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Serenity (Samatha) Meditation
Releasing Unpleasant Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses
Meditation Is Not A Panacea
The Three Characteristics
Insight Meditation
Joy During Meditation
The Dangers of Meditation
Tapping into Universal Love - Connecting with God
A Still Mind
The Ego and Spiritual Development
  • Mindfulness
  • Walking Meditation
  • Three Ways to Reduce the Ego
    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, allow yourself to feel the emotional pain, and notice the feelings in your body associated with them. 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 Releasing Unpleasant Thoughts and Emotions. (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

    Spiritual Meditation

    Research shows that deep breathing can produce a relaxation response in the mind and body. If you take a deep breath and exhale you can experience this as a feeling of relaxation. It is possible to produce this relaxed feeling without very deep breathing but through a more normal depth and rate of breathing. When you learn breathe this way and use it in the meditation technique described here, you can become very peaceful and relaxed. This state is so pleasant it might make you want to smile. When that happens, focusing your attention on the pleasant feelings can set up a feedback loop in the brain where the pleasant feelings feel nice and that produces a pleasure resonse which feels nice which produces a pleasure response etc. When you first learn to do this, you might experiment with very intense states of spiritual feelings including compassion, love and joy, but as you become familiar with it, you may prefer to turn down the intensity of these feelings and settle into a benevolent, peaceful, and contented state.

    The relaxed feeling and other pleasant emotions produced by this type of meditation can help alleviate some of the psychological discomfort that comes from letting go of emotional pain. Unpleasant emotions sometimes come up during meditation and letting go of them as they arise is one way meditation can help improve your psychological well-being.

    Here are links to the sections below that explain the meditation technique. You can skip right to the simplified instructions and get started but you should also read the introduction and warning.

    Introduction: 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 Releasing Unpleasant Thoughts and Emotions 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.

    Some people may try this meditation technique because they have a mood disorder such as depression or anxiety. If such a condition is caused by psychological factors, meditation could be more helpful than if the condition is caused by biochemical factors. If you have a condition such as depression or anxiety and find this meditation does not help you relax, feel calm, and produce feelings of happiness and other positive emotions, you may find that if you can address any underlying biochemical issues, the meditation will then begin to work. (The subject of how biochemistry influences moods is complex and beyond the scope of this article. If you want to know more about this subject, search the internet for information on how diet can affect serotonin and cortisol levels.)

    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.

    Some people believe that producing intense blissful emotions can cause a depletion of neurotransmitters causing a feeling of depression afterwards. If you suspect this might be happening to you, you may try Neutral Meditation. Another alternative is doing the meditation described below but not raising the pleasant emotions to a high level. That is what many people do regardless, after they have gained more experience with the technique. The intense emotions are interesting but ultimately the real benefit from this meditation is that it can help you cultivate a pleasant relaxed mood where forgiveness, compassion, and good will naturally arise. The intense emotions help you recognize when you are doing the technique correctly but they are not absolutely necessary.

    * * *

    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

    Sit comfortably in whatever way you prefer, in a chair or on the floor. No special meditation posture is needed. Close your eyes. Notice how you feel throughout your body. Do you feel anxious or tense? Try to relax your whole body. Take a deep breath and relax your whole body as you exhale. Notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation? Now breathe normally and relax your whole body as you exhale. Notice the same feeling of relaxation. Relax your whole body as you inhale and notice a similar feeling of relaxation. It might help you to relax if you slow down your breathing somewhat. Continue to relax your whole body as you inhale and exhale and notice the pleasant feelings of relaxation. Your whole body may begin feel heavy as you become more and more relaxed. While you meditate this way, also say to yourself, (inwardly not aloud) "in" as you inhale, and "out" as you exhale. Notice the absence of mental chatter as you focus your attention on the words "in" an "out". Meditate this way with the understanding that you are trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming meditation session. Cultivate a state of relaxed alertness, relaxed awareness, not relaxed sleepiness. After a while, observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale might make you want to smile.

    If you feel like it, go ahead and smile, even if it's just a little bit, and notice the pleasant emotions that accompany smiling as you continue to meditate. Sometimes noticing any sensations or tingling you might feel in the lips as you meditate can help bring on a smile. If your mind wanders don't worry about it, it's normal. If you like, you can take a few seconds to notice what thoughts or emotions distracted you, and any sensations they produced in your body. Then return to meditating, relax your whole body as you inhale and exhale, notice the pleasant feelings of relaxation and peace, and smile if you feel like it.

    That's it. You should do this as a form of sitting meditation but you can also do it during daily activities. When you start a session, it can be helpful if you remind yourself how the technique works by thinking:

    Relax as you inhale, relax as you exhale, notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and smile if you feel like it.

    After practicing this type of meditation for some time, you might find that you can maintain a relaxed and happy state at times when you are not sitting in meditation. This can produce a very stable equanimity.

    I described this meditation technique on an internet discussion form in approximately this way:

    I meditate by counting the breath, trying to notice a pleasant feeling of relaxation as I inhale and exhale and I notice the pleasant feelings released when I let myself half-smile. It may start out as a very faint feeling barely noticeable, but it increases gradually during the meditation session so I take a patient attitude and trust the technique. Worrying "am I happy now?" just creates stress which is counterproductive.


    I would describe the practice as cultivating a state of relaxed happiness by various means in order to develop equanimity. I draw on relaxation techniques from different sources - anything that can activate the parasympathetic nervous system: counting the breath meditation, yoga poses, quigong (8 Brocades or Ba Duan Jin or Baduanjin), tai-chi, progressive muscular relaxation, hypnotic induction. I cultivate happiness through a technique I learned from reading Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote, "... practice breathing with a half-smile. You will feel great joy.". But too much great joy can become tedious (believe it or not) so I try to cultivate just a pleasant positive slightly happy feeling. Also, to cultivate happiness, I try to use information on how to increase serotonin levels in the brain that I might read about here and there.

    Some advocates of insight meditation, who don't meditate this way, might misunderstand this meditation technique, believing it is a form of escapism, not realizing how the practice has cumulative effects that carry over to daily life. It is not a static practice but something that helps you to develop more and more equanimity over time. I tried to explain it in the same discussion forum approximately like this:

    You can't separate insight from concentration. You need some minimum concentration to do insight, and every wandering of the mind during concentration produces an iota of insight which adds up over time.

    You can't "rest in a pleasant state" unless you have reached perfection. There is always something that disturbs your peace but since you prefer a pleasant state, you see what is disturbing your peace and you figure out how to let go of it (get back to a peaceful state) during the meditation session and during daily life.

    Because the technique provides a solution to a the problem of unpleasant emotional states, it does not require will power any more than taking an aspirin for a headache takes will power. When you are in an unpleasant emotional state, you know what to do. And over time the "aspirin" gets stronger, your equanimity becomes more and more stable.

    It is also important to understand this type of meditation might or might not help with anxiety or depression - depending on the cause. If the cause is cognitive it might help. If the cause is organic it might not help. But there can be interactions between the organic and the cognitive so ... the subject is complicated.

    On the same forum I wrote:

    No one should think I am implying this a treatment for anxiety or depression. Those issues are outside the scope of my expertise. The technique might not even work in situations where brain chemistry or the nervous system cannot support the effects.
    On a different internet forum I wrote:
    My own feeling is that people will get more out of a spiritual practice if they get their brain chemistry right through other means, for example through diet and exercise, otherwise they might not get the effect they seek from the spiritual practice.

    I don't see spiritual practices as a mental health treatment, I see them as a means to spiritual development and growth. So I have the opposite view from a lot of psychologists and doctors who are also in the spiritual arena. I think it is a bad match when people go to a spiritual school looking for solutions to their psychological problems. The spiritual quest is fraught with dangers and people in a fragile condition are at heightened risk.

    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 the simplified instructions and you can work through the detailed instructions at your own pace to refine your understanding of the technique. Anytime you feel confused or uncertain about what to do, refer back to the simplified instructions.

    1. Wear clothing that is not tight around the waist, abdomen, or chest and does not restrict your breathing. If your shirt is tucked in, be sure it is not restricting the movement of your body as you breathe.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    2. Sit comfortably. You can sit in a chair. You don't have to sit on the floor in a formal meditation posture or on the edge of your chair without back support to do this type of meditation. Too many people injure their spine and or knees trying to meditate in unaccustomed postures. A chair is fine. In fact, this type of meditation involves relaxation and it works much better if you sit the way you normally do in a chair.

      Try placing your hands on top of your thighs near the hip joint with with your palms facing upward. This should help produce a relaxed open friendly feeling. If this feels comfortable, keep your hands in that position while you meditate, otherwise place them in whatever way you prefer.

