continue meditating. Meditating with your eyes open will make it easer to maintain concentration which will help to calm the wanderings of the mind. When you meditate with your eyes open, you can gaze at the floor, a wall, a thangka or a mandala. As you count your breaths with your eyes open, 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.

      If you find it difficult to perceive the feeling of relaxation with your eyes open, review the suggestions in step 3, in particular try breathing slower.

      The proportion of time you meditate with the eyes closed or open is something that depends on your situation at the time and personal preference. For example, if you are drowsy, you are relaxed enough and can meditate with your eyes open. But if you are very tense, or if the mind is very calm, you might prefer to spend more time meditating with your eyes closed. Different people may have different preferences. After practicing this form of meditation for a while, you may develop a sense of when to close your eyes and when to open them. When you begin to learn this type of meditation, if you don't feel sure what to do, just start meditating with your eyes closed and open them about halfway through your session. Try meditating with your eyes open and if it helps you to concentrate on the pleasant feeling of relaxation while you count the breath, you can continue to meditate with your eyes open. If and when you prefer to meditate with your eyes closed, close your eyes and meditate that way. You can also experiment with meditating with the eyes open in dim lighting.

    6. Relaxation and calm. After meditating for a while, you will become more relaxed and the mind will become calmer. Try to notice how you feel before you begin meditating so you can appreciate this cumulative effect of the meditation. This effect in itself makes meditating worth the time and effort you put into it. It also indicates you are meditating correctly and the technique is working correctly.

    7. Happiness: Smile if you feel like it. After meditating for a while, observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe, you might feel like smiling a little bit. Notice any feelings around your lips or at the corners of your mouth. Do you feel a smile coming on? If you feel like smiling, let yourself smile. Smiling will help you to experience feelings of happiness produced by this method of meditation. Notice the feeling of happiness that accompanies the smile as you continue to meditate. 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.

      A good time to check to see if you feel like smiling is when you open your eyes after the initial period of meditating with your eyes closed.

      According to an article in psychologytoday.com, smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. These molecules fight stress by relaxing your body, and lowering you heart rate and blood pressure. They also relieve pain, and improve your mood. When you are smiling, people will view you as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. People around will smile if you are smiling and they will get the same benefits from smiling.

      Dr. Maoshing Ni says that smiling reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. An article in psychologytoday.com explains that high levels cortisol cause anxiety and have many other undesirable effects.

      If the meditation technique doesn't make you feel like smiling, the Troubleshooting section below has some suggestions. You can use those suggestions even if you do feel like smiling if they help produce a happy feeling sooner or if they produce feelings of greater intensity. One suggestion that can be highly effective is to think of something pleasant. For example, 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 happy feeling that made you want to smile. Try to concentrate on the feeling while you continue counting the breath rather than the thought that produced it.

      But if you don't feel like smiling, don't force it. You should understand that you might not feel like smiling every time you meditate this way, there are too many variables in life for any meditation technique to guarantee happiness. Otherwise, if you are expecting to be happy and it is slow in coming, you may feel anticipation, worry, or disappointment. This can counteract the beneficial effects of the meditation and it can also prevent feelings of happiness that might arise a few minutes later. As mentioned above, the relaxation and calm you feel after meditating indicates you are meditating correctly and the technique is working correctly. Appreciate that. If you don't feel like smiling, it doesn't mean anything is wrong.

    8. Stabilizing the smile feedback loop. Once you start smiling and you notice the pleasant feelings that accompany the smile, those feelings may make you want to smile more and that can create a feedback loop that you can keep up for as long as you care to maintain concentration. Your awareness of the feelings is part of the feedback loop so the intensity of the feelings will be greater if you are able to maintain a more focused concentration and restrain your mind from wandering. At first, the feedback loop might be unstable. You might feel like smiling but the feeling could fade. As you meditate longer, it might come back and it could come and go a few times. But eventually, if your mind is calm and you are able to concentrate sufficiently, the feedback loop should stabilize and the feelings that accompany the smile should be stronger and constant.

    9. Intensifying the smile feedback loop. Once the feedback loop is stabilized you can try to intensify the positive emotions that are released when you smile. Continue to breathe in the same way and focus your mind on counting and the pleasant feeling of relaxation when you inhale and exhale. Also notice the pleasant feelings that come out when you smile. Do this with your eyes open or closed, however you prefer. You can continue meditating in this way and let the feedback loop intensify naturally and gradually. The following suggestions may work faster and be helpful for beginners. But after you gain more experience you may find you prefer gradual approach.

