“There are many ways to obtain altered states of mind. These special states are addictive. It feels so good to break free from our mundane experience. We want more. For example, new meditators often expect that with training they can transcend the pain of ordinary life. It’s disappointing, to say the least, to be told to touch down into the thick of things, to remain open and receptive to boredom as well as bliss.” – Pema Chödrön, The Places That Scare You
If you’ve ever meditated, you’ve probably experienced that rush, that flood of wellbeing that often happens as a result of achieving stillness and presence. If you’ve meditated more than once, you’ll know that it doesn’t always feel like this.
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, either physically or mentally (or if you’re having a particularly good session – both!). Sometimes you get a song stuck in your head or you’re constantly shooing thoughts away and spend the whole session feeling frustrated. Sometimes it feels like it’s “not working”.
The most important thing I’ve learnt from my time meditating (and I’m certainly not an expert) is that as long as the intention to sit and be still is there, as long as you show up – it has been a successful meditation. It simply does not matter how you feel afterwards, or even during. If it did, then the purpose of meditation would be instant gratification; and I think we all know that it’s not.
The benefits of meditation, should there be any, present themselves subtly and spontaneously and not always when you’d expect; so the only way to know if you’re doing okay is to just do it. Show up, be present, make an effort. I’ve had insights pop into my head weeks after my last meditation and known in my gut that it was because of that session.
But although these benefits can be beautiful and rewarding, I am a big believer in “meditation for its own sake”. As Pema Chödrön says, if meditation is “for” anything, it is a way of developing ourselves to be more present. And this is a gift for everyone.
My favourite guided meditation from buddhify is a 27-minute calm-abiding meditation simply called “Calm”. It is narrated so beautifully and at one point the narrator says that our goal in the meditation is to become more present, so that if, for instance, we are in the hospital holding a loved-one’s hand, we are truly there with them. This part of the meditation never fails to move me and it’s a great illustrator of why meditation is so powerful and what we should truly want to get out of it.
Aside from meditation, peak experiences can present themselves in many ways. I’ve experienced them when reading a good mindfulness or spirituality book. I get this sense of calm, this sense that I’ve actually got it all figured out and that things will be okay. I feel more inclined to smile at strangers, to be gentle with myself and the world and allow my heart to be open. But the daily tribulations of life regularly dissipate this sense of euphoria away.
And that’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s completely normal. Euphoria is not sustainable. We are souls having a human experience and that means we all have ups and downs and downs and ups and repeat. Sometimes it can feel like a rollercoaster ride between fully inhabiting our higher selves and feeling on top of the world and then being plunged back into the depths of habitual and destructive egoic tendencies. This is where a little bit of awareness goes a long way.
Being able to watch ourselves when we lose control, when we lash out or when we’re frozen in depressive non-action is a great source of freedom. Being able to say: “I know what I’m doing right now and I don’t feel able to stop just yet but I know what’s happening” is an amazing thing. It gives us breathing space from the dramatic egoic experience. It reminds us that this isn’t all there is and that despite how real it feels to us in the moment, it’s really just our ego enjoying the spotlight and having a bit of a freak-out.
“(Peak experiences) are neither good nor bad. Keep meditating.” – Tibetan yogi Milarepa
I love this quote. It’s a reminder to stay centred, to remember that the feeling of being above the clouds is not sustainable and that there’s nothing wrong with that. I also love this quote because if peak experiences are neither good nor bad, it must follow that more difficult experiences needn’t be categorised in this way, either. The emotions we feel during these experiences – happiness and sadness, peace and agitation – certainly feel real; but in the bigger scheme of things, they needn’t be seen as a reflection of how we’re doing or whether or not we’re good meditators.
It’s said that the number one question to ask ourselves to achieve mindfulness is: “What is happening?” This simple yet powerful question allows us to take a step back and look at our experience, giving us space from our thoughts and emotions. So it doesn’t matter if what’s happening is that you’re lost in a stream of thought or you’re thinking negatively about a person or a situation or you’re having the worst meditation ever – asking yourself this question reminds you that despite all of this you are here. In this moment. Thank you for being here.
Thanks so much for reading.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx