“If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
The term Shinrin-yoku sounds ancient and mystical, as if it was handed down from a mountain monastery by a wizened Zen monk before he turned and disappeared back into the mists, never to be seen again.
In fact, Shinrin-yoku translates as “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” and describes a program developed in Japan in the early 80’s by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
It seems funny that such a sensitive and healing practice could spring out of a beaurocratic body with a name like ‘The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’, but forest bathing is inspired by Shinto and Buddhist practices and comes at a time when the need to be reimagining our relationship with forests, with all of nature, is hitting a crisis point.
Mindfulness and Nature
Humans have lived in close communion with forests for all of our existence. We’re wired to be affected by, and respond to, our natural environment. For so many of us living in urban environments, it’s common to feel that pull towards wilderness in whatever form resonates for us, whether that’s hiking in the forest, climbing mountains, or the gazing out at the ocean. We all know that spending time outside in nature can have a rejuvenating effect on us.
What makes forest bathing more than just ‘being outdoors’, however, is that participants are encouraged to engage with and explore this natural environment consciously, using their senses. So there’s the experience of being outdoors combined with the element of mindful engagement.
There are certified Shinrin-yoku guides who are trained in leading groups in the forest bathing experience. Their job is to guide the group safely and assist them in opening themselves up to the forest through a loose sequence of activities.
Some of the activities include mindful breathing, smelling, listening, and other exercises that encourage interaction with the environment through the sensing body.
Here is a description of a beautiful invitation called ‘shared breath’
With the help of the guides participants get to experience themselves in relationship with the surrounding forest, to feel immersed in the experience, to allow the boundaries of the self to soften a little and let the forest in.
In this way there is a sharing of energy, as the forest is allowed to influence you and nourish the forest bathers.
The guides sometimes lead the group in an activity called ‘The Way of Council’– small meetings where the group is given a forum to support each other in reflecting on their shared experience.
Benefits Of Forest Bathing
Some of the benefits of forest bathing include: lower blood pressure, a reduction in stress, more energy and improved sleep. People who have tried the experience often report feeling a closer, and deeper, connection to nature and themselves. And a lot of people have tried it, with over 2.5 million people in Japan walking forest therapy trails in Japan every year. Yes, they have have spent millions setting up dedicated trails throughout Japan.
It makes sense that Japan would be leading the way with forest bathing, and the extensive research they are doing into the effects of the experience. Japan is highly urbanized and city life is chaotic and draining on the people who live there. One area of the research focuses on the effects of “aromatic volatile substances’, the oils exuded by trees that are breathed in as people walk through the forest. These substances are proving to have profound effects on people’s brains and bodies.
And while the chemical properties of forests might be rejuvenating and contribute great health benefits, my instinct is that the opening up of yourself to the forest, that process of allowing the outside world to come in and affect you, is where the deep healing comes in, as people reconnect to the old ways of being in right relationship to the world that holds us.
“Sentience is not an attribute of a body in isolation: it emerges from the ongoing encounter between our flesh and the forest of rhythms in which it finds itself, born of the interplay and tension between the world’s wild hunger and our own.”
What do you long for? What does your body long for? Are these two different things?
There’s something striking about the shape-shifting nature of desire, and how what we think we desire sometimes turns out to be not so.
A friend described this once as “cravings masquerading as desire”.
The word ‘crave’ has a more grasping quality to it, and seems to hint more at what we think we might want, whereas actual desire seems to come from a deeper place. Another way of saying that might be: craving is what our mind says we want, while desire is what our body says we want
The word ‘crave’ also seems to imply a movement inwards, a curling up in defense against the world. I get the image of a prisoner huddled over their gruel, with one hand spooning the food in and the other curled around the bowl to make sure nobody gets at it.
Desires Stretching Us Out
I’ve also been thinking about another term we use for desire: ‘longing’, and how it has an alternate physical sense to it, that of lengthening, and how our physical response to desire is to reach out to what we long for, almost like a stretch, lengthening our selves in order to get what we want.
The idea of our desires stretching us out–changing our shape–highlights a different gift our desires give us. That of drawing us out of the mental world we construct for ourselves and into a more real world, one that calls us to engage with it and connect.
And as our desires urge us to reach and lengthen, we become more spacious and less closed in, more awake and responsive to the world around us. We touch the world and allow the world to touch us. Maybe the longing that draws us out is also a key element of our aliveness, and necessary for us to feel the fact of our belonging to the world.
Sitting here in my office chair (I’m noticing how I’m all bent at the middle) tapping away on my keyboard, it’s easy to focus on my own smaller wants and forget that I am a being made for interacting in a world with it’s own wild hungers.