      As you meditate, it may help to intensify the feedback loop if you shift the main emphasis of your attention among the different aspects of the technique.

      These aspects are:

      • The sensations involved in breathing.
      • Counting.
      • The pleasant feeling of relaxation as you relax while inhaling and exhaling. You may be able to intensify the feedback loop just by alternately focusing your attention on relaxing while inhaling and relaxing while exhaling.
      • If you are meditating with you eyes closed try opening them. If you are meditating with your eyes open try closing them.
      • The sensations in and around the lips as you smile.
      • The pleasant emotions released by smiling.
      • Any of the techniques suggested in the troubleshooting section to help induce a smile. Such as:
        • Holding your hands in front of you with the palms upward and imagining healing light flowing down into you from a higher source.
        • Any mental imagery you might have used to help induce a smile.
          This could include:
          • Someone you love.
          • A cute animal.
          • Unconditional love for all beings.
          • Love for the well-being of the planet.
          • If you are religious, it could be your concept of God.
          (Most people are happiest when they are feeling love.)
      • Remember that you are trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming experience without any stress or attachment to having an intense experience.

      After a while, you will notice which aspects, of the technique help you to intensify the feedback loop and you can shift your attention just among those. Then, if you want to (this is optional), you can make a mantra to help you to remember them. For example one such mantra might be:

      In, out, hands, lips, love, the world.

      To use the mantra, you would say to yourself inwardly, "In" as you inhale, "out" as you exhale and continue saying the mantra in rhythm with your breathing. But don't just think the words, for this to work you also have to observe the sensations associated with each aspect of the technique as you say it. For example as you say "lips" notice the sensations in and around your lips as you smile. As you say "love" think of the feeling of love that is produced by the smile feedback loop.

      This mantra is just an example. It will work better if you create your own based on what works best for you. But in the case of this particular mantra, one could spend a little bit of time visualizing the healing light coming into them and the love they feel flowing out to heal the world. But this should not be over done as it could drain one of energy.

      While you do this technique, try not to be attached to any particular outcome. Just try to do the technique as described while intending to have a pleasant, calming, relaxing meditation session. Don't create stress for yourself by craving an intense experience. Relaxation is easy, enjoy it and the technique will actually work better.

      Those who have practiced vipassana meditation may notice a similarity between this and body scanning in which the meditator observes the sensations in different parts of the body.

      If you find the emotions have become too intense, stop smiling and stop meditating and the emotions should cease as well. You may prefer to intensify the smile feedback loop more gradually by alternating counting the breath and repetition of the mantra. The ratio of cycles of counting the breath and repetition of the mantra does not have to be 1:1. It could 2 or more cycles of counting the breath to each repetition of the mantra or it could be one cycle of counting the breath to 2 or more repetitions of the mantra.

      Intensifying the smile feedback loop is a useful practice because it will enhance your capacity to be happy and it will give you facility with being happy. It will make it easier for you to use this technique when you experience difficulties in life. Think of it as exercising your happiness muscles. It also might lead to spiritual experiences.

      As a beginner, you should try to let go of any expectations and take on an attitude of patience and just continue meditating and allow the intensity to increase over ten or twenty minutes. There is no real minimum or maximum amount of time for this, but until you develop experience to inform your own judgment, ten or twenty minutes is suitable.

      However if you are tense or stressed or feeling some unpleasant emotion or your mind is turbulent, you may start this new phase later and for the present meditate as you have been doing: continue to relax as you inhale and exhale and observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you count the breath.

      When you first start experiencing this intense happiness, after the first thrill of the intensity, you may sense something is not quite right, that there is something uncomfortable or conflicted about it. This can be caused by conflicting emotions. Even though you are very happy, you might have some unpleasant thoughts or emotions lingering in your mind. The unpleasant emotions could be due to something that happened today, or they could be something from the past, or they could be worries about the future. It might be something you are aware of or it might be something that is unconscious. If you know what it is, you can try to release it, or continue relaxing. If you are not sure what it is, you can try asking yourself what it might be and try to release what you think it might be. But you should also be aware that some emotions might be produced by biochemical phenomena and there might not be a practical way to let go of them through psychological means.

      Once you become familiar with setting up this feedback loop, you might be able to start it right away at the beginning of your meditation session just by remembering the last time you experienced it and letting that pleasant memory make you smile.

