What is Meditation?
Meditation is any practice that helps us focus the mind, relax the body and connect to our heart. We use meditation practices to heal, build mana (energy or life force), cultivate kindness and increase awareness.
Many people think of meditation as sitting quietly and not moving. And, they think they can’t meditate. Yet meditation is easier to achieve than you might think.
Here is the simple and complete defintion of meditation.
Meditation is a practice of awareness.
Let this truth soak in, Meditation is a process of awareness. Yes, meditation is quite simple. However, thousands of meditation practices exist. Some practices are simple, and some can take many years to master.
What varies from technique to technique, practice to practice is:
- How do you open or expand your awareness.
- What are you using your awareness for?
Many meditation techniques change the way the mind thinks or the state of mind to fine-tune and deepen the awareness. Awareness is also a process of connection. How you use the awareness to connect to the world around you is a personal choice.
To achieve awareness certain conditions usually must be met. For example. If you are too busy, then it isn’t easy to be aware. So the first step is to slow down, to pause a bit. Once in pause, it’s then possible to be in a place of stillness. In stillness, you can then connect out far. It isn’t required to connect out once in stillness; it’s one option for many.
Ironically many people in the west meditate not to be aware but rather as a method to find peace or quietness. Since one step to becoming aware is to pause, so if you are too busy running around, going into a meditation session to pause is a gift indeed. Many people in the west misunderstand meditation, thinking it’s all about the pause and peace rather than awareness.
Discover meditation can be many things, all depending on how you use your awareness.
Let’s go over the most common styles (or approaches) of practicing meditation.
When imagining someone meditating, we often visualize a person sitting upright with their legs crossed in what is called a lotus position. This is a classic sitting meditation practice.
One example of a sitting meditation is called Vipassanā. This Buddhist practice starts with “mindfulness of breathing” where the person meditating focuses the mind on the breath. A Vipassana retreat is typically held over four or ten-day lengths of time.
Then, the practice shifts to focusing the mind on any sensations in the body. The mind scans the outside of the body to start and notices sensation while continuing to scan the body. Through this practice, the invitation is to realize the impermanence of everything – breath, thoughts, body sensations, and the self. The ultimate goal is freedom.
Sitting meditation is wonderful because you can do it anywhere you can sit. I love sitting meditation as a way to achieve mental clarity rather quickly. It is the fastest way I’ve found to release mental chatter and utilize my mind for making clear decisions without worry, questioning or the back and forth “unknowing” of a cluttered mind.
Active meditations involve the motion of the body and attention to that motion. By focusing the mind on the motion and shapes of the body, the mind realizes patterns and receives insights that often feed a fuller life.
Examples may include yoga, ecstatic dance, and walking meditation. Bradford Keeney describes the Shaking Medicine of the Bushmen of Botswana, Africa in his book Shaking Medicine. He says, “We enter the healing and transformative experiences of the shaking body. Here we find ourselves, maybe for the first time, in the kindergarten of ecstatic wisdom. We experiment with giving up control.”
This type of meditation can be integrated into daily life as any motion, such as eating or walking, can become an active meditation. By focusing our attention on our motion, we often experience increased energy in the body, clear thoughts guiding us, and balanced emotions flowing from the heart.
Active meditations help me to ground, center, flow with life, open, release, and express. Generally, they help me be more present in my physical body and express emotions more fluidly (rather than allowing them to get stuck or be repressed). By aligning my thoughts with the body and heart, I experience more full and active moments in life where I am thinking, feeling, and moving in a connected, graceful way.
Active meditation is especially powerful during emotional moments of life and midlife crisis. This is because active meditation is working your muscles where emotions get stored in life. This allows for emotional growth at times of crisis. For this reason, many people experiencing emotional crisis will stop moving in an attempt to avoid emotions. Generally speaking movement and using your awareness to work through the change is a better answer than not moving.
Lucid meditations focus the attention on the travels of our consciousness. In western cultures, it is often viewed that the consciousness is inseparable from the physical body. However, shamanic cultures experience the consciousness as able to travel both in and outside of the body.
Examples of lucid meditation include visualization, dreaming and shamanic journeying. A common visualization is to imagine a place in nature that you love and feel at peace in. We can visit this place for restoration, power, and relaxation. Similarly, dreams can be experienced as the consciousness traveling while the body and mind sleep. It is common to set an intention for guidance or a healing dream right before going to bed. Shamanic journeys are typically done while our body and mind are physically awake. Drumming, rattling and hallucinogenic plants are often used to inspire the consciousness to travel.
Practicing lucid meditation may be for a variety of purposes such as relaxation, to gain information and for healing. The places we travel to are often beyond the imagination. By being willing to allow the consciousness to travel we may find ourselves journeying to the heart of our body, venturing into the future and meeting our future life partner. Whatever the course, we will find ourselves on the path of our destiny.
