You can be guided by someone else, or you can guide your meditation. You can find countless guided meditation practices on YouTube, apps as Buddhify or audio files. Because it’s easier to listen to someone else, most people unconsciously think that a guided meditation must be from some master. However, anything can guide a meditation session. You could watch the sunrise, and as the sunlight flows over your skin, that can guide your meditation. The advantage of guided meditation is that an outside tempo is pacing your meditation process along. It’s always easier to follow someone on a premade path than cut down a fresh path on your own. Guided meditation is often a good place to start how to learn to meditate, just don’t become overly dependent on guided mediation being your only path in meditation.
Meditation can be framed by a form, or it can be formless.
A meditation form is a meditative practice that has been optimized with cookbook style steps and methods to get you to a precise awareness experience for a specific purpose.
In Zen and Buddhism, you have many forms of meditation. The Buddhists were very scientific in their practices, creating and cataloging many meditative practices. Taoism tends to play more in their meditations and also accept formless meditations more openly.
A formless meditation has no goal nor any forms to channel the experience. This a meditation of pure release.
You can also play in your meditation to explore between form and formlessness.
You can play by
- Swapping forms
- Creating new forms
- Switching between a form or formlessness
- Experiment with changing a perception
Meditation Form Example
An example of a form meditation is Zen using breath to achieve a distinct mental state to hold to a single thought. Our mind uses breath to time its thoughts. The breath cycle triggers the mind to move on to the next thought. For example, people hold their breath when trying to remember something or to keep their focus from shifting. Zen practice has many meditative forms which focus on this physiological basis of our mind.
You will discover many meditations work a person towards focusing on the breath; lengthening and strengthening how you breath. Also, many meditative forms are all about exploring the subtle nuances of breath. Be aware that our body, mind, and spirit circulate the breath; we can use breath in many ways to extend and expand what we do in our life.
So take a long deep breath. Time it and label 0 for where you start; then breathe in as long as you can. Label 10 when you stop. So this is your breath scale. Do a similar range for your exhale. The two are usually not the same. Your mind will trigger a change a thought on average around 7 to 8 on the inhale or exhale. Now notice we are practicing with a long breath, most people breathe in shorter cycles. So your actual thoughts are more abbreviated with your more normal shorter breath cycles. As you practice these breathing techniques, you breath becomes longer, more relaxed and extended, which then improves how you flow in life.
Let’s Practice Holding a Thought
So take a long deep breath, and then exhale. Now do it again, but this time count off your breath to get an idea of when you get to point 7 for both the intake and outtake. Now breathe in and out a full breath. On the next breath, breathe in till you get to 7 and stop and begin to exhale instead gently. As you exhale, when you get to 6 in the exhale, halt and then lightly breath in again. Repeat these light breaths for the next few minutes. Over time as you learn your body’s rhythm, you won’t count as much as using the feeling of your body and state of mind. You will discover your sweet spot for maintaining focus. This simple meditation form will help you keep your mind focused and more in control of your meditation. When you are ready to shift focus or be inspired, then do a complete 0 to 10 breath cycle three times to re-prime your mind and then change focus. This breath based form is perfect for mindfulness practices where you are putting your full awareness into a single action, practice or action.
A good question I was asked is this: Why would I want to hold a thought?
This technique is suitable for focusing on positive thoughts, especially during hard moments. So during a challenging exchange or moment, you can use this technique to hold to peace, tranquility, and compassion within a rapidly shifting situation. Also perhaps you are problem-solving, and this allows to focus on the problem longer rather than getting distracted away from the challenge.
What thoughts are worth holding onto for a more extended period?
You can use this technique for anger management, to prevent the anger from lashing out further. Anger often stems from frustration. Frustration usually happens when we get jammed in life with too many things to process at once. Using this meditative form lets you split apart all the inputs coming at you, working through things one thing at a time till you are past the moment of frustration.
Should I start meditating by using a form?
You don’t have to start your meditation with a regimented practice of forms. However, many form-based practitioners will get very insistent you need start with forms. I have encountered seemingly very aggressive practitioners in this respect.
The truth is this: bad habits are hard to break. People insist on form partially to help a person avoid the traps of bad practices. In theory, if you are being taught proper forms, you are starting off with a good baseline to give you a solid foundation. In practice, I have seen many form-based teachers teach bad practices or misleading truths also.
On average most people seem to do best with a light guided meditation process with simple forms to keep them on track. The more individualist, a person, is, the more they tend to benefit from a formless start. This type of person is more relaxed in their formless practice and will take their personal training to surprising places. Some people need to make a path their own. But starting from the formless angle is a much longer path and most people who start here also drop off from their practice in a year or two. It’s harder to keep a long-term focus on the formless path.
