What are your natural meditative experiences and gateways?

Have You Ever . . .

— Drifted slowly awake, and lain there in a delicious restfulness for a few moments before opening your eyes?
— Looked at the night sky and felt utter wonder at the vastness?
—Merged so deeply with the melody and rhythm of music you love that your sense of self disappeared in the ocean of sound?
— Felt electricity coursing through your body when you made love? At the moment of orgasm, been filled with brilliance or fireworks? Or in the afterglow, felt your body shimmering and pulsing with a vibrant peace?
— Inhaled a smell so delicious, perhaps your favorite dish when you were really hungry, that you almost swooned?
— Sat by a river, conscious of its steady flow, and entered into a sense of stillness?
— Been so in love that your heart seemed to turn to light?

. . .Then you have already experienced meditative awareness. These are all spontaneous experiences, typically lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes. Attention expands beyond its confines and touches something greater, something of the essence of life. Human beings have been experiencing these sorts of things since before there was the language to speak of them.

Meditative experience is not different than these naturally-occurring moments. It is just intentional. What I am calling a “meditation technique” is paying attention to the rhythm of such an experience, tracking it through all its phases, and returning again and again to be educated by it. Most of what is meant by “practicing meditation” is just spending half an hour a day or so being in the presence of such a quality of attention, then enjoying the effect this has on your daily life. Meditation is the practice of developing your capacity for rich experience.

Everyone is a yogi for half a second when they stop to smell the roses. It’s all there in that moment of conscious, grateful breathing. When you cultivate your gratitude for breath, something good happens at a deep level. You make friends with life.

- selection from Meditation Made Easy by Lorin Roche

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This is come-as-you-are meditation. You do not have to be other than you are in order to begin. There are no impossible-to-do techniques, no uncomfortable postures, no onerous rules to follow.

If you invest the time in exploring how your individual nature interacts with these techniques, you will likely develop some powerful tools to enhance your life. The work for you is to engage your curiosity and sense of adventure. The rewards are a greater ability to pay attention to life and to love.

Almost everything we think of as meditation is flavored slightly with the view from behind the walls of a monastery. The whole idea that in meditation you are supposed to sit still and make your mind empty, and aspire to high spiritual ideals, override or kill the ego, and cultivate detachment from things — all this comes from the spiritual tradition for recluses. This may be wisdom if you are a monastic, but it is poison if you are someone who lives in the world. These are not general truths any more than the rules for Ping-Pong are universal and should apply to tennis, golf, volleyball and baseball.

Meditation is about being intimate with your deepest self. Any sense of formality, any sense that you are doing a technique that comes from outside of yourself interferes with this necessary closeness.

Meditation can and should be something that you reach for in the same informal way you reach for a cup of tea, or an apple, or the phone to talk to a friend — in other words, as a direct response to sensing some need in your body or heart. Meditation can be something you look forward to doing after you roll out of bed in the morning, to help you wake up and get ready for the day. It is something you may find yourself wanting to do when you walk in the door after work, to unwind and revitalize yourself. It is not really that meditation is “better” than sitting on the sofa and having a glass of wine while listening to music on the stereo. Meditation is that much fun, but it is more of a relief, works better, and is cheaper. Taking this informal approach to being with yourself will help you to keep meditation simple, a simple pleasure and a relief.

Approaching meditation as a pleasurable indulgence will help you develop good instincts for your path, because instinctive guidance comes the same place your cravings and desires come from. You will need to be in touch with your instincts because you are your own guide in meditation, with your own daily life as your feedback mechanism.

Your instincts do not necessarily feel "spiritual.” Far from it. They feel down-home, selfish and spontaneous. The instincts are seat-of-the-pants and gut feelings. And they are often the first thing that gets thrown overboard when people try to be spiritual. But they are the essence of spirituality. They represent deep wisdom. The instincts move us to explore the world, survive, thrive, communicate, bond, reproduce and rejoice. The urge to explore meditation is just as instinctive as the urges to talk to other people, work to assure your survival, explore your sexuality, and party. Spirituality is a spontaneous alchemy that occurs when all of the instincts are working together. This only happens when all of human nature is embraced.

Meditation is not one monotone mood of reverence, nor is it only irreverence. It is a wide-open embrace of every possible mood, emotion and current of your being: that is its simplicity and its challenge. Therefore I advocate a radical informality with the self as the essence of the approach to meditation. In an informal approach, the rebel in you is just as important as the sincere seeker. The impulse that says “Ah, I don’t want to meditate today” is just as useful and informative as the impulse that says, ”I really want and need to meditate, I have an important day.”

For those of us who work hard and barely have enough real time for ourselves and our families, meditation can be incredibly useful: creating stronger, more resilient health and more consistent energy; helping us to be more at ease and perceptive in our relationships; and opening entire new worlds of gratitude, wonder and well-being. Meditation should fit into our lifestyle in a natural way. In this book you will learn how to adapt your practice to the changing conditions in your life.

