Every morning and evening as children, we are taught the habitual routine of cleaning our teeth. Children often fight this routine, as - let’s face it - the actual action can be either soothing or uncomfortable, but the resulting sensation of cleanliness and long term benefits for whole body health are worth this daily battle. As adults, this routine is a natural part of the day, and most of us wouldn’t dream of going to work in the morning, to bed at night, or even leaving the house without a good brush!
So what’s this got to do with meditation?
As rational, logical human beings with thinking minds, we are taught from an early age to analyse the external world, whether assessing for danger, learning new information or skills, making conscious, rational decisions or learning to conform to societal norms. Rarely are we taught or encouraged to access intuition, emotion, or tune-in to ourselves and our centre of consciousness - our true being, our inner compass of knowing. We analyse, evaluate and validate ourselves from a rational, external perspective, meaning that we define our ‘being’ from the outside and learn to seek this validation from others, rather from acceptance within.
The purpose of meditation is not contemplation or daydreaming - these are mind-focused processes. Meditation by definition is a quietening of the mind. A simple sentence, but a life-long practice with the ultimate aim of finding inner peace, stillness and bliss. The struggle we all face in meditation is allowing the monkey-mind to take a step back to lean-into deep relaxation and experience our energetic being without judgement, without intrusive thoughts. The mind can be our greatest protector and strongest defence, but also the biggest obstacle to overcome in accessing the core of ourselves, our centre, point of awareness, our essence.
We all have a strong inner critic - that constant judgemental subconscious voice. The voice that reinforces negative beliefs about ourselves, that criticises our inability to just sit and be, because there is always something else we should be doing or ways we should be ‘better’ or ‘more’. If you have tried ‘meditation’ and felt like you’re failing or experienced frustration, what you have actually experienced is simply this voice, the mind, the inner critic.
Human beings experience between 60-80,000 thoughts a day - approximately 80% of which are negative BECAUSE of our societal conditioning and evolutionary predisposition to survive in the world. Imagine if you could quiet some of this negativity, thank the inner-critic for protecting you but reassure them their fear-based drive is not required, and increase the percentage of positively biased thought? How would that feel? How would it feel to truly believe in your entire being that you are safe, enough, deeply loved and at peace?
The thing is about meditation, like yoga, is that by stilling the mind, we gain glimpses of our totality - the union of body and mind without judgement, a journey of ‘being’, acknowledging, experiencing and observing, towards stillness, happiness and peace. Personally, I dislike the phrase ‘letting go’ as to me, it requires a rational process, an action. In accepting, without judgement, we are able to bring in all parts of ourselves with compassion and love, and be with ourselves in wholeness. No human being is all good, or all bad - the labels of good and bad are in themselves a judgement of self or society.
Meditation, unconscious and conscious healing - seeking balance
We are beings programmed to seek balance in all things, with an intuitive innate capacity to heal. Allowing our judge and jury to define which parts of ourselves are unacceptable, and therefore need ‘letting go of’ (or putting in jail?!), is not acceptance of self. By ‘letting go’ or pushing them away, are we not attempting to quarantine their existence on a rational level, saying ‘you are not OK’?! This is not to say that all of our behaviours are acceptable when directed at others, but can be accepted within ourselves and integrated into our being.
In unconscious seeking of balance and healing, we frequently play-out past patterns of behaviour, relationships, addiction or self-harm. Often this results in cycles of deep-rooted shame, self-blame and continued sense of not being ‘enough’ in many or all aspects of our lives. In conscious seeking, we begin to recognise these patterns as implicit, trained responses or actions, acknowledge their presence and have compassion for their origins. This unconscious seeking forms the basis of many powerful self-help books (Getting the Love You Want) that bring conscious awareness to our ingrained ways of being.
As you learn to listen to yourself as your own best-friend, not worst-enemy, accept and embrace imperfection, respond to yourself with true empathy not sympathy or criticism, it is possible to find gentle balance and healing. In conscious seeking, it is possible to feel gratitude for the trained responses that at some point in your life have protected you in some way, and appreciate them for what they are. Meditating on these responses and ‘feeling into’ them, removing ego, can enable a deeper felt sense, thereby a deeper response, deeper appreciation, deeper healing.
