There are many different types of meditation used for many different
purposes. One common type of meditation is to sit quietly and
concentrate on one thing such as a pleasant feeling of relaxation,
or on various sensations in your body, or
by repeating a mantra possibly in rhythm with your breath. You focus your
attention in one of these ways, and when you notice your mind wandering,
you bring it back to the focus of attention.
If you notice an unpleasant thought or emotion during meditation, it
is important not to push it away, otherwise you may develop the habit of
repressing thoughts and feelings by your practice of meditation.
Instead of pushing away unpleasant thoughts and emotions, relax, open
yourself to them, observe them, and notice the feelings in your body
associated with them. Then after observing them clearly in a relaxed
way for a few seconds, until they lose some of their force, go back to the focus of the
meditation. If you experience very strong unpleasant emotions you can
go back to concentrating until you feel relaxed again. Each person
must find their own correct balance between
observing emotions and concentrating. There is more on this subject
in the section on The Dangers of Meditation.
(It is not unusual for strong emotions to arise
during meditation. Some people may not want to deal with them and might
prefer to practice
instead of meditation.)
Serenity (Samatha) Meditation
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,
It is suggested that the beginner meditate twenty to thirty minutes
once or twice
a day to
develop facility with the technique and develop the habit of daily
meditation. This amount of time is suggested to produce results
that will encourage the beginner to continue the practice,
but any amount of time
is better than none. You may also practice for a longer time and more than
twice a day if you like, and you can use the technique in daily life (see
below). You will get better results faster if you
meditate more. Once you experience the pleasant enjoyable effects of
this meditation, you may naturally want to practice more.
While you are meditating, sometimes you will become distracted by stray
thoughts. Don't worry about this, it is to be expected. Just go back
to meditating. If unpleasant thoughts or emotions arise during
meditation you shouldn't push them away. The section on
The Dangers of Meditation explains
how to deal with unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.
This type of meditation does not require the super-intense 100%
concentration which is the goal of some other types of meditation.
However, you do need a moderate level of mental focus.
WARNING: This type of meditation can produce very pleasant psychological
states. This might tempt you to do this meditation for long periods of
time or use the technique extensively in daily life. If this happens,
please see the section
The Dangers of Meditation so that
you can make an informed decision about how much of this meditation to do.
It is possible that for some people this form of meditation could be
You should stop using the technique and allow yourself to come out of
these states periodically to
ensure that you will always be able to do so if you choose.
If something doesn't work for you exactly as described in
the instructions below, don't worry about it, just try to follow the
instruction as closely as you can.
Don't "try too hard", and try not to have expectations about what
will happen during your meditation session. If you try too hard or you
try to produce a certain type of experience it, will create stress and
that will defeat the purpose of the meditation and the meditation will
not work as well. Just try to be relaxed and don't worry about what
else might or might not happen.
Back to Serenity Meditation
To do this form of
Take a deep breath and relax as you exhale. Notice the pleasant feeling
of relaxation? Now breathe normally, relax, and notice the same feeling
when you exhale. Notice a similar feeling as you relax and inhale.
Continue to relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you
inhale and exhale. While you do this, also say to yourself, (inwardly
not aloud) "in" as you inhale, and "out" as you exhale. Do this
with the understanding that are trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming
meditation session. After a while,
observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation might make you want to
smile. If you feel like it, go ahead and smile and notice the pleasant
emotions that you feel.
That's it. You should do this as a form of sitting meditation but you
can also do it during daily activities. You might recognize this
meditation is similar to other forms of breath meditation. What is
unique about this form is focusing your attention on the pleasant
feeling of relaxation as you breathe. The pleasant feeling of
relaxation will probably make you feel like smiling. Smiling causes the
brain to release dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which are
molecules that will elevate your mood. Smiling also reduces levels of
the anxiety causing stress hormone cortisol. These chemical changes
will produce a pleasant effect and may make you want to smile even more.
This can result in a feedback loop that produces intense feelings of
feelings of happiness, loving kindness, and connectedness.
Please read the detailed instructions below which include many
details that will help you to get good results from this type of
Back to Serenity Meditation
If the instructions below seem too complicated to master all at once, you
can start meditating with just the first step and, at your own pace,
as you feel more comfortable
with the technique, you can add one step at a time.
- Observe the breath. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and breathe gently
from the diaphragm
in a relaxed way,
with each breath flowing smoothly into the next. Notice any sensations you feel in your abdomen or chest as you breathe.
There is no specific rate of breathing that you should follow, but
rapid breathing, panting, or very forceful breathing should be avoided.
At times it may help you to relax if you breathe more slowly and deeply
but other times you may find it most relaxing to breathe more naturally
with shallower breaths.
