We move in and out of consciousness. We re-member who we are, then promptly forget. No big deal. Yet, when we remember, we find and feel a sense of purpose and oneness as well as an order to the chaos. This feels good to our bodies and souls.
“How did this happen?” we wonder. Then, with intention and desire we begin to seek this experience again and again. Perhaps we find this through meditation, in our connections with nature, or interacting with children. Maybe we read books that “make sense” to our spiritual selves, or we have someone see something “divine” in us and we want to tap into that something in clear and direct ways.
Our awakening is personal, yet cosmic. We are individuals making individual choices about our lives on all kinds of levels/planes/realms. Sometimes we are acutely aware of our choices and how they affect us. Other times we simply react to life and fall into old patterns.
The interesting piece is this cosmic, or collective, consciousness. When we re-member who we truly are – a divine expression of “God” (or however else it feels to you) – we understand we are part of something bigger and it includes everyone and everything. We realize that we are interconnected at such profound levels that no words can actually capture this truth.
Awakening can be quite exciting and, conversely, quite frightening. There is nothing “wrong” with you if you feel fear during your expansion. Do you remember being born? Although parents try to be more aware of the affects of childbirth these days – perhaps they create a quiet, sacred space with low lighting and soft music, etc. – it can still be a frightening experience. New, unfamiliar experiences can make us feel insecure.
Right now, we are experiencing such a rapid shift in consciousness that we are constantly having new, unfamiliar experiences. Unfortunately, these experiences are not being broadcasted on the news or explained by your doctor or discussed at work during your coffee break. Or are they?
As an individual, you are probably going through a lot of major changes in your life. And we can all see that the greater collective is experiencing some pretty big shifts as well. These experiences – major financial upsets, home foreclosures, instabilities, etc. – are happening to the masses and are all part of our collective awakening! Thus, you are awakening individually as well as with the collective and each of these areas of awakening will affect you.
For those who are less conscious (aware), they may be thinking, “Geez, the market sucks right now, but it’s going to turn around.” Or even, “Oh, my God, I’m going to lose my house! Where will I live? What will I do? Oh, no!” Even those who are more conscious (aware) can experience similar thoughts, including the primal fears that can arise from such thoughts.
The awareness that you are both a human and a spiritual being can help alleviate the self-judgment for your fears and fear-based thoughts; your spiritual self can find compassion for your human self. Plus, this spiritual side can keep the light of hope lit – allowing your own light within to keep shining. It helps you remember that all is truly well and enables you to drop into trust and find a sense of peace.
During these times of “crashing and fading” our egos (fearful states) are dying and we are giving birth to our greater, more heart-centered selves. Although both death and birth are part of the natural cycle of life, they can be painful, frightening experiences for the human being and ego.
So, what do you do for others who are experiencing these aspects of life? How would you comfort a friend who is losing a parent to cancer? What do you do for a woman in the midst of labor? Contemplate the offerings you would bring and consider blessing yourself with the same loving care. Although this kind of support cannot always stop the emotional or physical pain, it can bring great comfort. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, seek comfort from a friend or loved one (or offer it to yourself), know these transitions are intensely happening in our lives right now, and trust they will pass.
No matter what the outward situation looks like, or how you feel, think or react to it all, know that you are worthy and lovable – always. Whenever possible, allow yourself to feel this Love, breathe into this Love, and let it awaken your Heart!
Meditation can be a one time experience, an occasional indulgence or it can be cultivated into an on-going practice. Of course, the benefits of meditation become more clear and present when it is done more often. Imagine if meditation became an integral part of your life. What if you perceived it as essential to your health and well being as brushing your teeth, getting adequate sleep and eating well? Beginning a meditation practice can be a matter of following a few simple steps; attending to it on a daily basis requires dedication and discipline.
To begin a meditation practice:
Create a sacred space: Although you can meditate anywhere, and make that space sacred for the moment, it is nice to have a specific place where you can go to meditate regularly. If you develop your meditation practice in a dedicated space, you will find that the energy of the space will assist you with both its construct and peacefulness. Perhaps you create an altar with a candle, fresh flowers, or a few meaningful items. You can use a comfortable chair, or purchase a meditation pillow to sit on.
Establish a regular practice: Decide on a plan; maybe you begin by reserving just 10 - 20 minutes each day (preferably at the same time of day). If you want to establish a rhythm, it would be better to consistently have five minutes a day and extend the time as you can, rather than meditating one or two days a week for longer periods. Think about including meditation in your daily self-care routine. Yet, if starting a daily practice is too much for you right now and you simply want to bring it into your life more often, perhaps you attend a weekly group meditation. The group energy helps beginners go deeper into the meditative experience, gives you a sacred place to practice, and can fuel the desire to integrate it into your daily life.
Follow the four stages: In previous articles, I outlined the four stages of meditation – approach, technique, meditative awareness, and conscious conclusion. Use them to guide you into, through and gently out of your meditation.
