Once upon a time not that long ago, something was wrong in my life. I had lost my sense of purpose and I was saying to myself, I hate my life. Reading a book for a retreat I would be attending called Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, I came across a passage.
You know that voice in your head that’s saying all those mean things? author Elisha Goldstein said. Those are just thoughts created by your mind from past experiences. The real you is the one who is listening.
My nose tickled and water collected at the sills of my eyelids. I had always thought that the punishing voice inside my head was who I was. Streams streaked my cheeks and I put the book down -- for the trauma I had put myself through, and for the relief that I might one day be free.
Underneath the inner critic, or what Freud called the superego, is a silent presence, a pure consciousness. Unaffected by culture, this witnessing awareness is what could be called our god nature, connecting us to the eternal wisdom, creativity, and love at the heart of nature.
Meditation quiets the mind — not just the cruel voices, but also the projecting and ruminating, a busyness that distracts from deeper knowings.
One of my favorite ways to meditate is through body awareness. This can be done while moving or when lying or sitting down. If I’m in motion -- getting ready in the morning or walking my daughter to school -- I’ll pay attention to sensations: water slipping over my skin, a hairbrush tugging at my scalp, the round earth meeting my feet, sunlight warming my cheeks.
If I’m not in motion, I’ll focus inside the body: how my knees tingle as if they were made of tiny sparks, my thigh muscles compressing into the chair, my stomach holding my breakfast. This can be done any time, in the span of one minute or one second, and it often lasts only that long before I’m distracted.
When I am paying attention to what is happening in my body, my mind cannot hammer out problems or sketch out projects. Often it will slip out the back door and 10 minutes later I’ll realize I’ve left my body. This is normal, this is okay. I bring my mind back saying, Rest. Let me take care of you for a while.
Meditation is cumulative. The more we meditate, the more balanced we feel and the more we are able to meet life’s challenges with calm.
One of the best parts about meditative states is the way they open us up to receive grace. The world may tell us that trying hard is the way to succeed, but the great religions remind us that we also need to trust.
Sweet moments of intuition, compassion, and creative insight come to me when I am relaxed and open, free of thoughts that constrict me. This is why I meditate.