If you find breathing to be uncomfortable or awkward, try to inhale
from the diaphragm while keeping the chest relaxed and exhaling by
gradually fully relaxing the diaphragm without tightening the abdominal
muscles. Inhalations should be about as long as exhalations.
- Counting breaths. Continue breathing this way and count your
breaths up to ten. Say the numbers inwardly (not aloud) in rhythm with
your breathing. You can count inhalations, or exhalations, or both inhalations and exhalation. After reaching ten, start over counting from one. Continue
counting your breaths like this throughout the meditation session.
Counting is an aid to help you maintain concentration.
If you prefer, you can also try counting up to four instead of ten,
or instead of counting, say inwardly
"in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale.
- Observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation. As you continue counting
the breath, relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation.
Relax as you exhale and notice how that feels. Relax as you inhale and notice
how that feels. Continue relaxing as you inhale and exhale and observe
how it feels as you count the breath. If you need to slow down your rate
of breathing to clearly observe the feeling of relaxation while inhaling
and exhaling, that is okay.
If you don't notice a feeling of relaxation,
try taking a slow deep breath and letting
it out all at once like a sigh. You might notice a feeling of relaxation when
you do that. That is what you are looking for
during the meditation.
It is easiest
to notice it while exhaling but you should be able to notice
it while inhaling too.
If you don't notice a pleasant feeling of relaxation while
counting the breath, here are some things you can try:
- Try slowing down your rate of breathing.
- While you count the breath, imagine you are on vacation at the
beach dozing in the sun feeling pleasantly relaxed, or imagine you are
inside in bed warm and snug and pleasantly relaxed under blankets while it is
cold outside. You can also try to imagine you are drifting off to sleep feeling very relaxed.
As you continue to meditate by observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale while counting the breath,
every time you notice your mind wandering,
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.
- 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
Then continue meditating as you were doing before you became distracted.
- Meditating with the eyes open. This meditation technique
should help you to feel relaxed and your mind to become calm.
Meditating with the eyes closed will help you to relax the body and
relax away unpleasant emotions if you are feeling stress or are upset. You
should start the meditation session with your eyes closed. When you
feel you are more relaxed, open your eyes and continue meditating.
Meditating with your eyes open will make it easer to maintain
concentration which will help to calm the wanderings of the mind. When
you meditate with your eyes open, you can gaze at the floor, a wall, a
thangka or a mandala.
As you count your breaths with your eyes open, try to keep what you are looking at in clear
focus. If you notice your vision becomes less clear, bring it back into
awareness and clear focus. This will help you to keep the mind from wandering.
If you find it difficult to perceive the feeling of relaxation with your
eyes open, review the
suggestions in step 3, in particular try breathing slower.
The proportion of time you meditate with the eyes closed or open is
something that depends on your situation at the time and personal
For example, if you are drowsy, you are relaxed enough and can
meditate with your eyes open. But if you are very tense, or if the mind
is very calm, you might prefer to
spend more time meditating with your eyes closed. Different people
may have different preferences. After practicing this
form of meditation for a while, you may develop a sense of when to close
your eyes and when to open them. When you begin to learn this type
of meditation, if you don't feel
sure what to do, just start meditating with your eyes closed and open
them about halfway through your session. Try meditating with your eyes open
and if it helps you to concentrate on the pleasant feeling of relaxation while
you count the breath, you can continue to meditate with your eyes open.
If and when you prefer to meditate
with your eyes closed, close your eyes and meditate that way.
You can also experiment with meditating with the eyes open in dim lighting.
- Relaxation and calm.
After meditating for a
while, you will become more relaxed and the mind will become calmer.
Try to notice how you feel before you begin meditating
so you can appreciate this cumulative effect of the meditation.
This effect in
itself makes meditating worth the time and effort you put into it. It also
indicates you are
meditating correctly and the technique
is working correctly.
- Happiness: Smile if you feel like it.
After meditating for a while, observing the pleasant feeling of
relaxation as you breathe, you might
feel like smiling a little bit. Notice any feelings around your lips or at
the corners of your mouth. Do
you feel a smile coming on? If you feel like smiling, let yourself smile.
will help you to experience feelings of happiness produced by this
method of meditation. Notice the feeling of happiness that
accompanies the smile as you continue to meditate. Every time you hold
in a smile you are teaching yourself to suppress feelings of happiness.
Every time you smile when you feel like smiling, you are reinforcing
your ability to express feelings of happiness.
A good time to check to see if you feel like smiling is when you open your eyes after the initial period of meditating with your eyes closed.