Your desires are what call you back to the wild and hungry world that wants your body to interact with it. Asking you to take part in the push and pull of self and world, as we all trade longings in order to stretch and shape each other.
Steam rising from your morning cup of tea, birdsong in the garden, the soft warmth of a blanket thrown over your legs, a small child offering you a smile. Being present often means opening up to the beautiful things in life.
Other times, life presents tougher vistas to take in: sickness, emotional or physical pain, financial woes, getting caught in a storm, a tough crowd bearing down on you.
It’s important to take beauty and goodness in when that’s available. It nourishes and gives us strength. When life throws difficulties our way, it can seem like that’s not such a great time to be practicing presence. It can seem like a good time to be practicing not-presence.
And often, not-presence is what we go for: a click of the remote, a swipe of the phone, a rummage through the fridge, and we find something cool and delicious to distract us. But when we take this route we miss out on something.
Aligning With Truth
Being present means aligning ourselves with our truth, at least as best as we can. That doesn’t always feel so good in the moment. It’s certainly harder to see the beauty in moments when things go awry. But the beauty is there, just as much there as when everything is soft and inspiring.
Think about a time when you’ve suffered. Whether your suffering arrived through personal choices, through the actions of others, or from uncontrollable external forces, it doesn’t really matter. Think about this past version of you moving through that time, bringing all your resources to bear on a situation that may have seemed out of control. You may not have had the resources you have today, but you managed to find a way through.
When we look back on these times in our lives, we can often see the strength and beauty and courage that we were able to come up with in response to difficult circumstances. Even though we might not have seen it at the time, the beauty was always there.
Milk Crates And Scarves
I used to be a member of a Playback Theatre company. In Playback there are four actors, a musician, and a conductor. The actors each sit on a milk crate on stage as the conductor creates conversations with the audience and gets individual members up to tell stories from their lives. The audience member then assigns roles from their story to each of the four actors who then stand up and improvise a performance of that story, using only their milk crates and a few colored scarves as props.
Being a part of this group was such a life changing experience. Time after time we would see people get up and tell their stories. They were often tales of loss and adversity, of moving through great difficulties on the way to personal growth. As people told their story they often felt vulnerable, a little shy, and the conductor would help ease them through the telling of their story and sit with them as the actors played out these scenes.
Something magical was born from act of telling their story in front of a group of strangers and then watching the episode from their life played out in front of them.
Almost everyone I saw who watched their own story played out for them felt uplifted and inspired by their own journey, they all saw something in themselves that they had not seen so clearly or easily before. They saw their own strength and hope and inner resourcefulness played out in front of them, in a way that would have been difficult to access as they were caught up in the actual living out of their stories.
There’s beauty to be found in even the most difficult of times. It can just be very difficult to see that while events are unfolding. And maybe that’s not even the time to be looking for that beauty, sometimes it’s all we can do to apply ourselves to getting through our times of struggle.
The Eye Of The Storm
I’ve been writing this post for a few weeks now. A little here, a little there. Knowing there was something I wanted to say but not quite able to get there.
Then I came across this, from Matt Licata:
“In this moment, which is the only moment that is ever here, you can give yourself the gift of primordial rest. For this is the greatest act of self-love. Lay your hand on your heart. Replace the urgency of becoming with a moment of pure being. Create an inner temple in which your emotions, your sensations, and the longings of your heart can be held in sanctuary and provided safe passage.”
Those few short sentences, cover so much of what I wanted to say in this post. That even in the most difficult of times we can give ourselves the gift of presence. If we can stay present for just a moment in tough times we can access self love, sanctuary, and our desire for safe passage. And what makes this do-able is that it only requires a moment from us, “the only moment that is ever here” as Matt says.
It’s always possible to claim the smallest moments, here and there, for ourselves. We can touch base, be present for ourselves, acknowledge where we are as a way of re-orienting ourselves. The qualities that we usually discover only in hindsight are there, playing out in our story in this very moment, and accessible to us. All we need to do is to give ourselves that single moment to touch base, to rest in the eye of the storm, to become the eye of the storm.
Every once in a while I make a decision to treat myself with kindness and watch what happens. Here’s what happens: things get better.
When I’m kind to myself there’s a softening, a releasing of actual contractions in my body that are there through the habit of continually pushing through my day.
That softening happens even before I do any actual act of self care, whether that might be taking some time to meditate, to rest, to go for a walk, to stop working and feed myself some nourishing food.
All those actions are helpful as well. But it’s important to know that even making the decision to be kind to yourself has an effect.
Something in you responds to self kindness. Something shifts. You will feel it inside, and it will change how you react to other people and to your circumstances.