      Be aware that sitting in a slumped posture can compress the internal organs and inhibit the movements in the torso needed to breathe. If your head is bent forward, it can constrict the airway. If you sit with your knees straight so your feet are extended out in front of you, it could curve the spine, stretching the abdomen and making it harder to breathe from the diaphragm. If you feel that your breathing is restricted and you are sitting in a slumped posture or sitting with your head bent forward or sitting with your feet extended out in front of you, try sitting straighter with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor and see if that helps. Also, try to keep your body relaxed. Keeping a relaxed and pleasant expression on your face while you meditate will ensure that if you feel like smiling, there will be no resistance to doing so.

      After you develop experience meditating, when you are in a very relaxed state while meditating, you might notice that movement or fidgeting will bring you out that that deep state of relaxation. When that happens, you might notice that movement becomes undesirable and that should help you remain still. This can be helpful to your meditation practice but it is important to be sitting in a posture that will not result in any type of knee or spine injury.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    3. Observe the breath. Sit with your eyes closed and breathe in a relaxed way. Some people like to breathe from the diaphragm when they meditate with each breath flowing smoothly into the next, but what is important is that breathing be relaxing.

      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.

      After meditating for a time if you feel breathing is uncomfortable, there are several things you can try to remedy the problem.

      • If you are sitting slumped in a chair, it can compress the chest making breathing harder. If the head is bent forward it can constrict the airway. In either case, try sitting straighter.

      • If you are sitting with your knees straight and your feet extended out in front of you, that can extend the abdomen making breathing harder, try sitting with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor.

      • If you are observing the breath by noticing the sensations and movements of the chest or abdomen, try observing the sensations as the breath flows in and out through the nose instead. Sometimes focusing your attention on the chest or abdomen makes it hard to breathe naturally and shifting your attention to the nose can alleviate the problem.

      • Sometimes mild nasal congestion can make breathing more laborious. If you find it easier to breath with your mouth open, try breathing that way.

      • If you are counting the breaths as described in the next step (below), try saying "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale rather than counting.

      • Try to allow your diaphragm to completely relax at the end of each exhalation. This will ensure that the air is fully expelled and the breath is completed. It should help the next breath start more naturally and help ensure you are not breathing too rapidly.

      • Exhale slowly so that your exhalations are about twice as long as your inhalations. Try counting "one" when you inhale and "two three" as you exhale. Then "four" as you inhale and "five six" as you exhale. Then start again with "one".

      • If you feel like you need more air or you can't catch your breath, that can sometimes be a symptom of hyperventilation. To alleviate symptoms of hyperventilation the web site Medicine Plus recommends exhaling slowly through pursed lips. You can try meditating breathing that way for a few minutes to see if it helps, but it is better to find a way to breathe comfortably rather than become dependent on this method of breathing for an entire meditation session.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    4. 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. If you count only exhalations, you can say "and" as you inhale, or if you count only inhalations, you can say "and" as you exhale. After reaching ten, start over counting from one. Continue counting your breaths like this throughout the meditation session.

      The purpose of counting the breath is to help keep the mind from wandering, but at the same time you should maintain awareness of the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale (see #5 below). Both concentration on counting and awareness of the pleasant feeling of relaxation are needed. One or the other alone will not produce the desired effect.

      Your state of mind should be one of calm relaxed awake alert observation, not trying to solve a problem (analyzing), not a wandering mind (daydreaming), not oblivion (sleeping), not forceful intense concentration (repressing), but just calm relaxed aware observing. Try exhaling and noticing what you feel as you exhale. If you do that once as an experiment, you will probably not get distracted, you will just notice what happens with a relaxed state of mind. That is the state of mind you should try to maintain while meditating. You can help remind yourself of this, if you like, by saying to yourself inwardly (not aloud), "just observing" while you observe the breath instead of counting breaths.

      Concentration should be clear and focused in the forefront of your awareness. But it is also relaxed and aware of relaxation. It is not intense or straining. You can slow a car by stepping hard on the breaks, screeching the tires and throwing your passengers against their seat belts. Or you can slow down more comfortably by stepping on the breaks with less force. Use concentration in meditation to slow the mind without screeching the tires. Concentration should be clear and focused in the forefront of your awareness. But is is also relaxed and aware of relaxation. It is not intense or straining.

      If you find it difficult to concentrate:

      • Take some time to notice the absence of mental chatter as you focus your attention on saying the numbers. Notice how peaceful that is and how pleasant that peacefulness is.

      • Count both inhalations and exhalation. For example, count "one" as you inhale, "two" as you exhale, "three" as you inhale and so forth. When you get to ten start again at "one".

      • As you count the breath, try exhaling by relaxing your diaphragm and chest all at once like you are sighing. This can be very helpful in quieting the mind but there are a couple of points to be aware of if you try this:

        • It can cause hyperventilation. Pausing the breath for a brief time between exhalations and or inhalations to slow down the rate of breathing can help prevent hyperventilation.

        • Too much concentration can suppress thoughts and emotions. One sign of this is irritability after meditating. This can be prevented by opening up the flow of thoughts and emotions by breathing normally for the last few minutes of the meditation session.

      The attitude you have during meditation will influence the attitude you have when you are done with the session. If you meditate with a stern and rigid attitude that you will concentrate perfectly and not allow any stray thoughts to enter your mind, then after the session you will continue to have a stern, rigid attitude and you will experience intolerance and irritability. Try to maintain a relaxed, pleasant, light attitude while you are meditating so you will have a relaxed and pleasant attitude when the session ends.

      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.

      If you are religious and have an interest in centering prayer as a means of coming closer to God, you can use a sacred word to help maintain concentration. The link is to contemplativeoutreach.org which is a Christian organization however, most major religions that have mystical schools teach a form of prayer that is similar. If you are not Christian, you can use the same instructions but choose a sacred word that is appropriate to your beliefs.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    5. Observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation. As you continue counting the breath, notice how you feel throughout your whole body. Are you relaxed and at ease? Try to relax your whole body and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation. Relax your whole body as you exhale and notice how that feels. Relax your whole body as you inhale and notice how that feels (if the palms of your hands are facing upward it may be easier to notice the feeling of relaxation as you inhale). Continue relaxing as you inhale and exhale and observe how it feels as you count the breath. Your whole body may begin to feel heavy as you become more and more relaxed. 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 that pervades your whole body 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 observing the feeling of relaxation ever makes you feel uncomfortable, instead of focusing your attention on it, just try to maintain a relaxed but awake and alert mental state while you focus on counting the breath.

      It is helpful (ie. recommended) to use relaxation exercises to relax before, or during (once you have settled down a bit), each meditation session. One way to do this that works well is to relax each part of the body with self-hypnotic induction, then visualize each color of the spectrum, and then count five or ten breaths. Repeat this sequence for a few minutes or longer. You can do it several times throughout a meditation session if you like. Before a meditation session you can do the relaxation exercises lying down or sitting, but they are easier to do lying down. During a meditation session you should do them sitting in the same posture you are meditating in. You can also do the relaxation exercises again after a meditation session if you like.

      If you find it hard to relax during meditation, or if you feel tension in your body that is hard to relax, try moving each part of your body five or ten times to help relax. Or if you prefer you can try any of the exercises described in my blog post Turning Off Stress.

      If you do relaxation exercises, you may notice that when you are deeply relaxed unpleasant emotions may disappear. Sometimes this happens when you experience a floating sensation or a wave of deep relaxation flowing through you.

      While you meditate, try to notice if you feel your consciousness is located in some particular place. For many people this would be in the head behind the eyes. You also might be aware of a feeling of self-awareness that comes from knowing you are concentrating on counting the breath and being aware that your mind is not wandering. As you meditate try to be aware of such a feeling of consciousness or awareness. Notice that it feels safe and secure and familiar and pleasant. Doing that helps to focus your awareness so that you have a pleasant relaxing sense of being instead of letting your consciousness dissipate into disconnected thoughts or fade into sleepy nothingness.

      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.

      • If you are meditating with your eyes closed, try looking into the space in front of your eyes and imagining infinite space.

      • Imagine you are floating and notice the subtle effect that has on how you feel.

      • 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.

      • If you find it hard to relax:

        • One of the best methods of relaxation is to do some type of yoga or other exercises where you exhale slowly as you gently stretch your muscles. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the body's natural mechanism for turning off the stress response.

        • Also try other relaxation exercises. In particular, Visualization is excellent for relaxing the mind and for going from a relaxed state to an even deeper state of relaxation. Visualization puts the mind in a "dream like" state. A very simple visualization is to imagine a sphere of white light.

        • Try breathing more slowly and deeply while you meditate. According to Michigan State University Extension, "Deep breathing causes the vagus nerve to signal your nervous system to lower your heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol."