      When you first learn to experience this intense happiness, it may seem wonderful and fascinating and you may want to do it whenever you are able to. This is particularly true if your life up to now, has not had as much happiness as you would have liked. But after a time, when you become familiar with the experience, it may lose some of its mystique and you may find it more peaceful to experience the emotions at a less intense level or you may prefer serenity to happiness. You can chose what you feel because you can control the intensity of the feedback loop.

      If you practice this form of meditation a lot, you may find that you are still smiling out of habit even if the positive emotions from your previous meditation session have faded away. This can produce an uncomfortable conflicted feeling like you are trying to force yourself to be happy. If you feel this way, stop smiling and take a second to observe how you really feel. You can bring back the positive emotions with another session of meditation.

    10. Other emotions. As the feeling of happiness intensifies, you may experience other emotions such as unconditional love, a connection with God, or a connectedness to all things. If you experience these feelings, be aware of them as you continue to meditate.

    11. When the session is over. When the meditation session is over, notice if you feel more relaxed and calmer than when you began the session. If you are not already smiling, notice if the feeling of relaxation and calm make you want to smile. If so, let yourself smile and notice any feelings of happiness it produces.

      After the meditation session, it can be instructive to notice what disrupts the meditative state as you go about your daily activities. In particular, if you stop smiling, the pleasant emotions may cease. If you want these emotions to persist, try to keep smiling. Notice how your mind feels when you smile, light and free. Notice how it feels when you stop smiling, dull and heavy. You might be able to maintain the light free feeling for a time after the meditation session by smiling just a little bit.

      If you find that certain activities or attitudes or opinions disrupt these emotions, you might want to give them up or change them (but be warned, this can have effects on career and relationships). Stress can cause mental fixation and it can be very hard to meditate to get back into a peaceful state after doing something stressful. This is not to say you should avoid stressful tasks, just that you should understand how they influence your mental state and interact with the practice of meditation.

    12. Practicing in Daily Life You can also use this meditation technique during daily activities. This might help you to maintain a pleasant, relaxed, happy state of mind throughout the day even in situations in which you otherwise might not feel relaxed. It will require a certain amount of effort and concentration to do this and your mind will have to be calm. You will have to make the same effort to restrain your mind from wandering that you do during sitting meditation. But the real benefit from this meditation technique comes when you can use the skills you learn during your sitting meditation sessions in daily life. 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.

      I explained it on my blog this way:

      I have wonderful experiences out walking feeling love for and connectedness to the birds and trees and people and other living things and all things. It's even nicer experiencing the world through [this meditation], than it is sitting alone with it doing nothing.

      If you want to try using this meditation technique in daily life, keep these points in mind:

      • Don't try to meditate while you are driving or using power tools or any other type of dangerous equipment.

      • The key to using this technique in daily life is to continue counting the breath (or saying "in" and "out" to yourself as you inhale and exhale) after the meditation session is over. If you can spare enough attention from a task like washing the dishes to count the breathe while you do it, you can use this technique. When you start doing something, try counting the breath at the same time. When you see you can do that, try relaxing as you inhale and exhale. When you see you can do that, smile if you feel like it. It is as simple as that.

      • Meditate first. If you have several things on your to-do list including, meditation, mediate first and then try to do the other tasks in a meditative way. Starting out in a meditative state will help you do the other tasks in meditative way. And if you decide you don't have enough time for everything, you will have already meditated so it won't get put off till tomorrow.

      • Walking is a good way to practice this meditation technique outside of a sitting meditation session. If you try it:

        • Don't walk where there is traffic or any type of dangerous activity going on around you. Don't walk in rough terrain where a fall could injure you.

        • If you go on a long walk, bring a snack to give your brain the fuel it needs to produce positive emotions.

        • To help maintain focus and keep the mind from wandering, you can count the breath as you do in sitting meditation, or you can count the number of steps in each breath. For example, if you breathe once every six steps, you could count to three as you inhale and from four to six as you exhale.

        • Don't get too relaxed. Try to keep a normal posture and gait.

      • Don't stop or reduce your sitting meditation sessions just because you begin to use the technique in daily life. Sitting meditation sessions will help to make you relaxed and your mind calm. This will make it easier to use the technique in daily life. It would be much harder to use the technique effectively in daily life if you did not get the boost in relaxation and calm from sitting meditation sessions. And it is also easier to maintain positive emotions than to produce them.

      • If you have some facility stabilizing and intensifying the smile feedback loop, you may be able to maintain it when you stop meditating just by noticing the pleasant feelings it produces.