When you’re kind to yourself, other people notice. Because you become softer, kinder in your contact with them. The kindness ripples out. You develop fresh habits that reinforce self kindness. That kindness will start coming back to you as people respond (in kind!) until it becomes a self reinforcing loop of kindness.
So, being kind to yourself becomes a way of calling in kindness from other sources as well.
What Is Self Kindness?
Self kindness is self care with a heart. It springs from a sense of self compassion.
The idea of self care can easily become a chore if the heart is not involved, a list of things you do out of obligation to yourself, like a daily maintenance program. Self kindness is self care imbued with a sense of tenderness towards yourself.
That used to sound hard to me
“Be kind to yourself” — if someone had said those words to me when I was 24 I would have let loose on them. At that time I was struggling, a lot. I had just entered a twelve step program and was in the process of getting sober and drug free. I did not feel kind towards myself at all.
Self criticism was running strong and, as my life was falling apart, there was also a sense of urgency to put my own needs aside and get things right. I was doing my best to get on track again but, looking back, it seemed like I was making things as hard for myself as I possibly could.
The idea of self kindness would have been hard to take on at that point, even if I had tried. So I know very well that the journey towards self kindness can be difficult in the beginning.
Some ways it can be hard:
- You might be working against a barrage of unhelpful internal / external messages: ”I don’t deserve that’ or “You don’t have time for self kindness, you have work to do!”
- Distractions, obligations, expectations: sometimes you can have so much on your plate already that it seems impossible to carve out more time to practice self kindness, even if you see it as important.
- indulgence = bad: We’re told that a lot, and I’ve definitely heard that little message coming up in my own mind, it can be a hard one to ignore. But really, I don’t think it’s true.
The great thing is that these obstacles to self kindness start to melt away when you apply a little self kindness. Another great thing is that most of us aren’t starting at the beginning, most of us have some experience with being kind to ourselves, some small area in life where we’re able to do that. Finding that place is a great start.
All It Takes Is One Drop
Here’s what I’d say to 24 year old me: “All it takes is one drop.”
One drop of kindness towards yourself, it doesn’t even have to be fully sincere.
5% would probably do. So let’s say, 5% of one drop of self kindness will do to start with.
If you can’t find that 5%, pretending helps. Imagine there is, inside of you, a small drop of something–let’s say mostly water, with 5% of that drop being open to self kindness.
Then get started by acting on behalf of that imaginary droplet.
“Indulge me.” I would say, “Because I’m the same as you, I just learned how to be kind to myself and it made things easier.”
Because all you need to get the ball rolling is the slightest impulse to start. Once you’re doing things in the name of self kindness it starts to feed itself.
How Can You Make It Easier?
Cultivate an attitude of gentle persistence.
Working in the spirit of gentle persistence means you don’t ask too much of yourself. You give permission to make slow progress, and you simply keep going, no matter what. No self criticism, no blame. Just moving gently forward, trusting we are going at the right pace.
Catch those moments when you are being kind to yourself. Sometimes it just occurs naturally, so it’s good to note when that happens. Note down how it felt, what difference it made to you as well. These are useful things to come back to and over time it can be encouraging to be able to look back and see how much progress you’re making.
Set a direction for where you want to go. If you sit down and think of a few ways you’d like to be more kind to yourself then you can plan for that. You can make a time, create a ritual, maybe find a nice setting to do that in, imagine what it will be like beforehand. Setting an intention can be a powerful way to start moving forward.
Know your tendencies
I’m more likely to remember self kindness a little later in the day. Mornings are a blur of activity and I focus on getting the boys fed and off to school, it’s only then that my mind clears a little and I can sense more clearly where I’m at.
That means late morning is when I’m most likely to remember to do a Yoga Nidra meditation, or to write in the garden for a while, so I usually wait till then to build self kindness into my day knowing that fits with my daily rhythm. Again, writing down your observations can be helpful here in finding out the best opportunities to do something for yourself.
Be Kind To Yourself: E-course coming in September
I’m currently in the process of rewriting my course on self care and bringing more emphasis on self kindness, with some new guided meditations and exercises. It will be happening in September (Sign up to my newsletter in the yellow box below if you’re interested to know more)
And how about you? How do you build self kindness into your life? What helps? What gets in the way?
How present are you in your own life?
Are you present to the world around you? How about the people around you? How present are you to your acquaintances, to your loved ones, to yourself?
We’re all capable of being present, at least some of the time.
Even before I started working at this stuff in a serious way, I was often able to be present when I needed to. But sometimes, even these days, I find myself drifting off or forgetting that I’m here.
Presence oscillates. Sometimes it’s here, sometimes it fades a little. I don’t even think we’re built to be present 100% of the time.