Let go of attachment: Allow the experience of meditation to be as it is; know that each meditation will be unique. It is the practice of staying awake and aware that is the essence of meditation. Even having a “mystical experience” can be an obstacle because you might get caught up in desiring to repeat the incident while you miss the experience of the meditation you are in. A main task of meditation is “letting go” – of expectation, of what will be “accomplished” – since a grasping attitude keeps you from experiencing the flow of meditation.
Meditation allows us to practice the art of “being” – providing us with our own experience – which enables us to realize that we are not limited to our thoughts, feelings, or physical existence. This experience – the unfolding of our self-realization – is our spiritual enlightenment.
The end of the meditation is the forth and final stage. Sure you can jump up and run out the door, if necessary, but it is beneficial to bring your meditation to a close with the same reverence as you entered it. Allow yourself to complete your mediation with conscious conclusion.
In the conscious conclusion of your meditation, it is important to:
Rest: When you reach the state of being, or inner peace, if even for a moment, it can be an exquisite experience. It is considered the “peak experience” for that time of meditation. Whenever possible, it is nice to allow enough time in your practice to reach this state and simply rest for awhile in the experience of being. This will have a calming, clearing effect on your entire body and mind.
Return: The process of returning your full awareness to your body, mind and environment should be a gradual one. After experiencing meditative states of consciousness, “grounding” cannot be overemphasized in its importance. It is critical to fully return to your attentive state of consciousness to avoid accidents or injuries after the meditation.
Extend: You can utilize the benefits derived from your meditation practice and apply them to your daily life. Although you bring your full consciousness back to your body and mind as you return to your “real life” after your meditation, be sure to take a moment to consciously extend the peacefulness, clarity or other beneficial effects into your day.
The experience of the meditation itself, described as meditative awareness, is the third stage of meditation. Meditative awareness allows the continuation and deepening of witness consciousness – the ability to simply witness your experiences, thoughts or feelings, rather than engaging in them.
With meditative awareness, you can begin to experience:
Flow: Once the meditation process has been grounded through the use of technique you can become progressively interiorized, where attention gracefully flows to the point of focus. This is a relaxed allowing of your attention, as opposed to an efforting or focused concentration, and indicates the point at which true meditation occurs.
Awareness: Thoughts and feelings may still continue to arise at this point, but they are more subtle and you no longer become involved with them. You simply remain awake and aware, established in the witness consciousness.
Being: Meditation allows you to rest in the experience of being. As busy people always doing, we rarely take the time to experience the state of being. As you experience being, you discover your own pure nature, and may sense a true inner peace.
In this article we will explore the second stage of meditation – technique. Using a meditation technique gives your mind “something to do.” Although many people believe that meditation is about having “no thoughts,” it is the nature of the mind to be active and seek stimulation.
A meditation technique helps you stay in the moment, while strengthening your abilities to:
Focus: Utilizing one-pointed attention contributes to the calming of your mental field. A good focus point technique for beginners is paying attention to your breath. Become aware of the movement of your breath – notice the air entering your nostrils, sense it completely as it hits the back of your throat, feel your chest and abdomen expand, feel the air exit through your nostrils, and so on. Once you become aware of your breath, you can direct your inner gaze toward your third eye – the center point between your eyebrows – or your crown chakra at the top of the head. Choose only one point of focus for your inner gaze and practice using it for a period of time; this allows depth in your meditation practice to progress.
Witness: Meditation helps you develop a “witness consciousness” – the ability to be a conscious witness to all that is occurring. Thoughts will arise and you may experience emotional and physical feelings in your body. The task of meditation is to witness what is happening without attaching to it; simply noticing and letting it go.
Return: During the process of meditation, it is certain you will lose the ability to maintain your witness consciousness and soon become involved in your thoughts and feelings. When this happens, simply return your attention to your breath and/or inner gaze. Much of meditation is gently returning your awareness to the point of focus.
Since each meditation is different, you may find that some days it’s easier to maintain your focus than other days. As you develop a regular meditation practice, your ability to focus increases along with your witness consciousness; as these wane, however, you can always remember to return.
There are several ways to meditate and you may already have preferences about when, where, why or how you meditate. However, if meditation is fairly new to you, or you want to explore meditation further, I will offer some basic teachings which I have learned directly from my mother, Rev. Tess Pender (who has been teaching meditation for several years) in my next few articles about meditation.
There are four distinct stages of meditation; these can be thought of as: the preparation or approach, the technique, the meditative experience itself, and the ending or conclusion. Here are some insights about the first stage of meditation – the approach.
In the approach to meditation, attention is given to:
Environment: Although you can meditate anywhere, both our external and internal environments can be important factors to support a successful meditation. It is good to find a quiet place free of interruptions as well as comfortable seating – perhaps a meditation pillow or comfortable chair. Creating a sacred space can include setting up an altar, lighting a candle or burning some incense. Internally, being open and receptive to the experience coupled with an attitude of respect for yourself and the process are a good place to begin. It’s also wise to make sure you are not too tired or full from eating.
Posture: Posture is an outer demonstration of attitude. It also is a way of remaining alert and allowing energy to flow up and down your spine. Having the spine straight and the head even – not drooping down or looking upward – is very important, otherwise you can tend to drift into unconscious states. Since, your body and mind are connected, a still posture assists you in learning to be aware of mind states. You may begin to notice desires to move that are prompted by your thoughts. In these cases, simply let the thoughts go and stay with your intention to remain as steady as possible during your meditation. This is a first and essential discipline of practice as it creates a solid foundation.