      • The main difficulty in doing this technique in daily life is that there are so many distractions that it is hard to maintain focus on the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you relax while inhaling and exhaling. If you are finding it difficult to get the technique to work in daily life, remember that you have to maintain a similar sort of meditative discipline as you do during sitting meditation session. You should not be as totally focused on meditating as you would be in a sitting meditation session but you do have to focus your mind on the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you relax while inhaling and exhaling, and you have to make some effort to restrain your mind from wandering.

    13. Your Next Meditation Session

      You should view each meditation session as a time for relaxation, calmness, and peace. You should not view it as a contest to produce the highest intensity of joyful emotions. While meditating, you may also release unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise during the session and experience happiness and other positive emotions.

      In each meditation session, the meditation technique should be applied to relaxing the body, relaxing away unpleasant emotions that you might have accumulated during the day, and quieting the mind. You should devote a significant portion of your session to these ends. You might not accomplish these things to 100% perfection but you should take the time to allow them to happen. Don't be in a rush to intensify the smile feedback loop. Particularly if you are feeling some unpleasant emotion, it is best to try to relax it away or release it before you intensify the smile feedback loop otherwise you may experience an unpleasant conflicted feeling.

      You should not be attached to any expectations about what will happen during the session. Any strong attachment to produce any type of experience will create stress and can prevent the meditation technique from working. There are too many variables in life to guarantee any particular outcome from a meditation session. You should just sit down knowing the purpose of the session is to relax and calm the mind. Let counting the breath and observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale fill your mind and wash away any tension or upset.

      When you first feel like smiling, give the feedback loop time to stabilize before you start to intensify the emotions released by smiling. After you practice this form of meditation for a while, you might find that smiling a little bit is more pleasant and relaxing than not smiling, and you might feel like smiling at the beginning of the session. If you feel like it, go ahead and smile, but also give yourself time to relax and the mind to calm. You can let the feedback loop stabilize as you relax and calm the mind before you move your attention fully on intensifying the feedback loop. You may find the feedback loop intensifies even before you focus your attention on it.

    When you read these meditation instructions, it might seem like there are too many things to do simultaneously. However, in actual practice it is not difficult. Put the main focus of your attention on breathing and observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation. Counting breaths should not require much additional attention or distract you from the main focus. Counting in itself is not important it is just a neutral way of keeping the verbal center of the mind occupied to reduce mental chatter thus helping the mind to quiet down.

    When you do this meditation technique, you should clearly understand how it works. You should understand what your intention should be, i.e. what you will try to do during the meditation. And you should also understand what the effects of the meditation are likely to be, i.e. what may happen to you if you follow the technique. And with one exception, relaxing, you should not confuse what you try to do with what happens to you.

    During the meditation session, you should breathe gently. It is okay to try to relax. You should observe your breath. You should count your breaths. You should observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation. You should smile if you feel like smiling.

    What happens to you, (what the effect of the meditation is), is that you should become more relaxed (muscle tension, and negative emotions should dissipate somewhat). Focusing the mind (on counting the breath and the pleasant feeling) will make the mind calmer, there will be less mental chatter. Observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation can produce feelings of happiness and other more intense positive emotions. Smiling if you feel like it will remove unconscious suppression of feelings of happiness and other positive emotions.

    You should not confuse the effects of the meditation technique, i.e. the mind becoming calmer, and feelings of happiness arising, with what you are trying to do. You don't try to force the mind to be calm, you just devote your attention to the breath, counting, and the pleasant feeling and the mind will become calm. You don't force yourself to be happy you just observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and feelings of happiness may arise.

    The meditation technique as I have described it so far should be the main focus of the practice. It is easy to get sidetracked by what I will say below and become too focused on that. The main practice is to count the breath while breathing gently and if you notice a pleasant feeling of relaxation, observe that feeling, and smile if you feel like smiling. Below I have some additional suggestions to get the technique to work but don't become overly concerned with whether or not you feel anything because that will produce stress and cause distraction and it will prevent the technique from working.

    Back to Serenity Meditation

    Troubleshooting

    When you are first learning this technique, you might need some help to get the point where you feel like smiling. If you don't feel like smiling during your meditation session, here are a few things you can try:

    • If you find that you don't feel like smiling, make sure you are observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation while you count the breath. It is possible to be counting the breath while you have forgotten to observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation.

    • If you have been meditating with your eyes closed, try meditating with your eyes open. If you have been meditating with your eyes open, try meditating with your eyes closed. This form of meditation requires a fine balance between concentration and relaxation. Meditating with the eyes open will produce greater concentration. Meditating with the eyes closed will produce greater relaxation. You can adjust the balance between concentration and relaxation by opening or closing 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 happy feeling that made you want to smile. Try to concentrate on the feeling while you continue counting the breath rather than the thought that produced it.