        • Experiment with different patterns of breathing. Try inhaling deeply, hold it a moment, then relax the diaphragm and chest and exhale all at once like a sigh. Notice how relaxing that feels. You can also try breathing more slowly, and or just exhaling more slowly. Sometimes breathing lightly will be more relaxing. Try to find the way of breathing that is most relaxing. Be aware that the most relaxing way to breathe may change over time. Focus your attention on the pleasant feeling of relaxation throughout your whole body as you exhale. Notice that your whole body relaxes when you do this. The point is not to huff and puff just to blow air in and out. The point is to produce a feeling of relaxation and focus your attention on it. If you feel dizzy or faint (from hyperventilating) or if you begin to feel more relaxed, go back to breathing less deeply as described above.

      As you notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation while counting the breath, it should not feel like you are doing several things at the same time where you have to split your attention between the tasks. Counting, relaxing, and noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation should be one action as if you let out a sigh and said "aah" as you stepped into a warm jacuzzi. This combines relaxation (which reduces stress and eases unpleasant emotions), concentration on counting (which quiets the mind by reducing mental chatter), and experiencing pleasure (which produces happiness and other pleasant emotions) in one action. It is three types of meditation in one.

      If you are experiencing any unpleasant emotion or feeling such as anger, anxiety, annoyance, etc., while you notice the feeling of relaxation as you exhale, also try to notice, at the same time, the sensations in your body that comprise the unpleasant emotion. If noticing these together helps to diminish the unpleasant emotion, continue to diminish it in this way.

      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.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    6. 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. Notice any sensations in your body that accompany emotions and if you feel any tension try to relax it. Then continue meditating as you were doing before you became distracted: relax as you inhale, relax as you exhale, notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation, count the breath, and smile if you feel like it.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    7. Meditating with your 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. Meditating in a deeply relaxed state with the eyes closed can help you develop equanimity because when you return to a more normal state of consciousness, you will be very relaxed and more able to remain relaxed when faced with situations that might otherwise upset you. You should start the meditation session with your eyes closed. But when you feel you are more relaxed, you may open your eyes if you want to and continue meditating with your eyes open.

      Meditating with your eyes open can make it easer to maintain concentration which will help to calm the wanderings of the mind. If you become drowsy meditating with your eyes closed, it can help to meditate with your eyes open. When you meditate with your eyes open, you can gaze at the floor, a wall, a thangka, mandala or anyting you like.

      Soft Focus:

      Try to maintain a soft focus with your eyes. Soft focus means your eyes are somewhat relaxed. They do focus on what you are looking at and change focus if you look at something nearer or farther away. And you can read while your eyes are soft focused. But you do not make that last little bit of effort to move your full consciousness into what you are looking at. It's hard to explain in words, but it is a natural thing to do so hopefully you will know what I mean. The purpose of using soft focus is that it helps you to maintain a relaxed meditative state with your eyes open whereas a normal focus will tend to bring you out of a relaxed meditative state into a more normal, less relaxed, state of consciousness.

      As you count your breaths with your eyes open, if you notice your vision becomes less clear, or if stray thoughts distract your awareness away from what you are looking at, bring what you see 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 as you inhale and exhale with your eyes open, review the suggestions in step 3, in particular try breathing slower.

      Back to Detailed Instructions

    8. Relaxation and calm. After meditating for a while, you will become more relaxed and the mind will become calmer.

      It may help to think of meditation as a processes with two facets:

      1. Relaxing the body by relaxing as you inhale and exhale.
      2. Quieting the mind by quieting its internal chatter: by not thinking analytically (trying to solve problems), and by not thinking about the past or future, but just observing the present, by observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation in your body as you inhale and exhale, and by counting the breath.

      Try to notice how you feel before you begin meditating so you can appreciate these effects of meditation. These effects in themselves make meditating worth the time and effort you put into it. They also indicate you are meditating correctly and the technique is working correctly.

      When you meditate, notice that when you are relaxed and the mind is focused on the technique and there are few extraneous thoughts of liking and disliking, winning and losing, good and bad, wanting and not wanting, all the unpleasant emotions and desires produced by those thoughts are absent. Notice that the unpleasantness associated with such thoughts goes away when the thoughts are absent. The unpleasantness was just an illusion. This is the ultimate benefit from meditation: Seeing for yourself that much of the unpleasantness we experience is an illusion created by the mind. By meditating we practice seeing through that illusion until it no longer fools us even when the mind is not relaxed and calm.

      * * *

      Part of the meditation instructions are, "breathe somewhat slower and deeper than normal, relax as you exhale, relax as you inhale, and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you exhale and inhale."

      The point of this is to be conscious that you are relaxing, aware of how to relax, and how it feels to relax and to be relaxed, so in daily life you know how to relax and know that you can relax. This makes it easier to maintain a relaxed mood or get back into a relaxed mood in daily life. It also requires attention to notice to how you breathe and how it feels so it has the effect of focusing the mind (quieting mental chatter). In addition to sessions of sitting meditation, you can also practice this way during many different activities in daily life such as washing the dishes, taking a shower, taking a walk etc.

      Meditating this way can be especially productive if there is something happening that might make you uncomfortable or cause you stress like an itch or some noises or if you have some type of discomfort like a headache. (I don't recommend sitting through discomfort caused by a meditation posture because I know of people who have injured their knees and spine from doing so). But practicing relaxing this way when there are forces opposing relaxation is useful in learning to be relaxed during stressful situations.

      This practice has the immediate effects of making you relaxed (which is another way of saying it helps you to let go of unpleasant emotions that arise from thoughts or other external conditions) and it also quiets mental chatter that can produce unpleasant thoughts and emotions). It reduces suffering immediately.

      * * *

      Concentrating according to the above meditation instructions should leave you in a pleasant relaxed mood when the meditation session is over.

      This way of concentrating should not take a lot of mental effort, it is not intense, it requires constant attention but it should be relaxing.

      Once you experience this way of concentrating, you begin to recognize what it feels like because it begins to produce the pleasant relaxed mood while you are meditating.

      This makes concentration much easier because you know what the "right" way of concentrating feels like. It produces biofeedback.

      You are not just meditating by following instructions, you are not blindly executing a technique, you are doing it by feel, you are doing something familiar, something that feels familiar, that has a familiar effect.

      And you don't need a lot of will power or dedication to maintain a daily practice because this way of meditating produces a pleasant relaxed mood, it produces positive reinforcement. A fundamental principle of psychology is that behaviors that yield a reward (positive reinforcement) are more likely to be repeated.

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    9. Being Lucid.

      As you meditate, try to notice what happens when you are distracted by thoughts and emotions. Notice that when you are focused in meditation, you are observing: observing the breath and observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation. Notice that when you are distracted, you are not observing anymore but you are immersed in your thoughts and emotions. It is useful to think of the state of observing as being "lucid". Like in a lucid dream when you know you are dreaming, and in a regular dream you think it is real. During meditation, when you are observing you are lucid, you can see that thoughts and emotions arise from the unconscious, exist for a time, and fade away. You see they are illusions. When you become distracted by thoughts and emotions you are immersed in them, you think they are real. The advantage of being lucid is that it helps you see that thoughts and emotions are not "reality" it helps keep you from overreacting to them. Try to be lucid not just in meditation but in daily activities whenever practicable.

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    10. Happiness: Smile if you feel like it.

      These meditation instructions so far should produce a pleasant, contented, relaxed state. If you like that, you can remain in that state and consider what follows as optional. You can also try the following steps and if at times in the future you want to forgo them, you don't have to go on to them. I also suggest you try Neutral Meditation, you may find you prefer to do that technique some of the time or even as your usual technique.

      After meditating for a while, observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe, sometimes you might feel like smiling a little bit.

      If you feel like smiling, notice any feelings around your lips or at the corners of your mouth, or any pleasant feelings of relaxation, happiness, love, or good will. Do you feel a smile coming on? If you feel like smiling, let yourself smile, even if it's just a little smile. Focusing your attention on any sensations or tingling you feel in the lips as you meditate can help bring on a 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 if you feel deeply relaxed or or if you experience any type of altered state such as a floating sensation, a feeling of expanded boundaries, or sudden alertness after a deep state of relaxation, see if you feel like smiling then.

      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 don't have to start off with a huge grin. All you need is a little bit of amusement or pleasantness to evoke a tiny bit of a smile. This is because smiling creates a feedback loop (see below). If the mind is calm enough, once you trigger a smile, focusing your attention on the pleasant sensations it produces can replace whatever triggered it and then it feeds off itself and becomes more intense as long as you maintain awareness of it. You can use the troubleshooting 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.

      If you want, you can also try the hammock posture while you meditate. The hammock posture is a yoga asana where you sit the way you normally do for meditation but you form the lips into the shape of a hammock. You do that by slightly contracting the corners of the mouth as if you were smiling. If you do this, then even the slightest feelings of wanting to smile will be able to express themselves in a smile.