According to an article in
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
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
section below has some suggestions. You can use those suggestions even
if you do feel like smiling if they help produce a happy feeling sooner
or if they produce feelings of greater intensity. One suggestion that
can be highly effective is to think of something pleasant. For example,
someone you love giving you a hug or a cute animal that might make you
feel like smiling. It doesn't have to be something spiritual, thinking
of winning the lottery might work as well. If you try this, notice the
happy feeling that made you want to smile. Try to concentrate on the
feeling while you continue counting the breath rather than the thought
that produced it.
But if you don't feel like smiling, don't force it. You should
understand that you might not feel like smiling every time you meditate
this way, there are too many variables in life for any meditation
technique to guarantee happiness. Otherwise, if you are expecting to be
happy and it is slow in coming, you may feel anticipation, worry, or
disappointment. This can counteract the beneficial effects of the
meditation and it can also prevent feelings of happiness that might
arise a few minutes later. As mentioned above, the relaxation and calm
you feel after meditating indicates you are meditating correctly and the
technique is working correctly. Appreciate that. If you don't feel
like smiling, it doesn't mean anything is wrong.
- 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
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
At first, the feedback loop might be unstable. You might feel like smiling but
the feeling could fade. As you meditate longer, it might come back and it could
come and go a few times. But eventually, if your mind is calm and
you are able to concentrate sufficiently, the feedback loop should
stabilize and the feelings that accompany the smile should
be stronger and constant.
- Intensifying the smile feedback loop.
Once the feedback loop is stabilized you can
try to intensify the positive
emotions that are released when you smile.
Continue to breathe in the same
way and focus your mind on counting and the pleasant feeling of relaxation
when you inhale and exhale. Also notice the pleasant feelings that come
out when you smile. Do this with your eyes open or closed, however you
prefer. You can continue meditating in this way and let the
feedback loop intensify naturally and gradually. The following
suggestions may work faster and be helpful for beginners. But
after you gain more experience you may find you prefer gradual approach.
(Most people are
when they are feeling love.)
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.
- The pleasant feeling of relaxation as you relax while inhaling and
exhaling. You may be able to intensify the feedback loop just by
alternately focusing your attention on
relaxing while inhaling and relaxing while exhaling.
- If you are meditating with you eyes closed try opening them. If you are meditating with your eyes open try closing them.
- The sensations in and around the lips as you smile.
- The pleasant emotions released by smiling.
- Any of the techniques suggested in the troubleshooting section to
help induce a smile. Such as:
- Holding your hands in front of you with the palms upward and imagining
healing light flowing down into you from a higher source.
- Any mental imagery you might have used to help induce a smile.
This could include:
- Someone you love.
- A cute animal.
- Unconditional love for all beings.
- Love for the well-being of the planet.
- If you are religious, it could be your concept of God.
- Remember that you are trying to have a pleasant, relaxing, calming experience without any stress or attachment to having an intense experience.
After a while, you will notice which aspects, of the technique help you to
intensify the feedback loop and you can shift your attention just among those. Then, if you want to (this is optional), you can make a mantra to help you to remember
them. For example one such mantra might be:
In, out, hands, lips, love, the world.
To use the mantra, you would say to yourself inwardly, "In" as you
inhale, "out" as you exhale and continue saying the mantra in rhythm
with your breathing. But don't just think the words, for this to work
you also have to observe the sensations associated with each aspect of
the technique as you say it. For example as you say "lips" notice the
sensations in and around your lips as you smile. As you say "love"
think of the feeling of love that is produced by the smile feedback
This mantra is just an example. It will work better if you
create your own based on what works best for you. But
in the case of this particular mantra,
one could spend a little bit
of time visualizing the healing
light coming into them and the love they feel flowing out to heal the world.
But this should not be over done as it could drain one of energy.
While you do this technique, try not to be
attached to any particular outcome. Just try to do the technique as described
while intending to have a pleasant, calming, relaxing meditation session.
Don't create stress for yourself by craving an intense experience. Relaxation
is easy, enjoy it and the technique will actually work better.
Those who have practiced vipassana meditation may notice a similarity
between this and body scanning in which the meditator observes the
sensations in different parts of the body.
If you find the emotions have become too intense, stop smiling
and stop meditating
and the emotions should cease as well.
You may prefer to intensify the smile feedback loop more gradually by
alternating counting the breath and repetition
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,
you develop experience to inform your own judgment, ten or twenty minutes is
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
it, or continue relaxing. If you are not sure what it is, you can try
asking yourself what it might be and try to release what you think it
might be. But you should also be aware that some emotions might be
produced by biochemical phenomena and there might not be a practical way
to let go of them through psychological means.
Once you become familiar with setting up this feedback loop,
you might be able to start it right away at the beginning of your
meditation session just by remembering the last time you experienced it
and letting that pleasant memory make you smile.
