Two pieces of wonderful news that inspired this series of posts: (1) 2022 marks ten years that I’ve been meditating (I can’t quite believe it) and (2) I have just certified as an Instinctive Meditation™ teacher. I completed my training at the Radiance Sutras School of Meditation, which was started by the incredible Dr. Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine. It was a year-long, 200+ hour course that dove deep and covered a lot of ground: the science and physiology of meditation; meditation as a natural human instinct and biological capacity; rhythm, movement and flow; the role of the senses, emotions, desires, and thoughts; meditation for healing and recovery, and so on…
This approach is possibly the most comprehensive and delightful approach to meditation I have found to date. So, in celebration, I have decided to synthesize and present the top 10 things I’ve learned in the past 10 years, from this training and also from my own experience. Since I love to write (and have a lot to share), the 10 points will be split across multiple posts to make them easier to digest.
Disclaimer: The world of meditation is vast and complex, just like you and me and all human beings. Different lineages, schools of thought, religions and traditions have different approaches. Feel free to to form your own opinions, get curious about what I say, disagree with me, and discover your own path. What follows is an expression of my own views, experience and learning.
1. Meditation is meant to be enjoyable
This is really the essence, and what so many of us unconsciously get wrong. Meditation is supposed to be fun, to bring us delight and relaxation, pleasure and ease. It is meant to be something we look forward to, as much as sharing a delicious meal with a loved one, playing our favourite sport, watching a thrilling movie, or unwinding to beautiful music.
The meditative experience is instinctive and universal among human beings. It is something we each long for, even crave, in our own way. Some of us slip into meditation spontaneously, during favourite experiences or certain special moments in our daily lives. Others of us have found ways to experience meditation more regularly through various practices and techniques. Many of us are still searching for our own way and making our own discoveries about meditation (a very good place to be).
Unfortunately, either through personal experience or because of what we’ve heard from others, many people come to believe the total opposite of what I am saying: that meditation cannot and/or should not be enjoyable. Consciously or unconsciously, meditation can be treated like a moderately unpleasant house chore that just needs to be done because it’s good for us, like a discipline that must be committed to for the sake of XYZ, or like the harder it is, the more we must strive and the better it makes us…
To put it plainly, this kind of framing around meditation is unhelpful. It creates internal division, hierarchy and conflict, essentially placing you at war with your own desires to meditate or not meditate. It is counter-productive to the intrinsically healthy and life-affirming inspiration that makes us want to meditate in the first place, and can even become unhealthy in the long-term.
It is very important to know that if meditation does not bring you joy, the problem is with the way you’re meditating, not with you. I will say this over and over again, as I cannot emphasise it enough. Far better to to discover how to make meditation your own, in a way that works for you, and then to let yourself enjoy the process. This can require a radical re-framing of what meditation is, what or who it is for, how it works and how to approach it. Reading the rest of these top 10 points may help with that, plus spending time to reflect and clarify your views on your own. But once you do this, meditation will become so much easier and be able to reclaim its place as a natural, enjoyable part of your life.
Please note: I’m not saying that you won’t feel or face difficulties when you meditate. Given the complexity of life and of human beings, challenges, regrets, difficult emotions, pain and unpleasantness are inevitable no matter what you do. What I am saying is that these are only a part (maybe even a very small part) of the meditative experience. Meditation is largely delightful, relaxing, restorative, inspiring… (insert your own words here).
2. Follow your desires
ie. choose a type of meditation that you like
A good place to start with meditation is to think about your favourite experiences, times when you’ve felt grateful or joyful just to be alive, or when you’ve felt deeply relaxed, at home in the world. These are your natural doorways into meditative experience, when you’ve spontaneously slipped in to awe, wonder, love, peace, connection, joy etc. What do you experience in these moments? What is around you in your environment? What qualities are alive in you? What feelings do these experiences evoke in your heart, belly, or body in general? Which of your senses is awake and alert? You can mine your own memories for clues about your deepest desires and values, and then orient your meditation around them.
Desire often gets a bad rap in the meditative world (possibly a kind of hangover from some religious ideas and codes for celibate life). For regular human beings like you and I, learning to embrace desire in meditation is one of the most life-affirming, courageous and practical parts of the practice. It is common sense to say that desire is what gets us to meditate in the first place (why would you do it unless at least a small part of you wants to?). Our desires have incredible potency and can generate enormous amounts of drive, willpower and motivation. Why wouldn’t we want to embrace them in a healthy and balanced way?
Desire is also what guides us towards the meditation that is “right” for each of us. The word desire comes from the Latin de-sidere, meaning ‘from the stars’. We can think of our desires as stars in the night sky that help us navigate. When you follow your desires, meditation becomes something you naturally want to do, and relatively effortless at that. It is incredibly important to choose wisely when it comes to the kind of meditation we do. What gives meditation its vitality and power is its alignment with our desires, inspiration and individual preferences. On the other hand, when meditation fails us, it is usually because of (1) unhelpful framing or instruction, or (2) because we have chosen the wrong kind of meditation for us. In other words, we got dis-oriented or dis-connected from our desires, and went in the opposite direction or on some tangent away from what we actually want or enjoy.
Use your desires like a barometer to guide you towards approaches that you instinctively love, and away from things you don’t like. For example, if you are a music lover, play music while you meditate, or make listening to music your meditation. If you love to be in nature, meditate outdoors. If you love to move, explore moving meditation, walking, tai chi, yoga or dance. Likewise, if you don’t like something—say, breath meditation makes you anxious, or sitting still gives you back pain—just don’t meditate that way. There is no need to force yourself into an approach because someone else likes it, or says it’s good. Find a different type of meditation, one that works for you.
If at all possible, please don’t give up on the whole of meditation because of a few bad experiences. It takes fine-tuning and some guidance, but there is always a way to make it work for you. A good coach or teacher can help (1) guide you towards approaches that suit you, taking into account your individual preferences, personality and life situation, as well as (2) rid you of any unhelpful or unhealthy attitudes and beliefs about meditation that are getting in the way of your experience.
More on adaptations, individuality, and intentions as they relate to meditation in the following post.