      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.

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    11. 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. At this stage relaxing deeply can be helpful. Eventually, if your mind is calm and you are able to relax while concentrating sufficiently, the feedback loop should stabilize and the feelings that accompany the smile should be stronger and constant.

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    12. 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. You should consider this step optional. Sometimes you might like to keep the positive emotions at a low intensity and you don't have to go through this step and produce them at high levels.

      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. 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 your eyes closed try opening them for a minute or two.
      • 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.

      Sometimes focusing your attention on the heart chakra may help intensify the feedback loop.

      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 / heart
      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 "heart" notice the sensations in your heart chakra. 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 by a beginner as it could drain one of energy.

      Another mantra to use with this technique is:

      May the light / of God
      Heal and bless / the world

      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, you can stop smiling and stop meditating and the emotions should cease. Or you can try continuing with the meditation but stop focusing on any part of the body such as the lips or the hands that you focused on to intensify the feedback loop while continuing to noticing the other pleasant feelings produced.

      You also 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.

      You may find that the ideal allocation of attention between counting the breath and the smile feedback loop is somewhere near 50% to each. Too much concentration on counting the breath can cause repression and irritability, but too little concentration will not sufficiently quiet emotional and mental turbulence. Dividing your attention nearly equally between counting the breath and the smile feedback loop usually produces best results, but you can experiment and decide for yourself how you want to meditate. It can be a little bit tricky to split your attention this way because it can be hard to maintain concentration on counting while being aware of the smile feedback loop. But with a little practice, it is possible.

      If you find the emotions are too intense, stop smiling and continue meditating focusing on the pleasant feeling of relaxation you notice with breathing. That produces a peaceful, contented state. You can also control the effect by smiling just the slightest bit with the intention of developing the same emotions but remaining relaxed, peaceful and contented, and without the high intensity that otherwise would be produced.

      Leigh Brasington has a web page where he discusses a similar type of smiling meditation. He discusses several stages called jhanas. He explains that to move from the first jhana to the second jhana, focus on the emotional pleasure rather than the physical pleasure. In a video he suggests taking a deep breath to accomplish the same transition. And he says to stop smiling to transition from the third jhana to the fourth. In the video, Brassington also states that the process involves a feedback loop that causes the production of brain chemicals.

      Where Brasington says to focus on the emotional pleasure rather than the physical pleasure, I would say if you are focusing on some part of the body to intensify the smile feedback loop such as the lips or the hands, then stop including those areas in the focus of your attention, but continue to be aware of pleasant emotions produced.

      (In the video, Brasington tries to explain how spiritual experiences produced by meditation are caused by brain chemicals. While the brain doesn't produce consciousness, it does filter consciousness, so this is perfectly reasonable and it is to be expected that there would be a correlation between brain states and mental states. But one thing Brasington says in the video which is not credible is that the experience of moving through a tunnel during a near-death experience is caused by seeing the circle of light meditators sometimes see as the nervous system quiets down. The reason this is not credible is because NDEs usually seem to be real to the experiencer. In fact, they are are more vivid, more detailed than normal waking consciousness. Since a person in normal waking consciousness going through a tunnel would know that he is not just seeing a circle, it is not credible that a person having a realer-than-real experience of moving through a tunnel could really just be seeing a circle. Think of all the times you have gone through a tunnel. Could that experience be explained instead as seeing a circle? None of the materialist explanations for NDEs really explain the phenomenon. Medical professionals are being educated about the psychological harm that dismissing spiritual experiences with materialist explanations can inflict on experiencers. People need to talk about their experiences in order to come to terms with them. To do this they have to feel comfortable discussing their experiences and if the first person they speak to is dismissive of the experience, they will be unlikely to talk to anyone else about it in the future.)

      Bhante Vimalaramsi uses smiling meditation to produce the Brahma Viharas. He has stated that according to The Bojjhangasamyutta Sutta from The Samyutta Nikaya, focusing on feelings of love (metta: loving kindness) will bring you into the fourth jhana and continuing to meditate will produce natural transitions through the other stages to the final state of nibbana. In that sutta, the Brahman Vhiaras are said to bring you as far as the seventh jhana. Loving kindness is said to take you into the fourth jhana, compassion into the fifth (the infinitude of space), empathetic joy into the sixth (the infinitude of consciousness), and equanimity into the seventh (the sphere of nothingness).

      My intention for the smiling meditation that I am describing on this web page is for it to be more like a Brahma Viharas meditation than a jhana meditation. It is intended to produce various positive emotions.

      I would encourage readers to learn what others have to say about smiling meditation. However, I don't think of this practice in the traditional stages of jhana. I find there are more states than other writers describe and I adjust the practice to provide what I want from it at the time. I also see sitting meditation as a means of developing the skill to use the practice during daily life. If I am experiencing stress, I keep the emotions muted and focus more on relaxation and contentment. Other times I might like to experience intense levels of love and connectedness. I see this practice as a variable technique that can help in different ways at different times. As you gain experience with the technique you will find that you can control the experience too.

      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.

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    13. More mantras. After you have developed some experience with this meditation technique, using mantras can help you progress quickly through the stages of meditation. Even if you use the first two mantras for only a few repetitions each, they can still help to put you in the correct frame of mind for the next stage of meditation.

      When you begin meditating, try this mantra to remind you to pay attention to the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you relax while inhaling and exhaling. You can use the mantra for just a few repetitions or up to tens of minutes.

      relaxing in / relaxing out
      how pleasant it is / to relax
      Say the part of the mantra before the "/" to yourself as you inhale and say the part of the mantra after the "/" to yourself as you exhale.

      Or you can try this (highly recommended) mantra:
      (Breathe slowly enough so that you don't have to rush through the words.)

      breathing in / breathing out
      relaxing in / relaxing out
      smiling in / smiling out

      Or this one:

      in / out
      feeling / relaxed
      quiet / mind
      pleasantly / abiding

      Here's another variation:

      in / out
      relax / smile
      quiet / mind

      How to use this variation:

      • in / out: Focus your attention on the pleasant feeling of relaxation that occurs when you inhale and exhale.
      • relax / smile: Relax your whole body and notice the feeling of relaxation in your whole body. / Smile if you feel like smiling and notice any pleasant or happy feelings produced by smiling.
      • quiet / mind: Focus your attention on something, such as the words "quiet" and "mind" as you think them, or on something you are gazing at, and notice the absence of mental chatter as the mind is focused. Notice how peaceful that is and how pleasant that peacefulness is.

        You can try this at various times throughout the day or use this mantra to practice during daily activities. When you focus your attention on something you are looking at, notice the absence of mental chatter when your attention is focused. Mental chatter can create a lot of problems, we tell ourselves why we should be unhappy, what to worry about, what we want but don't have etc. etc. Notice how peaceful you feel when the mind is focused and the chatter is quieted. It should be a feeling of relaxation and letting go (not a feeling of tension and suppression). If that quiet feeling makes you feel like smiling, go ahead and smile and notice the pleasant or happy feeling that accompanies smiling. However if you experience unpleasant thoughts or feelings arising, release them, don't suppress them.

      Then try this next mantra (or a custom mantra you used in the previous step above) while smiling a little bit to help stabilize and intensify the smile feedback loop. You can use it for just a few repetitions or for tens of minutes.

      in / out
      hands / lips
      eyes / open
      When you feel the smile feedback loop is stabilized and intensifying, you can continue to use the mantra or simply count the breath while being aware of the pleasant feelings produced by smiling and relaxing as you inhale and exhale.

      You can also use these mantras during daily activities.

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    14. 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.

      The progressions of states is approximately like this:

      • Awareness of the breath.
      • Feeling of relaxation.
      • Unpleasant emotions and feelings of stress weaken.
      • The mind becomes calmer, mental chatter is reduced.
      • Feeling like smiling.
      • Smiling and the associated bodily sensations and emotions.
      • Happiness.
      • Love.
      • Connectedness.
      • Equanimity.
      • ...

      If you experience some of these feelings, be aware of them as you continue to meditate.

      More than one state may be experienced at a given time and the order is not absolutely fixed. For example, equanimity can be present at any stage but it strengthens with each successive state. And previous states do not necessarily dissipate as the next one appears. After you feel connectedness, you can feel all the previous states at the same time.

      At times you may feel like you have had your fill of intense emotions. When this happens, you may naturally gravitate to a state of quiet, contented, equanimity. The feelings of happiness, love, and connectedness will still be there, but more subdued, and you can increase their intensity whenever you want. If you want to try to experience the more subdued and subtle feelings of relaxation, peace of mind, contentedness and equanimity produced by this meditation, continue to observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale and continue to count the breath, but keep the smile feedback loop subdued. This would usually involve smiling only slightly or not at all and not focusing your attention on any physical sensation such as those around the lips or in the hands. Imagining a calm, peaceful, contented, equanimous state of mind can also help.