When you first learn to experience this intense happiness, it may
seem wonderful and fascinating and you may want to do it whenever you
are able to. This is particularly true if your life up to now, has not
had as much happiness as you would have liked. But after a time, when
you become familiar with the experience, it may lose some of its
mystique and you may find it more peaceful to experience the emotions at
a less intense level or you may prefer serenity to happiness.
You can chose what you feel because you can control
the intensity of the feedback loop.
If you practice this form of meditation a lot, you may find that you
are still smiling out of habit even if the positive emotions from your
previous meditation session have faded away.
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.
bring back the positive emotions
with another session of meditation.
- Other emotions.
As the feeling of happiness intensifies, you may experience other emotions
such as unconditional love, a connection with God, or a connectedness to
all things. If you experience these feelings, be aware of them as you continue to meditate.
- 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
After the meditation session, it can be instructive to notice what disrupts
the meditative state as you go about your daily activities. In particular,
if you stop smiling, the pleasant emotions may cease. If
you want these emotions to persist, try to keep smiling.
Notice how your mind feels when you smile, light and free. Notice how
it feels when you stop smiling, dull and heavy. You might be able
to maintain the light free feeling for a time after the meditation session
by smiling just a little bit.
If you find that
certain activities or attitudes or opinions disrupt these emotions, you might
want to give them up or change them (but be warned, this can have
effects on career and relationships). Stress can cause mental fixation
and it can be very hard to meditate to get back into a peaceful state
after doing something stressful. This is not to say you should avoid
stressful tasks, just that you should understand how they influence your
mental state and interact with the practice of meditation.
- Practicing in Daily Life
You can also use this meditation technique
activities. This might help you to maintain a pleasant, relaxed, happy
state of mind throughout the day even in situations in which you
otherwise might not feel relaxed. It will require a certain amount of
effort and concentration to do this and your mind will have to be calm.
You will have to make the same effort to restrain your mind from wandering
that you do during sitting meditation. But
the real benefit from this meditation technique
comes when you can use
the skills you learn during
your sitting meditation sessions
in daily life. In a way, the sitting meditation sessions,
while they should be pleasant and refreshing, are really just practice
for what you can do in daily life.
I explained it on my blog this way:
I have wonderful experiences out walking feeling love for and
connectedness to the birds and trees and people and other living things
and all things. It's even nicer experiencing the world through [this meditation], than
it is sitting alone with it doing nothing.
If you want to try using this meditation technique in daily life, keep these points in mind:
- Don't try to meditate while you are driving or using power tools or any other type of dangerous equipment.
The key to using this technique in daily life is to continue counting
the breath (or saying "in" and "out" to yourself as you inhale and
exhale) after the meditation session is over. If you can spare enough
attention from a task like washing the dishes to count the breathe while
you do it, you can use this technique. When you start doing something,
try counting the breath at the same time. When you see you can do that,
try relaxing as you inhale and exhale. When you see you can do that,
smile if you feel like it. It is as simple as that.
- Meditate first. If you have several things on your to-do list
including, meditation, mediate first and then try to do the other tasks in
a meditative way. Starting out in a meditative state will help you do
the other tasks in meditative way. And if you decide you don't have
enough time for everything, you will have already meditated so
it won't get put off till tomorrow.
Walking is a good way to practice this meditation technique outside
of a sitting meditation session. If you try it:
- Don't walk where there is traffic or any type of dangerous activity going on around you. Don't walk in rough terrain where a fall could injure you.
- If you go on a long walk, bring a snack to give your brain the fuel it needs to produce positive emotions.
- To help maintain focus and keep the mind from wandering, you can
count the breath as you do in sitting meditation, or you can count the number of steps in each breath.
For example, if you breathe once every six steps, you could count to
three as you inhale and from four to six as you exhale.
- Don't get too relaxed. Try to keep a normal posture and gait.
- Don't stop or reduce your sitting meditation sessions just because you begin
to use the technique in daily life. Sitting meditation sessions will
help to make you relaxed and your mind calm. This will make it
easier to use the technique in daily life. It would be much harder
to use the technique effectively in daily life if you did not get
the boost in relaxation and calm from sitting meditation sessions.
And it is also easier to maintain positive
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.
- 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
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.
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
When you first feel like smiling, give the feedback loop time to
stabilize before you start to intensify the emotions released by
smiling. After you practice this form of meditation for a while, you
might find that smiling a little bit is more pleasant and relaxing than
not smiling, and you might feel like smiling at the beginning of the
session. If you feel like it, go ahead and smile, but also give
yourself time to relax and the mind to calm. You can let the feedback
loop stabilize as you relax and calm the mind
before you move your
attention fully on intensifying the feedback loop.
