Developing Mindfulness with Meditation Practice
It is having open hearts and minds that allows us to be engaged with the world in an open, spacious way. These practices help us with that.
Metta (or loving kindness/ friendliness) meditation is traditionally done by imagining a series of people, starting with our loved ones, and saying scripts in our minds like, ‘may you be happy, may you be well’. This works for some people, but I find it a little formal.
I prefer to relax into a state of friendliness. Thinking about children that I love or animals that I find cute is a good way to access this state. If you’re feeling tense, looking at pictures or videos of some cute animals before you start can really help. Place your awareness in your heart space if you can and enjoy embodying this state of being relaxed and open.
During walking meditation or in daily life, I sometimes just say ‘hey’ to things in my mind to remind myself to open to them in a friendly way. Like, ‘hey tree’, ‘hey snail’, ‘hey stranger walking down the street’ etc. etc.
While you are meditating and in this state you can also imagine some people or situations that you find more challenging and see if you can retain a feeling of relaxed friendliness. We are trying to ‘wear in’ the feeling so that we are more likely to be able to stay in it during our days.
Concentrating on Spaciousness
Meditating on spaciousness helps us open our minds. Instead of fixating on things, we are creating space for them to be there.
For this meditation we are focusing on creating a sense of what that spaciousness would be like. We can make space for our thoughts and the perception of our sensations, emotions and feelings to arise in our experience.
Step 1: Body
- Find something in experience to concentrate your mind on – a part of experience or a part of the body
Step 2: Heart
- Are you perceiving an energy, a sensation, an emotion, a visual, or something else?
- Does it have a tone, colour or shape?
- Is there anything else you would use to describe it?
- Remember that you can’t get it wrong.
Step 3: Mind
- Is there anything that needs to be expressed – thoughts, reactions, feelings?
- Are you repressing any part of it? What’s the worst thing that could be expressed?
- Remember that this no such thing as a ‘bad’ expression during meditation.
Step 4: Soul
- Imagine creating enough physical space that these thoughts and emotions could express themselves in.
- What would that look like? What would that feel like right now?
- Are the thoughts and emotions free to pass through without resistance? If not, what does the resistance feel like?
- Carry on until the thoughts and emotions run out and you settle into a state of peace or until you want to end the meditation.
If we create enough spaciousness we can allow all thoughts and feelings to be expressed without needing to resist them. This may cause our sense of separate awareness to dissolve into the space around us and we notice that our minds don’t exist separately from it. We get access to experiencing our mind as a sense organ.
This can create a huge amount of spaciousness in how we perceive the world and ourselves. When we realise that these thoughts and feelings don’t say anything about us in the way that we thought, it can open up a completely different perspective on life.
Connecting the Heart and the Mind
In order to survive we will have created a split between our hearts and our minds.
Our hearts want to be loved and our mind wants to be safe. Safety is the most important thing, so we learn to adopt the perceptions and ways of being that keep us alive even if it means rejecting parts of ourselves or others.
Part of this is the ways we have learned to see and behave in order to be accepted by our primary caregivers when we were growing up and as adults by our peers. To feel safe in life, we need to be accepted in the tribe.
When there are strong feelings within us, met with a situation that we have learned is unsafe, this triggers us.
We believe that the way that our mind behaves is the ‘right’ way, as that is what we have learned is going to keep us safe. This reactive, triggered state creates a lot of black and white thinking and a strong sense of what is wrong and right, as opposed to an open curiosity or a compassionate understanding of the situation.
This can manifest as an inner critic or a predator inside us. We either let this eat away at us or we turn it back around on the outside world.
We end up with a ‘big’ part of us, that is the judgemental critic whose role it is to keep us safe, and a ‘small’ part of us, that is a helpless inner child that isn’t getting its emotional needs met.
Unless we are able to revisit the trauma and release the script that says we have to maintain these judgements to keep us safe, it gets stuck inside us and we repeat the cycle.
These practices help us explore this dynamic within ourselves and hopefully get a bit more space around them so we feel less at risk when we are in a situation that triggers us.
Step 1: Body
- Start by evoking a sense of how you feel when you are triggered – for example, angry or afraid
- Where does it feel like this exists in your experience?
Step 2: Heart
- How would you describe it? Is it an energy or a felt-sensation or could it be represented by an archetypal or imagined figure?
- Does it feel big or small?
- How else would you describe it?
- Can you identify the other side of the dynamic of the big and small? Is it an energy or an archetype? How would you describe it?
- How would you describe the scene or location that this big and small parts are in?
- Is there anything either part would like to say?