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    15. Reining in the smile feedback loop. This step is optional. When you become proficient at producing the smile feedback loop, you may find that you do it automatically whenever you meditate. In that case, if you feel like you have had your fill of intense emotions, or if you want to meditate to calm mental turbulence or do a different type of meditation, you might want to rein in the smile feedback loop. By doing so, you can still enjoy the relaxation, peace of mind, contentedness and equanimity produced by this meditation but without other intense emotions. To rein in the smile feedback loop, stop smiling and withdraw your attention from those sensations and emotions you use to produce the feedback loop while continuing to observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale and continuing to count the breath. For example, you might no longer include emotions such as happiness or sensations such as those around the lips in the focus of meditation. Or you can keep the smile feedback loop going but at a reduced rate by withdrawing your attention proportionately from those sensations and emotions.

      When you rein in the smile feedback loop, you know and feel the pleasant emotions produced by the feedback loop are available to you whenever you want them, but for the moment, for a particular purpose, you are focusing more narrowly and have temporarily withdrawn your awareness from them.

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    16. 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 relaxing as you inhale and exhale and 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 relaxing and smiling just a little bit. If you can remember the light free feeling, you might be able to get back into the right state of mind in the future just by remembering (bringing to mind) this feeling.

      In a sense, relaxation and smiling are both attitudes that you can maintain by choice even when you are not meditating. You practice them during meditation to develop familiarity and facility in taking on those attitudes and this can help you to maintain them when you are not meditating.

      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.

      An alternative to giving up things that disrupt the pleasant state produced by meditation is to learn how to remain in that state despite the occurrence of disruptive events. It can be very helpful to notice when something upsets you and causes you to transition from the pleasant relaxed state of mind produced by meditation to an unpleasant upset state. If you investigate this phenomenon diligently, you may see that being upset is not really useful or necessary but for some reason the mind overreacts or reacts habitually. It is like a delusion. The mind creates the delusion. If you develop the habit of noticing this phenomena or reviewing it mentally, you may see that you have the ability to refrain from entering into the delusion by releasing the unpleasant thought or feeling and using the skills you developed during meditation to return to the pleasant relaxed state. In addition, meditation quiets the mind and when the thought processes are slowed down, it is easier to see what is happening when the mind reacts habitually or automatically. This is not an intellectual process nor is it an act of repressing a thought or emotion. It is more like developing a skill than using knowledge. It is more like desensitization (where you learn to think of something unpleasant while relaxing and without reacting emotionally) than it is like repression. It results in knowing intuitively from repeated observations of experiences that the emotional upset is a pointless charade, a delusion, and knowing how to refrain from entering it. This doesn't turn you into an emotionless zombie, it gives you the power to act with wisdom and love rather than anger and fear.

      If you experience feelings of happiness from meditating, notice what happens when something brings you out of that state. Try to be constantly alert for things that make the happiness fade. When something upsets you, notice how your feelings change from happy to upset. Try to get a clear sense of the feelings in your body that correspond to "upset" or annoyed or angry etc. You will find that those feelings are like tension. If possible, try to get back into the happy state. It can help if you use your natural mirth of the happy state to laugh at the feelings and events that upset you. Or you can try to relax the tension. But ultimately what will return you to the happy state is the meditation technique: relax as you inhale, relax as you exhale and smile if you feel like it. Learn to use this technique in daily life (see below) to maintain the happy state as much as possible. Releasing unpleasant thoughts and emotions is much easier to do when in that state.

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    17. 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 practicing this meditation in daily life is to breathe in a relaxing way and maintain awareness of the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale. This pleasant feeling will make you want to smile and smiling will release further pleasant emotions that focusing your attention on will maintain a feedback loop. Counting the breath will help you to keep your attention focused by reducing the tendency for the mind to wander.

      • 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.
      • Maintain a soft focus with your eyes. See the section above on Meditating with your eyes open. for an explanation of soft focus.

      • 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.
      • Slow TV: It can be very pleasant to practice serenity meditation while watching videos of peaceful nature scenes with relaxing background music. You can find these types of videos by searching for "slow tv" on the internet. Some of them can be at the following links:

      • You can try this type of meditation while lying down and relaxing. But practicing while lying down is not a substitute for the regular daily practice while sitting. However, practicing this meditation while deeply relaxed can help you to better understand the process of relaxation and help you develop the ability to relax instead of becoming upset when emotions arise. Developing this skill can lead to equanimity.

        Meditating while lying down can be particularly helpful if there is something causing you to feel stressed or upset and you find that you can't relax. If you meditate lying down and become deeply relaxed, almost to the edge of sleep, (you might at some point even feel a wave of relaxation sweep over you), you may find that you are no longer stressed or upset. Continuing to lie still may provide you with relief from the unpleasant feelings. In some cases, you might find that even when you get up, you still feel the relaxed and unbothered.

      • Using the Computer In some case it is possible to do this technique while using the computer. The key is to focus on the feelings of relaxation produced by breathing and the feelings and emotions produced by the smile feedback loop whenever possible as you use the computer. Using the computer can sometimes be stressful, but if you slow down and meditate in a relaxing way you can learn not to get caught up in stress when using the computer.

      • 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.

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    18. 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.

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    19. Advanced Experiences

      There are many different types of meditation. Some lead to the same place, some lead to different places. It can be helpful to understand what is at the end of the path and how the meditation practice gets you there.

      The theoretical goal of this type of meditation is to be relaxed all the time in any situation. Progress is continuous and gradual starting from the first day. And you can always tell how much progress you have made. Because progress is continuous and gradual, you don't have to reach the end of the path to experience great benefits. Starting with the first time you do this type of meditation, you always experience the benefits in proportion to the amount you meditate.

      The main point of this meditation to relax. The states of bliss and other pleasant emotions the technique can produce require you to be relaxed to experience them. If you can produce them, they help to ensure you are relaxed. But they are not required. Only trying to relax is required.

      The meditation technique gives you practice relaxing. To make faster progress you can bring that skill with you in daily life. Notice what makes you not-relaxed and try to use what you learn during meditation to develop the ability to be more and more relaxed in daily life.

      Some of the experiences you may have along the way include the following:

      • When your mind is calm from meditation and there are very few thoughts arising, if you observe your mind, waiting for the next thought to arise, you may see there is very little mental activity. In the absence of the usual mental chatter, it may feel like something is missing, it feels like an emptiness, like no one is home. Like if another person would say something unpleasant, there wouldn't be anyone to be offended.

        This feeling that the self is missing is just a feeling. It is not a logical proposition that is true or false. It is like happiness, a feeling not an objective fact. Happy thoughts produce a feeling of happiness. Thoughts about the self produce a feeling of self. In the absence of those thoughts it can feel like the self is missing.

      • You may observe this meditation is helping you to let go of attachments and aversions so that you are happier and more relaxed. It may get to a point where you begin to see that it is causing huge changes with no end in sight. You begin to believe that things you thought would always upset you are beginning to lose their hold over you. You see true freedom is eventually possible.
      • You may realize it is much more pleasant to stay relaxed than to allow circumstances to cause you to become upset. It can feel like surrender. You stop resisting circumstances. You surrender, give up your unpleasant reactions.
      • It can seem like it is better to not try to control everything around you. To let things be as they are is much more pleasant and relaxing. This does not mean you neglect your duties and responsibilities, or allow others to do harm with impunity. It means you stop upsetting yourself trying to control things that do not need to be controlled.
      • When you are stably in a pleasant relaxed state, stop focusing your attention on the breath and just watch the activity of your mind. (You will probably still notice yourself breathing.) Allow thoughts to arise singly but do not allow them to carry you away in a train of thinking. Allow emotions to arise but after a moment of feeling them, relax any tensions you feel in your body that accompany the emotions and return to a pleasant relaxed state with a half smile and a breath. Just observe the rising and passing away of thoughts, emotions, and impulses. When no thoughts, emotions, or impulses appear and the mind is still, try to notice your awareness with alertness and clarity.

        You can do this with your eyes open or closed. If your eyes are open, gaze at the space in front of you without focusing on anything in particular. If your eyes are closed you can look into the space in front of your closed eyes and imagine infinite space.

        If you find unpleasant thoughts and emotions are disturbing your mood, go back to the usual way of meditating until you regain the pleasant relaxed state. Then you can do more of this.

        These references might be helpful:

      Further Reading:

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    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.