As one participant stated:
Julie is an absolutely amazing teacher. I’ve been working with her for over a year. In that year, she’s taught me movement meditation and I’d previously been unable to meditate in any way. She’s also helped me develop spiritually and find my path. (Isabella, 2013-2014)
Diving into Meditation
As the subtle tides of our world shift, this becomes a good time to practice awareness and meditation, to flow with life, rather than get caught in a riptide against one’s nature. As the world slowly is being burned by the modern consumer culture, it’s also creating a time where people want to reconnect with the living world around us. As people get more aware of their lives again, it also means people are getting more curious about reconnecting with spirit.
Our inner spirit always contains a map that reflects the larger universe. So pay close attention and look inward to inner spirit. Looking outwards means to miss what is transitioning now, within your heart. Take time to look inward, and you can also connect with a surety of self with the larger world.
Without awareness, you cannot sense and work with spirit. Without a practice of awareness, it isn’t possible to be a shaman.
Awareness is the process of sensing everything around us in life. With awareness, we can act, navigate, and connect to everything. Awareness makes it possible to take control of our actions rather than only being bounced about by the universe.
The question becomes, what is it that you need to connect to, to help complete your life?
We have four levels of awareness. Just because you are aware doesn’t mean you are meditating.
(1) Awareness of our Senses.
(2) Awareness of Measurement (Judgement)
(3) Interactive Awareness (Where you and what you are aware of are shaping each other in a back / forth process)
(4) Awareness with Acceptance. (Releasing judgment but still active in being a witness)
Most people spend their time on the first two levels. To actively meditate, you need to be at the third or fourth level of Awareness. The third and fourth levels of awareness are not as simple as they seem. The third level of awareness is a bit strange because you can apply level 2 or 4 of awareness in how you interactively work with something. If you are in Interactive awareness with Judgement, chances you are not meditating properly nor gracefully. For example, driving is an example of Interactive Awareness with Measurement. Driving can feel very similar to being in a meditative state, but it isn’t for most people, due to the judgment aspects of making measurements as you drive. It comes down to the state of mind you hold while you shape awareness into a meditation. This can be confusing at first to many people because the lines do blur a bit.
Using Awareness to Move Gracefully
I was once at the beach. It seemed calm. But in awareness, something didn’t feel “right” for me.
So I kept my awareness open to flow with life. A storm was far off the coast but not visible. I was patient and then suddenly I knew the moment. Running in to be with my daughter Mina just in time before a very large rogue wave came crashing in to hurt her. I didn’t know this was going to happen, I had no “idea” to think about a rogue wave since it was a sheltered cove that doesn’t have larger waves. I just had the sense I should be present and aware… then the wave came crashing in. If I wasn’t present and aware she would have been hurt. Yet together, since she also helped to spot the wave coming in, we shifted through it safely, and more importantly played with the wave instead. It shook her up a little since it was a huge rogue wave out the blue, but instead of shaping us by a collision we reversed the event and defined it by our play. A big difference.
Even in the best of times when we feel the waters of our lives are calm enough, and normally we would be right, our awareness can still be engaged and extend further out than our normal senses. A shaman uses awareness to pick up on storms and events near our life and any potentials that could be crashing about in pretty random ways.
A common question many people ask is:
How do I meditate correctly?
People jump into meditation practices not knowing why most of the time. More times than not, people are trying to still their mind or are desperate to find inner peace.
So let’s start here at the root of Meditation:
Meditation is awareness applied to practice.
So the real question a person must ask:
For what reason do you desire awareness?
After answering this, then ask yourself what practice creates a desired set of exercises to generate the awareness required to connect to these goals.
If people jump into Meditation for stilling the mind or for inner peace, then as a teacher I find the logical follow-up question to be equally telling:
How does awareness lead to either of these states of being?
Awareness connects a person to options. As such it can be used in refining the navigational choices for the movement of one’s life.
A simplified example: Living to fear.
Fear causes a person to limit actions, which prevents a fuller life. I teach fear is a delusion and projection: it doesn’t truly exist, unless a person or society gives it power to exist. With awareness: fear goes away. Quite simply: awareness lets you stop channeling personal energy into fear. Awareness reveals the potentials in life. Fear represent a negative potential, with awareness it’s clearly seen as such and released. So awareness can guide actions that empower your nature, to gracefully move with potentials to avoid problems or help others before they entangle you with their problems. Instead of wasting energy to prevent non existent problems (fears) you enhance personal energy towards more fulfilling actions. Fear without awareness only neutralizes a person in wasted effort of creating additional personal problems. Fear tempered and examined by awareness allows a person to efficiently handle only the negative potentials that are real, empowered by others. In this manner it becomes possible to remove fear and also help others grow by teaching them how to remove their own fear.