- Remember that you can’t get it wrong
Step 3: Mind
- Ask the big part – it if it had all the energy in the world, what would it do? Burn down the world, kill people, seek revenge?
- Ask yourself – if you had all the energy in the world, how would you destroy the big part? Can you imagine doing that?
- Remember that there is no such thing as bad imagination
Step 4: Soul
- If there is a small part – imagine evoking the energy of an ideal parent figure or someone you admire. What would they say to the small part? What would they provide or do for it?
- What wants to happen now?
- If it feels complete you can end the meditation or sit a while to process.
An example of this in practice:
Step 1: Body
- When I am triggered I feel afraid
- I can feel it in my heart – it’s like a fluttering around the outside of the heart-space
Step 2: Heart
- There’s a small, scared child
- There’s a big, critical demon in a grey coat that is standing over the child and telling it it is worthless
Step 3: Mind
- The demon wants to turn everything in the world into dust
- I can destroy it by crushing it
Step 4: Soul
- I want to take the child by the hand and tell it that is safe now
- Me and the child want to walk away down a path into a green meadow
Practices like this can be deeply transformational. They can work on an archetypal and energetic level freeing up space in our system and allowing us to let go of trauma that shapes our experience.
They can also just be useful for becoming more aware of the processes that are inside of us. It may be that a pattern or dynamic requires some therapy or support in order to process it fully but this is a useful way to become aware of it in a creative, non-judgemental way.
Altered States of Consciousness
There are many varied states of consciousness that we are able to open to in practice. Lots of traditions see them as the highest forms of realisation that you can have, but I prefer to see them as different and interesting ways of experiencing reality.
If we have an open mind about these experiences it creates a sense of spaciousness that means we can reach them with more of a sense of ease and we can more safely adventure into them.
Lots of people claim to have the ‘one way’ of reaching certain states. It is true that there are specific practices that we can do that will help us open our hearts and minds so we are more likely to experience the world in a certain way.
I find it more useful to perceive these states like a friendship. They are not something we can ‘get’. We give ourselves to the practice because we are developing our relationship with our own consciousness and if we experience something pleasant or interesting as a result, we can appreciate that. We can build a stable relationship with certain states where we feel we know them well and can access them more easily.
Balancing the masculine and feminine of love and understanding within us really helps with these. The more you can feel things and let the meaning of things resonate through you, the more you will be able to experience and appreciate the beauty and insight that these states can create. Rather than seeing them as some kind of concrete thing that you have attained.
Some of the things that I am talking about are the jhanas, shamanic journeying, feeling like you are love, dissolving our bodies into pleasant sensations, meeting demons and entities, unity consciousness and feeling the whole of reality as vibrations or energy.
All of these are fun in and of themselves to experience. They can also give us access to deep insight and meaning in life, but the more we can let go of the idea that we are there to ‘get’ those things, the more we can appreciate the process itself.
These are all part of our relationship with life and the Universe. They are a way for us to understand it better and find more intimacy with it. Deepening this relationship naturally gives us insight and changes us as people, like any close relationship.
We can enjoy the opportunity to open into the mystery of life. A lot of it is inexplicable and can only be expressed through poetry or words that convey a meaning and a resonance, rather than the details of what is experienced.
These states can also increase our capacity to meet our experience in general with more awareness and spaciousness as they are often revealing something about the fundamental nature of reality.
When we can see deeper into the nature of reality, we realise that things aren’t always as they seem. We have access to fundamentally different ways of experiencing the world that can reduce how attached we feel to our thoughts and perceptions.
Psychedelic drugs also give us access to these states. The benefit of reaching them through meditation is that we are more likely to be able to bring back the insights and meaning into our daily lives, because we have opened the pathways in our hearts and minds in a sustainable way. However, safely taking psychedelic drugs can be a profound and useful experience for deepening our relationship with the world, experiencing new ways of looking and having some fun.
While all these meditative states do need to be treated with respect, I don’t believe that being secretive about them is particularly helpful for anyone. People experience these things by accident in their daily lives and often in meditation without realising it. It is important for us to be able to find a way to connect with our experiences and make sense of them in a way that is meaningful to us. Without a safe space to hear and talk about them, people will repress their experiences and be much more likely to be disturbed by them.
The resources that I have found particularly helpful when approaching and understanding these states are:
All of these are very open in the way they talk about their topics and allowing and friendly towards altered states of consciousness.
Daniel and I also recorded a conversation in which I speak openly about some of my altered states of consciousness and we discuss and describe the best ways for people to support others who are accessing these states so that they feel safe and rewarding.