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    Back to Serenity Meditation


    • If you have trouble concentrating and your mind wanders a lot, try to focus most of your attention on saying the numbers inwardly as you count the breath. Try to do it in a relaxed way without using too much intensity or mental force, just relaxed attention.

    • If you have trouble meditating for more than a few minutes because you feel impatient, see the article on my blog Why is it so hard to concentrate? Sources of distraction and obstacles to concentration during meditation.

      It may also help if you try to notice the feeling of wanting to get up and do something. It could be impatience, anxiety, stress, tension or some unpleasant emotion you want to distract yourself from. Notice the sensations in your body that make up the feeling. Notice that with each breath as you exhale you can relax a little bit and the feeling gets a little bit weaker. In a little while, the feeling should become diminished and you should be able to meditate for a longer period of time.

    • This meditation does not require any special posture. You can do it sitting in a chair the way you normally sit while watching TV, working at your desk, or eating a meal.

      If you have trouble relaxing during meditation, there are a few things you can try:

      • Try doing relaxation exercises before meditating.

      • Try doing a few minutes of vigorous anaerobic exercises such as calisthenics (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc.), weight lifting, or sprinting before meditating. Anaerobic exercise requires a lot of glucose as fuel so in response the body releases stored sugar into the blood stream. This can increase blood glucose levels which can cause insulin production which can increase tryptophan uptake by the brain which can increase serotonin levels in the brain.

        Anaerobic exercise can also be used to help you relax because this type of exercise causes the body stress and after you finish, the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system as part of the mechanism by which it recovers from stress.

      • Read the article Focusing the Mind Can Help You Relax on my blog.

    • 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 to trigger the smile feedback loop:

      • If you find that you don't feel like smiling, make sure you are following the complete instructions and not neglecting one or more steps. This can be a problem if you are used to a different type of meditation and you unwittingly slip back into the old method.
        • Breathe in a relaxed manner with each breath flowing smoothly into the next.
        • It might help to breathe slowly.
        • Notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale.
        • Count the breath to keep the mind from wandering.
        • Try to take a relaxed and pleasant attitude to meditating.
        • Observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale should eventually make you feel like smiling. Go ahead and smile if you feel like it.
        • Focusing your attention on any sensations or tingling you feel in the lips (or hands) as you meditate can help bring on a smile.
        • If you feel like smiling, notice the pleasant feelings and emotions smiling releases including sensations in the lips and hands.

        When you start a session, it can be helpful if you remind yourself how the technique works by thinking:

        Relax as you inhale, relax as you exhale, notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and smile if you feel like it.

      • 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 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 don't feel like smiling, 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.

      • If you are on a reduced calorie diet, you may have difficulty with this meditation.

      • 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.

    • Diet and exercise can influence brain chemistry in ways that can help or hinder this type of meditation.
      • Some types of exercise can be stressful (weight lifting, jogging, etc) and therfore increase levels of stress hormones while otther types of exercise (yoga, Tai Chi, walking at a leisurly pace) can be relaxing and reduce levels of stress hormones. The these effects depend on how you do the exercise and can vary from person to person. However, increased levels of stress hormones can make it hard to concentrate and make meditation more difficult while lower levels of stress hormones can make meditation easier.
      • The amounts and proportions of carbohydrates and protein in your diet can influence the levels of serotonin produced in the brain. If your brain is not able to produce sufficient serotonin you will not be able to experience the intense positive feelings this meditation can produce. This is further complicated by the fact that exercise can increase the amount of protein your body needs. This subject is too complex to be adequately covered here but you should be able to find more information by searching the internet.

    • Too much time spent reading books, or watching TV programs or movies about wars, conflicts, violence, crime, suspense, etc can put the mind in a depressed state that is hard to get out of. Sometimes it can help to counteract this state by reading or watching videos about more pleasant subjects such as nature or travel.

    • 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 feel conflicted, i.e. you have both unpleasant feelings as well as happy feelings: Try to let go of any expectation about what should happen while you are meditating. Go back to counting the breath and observing the feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale. Try to relax any negative thoughts and emotions from current situations. Try to release any negative thoughts and emotions from the past. Try to reestablish the smile feedback loop.

    • Don't forget to concentrate on counting the breath. It is possible to slip into a state where you are counting in the back of your mind while that part of the mind is also wandering and thinking about different things. Try to restrain your mind from wandering and keep it focused on counting. You don't have to be perfectly concentrated but a moderate effort is necessary. But don't concentrate so hard you become tense, stay relaxed. Don't concentrate so hard that you ignore the feeling of relaxation as you breathe or the pleasant feelings that come from smiling. Concentrate on counting to keep the mind from wandering, but don't exclude other aspects awareness that are part of the meditation.

    • If you are feeling drowsy, you might want to try meditating later after you get some sleep. But sometimes, if you are not too sleepy, you can meditate with your eyes closed and let yourself get into a very deeply relaxed state. In this situation, don't worry too much about maintaining strong concentration. Don't fight the drowsiness. Fighting it will create stress. Just make a minimal effort to concentrate even though your mind may wander a lot. This can be very relaxing and can help you recover from stress. It is possible to start and maintain the smile feedback loop when you are meditating like this. Doing so can add a very relaxed feeling to the effect which you can maintain after the meditation session is over.

    • If you have trouble sitting for more than a few minutes, you can try meditating with your eyes open while watching nature videos set to relaxing music. See the section Slow TV below for suggested videos and music.

    • It is helpful to think of the meditation session as a time when you will have a pleasant relaxing experience where you count the breath as you relax while inhaling and exhaling. But do not hold any expectations about any other types of experiences that might occur. Just expect to have a pleasant relaxing session.

    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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    This type of meditation in which you learn to produce pleasant emotions and release unpleasant emotions can lead to a very stable form of equanimity. With practice, it can help you to develop the ability to be happy and relaxed even when you are not meditating. In time, the ability to be happy and relaxed may become second nature and you will find that in many cases, worrying, becoming angry, or becoming upset in any way is something you can choose not to do. When you feel an unpleasant emotion arising, you can choose to be happy and relaxed instead, and the unpleasantness of the emotion will cease without the emotion being suppressed.

    I described what this is like on facebook group:

    There is a certain state produced by meditation - but not limited to a meditation session, you experience it during daily life - where you feel all the usual emotions, but you don't consider them a problem, they are not "suffering". For example you might notice disappointment, but it's okay. You might notice anxiety, but that's okay too, not a problem.


    What is very good about this state from a psychological perspective is that the unpleasant emotions are not suppressed or repressed. They are allowed to be expressed, but don't cause unpleasantness.

    This type of equanimity is known in the Buddhist tradition as upekkha.

    The feelings of love and connectedness produced by this meditation also help you to maintain equanimity. When you love, you are more tolerant and less apt to become angry. When faced with the choice of becoming upset or retaining those pleasant feelings, the choice is obvious. This meditation teaches you how to be relaxed, calm, loving, and happy and you can choose to be that way when you want to.

    The calming of the mind caused by this meditation also helps you to maintain equanimity. When the mind is calm, negative mental chatter that might lead to or exacerbate anxiety or depression is absent. When the mind is calm, you can see its activity more dispassionately as an observer rather than being carried away by it and reacting heedlessly. You can see clearly the arising of unpleasant thoughts and emotions and can have the presence of mind to remain happy, loving and relaxed without suppressing them.

    As you can see on this chart from www.dhammasukha.org, when you experience an unpleasant thought or emotion arising and you relax to cause it to cease, when you extinguish it (Nirvana means extinguish), you are breaking the chain of dependent origination at the seventh step: "feeling". When you do this, you know that the thought or emotion is unpleasant and causes suffering. You know it is impermanent when it ceases as you relax. You know it is not part of your eternal self when you reject it and cause it to stop. When you go through this process, you experience the truth of dependent origination, the three characteristics of existence: suffering, impermanence, and not-self, and the third noble truth: the end of suffering.

    Bhante Vimalaramsi's The 6 R's describes a process for releasing unpleasant emotions similar to what I have described. His process involves six steps: Recognize, Release, Relax, Re-Smile, Return, and Repeat. He says about this process (I have added the bold formatting):

    ... When a feeling or thought arises, you release it, let it be there without giving anymore attention to it. The content of the distraction is not important at all, but the mechanics of “how” it arose are important! Just let go of any tightness around it; let it be there without placing attention on it. Without attention, the tightness passes away. Mindfulness then reminds you to:

    Relax: After releasing the feeling or sensation, and allowing it to be there without trying to control it, there is a subtle, barely noticeable tension within mind/body. This is why the Relax step ("Tranquilization" step as stated in the suttas) is being pointed out by the Buddha in his meditation instructions.


    Gently re-direct mind’s attention back to the object of meditation (that is the breath and relaxing, or Metta and relaxing) continuing with a gentle collected mind and use that object as a "home base".