But to be present just a little more? We all have room for that. Actually, once you get into the habit of trying to be more present you’ll find your capacity is pretty great. To notice you’ve been absent and gently welcome yourself back is a nice start.
For me, being present means feeling grounded in your body. It means being receptive to the person, or people, in front of you. A big part of being present means being aware of what’s going on in your heart: do you feel tender right now? a little closed off? what are you noticing in there?
We all want to feel more whole, more sane. We all want to feel that we belong. In moments of presence and quiet I start to believe we are all more whole, more sane than we think we are. I certainly believe we all belong.
A Matter Of Kindness
I used to think being present was a matter of trying hard, and wrestling with countless, urgent thoughts. And if you’re thinking that too, I want you to know–it’s not about that.
I used to think no matter how much I meditated, or tried to be mindful, that I was never doing enough. That I wasn’t devoted enough, or smart enough to ever get it. These days I’m so much kinder towards myself because I know that’s all untrue. It’s not true about me, and it’s not true about you either.
Sometimes it’s simply enough to hear birdsong outside your window and remember, “Oh, it’s Spring.”
What does being present mean to you?
Your morning schedule for getting the kids off to school, lunch-breaks at your regular spot, an afternoon walk, journaling at night.
Activities like these are the bread and butter of being alive. We all have routines and schedules that help us move through our days, they give us a sense of grounded-ness and provide a rhythm that helps us keep track of where we are.
As helpful as these routines are to us, there is a way we can make them even more powerful and supportive. That way is to create rituals out of routines.
Rituals are one of the oldest and most powerful tools we have for creating meaning. There are two defining components of a ritual: there is an action that is being ‘ritualized’ and there is a sense of presence, or awareness, built into that activity.
For example, if you have a cup of coffee each morning, making a ritual of that routine would serve to direct your awareness more fully into that act. (More on how to do that later).
How Rituals Can Help You
Rituals can help you feel more connected to yourself, and others.
Because there is usually some sort of action involved, rituals encourage you to be physically present and aware, which helps you to be even more receptive to the meaning behind our ritual.
Rituals inspire you to appreciate what’s important in your life.
Rituals induce a sense of wonder, even through the smallest, most ordinary acts.
Before We Start
A few things:
Rituals don’t have to make sense to anybody but you
They can be playful, celebratory, small, bouncy, silent, wild, simple, flamboyant.
It’s your ritual, so it’s up to you how you run it.
Rituals are alive
They shift and develop, just like you, and over time your relationship to them will change. If you find that your ritual has become stale and less meaningful over time, it’s a sign that you need to re-enliven it and make it relevant to your daily life again.
Repetition, Repetition, Repeatedly
It can be useful to perform your ritual at regular intervals. Repetition creates rhythm. Rhythm creates a sense of comfort and safety. Once that rhythm is built up, your ritual can become a vibrant container for power and meaning.
Did you Get That Down?
As you go, record what happens to you as a result of doing your rituals. Over time you will notice some amazing things. It can be the small things that really make a big difference.
How To Create A Ritual
Set out below are a few simple ideas to help you to come up with your own rituals. You can think about them and get a feel for how they might work for you when you are designing your own rituals.
When you are ready to put together your own customized ritual, pick the ones that resonate for you and use them as building blocks.
Setting An Intention:
Rituals can help you to focus on a particular qualities you would like to bring into your life, or changes you would like to make.
What is something that you would like to focus on right now?
It could be a habit that you would like to begin, a quality (like courage or kindness) that you would like to bring into your life, maybe something you’d like to celebrate or remember. Once you have that thing you want to focus on, the next step is to write your intention.
What you would like to see change in your relation to that aspect of your life.
Once you have the thing you would like to focus on, the next step is to choose the change that you intend to bring about.
For example, if you picked kindness as something you would like to develop in yourself, the change could be broad: I want to become kinder. Or more specific: I want to be kinder to myself.
Setting an intention like this infuses it into our ritual and helps us to remember the bigger picture. It also encourages us to be more present and aware as we do the activity.
We’ve looked at the importance of rhythm, and choosing an appropriate time for your ritual is one way you can build that sense of rhythm in.
It’s useful to think about how often you want to do this ritual. Is it a daily thing? More than daily? Maybe it’s a ritual that wants to take place on a weekly basis, like a Sunday meal. Weekly, daily, hourly, however you space your rituals out, it’s going to build that sense of rhythm and repetition, like a pulse moving through your days.
It’s important that the timing of a ritual is suited to your own needs, and to your own mood or energy as well.