Relaxation: Once you enter a meditative pose, begin to consciously relax your body and mind. A good way to begin this is by taking a couple of slow, deep breaths; fully inhaling and exhaling quickly relaxes you.
Interiorization: This is accomplished by closing your eyes, and bringing your attention inside your body/mind. A simple way to invite interiorization is to follow the breath as it enters the body, noticing the air as it reaches your nostrils, back of your throat, lungs, and abdomen. With deep interiorization, inner states become more vivid and attachment to external stimuli fades.
There are many reasons people meditate. Meditation can help us relax, reduce mental and emotional stresses, and bring us greater spiritual awareness. Engaging in meditation can feel really good; to still the body, quiet the mind, notice the emotions and tap into the spirit can be a rewarding experience. Yet the benefits of a regular meditation practice, like any form of exercise, can have longer lasing effects on our whole being.
These are some of the benefits of a regular meditation practice:
Physical: reduces stress, relaxes your body, helps you become more aware of the condition and needs of your body, and perhaps increase your potential for better health care, allows your body to experience states of bliss
Mental: increases your ability to concentrate, helps you focus your attention for extended periods of time, relieves mental stress, reduces the pattern of self judgment, allows you to contemplate what is truly important in your life
Emotional: brings greater awareness of your emotions, enhances your ability to be non-reactive to the changes in your emotions, brings feelings of inner peace and contentment
Spiritual: allows you to experience your own spirit, helps you feel closer to God/Spirit/Source, helps awaken your innate intuitive (psychic) abilities, expands your ability to experience Oneness, or the connectedness of everything, assists in your “ascension” or enlightenment
When we reduce the normal distractions of our outer world, we can discover the subtleties of the world within us. Meditation allows us to experience both our human and spiritual selves directly in a profound and peaceful way.
At mealtime, my own family sings blessings, including:
Give thanks to the Mother Earth,
Give thanks to the Father Sun,
Give thanks to the plants in the garden
Where the Mother and Father are One.
- Rudolf Steiner
Unfortunately, we often sing our mealtime blessings in a "let's hurry up and eat" kind of way. Feeling the prayer or blessing as you say it (or sing it) and infusing it with intention can add power behind the words. Experiment with your prayers; try enunciating the words carefully, bringing your full attention to what you are saying, or try adding hand gestures... or even a dance!
Creating your own prayer can be both fun and empowering. Imagine creating a prayer that you use before you start your day - whether or at work or at home. To Whom (or What) are you praying? What intention do you want to offer? What do you want the Divine to offer you?
Sometimes I imagine what each of my relationships might look like if I said the prayer I use for clients with everyone in my life!
What prayers call to you?
Do you ever feel inspired to do something creative? Perhaps you feel the urge to create something, dance, sing, or melt into an art project. Creative expressions can be extremely joyful – they can relax our bodies, soothe our minds and help us feel more connected to our spirits, as well as to the Divine.
To be “inspired” is to be in-Spirited!
Inspirations can not only move us to do creative things, they can produce amazing results. Artists, authors and athletes often talk about being in the “zone” or “flow” when their activity becomes nearly effortless and they do their best work. Regardless of how or why this happens, it feels so good it truly feels like Divine inspiration! Sometimes, after merging with this “zone” we try to figure out how it happened, so we can re-create it at will.
Other times, however, we approach a “creative project” with an agenda, time limit, self doubt and perhaps a load of other baggage (like an obsession to re-create that “zone”). In these cases, the creative endeavor feels task oriented, empty or even frustrating. Likely, the results aren’t so desirable either.
Some of us may have turned our artistry into our profession. The pressure of making money from our creative work can instantly squeeze the joy right out of it. Yet, when it works – when time, space, and creative inspiration all come together with great results – the monetary rewards an added bonus since we are getting paid to do that which we love.
Whether you enjoy creative moments for your hobbies, or have relied on your creativity for your profession, here are ten suggestions for working with your creative impulses, rather than against them:
Imagine yourself as an instrument of God, playing God’s music, then open your heart to allow Divine inspiration to flow through you. With this kind of approach to creative projects – or even Life – you will discover this IS the flow, and soon whatever you do will become more effortless and joyful!
Alternate nostril breathing is a form of Yogic breath work, or Pranayama. You can practice this breathing exercise on its own or integrate into your yoga routine by adding it to your practice, perhaps after a series of asanas (poses) , and before you relax into Savasana. Like other yoga techniques, alternate nostril breathing doesn’t just benefit your body – like clearing out your nasal passages – it can also bring clarity to your mind and calmness to your soul.
To prepare for alternate nostril breathing (called Nadi Sodhana):
Begin alternate nostril breathing:
By bringing awareness to your breathing with exercises like alternate nostril breathing, you begin to become more aware of your breathing patterns at other times of the day. Thus, you can learn to expand your breathing to become fuller, more complete breaths on a regular basis, helping you feel more centered in your life.