    Repeating the "6Rs cycle" over and over again will eventually replace old habitual suffering as we see clearly for ourselves what suffering actually is; notice the cause of it and how we become involved with the tension and tightness of it; experience how to reach a cessation of that suffering by releasing and relaxing; and discover how we can exercise the direct path to that same cessation of suffering. We achieve this cessation each time we Release an arising feeling, Relax and Re-Smile. Notice the Relief!

    As you practice the type of serenity meditation described here on this page, after you notice an unpleasant emotion, relax, and accept it in a friendly way, when you shift your awareness from the unpleasant emotion and direct it inwardly to the pleasant feeling of relaxation produced by inhaling and exhaling gently and to the pleasant feelings of happiness and good will produced by the smile feedback loop, that shifting of awareness from unpleasant to pleasant is the cessation of suffering. Observe it closely. Learn to know it well. Become good at it.

    A beginning student may think practicing meditation in a quiet room will help him develop equanimity in turbulent circumstances. That is true to a certain extent. And a it's fine for a beginner to learn the basics in a comfortable situation. But eventually the seedling has to come out of the greenhouse and be planted outdoors. The advanced student realizes that cultivating relaxed, happy, contentment, during turbulent, unpleasant circumstances is necessary to deepen equanimity. You have to meet experiences of "I don't like this sensation" and "I don't like this situation" and investigate the activity of the mind, learn to release unnpleasant emotions, and cultivate relaxed, happy, contentment amidst them to develop deep equanimity. You don't have to seek out these experiences, life brings them to you. You can start with small things like an itch that occurs when you are trying to sit still during meditation or the feeling of annoyance caused by something another person does. Reading the news will give you plenty to work with. Life will bring you even more exercises.

    More here.

    It also helps to deepen equanimity if you understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation. Suffering is an emotional reaction. When you experience unpleasant physical sensations, try to notice the emotional reactions and release them.

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    Why this is Buddhist Meditation

    In the Mahasaccaka Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 36, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu at accesstoinsight.org Buddha says:

    "I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then - quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities - I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?' Then following on that memory came the realization: 'That is the path to Awakening.' I thought: 'So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?' I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, but that pleasure is not easy to achieve with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice & porridge.' So I took some solid food: some rice & porridge.

    In the Satipatthana Sutta Buddha says that when meditating on the breath, attention should be focused on the area around the mouth.

    Satipatthana Sutta at dharmafarer.org

    Mindfulness of the in-and-out-breath
    Here, bhikshus, a monk who has gone to the forest, or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty abode, sits down, and having crossed his legs and keeping his body upright, establishes mindfulness fully before him.21


    21 Parimukha?, lit "around the mouth."

    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.

    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 attachment to 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.

    When you see that you have the ability to be happy and that existence can be pleasurable without the need for anything outside yourself to cause it, you naturally want to improve your ability and extend the experience. This makes you sensitive to things that interfere with that pleasant state. You naturally learn that attachments and aversions separate you from this state so you naturally begin to let go of attachments and aversions.

    In The Path of Concentration & Mindfulness Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:

    Another advantage to this mindful, concentrated state is that as you feel more and more at home in it, you begin to realize that it's possible to have happiness and pleasure in life without depending on things outside of yourself — people, relationships, approval from others, or any of the issues that come from being part of the world. This realization helps pry loose your attachments to things outside. Some people are afraid of getting attached to a state of calm, but actually, it's very important that you get attached here, so that you begin to settle down and begin to undo your other attachments. Only when this attachment to calm is the only one left do you begin work on loosening it up as well.


    You can see, say, where there's an element of attachment, where there's an element of stress, or even where there's inconstancy within your balanced state. This is where you begin to gain insight, as you see the natural cleavage lines among the different factors of the mind, and in particular, the cleavage line between awareness and the objects of awareness.

    Thanissaro Bhikkhu also wrote in A Guided Meditation:
    Try to breathe as comfortably as possible. A very concrete way of learning how to provide for your own happiness in the immediate present - and at the same time, strengthening your alertness — is to let yourself breathe in a way that's comfortable. Experiment to see what kind of breathing feels best for the body right now. ... Learn to savor the sensation of the breathing. Generally speaking, the smoother the texture of the breath, the better. Think of the breath, not simply as the air coming in and out of the lungs, but as the entire energy flow that courses through the body with each in-and-out breath.

    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.

    (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 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 a key factor originally taught by the Buddha: relaxation to prevent repression of negative thoughts and emotions, which produce a deeper realization and are needed for true lasting Nibbana. The form of meditation described in this article includes relaxation in releasing negative thoughts and emotions to prevent repression.

    On the subject of release, see this link: What are the 6 R's? by Bhante Vimalaramsi, and this quote Thanissaro Bhikkhu:

    One technique I like to use — when anger is present and you're in a situation where you don't immediately have to react to people — is simply to ask yourself in a good-natured way, "Okay, why are you angry?" Listen to what the mind has to say. Then pursue the matter: "But why are you angry at that? " "Of course, I'm angry. After all..." "Well, why are you angry at that?" If you keep this up, the mind will eventually admit to something stupid, like the assumption that people shouldn't be that way — even though they blatantly are that way — or that people should act in line with your standards, or whatever the mind is so embarrassed about that it tries to hide from you. But finally, if you keep probing, it'll fess up. You gain a lot of understanding of the anger that way, and this can really weaken its power over you.

    Back to Serenity Meditation

    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.

    Networks in the Brain

    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 much of its prosperity to analytical thinking but as a result we are out of balance as a species. There is nothing wrong with analytical thinking (which is used in problem solving), it is only a problem when it is out of balance with empathic thinking (which is used in social situation) 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 shifts 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.

    Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In the transcript of a podcast on bigthink.com, he describes how meditation can quiet mental chatter made up of anxious and depressed thoughts:

    If you put people in a scanner and tell them to just do nothing; just rest in the scanner; don’t do anything at all, it turns out that there’s a region in the midline of the cerebral cortex that’s known as the default mode network that just lights up, that all of a sudden gets very, very active. I mean you’re told to do nothing and then your brain starts to use up energy a lot. ... And that’s called the default mode network because when you’re told to do nothing, you default to activity in this mode and when you inquire what’s going on there, a lot of it has to do with my wondering and just daydreaming. And a lot of that has to do with the self-referencing our favorite subject, which is me of course. So we generate narratives. ... it’s also called the narrative mode network or the narrative network. And it’s the story of me.

    When you train people in MBSR, you find that another area of their cortex lights up more lateral after eight weeks of training in mindfulness. And that that area is associated with a region called the insula and that doesn’t have a linear, time-based narrative. It’s just the experiencing of the present moment in the body — breathing in, breathing out, awake, no narrative, no agenda. And the interesting thing — and this is the study — when they put people through eight weeks of MBSR, this narrative network decreases in activity and this experiential network increases in activity and they become uncoupled. So they’re no longer caught together in such a way. So this one can actually attenuate and liberate you a little bit from the constant thinking, thinking, thinking — a lot which is driven, of course, by anxiety and, "What’s wrong with me?" The story of me is often a depressing story. And a fear-based story. We’re like driving the car with the brake on, with the emergency brake on. And if we learn how to just kind of release it, everything will unfold with less strain, with less stress and with a greater sense of life unfolding rather than you’re driving through it to get to some great pot of gold at the end, which might just be your grave.

    Dr. Kabat-Zinn also says the benefits of suppressing the narrative network and stimulating the experiential network with meditation leads to wiser, more empathic and more compassionate thinking in an interview at: psychcentral.com:

    One pathway is a mid-line pathway, very akin to what is called a default mode, that seems to be functioning when nothing else is supposed to be happening — like being or mind wandering, or something like that, which is what they call the narrative network for self. So like what you tell yourself about who you are, where you’re going, how things are going, how stressed you are, how great it’s going to be in the future, how horrible it was in the past, or vice-versa, how wonderful it was in the past, or how horrible it is in the present. So it is a narrative ongoing story of me. And that occupies a certain kind of brain territory.

    They showed that people who are taking the MBSR program showed activity in a whole other, more lateral ventral pathway in the cerebral cortex, again in the prefrontal cortex, which was involved with what they called experiential focus. It’s like no more story, just this. Just this moment. Just this breath. Just this unfolding. And I want to emphasize that it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you are either disassociating or that you’re going to get really, really stupid practicing mindfulness because now you’re just in the present moment and you don’t know what’s really happening and you’ve now gone beyond thought. Not at all. I mean it’s much more an effective, wise and emotionally intelligent way to make use of one’s thoughts and emotions, but hold them in a much, much greater and more empathic, and in some sense, more compassionate and wise container, and that container embraces what I mean when I use the word mindful.