For example, early morning is a wonderful time to set up a meditation practice, but I’ve always had trouble maintaining that as a practice. I do my meditation in the evenings, and I find I’m more alert and dropped in then I am when I meditate in the mornings.
Paying attention to the space you will be performing your ritual in can make them even more powerful.
A useful first step is to select a quiet and private space to conduct your ritual in peace.
You can include and honor your physical self by selecting beautiful and meaningful objects that wake your senses up, like: candles, scented oils, flower arrangements, foods, water, tea, inspirational photos/figures, tactile objects stones/beads sounds-music, nature space with sounds.
You could think of this space as an altar, or simply a private sanctuary just for your use.
Having a dedicated space to return to can add a sense of power to your ritual.
Dedicating a space is a form of intention setting in itself, it’s a declaration that you’ll perform your rituals over time and that you’ll honor our rituals by giving them a home.
Having a place to regularly perform your rituals means the space will eventually start to change: churches, meditation halls, yoga studios all absorb the energy of the rituals and practices that take place in them, and you can often feel a power in these places that helps you settle in and prepare.
Embodying An Action
A key element in most rituals is that they incorporate some sort of physical action.
The action of a ritual often serves as a metaphor and provides some sort of support as you move towards your intention. Performing the ritual helps to anchor the meaning as you act out the process of being transformed through the ritual. You get to include your whole self through this process.
What actions can you include in your ritual to ground it in your body, in your own life?
A nice place to start is by choosing actions you already do each day: making a cup of coffee in the morning; bathing; regular tasks; unwinding activities.
I love this post by Dana at Alchemist Eating (it inspired me to work on this post) where she talks about a brief ritual she and her partner share at their evening meal. It’s beautiful, simple, and tailored to them and their relationship. It’s a great example of using an everyday action as the starting point for a meaningful ritual.
It’s important to have a sense of closing the ritual. You’ve created a space where you get in touch with the intuitive and soulful aspects of your being, and it’s important to build a sense of completion before you return to your everyday activities.
Some ways you could do this:
Perform a simple, closing activity while noting that the ritual is over and you are moving onto the next thing.
Being attentive as you extinguish the candle, leave the room, stand up, close your journal–whatever your closing activity is, be in a mindful state and note to yourself:
“This ritual is complete, I am now heading into the next part of my day.”
Over To You
Do you have any important rituals in your life? Something that you’ve put together yourself, or rituals from a group you’re a part of? What makes them special and meaningful for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
My introduction to meditation came through doing a recorded guided meditation. At the time, I wasn’t really interested in meditation at all. I was interested in controlling the thick, sticky webs of anxiety that were hemming me in.
I was in my mid twenties and in early recovery from alcohol / drug addiction. The guided meditation helped. I soon started collecting recordings that had ‘stress relief’ in the title and listened to them almost daily for a few years, until I walked into a meditation group and began a more formal sitting meditation practice.
After a long break I’ve rediscovered guided meditations over the last four years or so. Last year I began training as an I-Rest Yoga Nidra teacher. Guided meditations are again a daily part of my life, and they work beautifully as a component of my meditation practice.
Guided meditations can provide a deep and powerful practice. This means it’s worth taking the time to set up your experience so you get the most possible benefit. So let’s look at some ways you can get the most out of doing guided meditations.
What is a guided meditation?
A guided meditation is a meditation you do with the help of a guide. The guide may be in the room with you giving verbal directions, or you might listen to instructions through an audio recording.
In this post we’ll be focusing on how to get the most out of a guided meditation recording.
The role of the guide is to support you in moving through a meditation process from start to finish in a safe and helpful way. Even in a regular meditation practice there is usually some form of guidance going on—meetings with a teacher, classes and discussions, readings.
The main difference is that on a guided meditation, the guidance is an in-the-moment affair. The guide is right there with you, in a sense, as you go through the experience.
Having a practice that combines guided and non-guided meditation sessions is like a form of spiritual cross-training. Both sides of the equation are enhanced.
Set an intention for your practice
As you are getting ready to do your guided meditation take some time to reflect on what you are hoping to get from your practice. Imagine that you have been using guided meditations for a while, what are some of the changes you imagine might happening for you as a result? Go over your answers and choose any that appeal to you. These can serve as seeds your starting intention.
Briefly imagine what it would be like if these desired results come through. What would it feel like? What subtle changes would you notice? Is there something different the people closest to you might notice if you these things started happening for you?
Once you know what you would like to get from your guided meditations, then your intention becomes clearer. Perhaps your intention is to create some kind of lasting change, to ‘feel calmer’ or ‘have more energy’. You might simply want an enjoyable experience.
Having an intention for your guided meditation practice can be helpful when it comes to choosing your meditation, and can help you keep motivated to do the guided meditation regularly.