The trap of overusing form is people get dependent on their forms. It’s like crutches if you overuse a crutch it takes away from your strength. Many practitioners can become addicted, dependent or even boxed in by their forms or ironically even in their formlessness practices.
Be open, experiment and explore many styles over time.
Sometimes a thought or song will get stuck in our head. We can reverse this meditation, to breathe in full complete breath cycles to release thoughts stuck in our mind!
Breath techniques are also excellent for working through pain and handling pain.
One of the fastest growing practices is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on one thing at a time. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of multitasking. Some people will define mindfulness as being fully present. Mindfulness is a meditative practice which focuses complete awareness towards a single topic or action.
We all can be mindful in life. Meditation forms and practice can extend how deeply go into mindfulness, but a meditation practice isn’t required to be mindful. Mindfulness has some decent perks to consider for your life. It will allow your actions and experiences be complete. It will help you push through to complete actions. Once we learn how to be mindful, we can come in and out of mindfulness naturally. Then the next step is using meditative practices to focus the mindfulness like a microscope to be more precise in using the information the awareness provides to you.
The holding a thought meditation is a stable form to use with mindfulness, but countless other useful meditative forms also exist.
I consider mindfulness itself not as a tool but part of our nature. While we may want to be mindful in many situations, many times the multitasking side of our nature is also required to survive in a hectic world. It’s acceptable to flow from one to the other.
Don’t stress out about losing focus while being mindful. When the mind wanders, notice your mind wandering and have forgiveness for yourself. Smile and relax. Take a moment to see if the wandering has brought in any new information or insights into your process. If you pick up something significant then incorporate the new angle, Otherwise, accept it as your minds need to a brief break in mindfulness and then reset your breath and return to being mindful.
Listen to the audio version of this article for mindful body scan example.
Eyes Open or Closed in Meditation
Benefits of Open Eye Approach
Easier to stay awake
Less daydream noise
Easier to stay focused on your intentions
Easier to meditate upon the physical world
(Some meditation forms focus vision to practice non-judgment on the focal point)
Benefits of Closed Eye Approach
More vivid visions
Easier to gain unexpected insights
Creates a more wandering experience
Boost awareness within your nonvisual senses
Easier for healing scans
Easier to meditate on a journey or spiritual world
Easier for beginners
Benefits of Partially Open Eye Approach
You can modulate your meditation experience
Easier to modulate your emotional state
Easier to meditate on your personal stories in life
Easiest form for fine tuning your focus on single intentions
Breath meditations are a bit easier with a light focus on an external object.
- Eyes open in a dark room is almost equal to eyes closed or partially open!
- Some people can experience a phosphene effect (light patterns) with eyes closed.
- With eyes open or partially open you also have the option to focus the gaze or leave the gaze unfocused which shifts the experience. A focused gaze helps prevent a wandering mind, while an unfocused gaze can help open up intuition and depth of experience.
- You can switch between styles. So if you are falling asleep, you can shift to an eyes open form.
When following a form, then follow the form’s advice on how you hold your eyes. The form is using the mind and the way it works to fine-tune results. When our eyes are open, our mind is using much of its processing power to work on image processing. When our eyes are closed, you have just freed up 30 percent of the brain which then goes into a massive spin in shifting that processing power. So eyes open or closed has an enormous impact on our awareness.
Typically the way you first learn (eyes open or closed) will always be the easiest for you over time. In the west and Hindu practices, you will find more eyes closed, while in the east Buddhist / Taoist traditions it’s more partially eyes open. So yes you can modulate your awareness experience by the degree of openness and even the angle of perception. So many meditation forms will keep a 45% degree downward partially open gaze.
For mindfulness practices, eyes open or partially open tends to work better.
Q&A Guided Meditation Walk-Thru
Meditation, even when guided, can still be a stream of consciousness process. With practice, you can also conduct your meditation process.
I use a surprisingly effective Q & A guided meditation. I love using this guided meditation in my morning meditation sessions. Typically in the morning, issues come out of hiding, and we haven’t put up all our walls yet to hide to those issues. But this technique is useful at all times.
It’s as simple as this:
- Ask a question or give yourself a statement to feel.
- Let what comes to mind, come to mind relative to your questions. The vision/feeling that happens to you is the answer.
Your first relax into what you are feeling. When something is off, then you relax into asking a question about what feels off. The questions you ask need to be natural and not forced. When you relax into the problems, strangely the answers will come up naturally. Don’t think of this as a logical question and answers session; it’s an intuitive question and answer session while you meditate. In other words, use intuition rather than logic to process your inquiries.
- After the meditation, then you will apply logic to the results.
Steps with examples
- Awareness of something is off or wrong. As you meditate, float into awareness, upon feeling something off stop floating and instead pause. Allow yourself to feel what is wrong, allow a vision to come up around that wrongness. Not to understand the wrongness but more to highlight it.
For example: Waking up feeling a hole, some worry in your heart.