    • Meditate holding your hands in front of you with the palms upward and imagine healing energy is flowing down into you from a higher source.

    • Stop meditating for a few seconds. When you are meditating and observing your mental state, doing that tends to hold you in that state. It is like the quantum Zeno effect. In order to transition into another state, sometimes you have to stop watching yourself. This could be why the above suggestion of opening or closing your eyes is helpful. When you change the way you meditate there are a few seconds during the transition when you are not meditating. There are many anecdotes in the Buddhist lore of meditators who experienced a transition as soon as they stopped trying to cause it.(This same phenomenon can help you maintain a desired state by focusing your attention on it.)

    • Sometimes even if you don't notice that you feel like smiling, you may be ready to smile without knowing it. If you smile a little bit and hold it for a few seconds you may begin to genuinely feel like smiling.

    • If something described in the meditation instructions isn't working, just try to follow the instruction as closely as you can. Don't "try too hard", and try not to have expectations about what should happen during your meditation session. If you try too hard or you try to produce a certain type of experience it, will create stress and that will defeat the purpose of the meditation and the meditation will not work as well. Just try to be relaxed and don't worry about what else might or might not happen.

    • If you have been meditating for a long time it can also help to take a break and give your brain a chance to rest and reset.

    • 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.

    • 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 because people often find their mood elevated after a meal.

    • Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Try meditating after you wake up from sleep.

    • Too much time spent on tasks that require intellectual effort, even reading a novel all day, can make it harder to do this meditation. This doesn't mean you should avoid "brain work", just understand that it might affect your meditation practice.

    • Too much exercise can also make it harder to do this meditation. Again, this doesn't mean you should avoid exercise. Just understand that over doing it might affect how this meditation works for you.

    • Different people react differently to substances like sugar, carbohydrate rich junk foods, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and drugs that can affect the brain. Any of these substances might have an adverse effect on how well this meditation can work.

    Even if you can feel the feeling of relaxation when you breathe and you feel like smiling as you meditate, if these suggestions help the technique to work faster, you should not hesitate to use them. I use them myself.

    But 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.

    Sometimes you may have an especially pleasant experience meditating. If you become overly concerned with reproducing that experience the next time you meditate, you will find it can cause stress and distraction and prevent the meditation from working. You shouldn't be trying to have any particular experience when you meditate. Just follow the instructions as explained above and let the experience develop naturally from doing the technique. Keep this in mind and it will be easier to let go of any expectations you have and you will have better meditation sessions.

    The purpose of this meditation is not to make the mind completely still. The purpose is to:

    • Calm the mind by counting the breath so it is easier to control.
    • Train the mind to easily access the brain's capacities for producing happiness (by noticing if there is a pleasant feeling).
    • Increase the strength of the feelings of happiness the brain can produce (by observing a pleasant feeling).
    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 the breath, the pleasant feeling of relaxation if you notice it, or the pleasant feeling that makes you smile, and awareness of 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.

    If you've been meditating this way for a while and you feel something is not quite right, go back to the beginning of this section and reread the instructions and follow them as if it was the first time you tried them. You have to do each component of this meditation if it is going to work. You have to count your breath, you can't let your mind wander, you have to observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and you have smile if you feel like it.

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

    One of the benefits of this type of meditation is that it shows you happiness is a choice, and this can improve your entire outlook on life. If you can do this meditation, you will discover that you have the ability to be happy when you choose to be. Many people are unhappy and they feel that it is not under their control and that somehow it is their fate. But when you know you have the option to be happy, it changes everything. Then, if you are not happy, it is because you choose to do things that do not lead to happiness. There is nothing wrong with that choice and it is empowering to understand that it is your choice and not fate that is the cause of your unhappiness. Being unhappy is not a problem if you prefer not to be happy.

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    Realization

    If you are wondering what comes after you have mastered this type of meditation, have a look at my blog post Beyond Joy. As you meditate more and more and also use this technique during daily activities, your mind will become quieter. Realization occurs when the mind is completely still. Without achieving full realization, you still might experience hints as to what it is all about. For example, you can see how quieting the mind dispels illusions if you consider how you feel when you have been doing a lot of meditation and you are relaxed and serene and the mind is calm and compare that to how you felt in the same situation when you were not relaxed, serene or calm. When the mind is calm, many worries, fears, and annoyances, are absent. Where did they go? They didn't go anywhere, they were never there at all. They were only illusions projected by the mind. Quiet the mind and the illusions disappear.