If you journal, write your intention down. A line or two is plenty. What you are wanting is to bring that intention into the world and affirm it.
Writing down your intention is also useful as you can come back later and reflect on how it’s going. You can determine if anything has changed, or been clarified, about your intention. This allows you to refine your practice as you go.
Find a guided meditation recording that suits you.
I learned the importance of this the hard way after purchasing a few ‘unlistenable’ guided meditations.
Listening to a guided meditation is an act of trust. You are relaxing some of your defenses and agreeing to be led through a process,. To do this it’s important that you feel comfortable with both the process and the person leading it.
Always try to access a preview of any meditation you are interested in buying or downloading. That way you can listen to a few minutes of the audio and decide if it’s suitable for you.
What to listen for:
Is the guide’s voice soothing or comfortable? Is it annoying in some way? Is there any background music / background sounds? How do you feel when you hear them? Soothed? Inspired? Annoyed?
This is important, because you don’t want to be lying there rolling your eyes and arguing with the guide as you meditate. You want to be able to let go and be fully with the meditation. If a preview annoys you then it’s going to be difficult to give all your attention to the meditation.
Also check for periods of silence between the instructions. A skillful guide allows you some space to feel the meditation process. There should be a nice rhythm between verbal guidance and silent spaces for you to experience, and get the fruits of, that guidance.
What imagery or themes are covered? Imagery is often a key part of guided meditations. You can usually get a sense of what imagery might be in the meditation by reading the description, or from the cover art.
And finally, does it fit with the intention you set in the first step?
If you are wanting to feel less anxious, does this seem like the kind of meditation that will help you with that? If you wanted an enjoyable experience, does it seem like a meditation that will give you this experience?
Create A Safe and Nurturing Container For Yourself
You’ve thought about what you want from your guided meditation, you’ve chosen your recording, now it’s time to create a container for your experience.
Can you find a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. You might think of it as your own personal oasis tucked away in the middle of your day.
You want to dive into this experience fully.
Make your meditation space beautiful and nourishing for you. Eventually you will develop associations with the place you do your guided meditations. Over time, as you lie or sit down to do the meditation you are rewiring your neural networks and soon enough just the act of preparing for your session will shift you into a relaxed and receptive state.
Make yourself Comfortable
Now that you have your space set up, it’s time to get your body taken care of and ready to go.
Make yourself comfortable. Not too comfortable though, unless you want to go to sleep. Find a middle balance between too squishy and too hard. I like to lie on the floor in a darkened room with a yoga mat and a blanket over me.
Some other options might include: a comfortable chair, eye pillow, bolsters, cushions, a folded up towel or thin pillow under head.
During The Meditation
The most important thing you can do during the meditation is to relax and enjoy the meditation as much as you can. This is not meant to be hard work, and you can’t really get it wrong.
Occasionally you will drift off during a meditation, that’s perfectly okay. It’s also okay to make it easier for you to stay focused and aware during the meditation process.
A Simple Trick To Avoid Drifting Off
Remember earlier, when I suggested you listen to a preview to see if the guide’s voice is a fit for you? If you did that then this tip will be much easier to follow.
As you listen to the voice, imagine it is an internal voice in your head. This helps to minimise thinking and distractions as you follow the meditation. It requires trust in the person doing the meditation, and that you are comfortable with the person’s voice/mannerisms etc.
Adopting the guide’s voice like this takes a layer of thinking out of the process. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, then definitely don’t. But if you do, it can really deepen your experience.
Ease Back Into Your Day
We’ve looked at the preparation process before the meditation and how that helps. Just as important is the process of transitioning back into your day after the meditation.
Allow yourself some time to come out of the meditation. Guided mediations can be very powerful, you need to integrate the practice and feel fully prepared to move back into your day.
Specific actions like having a few moments to stretch your body, or wash your face, maybe have a sip of water. Even packing away your things can serve as a useful transition ritual. Any kind of movement works.
I like to walk around a little, to ground myself by putting my awareness down into the feet and walking a little. Physical actions are great because they ground you back into the physical world.
I also find it helpful to say something out loud like: “I am now stepping back into my day.” Or “This meditation is now complete.”
It doesn’t take much to get you ready, but it is important to take one or two clear actions that say “I am moving onto the next thing.”
A Final Guided Meditation Tip
Just a final point if you are thinking of doing guided meditations as a regular thing.
It’s good to try a few different options and develop a feel for what you like, but once you have a couple of guided meditations that really work for you stick with them for a while.
A good guided meditation can be useful over a period of time, I like to spend a t least a month or so regularly doing a guided meditation before moving onto a new one.