- Relax against that wrongness or what is off.
Example: Now pause to feel the hole. Let it stand out for a moment.
- You ask a question: Why, What, How or Where.
Example: Why is this hole here?
- You let an answer appear to you.
Example: you feel this “I am not good enough to be loved….”
- Pause for the answer and let it reveal truths to you.
Example: Whoa, this is not about a hole it is about feelings of not being good enough.Then repeat the process against the insights as they come out until you feel release.
Example Pause: I don’t feel right…
Example Question: Where does this not right feeling come from?
Example Answer: An event from the past comes up
Example Insight: This is no longer true, and I can release that event, or address it, etc..
Listen to the audio version of this article for Q&A scan example. This audio is only available to patrons ($5.00 or more a month) of A Personal Tao.
This process flows amazingly and often reveals problems and answers buried for years. I often guide a person thru this process, and I can resolve out problems other more logical processes miss or redirect to false problems. While this process can be fast, you still have to be ready to release. The meditation process may give you answers, but the answers often come at a price of letting something go: pride, stories, the past, a relationship, a goal or other unneeded desire.
If things get too intense, then relax and let it drop, You can dive in multiple times over one vision it turns out, you don’t have to try to resolve everything in a single dive into a vision.
As you ask questions to yourself, as you answer questions to yourself, pay attention to the language you use. Don’t use co-dependent words or words which impose judgment on you.
After working thru a personally guided meditation pick an affirmation to seal it up. It will help you remember the results of your reflection; it will give you something to say aloud and to reinforce your meditation later.
Don’t Let Hard Challenges Fool You
Just because what you are trying to resolve in meditation is hard doesn’t mean the meditation itself needs to be hard. People unconsciously will make their meditation session harder to match the degree of the problem they are facing. Strange but true. In fact, the meditative/intuitive process is quite simple. You flow with insights as they arise, and you use these insights as the scalpels. Let your insights cut out the rot, let the ideas that arise open you up, then embrace the more positive affirmations to seal away the problems. Then the negative items all dissipate on their own natural leaving behind the positive outcomes which allow for your growth.
I have many examples of performing a 15 minute Q& A guided mediation process with a student, that reveals and gives answers to problems that have been dragged around for decades.
Be Clear on What You Want From Meditation
Many times people lose focus in their meditation process because they aren’t clear about where they are going in the process. Going through a meditation process without intention or clarity permits your mind to wander everywhere. Before starting a meditation session, even a guided one, set a pure intention up front, which will help keep the session flowing more smoothly.
For example when you perform a healing mediation without clarity, and you will likely fall asleep as the body determines sleep is what you need most. If you change that around to focus the healing, say for example: removing pent up emotions and then your session could become more vivid as you process the emotions rather than just falling asleep.
While intentions and focus will improve your meditation, never be surprised when a meditative session does take you somewhere else.
Match Meditation Styles to Your Nature.
With thousands of meditation styles, not every method will match to you. With even more guided meditation scripts, again not every path will match to your needs. Be willing to experiment and find the styles that call to you. Over time continue to experiment and discover styles that help you. What matches to you will change as you mature through your various meditation experiences. Also don’t be surprised if over time styles that called to you early in your learning may not beckon to you later.
Why Does Mediation Seem so Hard?
Meditation is simpler than people realize. It’s a practice of awareness.
So why is it so hard to meditate?
The reason is also simple: People resist change.
The process of meditation changes us. When we become aware, we then begin to shift how we interact with the world. Ironically since meditation changes us: our minds and bodies resist that change. A person meditating will fall asleep; you will feel an unstoppable itch, other more pressing problems will present themselves to you, you think this is easy and stop. The mind and body love to fool people into stopping the change process.
Part of meditation practice is learning how to spot being tricked into not changing and push through stagnation. Once you realize you are resisting changes and insights you can relax and work with insights and change how you live instead. Most people stop meditating for this one reason: they truly unconsciously don’t want to change, so they stop meditating as they feel the uncomfortable push to change.
Embracing change is a big part of the trick to expanding your meditation practice.
When you are using guided meditation, your guide is assisting you to change, which makes learning and performing the meditative process easier. A guide makes changing feel safer, and in that place of safety, you will follow thru with change.
Using Meditative Accelerants
A meditative accelerant is something that speeds up , deepens and expands our awareness.
Generally speaking, natural meditative practice is best. Taking time to learn how to shape your awareness is an important skill. It’s also possible to use outside tools to deepen and accelerate your meditation practice.
For example, drumming is a robust method to deepen your meditation practice.
We can even use time of day to shift our meditation practice. Morning meditation is powerful because it leverages the shifting moment of waking. We are in a mental state between consciousness and unconsciousness which changes how we perceive the world.