If you live in the world and work long days you already crave stillness and rest; this is not something that has to be imposed from On High. This craving is called “wanting a vacation” -- and you achieve it by giving in to the craving. Meditation is the practice of giving in to such cravings and letting them carry us into our interior worlds. This feels like an indulgence, and the sense of luxury is one of the ways of knowing you are doing it right. Meditation is powered by our deepest cravings, not by discipline.

No one with a busy life can or should try to empty their minds, whatever that means. It is not that in meditation you won't find yourself sitting very still and going to a place beyond ordinary thought; it's just that any attempt to impose this on yourself will backfire. Imposition just makes a person more restless. Meditation for people who live in the world should strengthen the ego and enliven the connection to the fires of passion. The more you embrace your passion, the more readily you will go beyond it to places of total repose inside yourself.

Meditation is quietly sexy, in the way that getting a massage or listening to great music is. The subtle currents of electricity that flow sweetly through the body, touching you everywhere, are to be cherished. Meditation allows the body to tune itself up to be ready for work, play, sleep, and all the exquisite pleasures of life. Say you walk in the door from work and you have half an hour to prepare yourself to be intimate with the one you love. What do you do? If you know how to meditate you would certainly spend some time that way, for one of the greatest gifts of meditation is that of enabling you to be completely present with sensuous experience, open to life with your senses shimmering, with a quality of surprise and novelty.

Food is best appreciated by those who have had an active day and built up a good appetite. Water is loved the most by people who have been out in the sun working up a sweat and come in to drink a refreshing glass. Meditation is best known by the people who need it most, who are out there in life putting their plans, desires and ambitions into action. It should have a sense of luxury and deliciousness. It should be a place for you to entertain all your desires and longings and prepare to fulfill them as much as is possible and ethical in your life. If you lose track of your deepest desires and longings then what will be your anchor? The idea that you should give up or distance yourself from your desires and your ego in meditation is nonsense. When people succeed in relinquishing desire, they tend to lose vitality.

You want meditation to be in the service of a better relationship with yourself and the world. This means having a more lively channel between your inner resources of love, passion, generosity and curiosity, and your outer life and relationships, where all those qualities are needed. The meditations presented in the book are all simple sensory alertness exercises that will help you to have a more appreciative grasp of your everyday life.

Longing is your best clue to what is good for you. You will have to work at investigating your longings. Go into them deeply and find out what it really is that you want most passionately. Engaging with your hankerings, lusts, desires and longing will take you straight into your heart, not hell. If you love music of any kind, you already know much about your longings — just notice what is awakened in your body when you listen to what you love with complete abandon. Notice what kinds of music you crave and when. That same instinct you use to choose what music to play will guide you in selecting what meditations to do.

Be safe on your journey. Safety comes from being alert and relaxed as you move through your life. Let your best instincts guide you. Be awake to beauty. Be merciful to yourself and others. Cultivate your desires and enthusiasm for life. Meditation is enthusiasm for the simple. The simplicity of breath flowing in and out of us, day and night, for as long as we live.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is a naturally-occurring rest state; it is resting in yourself while remaining awake and alert. Meditation is innate, and your body already knows how to do it. The human body has an instinctive ability to shift into profound rest states in order to heal, energize, integrate, tune itself up and assimilate learning. It is almost a sure bet that you have already experienced this many times in your life.

Meditation is paradoxical in that you are resting more deeply than sleep, yet you are wide awake inside. It is very similar to taking a nap but you don’t fall asleep, you fall awake. You can induce it by attentively doing anything simple and repetitive. We breathe all the time, and breathing is rhythmic, so you could pay attention to your breathing. There are so many ways in.

Meditation promotes a heightened awareness of the details of everyday life. Even a few minutes of meditation will help you move through the world with more relaxation and alertness.

Meditation is giving attention a chance to explore its full range, both inward and outward. It is a conversation between your inner and your outer life. This sounds simple, and it is. But there is no end to the delights of attention; there is always more to learn, more to explore, more to awaken to.

Where Did Meditation Come from?

Meditation was probably discovered independently by hunters, singers, dancers, drummers, lovers and hermits, each in their own way. People tend to encounter meditative states whenever they throw themselves with total intensity into life’s callings. The knowledge of how to intentionally cultivate meditative states is a kind of craft knowledge -- those handy tips people pass on to each other. Meditation does not come from India or Tibet -- those are just places the knowledge rested for awhile, and the hermits in those wrote it all down. Bless them.

Human beings have been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the archaeologists. I consider it very likely they have been using sophisticated mental tools for tens of thousands of years.

Hunters, for example, sometimes have to make themselves still for hours. They have to merge with the forest and not even think, lest they scare the prey away. Then they leap into action with total precision at a moment’s notice -- that’s Zen in a nutshell. Hunters teach each other these skills, through verbal instruction and example.