    This says something interesting about the meditative state. In the meditative state there is an absence of analytical thinking and an absence of narrative thinking.

    The meditation described here is different from some other types of meditation in an important way. In many 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.

    Back to Serenity Meditation

    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.

    Back to Serenity Meditation


    Releasing Unpleasant Thoughts, Emotions and Impulses

    In addition to the information below, these articles on my blog have useful information on this subject:

    Each person needs to find the right balance between letting out and letting go of emotions. Too much or too little of either can cause problems. And there is no single technique that is best for all situations. You should try to learn about the various methodologies, try them, and develop a sense of what works best for you in different situations.

    During meditation, when you notice you have become distracted by an unpleasant thought or emotion, try to relax and allow yourself to be conscious of the thought or emotion and notice any feelings in your body that accompany it.

    It can be hard at first to both relax and observe the emotion. To do this, try to breathe in a way that you find relaxing, try to relax, and notice the feeling of relaxation while at the same time allowing yourself to feel and experience the emotion. There isn't any one way of breathing that is right in this situation, but one method that can work is to breathe slower than normal and exhale longer than you inhale and pause briefly after exhaling before then next inhaltion begins.

    Try to be lucid: maintain the attitude of an observer rather than being immersed in your thoughts, feelings, and impulses.

    Allow yourself to feel the emotional pain. Are there any tensions that accompany the feelings? Can you relax them? Are there any other sensations in your body that accompany the emotional pain? Try to accept the feelings in a relaxed way. If it becomes too intense or if you feel you have done enough for the time being, you can refocus on the meditation technique.

    While you are observing the emotion, you can try to stay lucid by noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe in a relaxed way. At the same time try to maintain a balance between being lucid and experiencing the emotion. If your mind becomes too focused on the emotion you can lose lucidity and the emotion can take over your mind. If you focus too much on being lucid you may not observe the emotion sufficiently to let go of it. The process requires managing three things:

    • Being lucid, noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe in a relaxed way.
    • Noticing tensions and other sensations in your body that comprise the emotion.
    • Relaxing in response to the sensations that comprise the emotion.
    You can tell when you are losing lucidity because the emotional pain will feel worse. When you are lucid you will not feel the pain as severely. You can use this to help you keep the right balance. When you don't feel the emotion strongly you can observe it more, as you notice it becoming more unpleasant you can focus more on being lucid. In either case always try to relax.

    The purpose of this is to develop the skill so that during daily life when you experience an unpleasant emotion you relax in response and do not try to resist it or interfere with it in any way (while at the same time not letting it take over your mind). This can feel like "surrendering" or "relaxing into" the emotion (with an element of detachment that comes from being lucid). It is the resistance to emotions that causes us problems. If we can learn to accept emotions without resisting or reacting, we will actually experience much less suffering. It is like the situation where an infant cries because its warm bath water feels too hot, but as the child gets older it understands its baths are just warm and the child doesn't cry anymore. In the same way our emotions will seem to lose their ability to disturb us if we just get to know them without overreacting.

    Unpleasant physical sensations are often a combination of a physical sensation and an unpleasant mental reaction to the sensation. You can try to let of those mental reactions in the same way you do any other unpleasant emotion.

    Allowing yourself to feel emotional pain while relaxing and maintaining the attitude of an observer is the way to let go of it. A pleasant relaxed state of mind produced by meditation is a ideal. Trying to be relaxed is important because being relaxed helps to ensure you don't suppress anything or overreact to anything. Maintaining the attitude of an observer rather than being immersed in thoughts, emotions, and impulses, puts your focus on your own reaction as the problem rather than the external situation and also prevents you from overreacting. If the external situation requires some action you will handle it better if your judgments are not clouded by emotions.

    Letting go doesn't necessarily mean you stop feeling the emotion, sometimes it means you stop experiencing the emotion as a problem or as something "bad". When letting go of emotional pain by allowing yourself to feel it, you may experience the following:

    • It may feel like the emotion flows right through you. It comes and then it is gone.
    • You can relax stress as fast as it occurs so it does not build up or accumulate. You don't get tense or irritable because your stress levels don't increase even though you are in a stressful situation.
    • You feel the emotion, but it isn't a problem.
    • It feels somewhat like forgiveness - you just don't care anymore. It's no big deal.
    • It feels like you relax "into" the emotion.
    • You may begin to notice that you feel an initial resistance when an unpleasant emotion arises and you may notice you can stop resisting and let the emotion flow. You may notice that it feels less uncomfortable if you let the emotion flow, the unpleasantness comes from resisting.
    • It may feel like surrender, like there is no point in resisting.
    • It feels like it's not worth getting upset over. Getting upset is too much work, it takes too much energy. Why get upset when it is so much more pleasant to stay relaxed?
    • You realize it isn't about you.
    • The emotion feels like it's just a physical phenomenon in your body like burping or sneezing.

    In some cases a person will experience emotions due to a biochemical disorder such as some forms of depression and anxiety and in those cases releasing might not ease the emotion. However this type of situation can result in secondary emotional reactions to the condition and releasing can help with those.


    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

    • 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.


    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.

      When asked if there is a self, Buddha was silent. He didn't say there is a self and he didn't say there is no self.

      What he did say was that anything you might identify is not yourself and therefore not worthy of emotional attachment: the body, the organs, beliefs, thoughts, mind, sensations, perceptions, emotions, the soul, the cosmos etc. etc. and he goes through and explains why viewing all these things as not self is logical and useful. His intention is to show his students that there is nothing worthy of being attached to. He wanted to help them let go of attachments.

      During meditation, some people have a direct realization of the truth of this, it is one of the stages of awakening. When someone realizes oneness, she feels a connectedness to all things. It produces compassion. After she realizes not-self, an understanding of connectedness of all things remains, and so the compassion remains. In fact, the connectedness and compassion, if anything, increases because then there is nothing that is considered self for even the tiniest infinitesimal of selfishness to grow out of.

      The realization of oneness, while not taught by The Buddha, is sometimes an intermediate step to the realization of not-self. In realizing oneness, the experiencer understands that the distinction between self and other is artificial. He interprets this as "I am everything". As understanding evolves and realization of not-self occurs, he understands there is no distinction between self and other because if everything is not-self, there can be no "other".

    • 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?"


    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.

    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.


    Joy During Meditation

    This article is on my blog: Joy During Meditation


    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.

    • Meditation can cause personality changes that can interfere with career and relationships. It is not uncommon for someone who has become deeply involved with meditation to lose interest in the materialist rat race. When a person experiences the changes caused by meditation they may find themselves drifting apart from friends and relatives who are not experiencing those changes.

    • Meditation can turn your world-view upside down and that can be disconcerting. Meditation might bring you to the realization that much unhappiness in your past was needless, and all the pleasure you get from the things you love and enjoy is just an illusion. While realization brings equanimity, brief glimpses short of realization into the truth of non-self and emptiness can be disturbing. When your world-view gets turned upside down, and you are left facing a completely new reality that is unfamiliar to you, there can be a psychological upheaval.

    • 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.

      Please see the section on Releasing Unpleasant Thoughts and Emotions for more information.

    • After meditating regularly, some people report having psychic experiences such as improved intuition, synchronicities, and seeing spirits. Some people like having these experiences but there are various reasons such experiences can be disturbing. For example, experiencing premonitions of disaster you can do noting to prevent, or seeing spirits can be upsetting for some people.

      In some cases people may have religious beliefs that any of these types of experiences are evil. However, most religious traditions have some form of practice that is equivalent to meditation but has a different name such as "contemplative prayer" or "repetitive prayer" and these practices might be more appropriate for religious believers than meditation.

    • 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.

    • Excessive amounts of certain types of meditation can cause severe psychological harm including hallucinations, psychosis, and suicide. There was an interview with Willoughby Britton, a Professor of Psychiatry at Brown University, in which she discussed this at buddhistgeeks.com but it has been removed. There is an excerpt from the interview at the end of this forum post. If you are considering going on a meditation retreat that is a week or longer, you should be aware of this danger. Most meditation retreats involve long hours of meditation every day which can be physically uncomfortable so they are designed to use subtle psychological pressure to get the participants to do the meditation. If you are on a retreat and you feel it is causing you a psychological disruption, you need to understand the risks because often the staff may be more concerned with pushing you to meditate than looking out for your psychological health. You need to take responsibility to stop meditating if it is harming you. And this is a lot to expect from a beginner so I would recommend beginners avoid retreats longer than a weekend. If you have been meditating regularly for a year and have done a few weekend retreats, you could consider a longer retreat. This is just my opinion, and each person has the right to make decisions for themselves and do what they feel is right for themselves, but they should make their decisions with the best available information.


    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.



    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.


    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.


    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.


      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.



    More articles on meditation can be found on my blog:


    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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