Ahhh… meditation. Who doesn’t absolutely love to let it all go and sprawl out in perfect calm and liberating tranquility? People don’t smoke weed, take Xanax or go on paradise vacations for nothing.
It can be surprisingly difficult for us humans to meditate. We’re busy with lots and lots of things. We might not even know why we’re doing half the things we’re doing. What exactly is the point? And what’s the rush?
Most of us are living in a sort of hypothetical reality in our minds. We think about life, talk about life, think about the past, dream about the future, make plans, learn the seven habits of successful people, and work really hard to do what everyone else is doing…. Meanwhile life is the thing happening while we’re busy thinking about it and talking about it. It’s actually possible to miss the whole thing.
A lot of us might believe that meditation is nice but the kind of meditation I’m talking about here goes beyond just a day at the beach. Many meditation techniques don’t help us reach a deep and lasting resting state because they don’t address all the anxiety, disappointments, despair… buried deep in our mind and body even down to a cellular level. This is why we might still need to rest after a vacation, or why we might wake up stressed after a full night’s sleep. The underlying turmoil never seems to go away.
The kind of meditation I’m talking about is about letting it all go. It’s about letting go of all that stuff happening in the mind that isn’t happening in our actual experience. You wouldn’t believe how much mind chaos weighs us down.
Thanks to some very wise people before us, especially from the East, there are all kinds of techniques to let go of our mental chaos and reconnect with our inner self, our real self. Meditation might be the most respected and reliable method for achieving this but there are endless branches of meditation techniques as well, including lying down, walking, running, dancing, singing, creating art… using mantras, affirmations, prayer, breathing, isochronic tones and binaural beats, mandalas, visualization, astral travel, etc.
The easiest way I’ve personally discovered to meditate is to breathe in deep relaxation. This technique carries with it endless other benefits as well especially as it concerns stress. Deep relaxation in an Alpha, Theta or Delta brainwave state can slow down our mental stimuli enough in order to reconnect with our authentic self that’s in harmony with the universe.
There’s no right or wrong way to enter into deep relaxation. It depends on what works for you personally and what you’d like to devote yourself to. Letting go of any rules is the first step toward letting go and relaxing. With that said, the following can be helpful guidelines, or they might inspire you to come up with a relaxation technique of your own. I’m going to walk us through some possible ways to develop a meditation practice one step at a time:
1) Have your safety precautions in place.
We might want to first establish our safe space. This is highly recommended in case we encounter those aforementioned buried pains and feel overwhelmed by them. It’s also a good idea to have a trusted friend and/or professional therapist who is always available. If you’re dealing with things like addiction, mental health issues, thoughts of suicide or physical pain, be sure to have your personal coping mechanisms on hand, such as your list of healthy distractions, a support group or pain meds. Just knowing we have a safety net can give us even more courage to face and process any internal issues that come up during quiet relaxation. There might be a day when we won’t need these helps any longer but I think it’s a good idea to be honest if we do.
2) Choose the right atmosphere and the best time to relax.
Calm and relaxing music such as ambient music, Tibetan singing bowls or natural sounds such as crashing ocean waves can help us to start winding down. Low lighting, calming essential oils, a hot bath, an uncluttered room, an organized space… these can all be symbolic of relaxation and serenity depending on how they affect us personally. We can also visualize a calm, serene environment, such as our safe space. If you’re having trouble quieting your mind’s thoughts and getting to your safe space, focus instead on creating a relaxing external environment. After we relax the body, it’s a lot easier to slow the mind.
Obviously the middle of a busy work day isn’t going to be a conducive time to let it all go. Later after we’ve gotten the hang of it, we can relax any time, any place even while entirely active. But when learning a new skill, it helps to make it as easy as possible. Just after you awake in the morning before the mind starts rolling can be an effective time, or at night while you’re winding down before sleep. (It’s okay if you fall asleep.) My favorite time to breathe in relaxation is after a workout. It’s a lot easier to let go of tension after the body’s muscles have been exhausted. It’s also a good idea to choose a time when you don’t have to be doing anything, such as a time you’ve set aside just to relax. This can be 5 minutes, 20 minutes or hours depending on how much you’d like to invest in this practice. If you’re new to this, you might only be able to start out doing 2 minutes a day. That is perfectly fine too.
3) Let go of doing.
We sure do like to hang on to our responsibilities, as if the universe will explode if we don’t do them. They make us feel important, needed and integral to existence. We most certainly are integral to existence. But life will continue if we don’t take out the trash on Tuesday at 2:00pm. Life might not continue the way we prefer, or maybe it will continue in a more preferable way, but either way, existence most certainly will continue. Nature is a good example of not doing anything and yet everything that needs to be accomplished gets accomplished. Difficult to believe, isn’t it? One of my favorite mantras to repeat is “There is nowhere to go, there is nothing to do, there is nothing to attain.” I’ve achieved far more in my life in just one day with letting go than I have in years of pushing myself. When we let go of doing, we discover that life happens anyway, in a quality sense, and we can stop trying to control things, creating the tension that comes with trying to control things.
4) Let go of the concept of time as much as possible.