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    Why this is Buddhist Meditation

    This type of meditation is based on the teachings of Buddha in the Anapanasatti Sutta. If you are already practicing some type of meditation, you don't have to give that up, but you can make it closer to the method of meditation taught by Buddha and make it a more positive experience by observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation while you meditate.

    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, Thich Nhat Hanh write:
    ... practice breathing with a half-smile. You will feel great joy.

    This type of meditation helps you develop the four foundations of mindfulness: mindfulness of body, sensations, mind, and objects of mind.

    • While you meditate, you are mindful of the body as you observe the breath and relax.
    • You are mindful of sensations as you:
      • Notice the feeling of relaxation.
      • Notice the feelings in the body that accompany unpleasant emotions as you release them.
      • Notice pleasant sensations produced by smiling.
    • You are mindful of the mind as you:
      • Try to calm the mind.
      • Release negative thoughts and emotions that distract you while meditating.
    • You are mindful of objects of mind as you try to understand distracting thoughts and emotions in terms of the three characteristics.
    Mindfulness of the body better enables you to be mindful of sensations. Mindfulness of sensations better enables you to be mindful of the mind. Mindfulness of the mind better enables you to be mindful of objects of mind. Mindfulness of the three characteristics leads to weakening of attachments and aversions. Attachments and aversions are the illusions produced by the mind that hide the ultimate reality from us. The complete elimination of attachments and aversions is one way to experience realization.

    When you experience happiness and love through this meditation, you may see through the illusions projected by the mind. Happiness eliminates desires. Love eliminates attachment to self. In the absence of desire and belief in self, the impermanence of things will not cause trouble.

    In the Tevijja Sutta Buddha teaches that cultivating the Brahma Viharas can lead to awakening. The Brahma Viharas are four emotions: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The meditation explained above cultivates these emotions.

    The instructions for this type of meditation are written for beginners but this technique can take you as far as you want to go (see below). Realization can occur when the mind is still. This type of meditation will quiet the mind just as well as any other type of meditation. Insight can come from observing many different aspects of experience. In this meditation, one observes the breath, a mantra (counting), and feelings (relaxation, happiness, etc.). These are also objects of insight in other types of meditation. What is different about this type of meditation is that it is a lot more pleasant than many other techniques so you will naturally be drawn to practice it, and it will improve the quality of your life along the way.

    However, it is a fact that the vast majority of people who experience realization are monks and nuns. There are a few laypeople who experience it but they usually meditate for hours a day and go on frequent meditation retreats. It is very rare for the average meditator to experience realization. Many of the schools that teach meditation are teaching how to attain realization to people who will never experience it, and they never warn their students about the dangers of meditation. But meditation can still have benefits for the ordinary person and the type of meditation described here is intended for the ordinary person.

    For most people, spiritual development is more important than realization. Most of us are here to have an experience of a physical existence and we can do that better if we are happy, loving, feel connected etc. This meditation should help a person to live more in harmony with spiritual values.

    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 of relaxation 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.

    Most forms of Buddhist meditation taught today such as insight, vipassana, the nana's, and jhana, are based on teachings that came after the Buddha. They are missing two key factors originally taught by the Buddha: relaxation to prevent repression of negative thoughts and emotions and metta (love), which produce a deeper realization and are needed for true lasting Nibbana. The form of meditation described in this article and in the process described in Beyond Joy includes relaxation in releasing negative thoughts and emotions to prevent repression and metta which is a natural result of the intense feelings that are produced by smiling.

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    How it Works

    Neuroplasticity is a phenomenon of the brain in which brain functions that are active recruit more neurons to participate in that function. As you use a capacity of the brain, the brain rewires itself to improve its ability to perform that function. There are several components to this meditation that improve with practice and rewire the brain for happiness:

    1. Relaxing and observing the feeling of relaxation relieves stress and helps to release recently acquired negative emotions.

    2. Restraining the mind from wandering by focusing it on counting, relaxing, and pleasant feelings that arise during meditation calms and quiets the mind which reduces negative mental chatter. It also quiets analytical thinking which allows empathic thinking to occur.

    3. The smile feedback loop produces dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins which relax the body, lower the heart rate and blood pressure, relieve pain, and elevate mood. The smile feedback loop also reduces levels of the anxiety causing hormone cortisol.