You may find the feedback loop intensifies even before you focus your
attention on it.
When you read these meditation instructions, it might seem like there are too many things to do simultaneously.
However, in actual practice it is not difficult.
Put the main focus of your
attention on breathing and observing the
pleasant feeling of relaxation.
Counting breaths should not require much additional
attention or distract you from the main focus.
Counting in itself is not important it is just
a neutral way of keeping the verbal center of the mind occupied to reduce
mental chatter thus helping the mind to quiet down.
When you do this meditation technique, you should clearly understand how
it works. You should understand what your intention should be,
i.e. what you will try to do during the meditation. And you should also
understand what the effects of the meditation are likely to be, i.e. what
may happen to you if you follow the technique. And with one exception, relaxing, you should not
confuse what you try to do with what happens to you.
During the meditation session, you should breathe gently.
It is okay to try to relax.
You should observe your breath. You should count your breaths.
You should observe the pleasant feeling of relaxation. You should
smile if you feel like smiling.
What happens to you, (what the
effect of the meditation is), is that you should become more relaxed (muscle
tension, and negative emotions should dissipate somewhat).
Focusing the mind (on counting the breath and the pleasant feeling) will make
the mind calmer, there will be less mental chatter. Observing the
pleasant feeling of relaxation can produce feelings of happiness and
other more intense positive emotions. Smiling if you feel like it will
remove unconscious suppression of feelings of happiness and other positive
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
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
Back to Serenity Meditation
When you are first learning this technique, you might need some help
to get the point where you feel like smiling.
If you don't feel like smiling during your meditation session, here are a few things you can try:
- If you find that you
don't feel like smiling, make sure you are observing the pleasant
feeling of relaxation while you count the breath. It is possible to
be counting the breath while you have forgotten to observe the pleasant feeling
- 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
feeling that made you want to smile.
Try to concentrate on the feeling while you continue counting the breath
rather than the thought that produced it.
- Meditate holding your hands in front of you with the palms upward and imagine
healing energy is flowing down into you from a higher source.
- Stop meditating for a few seconds. When you are meditating and observing
your mental state, doing that tends to hold you in that state. It is like
the quantum Zeno effect. In order to transition into another state, sometimes
you have to stop watching yourself. This could be why the above suggestion
of opening or closing your eyes is helpful. When you change the way
you meditate there are a few seconds during the transition
when you are not meditating. There are many anecdotes in the Buddhist lore
of meditators who experienced a transition as soon as they stopped trying
to cause it.(This same phenomenon can help you maintain a desired
state by focusing your attention on it.)
- Sometimes even if you don't notice that you feel like smiling, you may be
ready to smile without knowing it. If you smile a little bit and hold it for a few seconds
you may begin to genuinely feel like smiling.
- If something described in the meditation instructions isn't working,
just try to follow the instruction as
closely as you can. Don't "try too hard", and try not to have
expectations about what should happen during your meditation session.
If you try too hard or you try to produce a certain type of experience
it, will create stress and that will defeat the purpose of the
meditation and the meditation will not work as well. Just try to be
relaxed and don't worry about what else might or might not happen.
- If you have been meditating for a long time it can also help to take a break and give your brain a chance to rest and reset.
- If you are having trouble with this step it might help to try it
when you are naturally feeling happy. That can give you experience on
how this step works and will increase your capacity to do it at other
- When you are first beginning to learn this meditation, it might be easier if you do it after a meal rather than before a meal because people often find their mood elevated after a meal.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Try meditating after you wake up from sleep.
- Too much time spent on tasks that require intellectual effort, even reading a novel all day, can make it harder to do this meditation. This doesn't mean you should avoid "brain work", just understand that it might affect your meditation practice.
- Too much exercise can also make it harder to do this meditation. Again, this doesn't mean you should avoid exercise. Just understand that over doing it might affect how this meditation works for you.
- Different people react differently to substances like sugar, carbohydrate rich junk foods, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and drugs that can affect the brain. Any of these substances might have an adverse effect on how well this meditation can work.
Even if you can feel the feeling of relaxation when you breathe and
you feel like smiling as you meditate, if these suggestions help the
technique to work faster, you should not hesitate to use them. I use
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:
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
- 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 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.
Back to Serenity Meditation
If you are wondering what comes after you have mastered this type of
meditation, have a look at my blog post Beyond Joy.
As you meditate more and more and also use this technique during
daily activities, your mind will become quieter. Realization occurs
when the mind is completely still. Without achieving full realization,
you still might experience hints as to what it is all about. For
example, you can see how quieting the mind dispels illusions if you
consider how you feel when you have been doing a lot of meditation and
you are relaxed and serene and the mind is calm and compare that to how
you felt in the same
situation when you were not relaxed, serene or calm. When the mind is calm,
many worries, fears, and annoyances, are absent. Where did they go? They
didn't go anywhere, they were never there at all. They were only illusions
projected by the mind. Quiet the mind and the illusions disappear.