Even body shape and position can alter your meditation practice! Body position and form impacts blood flow, blood pressure, muscle tension, awareness states and so much more. As you practice and improve your meditation practice, you will also slowly learn how to take care of your body and mind. You will improve posture and many other factors which then, in turn, make your meditation process more efficient.
In Taoism, we don’t recommend using outside accelerants other than sound, motion, vibration, improving our physical condition and similar natural methods.
One reason in Taoism we don’t recommend using accelerants is it’s too easy to get dependent on the accelerant as a crutch which can permanently hobble your normal meditative practice.
Create Your Own Guided Meditations
You can record your own guided meditations. With cell phones being everywhere, it’s easy to use a recording program to record your guided meditation. You can even record moments of peace (at the beach etc.) for your later use in meditation.
Guided meditations can be even more simple than you think. Using a mantra is the simplest of guided meditations as you can have. For example saying “Kala” gently over and over again. to guide one into the light.
You can use music to guide yourself, drumming or rattles. Music is often mixed with many ceremonies and shamanic guided meditation practices. You can create your songs over time to hum and sing to help guide you through lessons and growth in life. In South America for example, shamanic students are taught traditional songs for the plant medicine ceremonies. The plant medicine is guided into a more powerful place of action with the song and music. Students are also encouraged to find their songs with the plant medicine. So the songs evolve also to always be in sync with the times.
Now when using music, chanting and beats to help channel your meditation, you will discover you can go deeper into your meditative state.
As you practice, keep in mind your purpose for each session. If you go deeply into a meditative state, you can easily overshoot your goals for that session. Meditation is a bit like a river flow. A narrow focus can make a meditation session go faster, but it will be more shallow in results, while a deeper session might give you surprising insights yet more time than not you can lose all your focus.
In learning meditation, there is an interesting middle ground of discipline. It takes a dash of discipline to hold together some of your higher level processing capacity while also letting go to be in an altered state of mind. Often in a guided meditation, your guide is acting as the dash of discipline to keep you on track with desired results of your practice.
It’s easy to have guided meditative experience and ironically it’s also simple to go in super deep. Balancing out the subtle mid-level practices is where a person becomes an expert in meditative styles.
Visualization Basics & Practice
What do you see in the clouds? Remember times as a child watching clouds?
Visualizations are a way to connect the mind and body, to achieve your goals and shift your life in a positive direction. Visualization is also a powerful tool to use in guiding your meditation practice!
In modern cultures commonly view imagination as child’s play. However, as adults, the imagination can be used to kick-start and develop many spiritual practices including a meditation practice.
How do we use the imagination as an adult? Unconsciously, we use it to create drama, fantasies, and negativity. Through visualization exercises, we shift into a more conscious experience of our imagination. We utilize the imagination to create good thoughts, feelings, and actions in our life.
Visualization has commonly been used in sports and health. In a study with cancer patients who practiced visualization alongside their medical treatment – they lived 112 times longer than the control group (Wesckcke in The Truth about Creative Visualization, 1984). In sports, athletes imagine themselves achieving their goal as a regular part of their practice.
Goals can be physical (a record time in a race), emotional (balanced emotions), mental (understanding physics) and spiritual (increased awareness). Maybe you desire a healthier body, more rewarding work or a deeper intimate relationship.
However, do you find you are still caught in negative thoughts about how unhealthy, stuck and undeserving you are? The first step is to shift these negative thought patterns. Visualization is a process of using the active imagination to do just that, turning our deepest desires into reality.
Typically, visualizing first thing upon waking, at mid-day and right before going to sleep are good times to start with. Visualization can work with as little as 5-15 minutes 3 times per day. As you continue to practice you’ll find that visualization becomes a way of life. You will switch mid-thought into a visualization during the normal course of your day. For extra power, invite a couple trusted friends or family members to visualize with you and for you.
First, sit and shift the attention to the body and breath. Pay attention to the breath coming in and out of the nose – focus the mind right at the nostrils. Notice if the mind follows the breath or drifts to other thoughts. Gently invite it back to the edge of the nose where the breath comes in and out steadily. Then, starting with the top of the head, scan the body parts until you reach the toes. Head, face, neck, shoulders, arms – be as detailed as you can, noticing fingers, tips of fingers or the whole hand. Notice any sensations, accept them and instruct the body to relax. Scan the body from the toes to the top of the head and repeat as needed until you feel the body and mind relaxing.
Next, imagine a place in nature you love. Imagine yourself there – in a meadow, near a river or on a mountaintop. What do you see, hear, smell and feel? Think of what you desire – whether it is a healthy body, a successful career or happiness. Imagine the pathogen being cleared out of the body, imagine yourself successful and happy.
Continue to practice this visualization for at least 5 minutes, three times per day.
And, take time to watch the clouds.
There are infinite visualizations that you can practice. If you’d like some guidance and inspiration in your visualization practice feel free to contact Julie and Casey.