    4. Negative thoughts and emotions about the past are released when they arise as distractions during meditation.

    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 with this meditation you quiet the mind and dissolve negative emotions through relaxation not repression. When you do something with your mind, the neuronal connections involved are reinforced. If you meditate on the pleasant feeling of relaxation you will train your mind to be relaxed and to produce pleasure while 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.

    Some people may question whether this form of meditation produces genuine spiritual experiences or if it is just inducing certain brain states. One must understand that the correlation between brain states and mental states does not prove the brain produces mental states. It is much more likely that the brain is a filter of non-physical consciousness. Experiences such as happiness, unconditional love, connectedness to all things, and an awareness of God, are experiences of aspects of our true nature. This meditation technique is a way of learning to control the filter, the brain, in order to allow these aspects of our true nature into our awareness.

    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.

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    Some Comments on Meditation in General

    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 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. This is explained in greater detail in the section below on Insight Meditation.

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    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.

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    The Three Characteristics

    Three characteristics of all things are: unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, and not-self. Failure to understand these characteristics can cause one a lot of unhappiness. When you are distracted by unpleasant thoughts or emotions while meditating, you can look for these three characteristics in the situation the thought or emotion pertains to. Understanding these characteristics in relation to your own experiences will help you develop a deep understanding of how they cause problems and make it easier for you to eliminate those problems.

    In certain forms of insight meditation, one looks for the three characteristics in every experience one has from moment to moment. More information on that can be found at Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, an Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book by Daniel Ingram.

    The Three Basic Facts of Existence at accesstoinsight.org says:

    To "see things as they really are" means seeing them consistently in the light of the three characteristics. Ignorance of these three, or self-deception about them, is by itself a potent cause for suffering — by knitting, as it were, the net of false hopes, of unrealistic and harmful desires, of false ideologies, false values and aims of life, in which man is caught. Ignoring or distorting these three basic facts can only lead to frustration, disappointment, and despair.
    The three characteristics overlap so that a deep understanding of any two is said to be sufficient to bring about awakening:
    • Unsatisfactoriness: Attachments and aversions make you unhappy. You want something you don't have or you don't like something you do have. If you can clearly see how attachments and aversions make you unhappy, it will make it easier to let go of them and that will eliminate a lot of unhappiness in your life.

    • Unsatisfactoriness + Impermanence: Once you get something you soon want something else. Or, you do something you want to do but when it's over you feel loss. Plants, animals, people, are subject to death.

    • Impermanence All things are impermanent. Attachment to impermanent things causes unhappiness. If you can clearly see that attachments to impermanent things make you unhappy, it will make it easier to let go of them and that will eliminate a lot of unhappiness in your life.

    • Impermanence + Not-self: You yourself are subject to death. Thoughts, emotions, impulses arise from nowhere and fade.

    • Not-self: Thoughts, emotions, impulses are perceived, they are not-self. Even the sense of self, once it is observed is no longer self anymore, it is a perceived thing, it is not self. Attachments to this illusory self make you unhappy: you might want more status, you might want to control phenomenon beyond your control. You might be attached to your ideas, or being right, or winning etc. If you can clearly see that attachments to self (ego) make you unhappy, it will make it easier to let go of those attachments and that will eliminate a lot of unhappiness in your life.

    • Not-self + Unsatisfactoriness: If you don't get what you want, you may feel incompetent, inferior, or like a loser. But as seen above, self is like an illusion in a hall of mirrors. Attachment to this illusion leads to unhappiness. Let go of attachments to body, status, winning, being right, success, etc. etc. they are founded on illusion. This doesn't mean you should give up your ambitions. It means you should pursue them in a detached manner.

    It is very easy to look for the three characteristics in your thoughts and emotions. When you notice an unpleasant thought or emotion ask yourself, "Is this caused by desire, ego, and/or impermanence?"

    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/06/beyond-joy.html

    People who have had realizations of the ultimate reality, Brahman, experience themselves as the consciousness that creates all reality. They see themselves as all things and they see all beings are one. They see that ordinary reality is an illusion projected by the mind. They understand the Buddhist concept of emptiness: all is illusion, individual self is an illusion, material reality is an illusion, separate (other) beings are illusions. There is only Brahman. Even the unity of self and other is still illusion because there is no self, there is no other, there is only Brahman.