Our mind likes to dwell on the guilt and resentment of the past as well as fears and worry of the future. But the past and future are only mental illusions. You’ll notice that they never actually happen because it’s always now. The present moment has been called the eternal moment because it’s always happening. It’s never not happening. If you try to find a beginning and an end, you won’t be able to find it. The past isn’t happening. It’s long gone. We can even change the past by changing our present thoughts about it. The future is just mental speculation or imagination too. They’re not really there. But the present moment is here. That’s really the only thing we need to concern ourselves with. By letting go of the past and future, we just removed truck loads of clutter from our lives that were weighing us down.
Acceptance can take mountains of anxiety, worry, despair, confusion and frustration off of ourselves. That’s because they’re caused by expectations of how we think things should be and because we’re trying to force circumstances to be a certain way rather than trusting life to happen in its natural flow. This creates a friction in energy flow and then of course, tension. Accepting things and people just as they are can feel like we’re on top of the world instead of buried underneath it. Self-acceptance is the most important of all.
6) Relax the body.
Simply moving slow can help us to relax. Walking slowly, being present with each step can help us to start releasing tension. When I have a headache, I like to move my whole body and especially my head extra, extra sloooow. I take special care not to engage in any abrupt, sharp movements because this creates more pain. Life becomes more enjoyable with slow movement as well, such as with slow eating and slow kissing.
Sitting or lying down in a position that provides us the most comfort (use pillows!) can also help us relax. We can use visualization and imagine that we have been outside swimming all day. It was a fun day and we exerted lots of energy. We pushed ourself hard and lived life to the fullest. But now it’s time to relax. The sun is going down. Our body would like to start winding down too. So then we imagine that we’re floating, perhaps on the surface of a still, shallow pond. In order to float, we must relax.
Another technique is called a full body scan. Go through each body part mentally, say from the feet to your crown and notice if there’s any tension or pain anywhere. And then if possible, consciously relax that body part. If you’re having trouble relaxing it and you’re not dealing with pain, it might help to squeeze it really tight and create more tension in it, and then allow it to relax as much as possible. Feel the difference between tensing it up and letting that tension go. Allow the body to become softer and softer…. Another idea is to take time and stretch out each major muscle group. This self-love toward the body can feel extremely relaxing and releasing.
Or we can become aware of our body just by closing our eyes and feeling what it feels. Its relative position, where its touching something, its relative weight, any stiffness, emptiness, or softness…. If we can feel each sensation without judging it, that’s even better. We can feel only acceptance, wonder, curiosity…. When we fully feel something, as if for the first time without labeling it with words, we’re not thinking about it so much so it’s a little easier to let go of our thoughts. Then we can fully engage in the experience.
7) Let go of thoughts.
Once the body is relaxed, it’s much much easier to relax the mind at this point. Thoughts might be passing by like clouds in the sky; if so, notice the distance between you and your thoughts. They are not you anymore. They are doing their own thing and you don’t even have to be involved. You can spend time observing them pass by without judgment if you’d like. But they will continue whether you’re watching those thoughts or not. You don’t have to worry about them. You might have better things to do such as to continue relaxing.
Letting go of our thoughts doesn’t mean we end up with a blank mind. Although it might feel this way at first compared to all the mental chaos. It simply means that we become aware that our thoughts are not who we are. We don’t have to cling to them or allow them to control us. We are the being that is experiencing those thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. We are the amazing being underneath all the events who is always in a state of eternal peaceful bliss.
It’s said that breathing is the bridge between the physical and the eternal realm. Becoming aware of our inhale and exhale can be a calming rhythm that connects us with the present moment, the moment that is the most relaxing. Also when we focus on our breath, this reduces the mind down to one thought. One thought is much less stressful than multiple thoughts.
We can breathe any way we’d like, shallow or deep from the belly, through our nose with our mouth closed (this is best for avoiding hyperventilating) or gently through an open mouth, whichever is our preference. With each exhale, we can let go in relaxation more and more. The important part is to be aware of each breath.
So there are some ideas to inspire you in your personal meditation practice. What happens after we let go in total relaxation? At first it might feel like disturbing emptiness, at least compared to all of the chaos of the mental streams that we’re accustomed to. But it’s far from being empty. From the state of our newfound silence, we will then start noticing things that we never noticed before. We might hear the wind outside and notice it’s fluctuations. Colors might come alive. We might think wow, how did I never notice how vibrant these colors are? We might want to stare at them in wonder for a while. We might even notice that everything is vibrating with energy, even “solid” objects.
By letting go of our mental chatter, we become more consciously aware than ever. We become sensitive to all the dancing details in life that we overlooked because we were so busy worrying about nothing. There is so much aliveness and beauty and wonder in each moment, that we can’t possibly take it all in. But it won’t feel stressful or overwhelming. It will feel like we’re in a synchronous flow with our environment no matter what’s going on. We’ll also discover a clarity for the direction we want to go and for creating the life we want.
Healing often takes place in this state because tension has been released and the body and the mind have the energy needed to begin repairs. The more we practice, the more often we can remain in this state of relaxation. The more often we can remain in this state, the more renewal we’ll experience. We’ll have more energy to fully live, rather than struggle to scrape by in a half-life. The more we can relax, the more we can live; the more we live, the more we can relax and flow in harmony with the universe.