Awareness, as a result, guides a person towards the greater potential of being. With awareness, actions can be precisely embraced towards supporting one’s life.
Strangely I can summarize most all the questions about Meditation I get to a single question:
How do I become a better person?
Again we need to back up: who defines what being a better person is? More importantly: Why should you define how to improve yourself on other outside standards?
Many meditation practices purposely don’t answer, since, in reality, we each define that personally with actions of kindness to yourself and others. However: mediation opens up awareness of how to work towards your answers to this goal.
The deeper question is really: how would you like to express your nature!
Awareness finally ties into that answer, as with open senses you then can see the options on your path to better decide how to fulfill your nature.
This becomes a practice on how to best be yourself.
People have a habit of wanting shortcuts, to be told how to do this in a roundabout way, by being provided “keys” to secrets of meditation… but again as I said about secrets in my teaching: No secrets exist, the answers are already present, but people make the path complicated to create a challenge. Without an open awareness, it isn’t possible to see the answers that are readily viable to explore.
Julie and I teach to make the meditation simple. Using it to help us to enjoy life as that is where it all circles around eventually anyway.
Some people will confuse awareness to only be a focused process, which it can be, but most meditation practices tie awareness together with a release. We will tackle how to work with meditation, awareness and release together in other articles.
Shamanic students often think of awareness as “just” how to connect out and sense the world. However, students initially don’t realize that we can shape and create forms of awareness.
We can shape our perception, just as we can shape out any other aspect of our nature.
How a shaman shape’s awareness to take a form, directly affects how they can sense and connect to the world.
In traveling, it opens up the opportunity to play with this more. While on the island I let my awareness spread across on the winds. My awareness is normally diffuse and open to feeling the whole of the island. I also let my awareness take flight so I can check in with students and those I love to make sure all is flowing well to their potentials.
But while on the mainland I tighten up my awareness, I bundle it to be more “Casey” shaped, far more focused. The mainland is so large that to let my awareness be diffuse is not what feels right. Normally on the mainland, I let my awareness wander only in special places such as the Smith River. In part with such a huge population, there are so many knife edged personalities cutting all they pass through. People in their determination to get from point A to Point B focus their awareness into bright little lasers that can blind others that cross their path. It’s a bit more distracting to let one’s essence, one’s awareness flow out as freely in cities like San Fransisco, when so many people in blind determination cut about all they pass through (without realizing they are doing so).
The first few days in a new place I always play with the form of awareness. Initially pulling myself into a tighter form. Then trying on new shapes and seeing which I would like to be and what ones work best in the new environment I am within.
It is possible to play with many aspects of your nature, don’t limit yourself to only physical play. Be aware and in that awareness play with your form.
Don’t forget to be yourself, and don’t forget to release and connect to the larger world. In between are countless shapes and forms to explore, so play.
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Staying Focused and Balancing Awareness
A shaman sees life as a larger mixture of mind, body, and spirit. Depending on your shamanic heritage you will discover many levels of reality and forms of life. This larger view requires maintaining a balance. It means playing; it means working out: keeping the body in shape; movement and joy to fill the spirit; poking around angles and depths to explore the mind.
However, the balancing of our activities also always requires awareness on our part. Awareness is the process that traces out our spark of life. Awareness allows us to witness joy in being one with a larger universe while also allowing us to accept our distinctions amid all of our patterns to be.
Awareness is a connection to all of our potentials. But at times, we lose focus; we become disconnected from everything, including ourselves. At moments of feeling disconnected, it is important to linger, to take extra time and say good morning to oneself, to pause in one’s life and savor being aware of mind, body, and spirit.
Too much awareness and ego go to town, to only see ourselves. Too little awareness and we are merely a sand grain lost, to the larger seas of the universe.
While in depression or other negative moments of our life, it’s all too easy to focus too deeply on the disconnected feelings and then push one’s souls further away from a personal center: like pushing a raft out to sea and then losing oneself in greater storms of the ocean of life.
Detachment (Non Attachment really) and Disconnected are not the same thing.
Non Attachment is to not assign value nor judgment to that which you are aware of. Non Attachment still allows for us to dive totally into awareness but without the poking about to stir things up.
Never confuse the feeling of being disconnected in life as how to achieve clarity of nonattachment. If you feel disconnected, then take a moment to be aware of life and live if even for a second in a manner to more fully to connect back to your heart.
The Shamanic Path
The first step of being a shaman is simply: learning how to expand your awareness.
Julie & Casey
Readings and Research
Tibetan Singing Bowl Set ~ Bronze Mantra Design ~ Promotes Peace, Grace and Mindfulness