Back to Serenity Meditation
Why this is Buddhist Meditation
This type of meditation is based on the teachings of Buddha in the
Anapanasatti Sutta. If you are already practicing some type
you don't have to give that up, but you can make it closer to the
method of meditation taught by Buddha and make it a more positive
experience by observing the pleasant feeling
of relaxation while you meditate.
The book Breathe! You
are Alive by Thich Nhat Hanh includes a translation of the Anapanasati Sutta including the following lines:
5. 'I am breathing in and feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.' That is how he practices.
When discussing how to put this into practice, Thich Nhat Hanh write:
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.
... 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.
You are mindful of the mind as you:
- While you
meditate, you are mindful of the body as you observe the breath and
- 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 objects of mind
as you try to understand distracting thoughts and emotions in terms
of the three characteristics.
Mindfulness of the body better enables you to be mindful of sensations.
Mindfulness of sensations better enables you to be mindful of the mind.
Mindfulness of the mind better enables you to be mindful of objects of
mind. Mindfulness of the three characteristics leads to weakening of
attachments and aversions. Attachments and aversions are the illusions
produced by the mind that hide the ultimate reality from us. The complete
elimination of attachments and aversions is one way to experience realization.
- Try to calm the mind.
- Release negative thoughts and emotions that distract
you while meditating.
When you experience happiness and love through this meditation, you may
through the illusions
projected by the mind.
Happiness eliminates desires. Love eliminates attachment to self.
In the absence of desire and belief in self, the impermanence of things
will not cause trouble.
In the Tevijja Sutta Buddha teaches that cultivating the Brahma Viharas can lead to awakening. The
Brahma Viharas are four emotions: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. The meditation explained above cultivates these emotions.
The instructions for this type of meditation are written for beginners
but this technique can take you as far as you want to go (see below).
can occur when the mind is still. This type of meditation will quiet the
mind just as well as any other type of meditation. Insight can come
from observing many different aspects of experience. In this meditation, one observes the
breath, a mantra (counting), and feelings (relaxation, happiness, etc.).
These are also objects of
insight in other types of meditation. What is different about this type
of meditation is that it is a lot more pleasant than many other
techniques so you will naturally be drawn to practice it, and it will
improve the quality of your life along the way.
However, it is a fact that the vast majority of people who experience
realization are monks and nuns. There are a few laypeople who
experience it but they usually meditate for hours a day and go on
frequent meditation retreats. It is very rare for the average meditator to
experience realization. Many of the schools that teach meditation are
teaching how to attain realization to people who will never experience
it, and they never warn their students about the dangers of meditation. But
meditation can still have benefits for the ordinary person and
the type of meditation described here is intended for the ordinary person.
For most people, spiritual development is more
important than realization. Most of us are here to have an
experience of a physical existence and we can do that better if we are
happy, loving, feel connected etc. This meditation should help
a person to live more in harmony with spiritual values.
This form of meditation integrates aspects of meditation
from several different traditions. I learned of diaphragmatic breathing from
Himalayan Yoga. Counting breaths is described in a number of books on
Zen Buddhist meditation. Smiling during meditation is advocated in
books by Thich Nhat Hanh. Observing the pleasant feeling of relaxation
as a way of implementing instructions
found in the Anapanasati Sutta, was something I discovered myself
(although it may be known to others as well). I haven't seen these components
put together in this way anywhere else but I find they work extremely well
when combined in this integrated approach.
Most forms of Buddhist meditation taught today such as
vipassana, the nana's, and
are based on
teachings that came
They are missing two key factors originally taught by the Buddha:
relaxation to prevent repression of negative thoughts and emotions and metta (love),
which produce a deeper realization and are needed for true lasting Nibbana. The form of meditation described in
this article and in the process described in
includes relaxation in releasing negative thoughts and
emotions to prevent repression and metta which is a natural result of the
intense feelings that are produced by smiling.
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:
- Relaxing and observing the feeling of relaxation relieves stress and helps to release recently acquired negative emotions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Negative thoughts and emotions about the past are
when they arise as distractions during meditation.
Research has shown that because of the structure of the brain,
analytical thinking and empathic thinking are
Humankind in general and Western society specifically owes its success
to analytical thinking but as a result we are out of balance as a
species. There is nothing wrong with analytical thinking, it is only a
problem when it is out of balance with empathic thinking because a lack
of empathic thinking results in callousness which is the cause of many
problems in the world today. We need to focus more on cultivating
empathic thinking. The type of meditation described here, as well as
insight meditation (see below), will help you develop empathic thinking.