If you jump around too much you miss out on this deepening aspect of the practice. And remember, if you’re interested in meditation you probably have a desire to settle, to ground deeply, and investigate. Bring that sense of grounded-ness to your guided meditation practice and you will see the benefits over time.
I hope this is helpful to you. Do you do guided meditations? If so, maybe you could share some things that have helped you get the most out of your practice. Let us know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
In Paris I went to neither the art academy nor to the professors. The city itself was my teacher, in all things, in every minute of the day. The market folk, the waiters, the hotel porters, the farmers, the workers. They were enveloped in something of that astounding atmosphere of enlightened freedom that I had never come across anywhere else.
Do you ever have moments where the veil falls away and the world presents itself fresh and new?
My wife and I spent a morning running errands recently and pulled up at a stoplight outside a cafe. A woman on a bicycle was propped beside our car waiting for the light to change. A couple walked, arms linked, in front of the stopped traffic. In the cafe every table was occupied, at least those visible from the street, and on each table there was at least one laptop open. One man looked through the window, checking out the woman on the bike.
I was struck by how particular this scene was to this moment, to this corner of the city, to the people present, and the activities they were doing. It was a grey Seattle day which threw a soft light over everything, and beneath the bustle of activity everyone seemed relaxed. Things moved in slow motion.
That moment will never be repeated exactly again.
Well it’s Seattle, so the clouds will probably be repeated. Never in that exact same way, though.
The woman on the bike will never lean in just that way, in just that spot, watched by just those eyes as she waits for the light to change. The relationship between the couple crossing the road will never be quite the same again. Tomorrow it may be deeper, or fonder, more fraught, or finished. The man looking out the window might never see the woman bike-rider again. Or he may see her tomorrow, run down the road and ask her out.
The light changed and we drove off. The moment of seeing, of really seeing that little scene, dropped away and a veil slipped back over the world.
I don’t remember much at all of the rest of the trip. I was caught up in thoughts, or conversation for most of it. We probably stopped at a few more lights at which nothing really caught my eye, and soon enough we were home again.
But that small moment outside the cafe stays with me. It was just a plain moment, but bright in its plainness.
I read recently that when visitors came to Chagall’s studio they had to wait for him to throw on a pair of pants, because he painted naked. That nakedness shines through in his paintings, too.
I love this gesture of casting away what stood between him and his canvas.
Brief moments where I see the world clearly make me realise how muffled my view usually is. It makes me wonder if sometimes I walk around like a guy wearing a pair of pants over my head.
I’m not sure we’re even built to see the world in all its brilliance all the time. I’m sure we gather that mental clothing around us in self-protection, but I’m also pretty sure I go through life a little overdressed.
One payoff from building your capacity to notice, to be present, is that the discipline in showing up regularly in this way ensures you’ll hit roadblocks and stop signs that occasionally strip away your mental clothing, forcing you to see things as they really are, if only for a brief moment, before the rush to cover back up again.
It makes sense that we would all want to be as present as possible. After all, who wants to fritter their life away in constant distraction?
When thinking about meaningful moments in our lives it’s easy to run off a list of the big moments-birthdays, weddings, births, promotions, achievements, retirement. We all make a special effort to be present for these moments and in many cases there are special rituals and traditions that helps us.
But what about all the small moments between the seemingly big ones. Are they any less important? A child hugging you tightly after they’ve fallen and hurt themselves, seeing the small wisp of steam rising from a cup of tea, a stranger smiling at you at the grocery store.
We dream of the big moments and expect that we will be present for them because they’re big. But if we’re unable to be there for the small moments, why do we think we’re going to do a better job of being there for the bigger ones?
Being Present Is A Practice
Somatic Coach and trainer, Richard Strozzi Heckler, says “You are what you practice.”
If you spend time being distracted, you cultivate the practice of distraction. If you spend time being present, you cultivate the practice of presence.
It’s as simple as that.
It’s a difficult truth because we are saturated in convenient and enjoyable options for being distracted. To turn away from all of this we need to make an intention to be more present.
And this ‘being more present’ becomes a new practice.
That starts with making presence something that is focused and engaging for you.
Because a practice is something that you are going to want to come back to again and again. The best way to make the door slam shut on a good intention is to make it seem like a chore.
A Simple Doorway Into Presence
There is a doorway into presence that, by its nature, wishes to stay open.
It’s the door of Curiosity.
The door of curiosity is a doorway that invites you to leave judgements behind. It encourages a sense of playfulness. There is a lightness to curiosity, and when you are deeply curious everything becomes fresh and gives you a sense of nourishment.
There’s an energy to curiosity that keeps pulling you lovingly forward. Well, it my also invite you sideways at times, which is why it helps to have a clearly focused goal to work with that will keep your curiosity on course.