Singers and dancers often enter meditative states through their passionate expression. Singers work with breath awareness in ways far more sophisticated than yoga. Lovers are often in a state of heightened appreciation which borders closely on meditation. Hermits are the ones we have heard the most from, because they kept the best notes. That is why we always think of yogis and bearded guys in the Himalayas when we think of meditation. But their way is only one small subset of the many different gateways into meditation.

Meditation comes from the human heart and is a way of warming your hands and your life at the fire always pulsing there in your core. It comes from the depths of your instinctive wisdom. Human beings are always wondering and inquiring, and meditation is a natural emergence of that adventure.

On the other hand, cats obviously meditate. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. So it may be a genetically encoded, instinctive talent in mammals. Cats don’t need to be taught to meditate, but humans need a little coaching.

Why Do People Meditate?

People meditate for innumerable reasons and all of them are valid. Here are a few:

• People meditate out of curiosity, wonder, and a desire to explore.
• People meditate because they are worried, tired, bored, lonely, horny, or tense.
• People meditate because they are happy, grateful, in love, streaming with delight and glad to be alive.
• People meditate because they are grieving, sad, despairing, resigned, frustrated.
• People meditate because they have lost someone or some part of themselves or lost the joy of life.
• People meditate because they feel out of place in the manmade world and feel the need to live in the world of Nature.
• People meditate as an attempt to escape from life and from Nature.
• People meditate because they are sick in body or soul and need healing.
• People meditate because they feel perfectly at home and want to savor the feeling.
• People meditate in order to touch the essence of life and bring its magic into everyday living.
• People meditate because they have not touched the essence of life but they suspect it is there for the touching.
• People meditate because it is an urge in them that they have long felt, and it gradually condensed into a movement they realize is meditation.
• People meditate because as a response to the calling of their own souls.
•People meditate because they are so excited by life they figure they could use a little calmness.
•People meditate in order to keep their intuition and senses sharp.

Each of these impulses has generated a variety of techniques and traditions. Honor them in yourself, as they come and go. And whenever you read or hear something about meditation, you can wonder, which emotion does this emerge from?

It is always good to take a moment and feel what it is you want out of meditation – what impulses are moving you? That is part of the preparation for meditation. The list above is by no means comprehensive -- make your own list. Your list can be a description of how you want to feel, or the practical outcome you want, or a mingling of the two.

Meditation is there to help you fulfill your everyday needs. Things like getting a little rest and relaxation. Clearing your mind a little. Getting some perspective on your life, like you would if you were on a vacation. Having more energy. Being able to go into action with relaxation, even if it is a test, an interview, or something crucial.
The key is to always know what you want, or at least be open to what you want out of meditation. That is the passion that will lead you to invest the time in meditation. Then, the moment you enter meditation, let go completely of your expectations.

More on What is Meditation?

You might be surprised to hear that meditation is a built-in ability we all have. But it’s true, and you can do it. You are always breathing, for example. If you sit down, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breath in a restful way, that is meditation.

Life is full of tiny pleasures: the feel of the sun on your cheeks; the sound of the wind; the color of the sky and trees; the expressions on the faces of the people around you; the smells of food cooking; the sensation in your heart when you see someone you love coming toward you. If you pause in the midst of any such experience, and give yourself over to appreciating it fully, you are entering the realm of meditation.

You can use any or all of your senses – touch, hearing, vision, smell, taste, and even your sense of balance. The more senses you use, the more sensual meditation will feel. It’s OK to enjoy it immensely.

Consider that meditation is the practice of falling in love with life. In love, we pay attention with heightened appreciation. We are open to experience and our heart is moved. Meditation is the process of intentionally cultivating our capacity to pay attention in this exquisite way. All the disciplines and techniques of meditation amount to cultivating what we do naturally when we are in love.

To practice meditation, select some quality of life you love, and restfully pay attention. When you love someone or something, you want to hang out, be with them, and give and receive appreciation. You want to be in the flow of give and take. Meditation is the restful, inward, accepting part of the give and take of love. The key to meditation is that you set things up so that you are restful. When you rest in loving attentiveness, the vibrating silence that’s underneath outer activity can emerge.

You can meditate on the simplest aspect of life, such as a breath. Each breath can seem like a great gift, the universe itself flowing into you and giving you life. When you do this, it is as if you draw energy out of each breath and each sensation, and any fatigue just drops away. In the space of a few minutes you are refreshed and ready to engage fully with life again.

Breath is, after all, one of the main ways that life is renewed in your body, moment-to-moment. You should be delighted that you are breathing. Spiritual people the world over say that breath is a gift from God, an immediate, ongoing, free gift of the Holy Spirit. Each breath of air you take is created by the entire ecosystem on Earth, including all the trees, plants in the oceans, and the sun that provide the energy for photosynthesis. Biologically speaking, breath is a gift from the whole world, the solar system, and all of creation.

Right now, for example, start to pay attention to the feeling of the breath flowing in through your nose, down into your chest and belly, and then turning to flow out again. Exhale with a quiet whoosh or soft sigh for ten or fifteen breaths, which is about a minute. You are on your way.