    There is nothing mystical about how the mind projects illusion. For example, many negative emotions are not really necessary but the mind produces them anyway. It makes us unhappy and can poison the quality of our existence. If something annoys you, there is no law of physics that requires that you get annoyed. You might even recognize that being annoyed is unwanted but you still get annoyed. The mind produces this annoyance, it has no basis in physical reality, it is totally unnecessary, and it is unwanted. It is an illusion. You might say that there is a biological explanation for it, but that is just an explanation of how the projector works. A projection is not something real. And the mind does this to us constantly, it produces opinions, attachments, aversions, worries, fears, ... all are illusions, but most of the time we swallow the bait and think they are real. Because they appear in our mind, we assume that they are our ideas and we accept them as part of our reality, we rarely question them.

    Realization allows you to become free from these illusions.

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    Insight Meditation

    Insight meditation involves closely observing some aspect of the experience of existence in order to see through the illusions produced by the mind. The form of insight meditation described here involves observing emotions. This meditation will also help you to improve your awareness and understanding of emotions. To do this type of meditation, all you have to do is 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. If observing emotions is done during a relaxing form of meditation such as serenity meditation it might also help you to become desensitized to thoughts that produce anxiety. Desensitization is another technique used in cognitive therapy.

    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 Meditation

    Like many activities, meditation is not without risks. I explained these risks to someone on reddit in approximately this way:
    • Meditation can release a lot of suppressed emotions and people who don't want to deal with that should do relaxation exercises instead. Also, one of the reasons for fidgeting and wanting to cut short a meditation session or skip a session is that unconscious, unpleasant thoughts are nearing the surface. One reason I recommend serenity meditation is because it produces positive emotions that will counteract the effects of negative emotions that might be released during meditation.

    • Meditation can make you more emotional. For example, after you start meditating regularly, you might feel like crying more when watching sad movies.

    • Long sessions of meditation can cause temporary forgetfulness. This is a natural consequence of calming the mind. When the effects of meditation wear off, normal memory function will return.

    • I don't advise people to meditate sitting on the floor or to sit absolutely still because that can cause knee and spine injuries. If some people like to sit on the floor or sit absolutely still when they meditate, I am not necessarily against it, I just don't tell people to do it.

    • It is possible to develop the habit of repressing thoughts and emotions from meditating if you push unpleasant thoughts and emotions away in order to maintain concentration. Learning to let go without repressing requires experiencing the thought or emotion while relaxing.

      Unpleasant thoughts and emotions are those that make you feel uncomfortable, that you have the impulse to push away or don't want to think about. They could be memories from the past or worries about the future. The way I handle unpleasant thoughts and emotions is to force myself to experience them for a few seconds and observe the physical sensations in my body that accompany the thought or emotion. I also try to get to the root of what is bothering me. Usually the surface memory is covering something deeper. Like you remember someone you don't like, but not why you don't like them. Try to dig a bit. There might be several levels to go through to reach the root. But try to keep this within limits, don't get lost in thought.

      Try to understand unpleasant thoughts and emotions in terms of the three characteristics: unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, and not-self.

      If you do get to the root, the thought might not come back or might not come back as often or as intensely. But if you just push it away it will keep coming back over and over. In fact, it is possible to develop the habit of repressing negative thoughts and feelings from meditating incorrectly. But if you do this right, you can clear out a lot of psychological baggage and in the long run you feel a lot better and you can concentrate much better during meditation because these thoughts stop recurring. And you have to do it while relaxing, any tension or tightness can indicate you are repressing a thought or feeling. Serenity meditation is very relaxing and should not cause repression.

      However, you also have to be careful not to over do this because if you are constantly thinking of unpleasant things, you can train yourself to be unhappy. If you find a lot of unpleasant thoughts and emotions are coming out and it is more than you care to do all at once, you might decide to release some of them at a latter date. Each person has to find the right balance between letting out emotions and letting go of them. Serenity meditation is recommended because it produces positive emotions which can counteract any unpleasant thoughts and feeling that might arise during meditation.

      You can attain realization by brute force concentration and still be a very messed up person. But I think the kind of emotional healing that comes from releasing negative thoughts and emotions is much more important than realization, so while concentration is necessary, I don't stress super-duper intense concentration during meditation. When you clear out the baggage the mind quiets naturally and I think that is the best way to achieve full realization.

    • It is possible that some people might find some forms of meditation to be addicting. Some people are susceptible to addiction. For example, many people drink alcohol but only some become alcoholics. Because some forms of meditation (such as the serenity meditation described above, and any type of practice that produces intensely pleasurable feelings) seem to activate the pleasure centers in the brain, it is possible that people who are prone to addiction might become addicted to these forms of meditation.

    • There are other serious dangers involved in excessive amounts of meditation that few people know about. This is explained 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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