We will talk about how to build that in in a little while.
Getting Curious About Curiosity
One of the root meanings of curiosity comes from the word curiosa meaning ‘full of care’. I like that the quality of ‘care’ is inherent in the concept of curiosity. It makes sense too, that care wold be a necessary ingredient that allows curiosity to remain engaged with it’s subject.
The act of remaining engaged through curiosity also deepens the sense of care. When we are with something in a curious way, care seems to naturally come up. There is this self generating quality of aliveness that also builds up over time.
Curiosity is in all of us. It pretty much ran the show when we were small children and is lying there inside you always ready to be reactivated.
The How Of Curiosity
Curiosity begins in the body.
It’s awakened by our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. The flood of information from the outside world is met at the door by curiosity, which then proceeds to hang out with them, relish, mingle and learn from then.
Our mind is awakened in this meeting, and thoughts and questions rise up as we try to process new information.
This wonderful and natural process can also get a little overwhelming if our goal is to not get carried away.
It’s important that we take some time to think about how we want to be present. This will help us find ways to harness our curiosity, to allow us to remain present and not be pulled away.
Questions are a simple tool we can use to create a sense of focus and direction. A question gives our curiosity an agenda, a purpose. Unchecked curiosity can lead us in an infinite amount of directions, and that’s not a bad thing if that’s what you are wanting to so. But if you have a specific goal, like being present for ourselves, then direction and focus are going to be helpful.
In his book, ‘The Big Leap’ Gay Hendricks introduces the idea of wonder questions. These are questions designed to inspire a sense of wonder in the questioner. They are open ended and yet focused at the same time. And start with the phrase “I wonder …”
A useful wonder question might be “I wonder what it would be like if I could feel my breathing whenever I wanted?”
This kind of question allows our curiosity to wake up a little, and gives it a sense of focus. Our curiosity is being given the sole task of feeling the breath.
Another benefit of the Wonder Question is the aspect of embodiment it offers. Hendricks suggests that when you ask the question to yourself, you ask the question out loud and at the end you add a humming sound.
As in, ““I wonder what it would be like if I could feel my breathing whenever I wanted? Hmmmmmm.”
This humming is something that we’ve all done when asking a question, but in this case it has a distinct effect that helps the process.
When you hum in this way after the question it sends a vibration through the body, as if you are infusing the question through your whole being.
Try it. There is something magical about humming, and it certainly gives a sense that you are bringing your whole self to the question.
And this is important, because sometimes questions can exile us from the body. Holding a question in this embodied way helps keep it engaged with the body and infused with aliveness.
Reflection is something that generally happens after the event, but this is a really helpful step and will help you to direct and get the most benefit from your rides into curiosity.
After you’ve spent some time with this question that’s designed to help you explore the present moment, it’s really helpful to scribble a few notes about your experience.
Was it interesting? Dull? Did anything new reveal itself? Did anything shift in your thinking, in your body, when you were present to your breath in this way?
Even if you don’t keep these notes there is value just from taking a moment or two to process and integrate what happened.
It also helps to build habit, ritual, and a sense of history into your presence practice.
A Presence Practice For You
Softening Into Curiosity:
Pick an activity that gives you pleasure-eating chocolate, drinking tea, sitting in front of a fire, stepping into the garden.
Think of a simple question you can ask yourself that focuses on your present moment experience of this activity.
Eg: “As I drink this cup of tea, I’m wondering if I can be aware of these sensations I’m feeling?” or “As I walk through the garden, I’m wondering if I can be aware of the smells that come to me?”
Oh, and remember to hum at the end … Hmmmm? Now that you have your activity, and a question to help you focus:
Let go of everything you know about this activity.
Let go of your previous experiences, and any thoughts about how it might be this time. Just soften so that you can be receptive for the activity.
Do this by allowing your awareness to drop down through your body. Imagine your awareness as the slowest, gentlest waterfall—the water is perfectly warm and comfortable as it moves down through your body. Allow this awareness to move all the way from the top of your head down to your feet.
Once you feel present and receptive, begin your chosen activity.
Pretend it’s the first time ever.
Allow your question to guide you, and if other sensations/feelings come up, notice them too.
Once you’ve spent a few minutes doing your activity, exploring your experience make sure to jot down a few notes.
It could be in a journal, on a scrap of paper. It doesn’t matter much, the important thing is to capture it somewhere. Doing this helps you to integrate the experience. If you do this exercise regularly your reflection notes will become valuable as you will begin to see your experience shifting over time.
You might start to notice different sensations and feelings that come up, and your relationship to this activity may deepen, or change over time.