Self-love is not narcissistic, it is necessary. Self-compassion is not feeling sorry for yourself, it is acceptance. Self-confidence is not egotistical, it is empowerment. The deeper journey is not, actually, often gentle - it can be turbulent, exhausting, emotional, raging, but equally joyful, exhilarating, restorative and deeply validating.
If we can observe thoughts, feelings, reactions and emotions, sit with them and allow them to ‘be’ and pass through, we’re reprogramming our way of being to allow, not suppress, release not hold, and ultimately heal the deepest parts ourselves by nourishing the roots not fighting the symptoms. Only in compassionate awareness of our logical, rational mind, and felt emotions in balance can we find growth and acceptance. Being truly aware in the present moment, watching and observing from a place of presence is a powerful tool. Like any new skill, it takes practice, perseverance, patience, but with these things, becomes easier with time.
If we fail to brush our teeth every day, we subject our bodies to possible long-term ill health. In the shorter term we notice the fuzzy build-up, bad breath, nasty taste. Beginning meditation requires patience, self-compassion and regular practice as you begin to notice the common threads of thought and feeling, the fuzziness, the build-up, the patterns. Continued practice and regularity allows for greater clarity, with clarity comes acceptance, with acceptance comes peace.
Every now and then we might visit the dreaded dentist for a deep clean - 30 minutes of often uncomfortable cleaning, bright lights and discomfort. Facing the dentist, can be like facing yourself - it takes resilience, but afterwards you feel better for it - you just can’t stop running your tongue over your teeth!! Retreats can provide the opportunity for a deep clean, though hopefully the prospect of going on a retreat is a pleasurable one, not filled with dread! Allowing yourself to take time for some deep reflection, meditation and observation, enables choice, direction, self-acceptance, love and compassion - one retreat is not going to ‘fix’ your life, but the intention is that you will find conscious steps you can make on your journey towards a life directed from your inner compass, not dictated by the external world.
Meditation, like yoga, is not something that can (or should) be forced. If you are seeking perfection, you are passing judgement. Our bodies and minds are all unique. Accepting that, breathing into it and ‘being’ with it enables deeper relaxation, which takes us a small step closer to healing-whether a deeper stretch, a moment of peace. Each brings us closer to our messy, whole, wonderful balance of yin and yang selves - to the centre point around which light and dark oscillate. To be human is to be imperfect, to embrace imperfection is to invite in freedom, joy, contract, colour, spontaneity, acceptance, love, connection. To be in that moment of embrace with awareness now, is to be alive. Brene Brown - joy… gratitude… numbness…
Types of meditation
In our retreats, we incorporate a variety of meditations - some as longer and individual sessions, others at appropriate moments in a workshop to truly feel into the topic being addressed. Some of my favourite forms of meditation are not on this list - scuba diving for me is a place of peace - focusing on the breath, being aware of the surroundings and bringing the two into balance in a total appreciation of ‘now’. Brushing your teeth, if done with mindful awareness and focus on sensations, can be a form of micro-meditation, as can eating, driving,
Walking meditation - walk our beautiful labyrinth with mindful awareness of every step, heel-to-toe. As you move towards the centre, set an intention to release all that no longer serves, and on the return journey, invite in self-compassion, love, joy and gratitude.
Trataka meditation - a three stage meditation focused on the practise of gazing to still the eyes, and in turn, the mind.
Sound Bowl healing meditation - allow the healing vibrations of the singing bowls to bring your brain waves to 'alpha' and allow your nervous system to completely relax.
Guided Meditation - these take many forms and are often image based inviting visualisation of a journey with a specific intention.
Guided Body Scan - enjoy a gentle journey through the body. Through concentrated focus on sensation and gratitude, bring deep relaxation to body and mind.
Inner Child Meditation - this series of meditations bring deep healing and self-compassion as you visualise your inner child at different ages, give them unconditional support and love, and bring them into your heart.
Chakra Focused Meditations - guided meditations focused on bringing energetic balance to the chakras, or focused on each in turn depending on the length of the retreat.