It can have the effects of making you more sympathetic to other people
which is a spiritual virtue, but it can also make you more emotional and
it might cause you to experience psychic perceptions as well.
When you focus your attention on your breathing, you are abstaining from
analytical thinking and when you do that, the brain
defaults to empathic thinking.
When you focus your attention on a pleasant feeling
during meditation, you are exercising the part of your brain that
supports happiness and love and connectedness and you are reinforcing
neural pathways involved in empathic thinking. This type of meditation
is a fundamental spiritual practice.
This meditation is different from other types of
meditation in an important way. In most types of meditation, if you
notice a thought
distracting you from concentrating, you stop thinking the thought. That
represses thoughts and feelings.
But with this meditation you quiet the mind and dissolve negative emotions
through relaxation not repression.
When you do something with your mind, the neuronal
connections involved are reinforced. If you meditate on the pleasant feeling
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
that self-directed neuroplasticity may be mediated by the quantum Zeno
effect in which observation prevents unstable quantum states from
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
Experiences such as
connectedness to all things,
awareness of God,
are experiences of aspects of our true
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
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
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.
- 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
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
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.
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
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
so once you become aware of the distracting thought, don't dwell on it
but go back to focusing your attention on the mantra.
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.
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
(See the section on
Visualizing a Pleasant Situation
in the chapter on
for more information on how to do this.)
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
This meditation can be especially helpful when used in combination with
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
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.
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
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
The Three Characteristics
Three characteristics of all things are: unsatisfactoriness,
impermanence, and not-self. Failure to understand these characteristics
can cause one a lot of unhappiness. When you are distracted by
unpleasant thoughts or emotions while meditating, you can look for
these three characteristics in the situation the thought or emotion
pertains to. Understanding these characteristics in relation to your
own experiences will help you develop a deep understanding of how they
cause problems and make it easier for you to eliminate those problems.
In certain forms of insight meditation, one looks for the three
characteristics in every experience one has from moment to moment.
More information on that can be found at
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, an Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book
by Daniel Ingram.
The Three Basic Facts of Existence
at accesstoinsight.org says:
To "see things as they really are" means seeing them consistently in the light of the three characteristics. Ignorance of these three, or self-deception about them, is by itself a potent cause for suffering — by knitting, as it were, the net of false hopes, of unrealistic and harmful desires, of false ideologies, false values and aims of life, in which man is caught. Ignoring or distorting these three basic facts can only lead to frustration, disappointment, and despair.
The three characteristics overlap so that a deep understanding
of any two is said to be sufficient to bring about awakening:
- Unsatisfactoriness: Attachments and aversions make you unhappy. You want something you don't have or you don't like something you do have.
If you can clearly see how attachments and aversions make you unhappy,
it will make it easier to let go of them and that will eliminate
a lot of unhappiness in your life.
- Unsatisfactoriness + Impermanence: Once you get something you soon want something else. Or, you do something you want to do but when it's over you feel loss. Plants, animals, people, are subject to death.
- Impermanence All things are impermanent. Attachment to impermanent
things causes unhappiness.
If you can clearly see that attachments to impermanent things make you
unhappy, it will make it easier to let go of them and that will eliminate
a lot of unhappiness in your life.
- Impermanence + Not-self: You yourself are subject to death. Thoughts, emotions, impulses arise from nowhere and fade.
- Not-self: Thoughts, emotions, impulses are perceived, they
are not-self. Even the sense of self, once it is observed is no longer
self anymore, it is a perceived thing, it is not self.
Attachments to this illusory self make you unhappy: you might want more status,
you might want to control phenomenon beyond your control. You might be attached
to your ideas, or being right, or winning etc.
If you can clearly see that
attachments to self (ego) make you unhappy, it will
make it easier to
let go of those attachments and that will eliminate a lot of unhappiness in your life.
- Not-self + Unsatisfactoriness: If you don't get what you
want, you may feel incompetent, inferior, or like a loser. But as seen
above, self is like an illusion in a hall of mirrors. Attachment to
this illusion leads to unhappiness. Let go of attachments to body,
status, winning, being right, success, etc. etc. they are founded on
illusion. This doesn't mean you should give up your ambitions. It
means you should pursue them in a detached manner.
It is very easy to look for the three characteristics in your thoughts
and emotions. When you notice an unpleasant thought or emotion ask
yourself, "Is this caused by desire, ego, and/or impermanence?"
People who have had realizations of the ultimate reality, Brahman, experience themselves as the consciousness that creates all reality. They see themselves as all things and they see all beings are one. They see that ordinary reality is an illusion projected by the mind. They understand the Buddhist concept of emptiness: all is illusion, individual self is an illusion, material reality is an illusion, separate (other) beings are illusions. There is only Brahman. Even the unity of self and other is still illusion because there is no self, there is no other, there is only Brahman.
There is nothing mystical about how the mind projects illusion. For example, many negative emotions are not really necessary but the mind produces them anyway. It makes us unhappy and can poison the quality of our existence. If something annoys you, there is no law of physics that requires that you get annoyed. You might even recognize that being annoyed is unwanted but you still get annoyed. The mind produces this annoyance, it has no basis in physical reality, it is totally unnecessary, and it is unwanted. It is an illusion. You might say that there is a biological explanation for it, but that is just an explanation of how the projector works. A projection is not something real. And the mind does this to us constantly, it produces opinions, attachments, aversions, worries, fears, ... all are illusions, but most of the time we swallow the bait and think they are real. Because they appear in our mind, we assume that they are our ideas and we accept them as part of our reality, we rarely question them.
Realization allows you to become free from these illusions.
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
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:
Sensations in the body.
Effects on posture and facial expressions.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
This article is on my blog: Joy During 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
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
like crying more when watching sad movies.
- Long sessions of meditation can cause temporary forgetfulness. This is a
natural consequence of calming the mind. When the effects of
meditation wear off, normal memory function will return.
I don't advise people to meditate sitting on the floor or to sit
absolutely still because that can cause knee and spine injuries. If
some people like to sit on the floor or sit absolutely still when they
meditate, I am not necessarily against it, I just don't tell people to
It is possible to develop the habit of repressing thoughts and emotions
from meditating if you push unpleasant thoughts and emotions away in order
to maintain concentration. Learning to let go without
repressing requires experiencing the thought or emotion while relaxing.
Unpleasant thoughts and emotions
are those that make you feel uncomfortable, that you have the impulse to push
away or don't want to think about. They could be memories from the past
or worries about the future.
The way I handle unpleasant thoughts and emotions
is to force myself to experience them for a few
physical sensations in my body that accompany the thought or emotion.
I also try to get to the root of what is bothering me. Usually the
surface memory is covering something deeper. Like you remember someone
you don't like, but not why you don't like them. Try to dig a bit. There
might be several levels to go through to reach the root. But try to
keep this within limits,
don't get lost in thought.
Try to understand unpleasant thoughts and emotions in terms of
the three characteristics:
unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, and not-self.
If you do get to the root, the thought might not come back or might not
come back as often or as intensely. But if you just push it away it will keep coming
back over and over. In fact, it is possible to develop the habit of
repressing negative thoughts and feelings from meditating incorrectly.
But if you do this right, you can clear out a lot of psychological baggage
and in the long run you feel a lot better and you can concentrate much
better during meditation because these thoughts stop recurring. And you
have to do it while relaxing, any tension or tightness can indicate you
are repressing a thought or feeling. Serenity meditation is very
relaxing and should not cause repression.
However, you also have to be careful not to over do this because if you are
constantly thinking of unpleasant things, you can train yourself
to be unhappy. If you find a lot of unpleasant thoughts and
emotions are coming out and it is more than you care to do all at once,
you might decide to release some of them at
a latter date. Each person has to find the right balance
between letting out emotions and letting go of them. Serenity meditation
is recommended because it produces positive emotions which
can counteract any unpleasant thoughts and feeling that might arise during meditation.
You can attain realization by brute force concentration and still be a
very messed up person. But I think the kind of emotional healing that
comes from releasing negative thoughts and emotions is much more
important than realization, so while concentration is necessary, I don't
stress super-duper intense concentration during meditation. When you
clear out the baggage the mind quiets naturally and I think that is the
best way to achieve full realization.
- It is possible that some people might find some forms of
meditation to be addicting. Some people are susceptible to addiction.
For example, many people drink alcohol but only some become alcoholics.
Because some forms of meditation (such as the serenity meditation described
above, and any type of practice that produces intensely pleasurable feelings) seem to activate the pleasure centers in
the brain, it is possible that people who are prone to addiction might
become addicted to these forms of meditation.
There are other serious dangers involved in excessive amounts of meditation that few people know about.
This is explained at: buddhistgeeks.com.
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:
- 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."
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
To actually diminish the ego, however, is easier said than done. Several
Buddhist practices provide help. These include:
A daily practice of relaxing meditation or relaxation exercises. The
previous sections in this chapter describe
in more detail and the chapter on
describes how to use relaxation exercises.
- 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
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.
- 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
can be helpful in increasing awareness of when tension
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
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.
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.
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:
More information on
can be found in the books suggested in the