It is natural for all of us to have voices in our inner space that are unwelcoming, self-critical or harsh and that can put us off going inside. But this is exactly where our practice is. We are gifted the chance to cultivate a good inner space: a sanctuary in which we have a chance to befriend ourselves for life. Just as when we cultivate a garden, every time we enter our inner world we can fertilise it with love, compassion and nurture until eventually it is our favourite place in which to hang out and always right there for us, whatever we are going through.
In cultivating your inner space, what would make it feel warm, safe and welcoming? What qualities of attention can you give yourself that make you feel safe and loved and able to open up freely? Think about what you need from life and from those who meet you. Think about how you like to treat life and people. Think about the times when you have been well supported by friends, a therapist or others in your life and how they held space for you. Practice bringing those same qualities into your inner space. They may be a sympathetic ear and gaze; compassion, warmth, generosity, tenderness, devotion to your feelings and wellbeing, cheerfulness or encouragement – or anything else that meets a need in you to feel accepted, and whole.
When you hear yourself being mean to yourself in meditation, you have choices. You can notice, be compassionate, and say “meanness is not my technique” and move on. Or you can understand the thought is a wound and work to begin to gently heal the thought. For example, if the thought is “you are never good enough”, you can remind yourself that every day you show up and do your best and you can call to mind and celebrate all the wonderful ways you have touched peoples’ lives and all the creations you are proud of. This is healing for that wound that creates that thought.
While rules can make you feel more secure, they are not useful in meditation, which is at its best an energetically free and boundless space. We often have to spend our days encumbered by rules and we need a space to go to where we can recover our innate love of freedom and adventure.
The general guideline for meditation (note: not a rule, but an approach) is that your meditation practice should feel as far as possible familiar and natural to your particular individual being and that it should be as effortless as watching your favourite movie, listening to your child telling you about their day or stroking your pet.
What are some of the “rules” you have heard about meditation? Rules about making your mind blank and closing your eyes, sitting cross-legged and being completely still, not allowing your mind to wander or daydream for instance, come from the traditions of monks living in monasteries thousands of years ago and who were practicing ways of leaving the world, their bodies, their families and friends. These ways of practicing can be very lonely in our bodies today and hard. We do not want to find ourselves practicing loneliness in meditation, but by accident we are doing exactly this when we follow these methods designed for other people in other lives thousands of years ago. A healthy approach is to inhabit our own body when we meditate and to follow our own natural way, while cultivating meditation skills that deepen our awareness and help us meet any obstacles we may encounter.
Here, you can read more about the Myths of Meditation.
It’s a funny thing, but we humans do tend to fall for the thought- frame that if something isn’t hard, it won’t work. Maybe this goes back to being given foul-tasting medicine as a child?
The desire for discomfort as a path towards feeling and growing is different from an experience of learning and growing from something we have found uncomfortable. In our daily lives, we will experience plenty of moments and situations that are hard – do we really need to intentionally practice “hard” in the healing space of meditation? A perspective to consider is, that when we feel hard things arising in meditation, we can use our range of skills to create space to hold and tend to them. We do not need to block, discipline or ignore any part of ourselves in order to be with what is hard. We are learning that hard is okay, and that often, “hard” blossoms into “healed” if our loving and welcoming attention allows it.
Meditating is generally easy and natural for our bodies because our ability to meditate is hard-wired and innate. It comes from inside us. It becomes harder when we make it harder. If you are finding meditation hard, it might be because you are using the wrong technique, following an imaginary rule or perhaps feeling uncomfortable with certain thoughts and feelings that are arising for you (see 1).
Think about moments that spontaneously draw your body into a sense of beauty, of being moved, of love, of fullness, of ease. Maybe you feel like that when you are gazing at the ocean, or taking your favourite walk or laughing round the dinner table with friends. And you suddenly feeling moved with heart-bursting fullness and gratitude for having friends and being alive. That is how your body feels in spontaneous meditative moments. And you did not make it hard for yourself to have those moments. Make a note of these and bond with the feelings your body has at these times so you can practice getting close to your real being, rather than imposing techniques on yourself that may have been invented for other beings or are imaginary. This is a way of finding that same welcome and effortlessness in your more formal practice. (A “formal practice” simply means you have consciously chosen the time to attend to and enjoy your inner world and its relationship with the magic and mystery of life. Another phrase might be “intentional practice”)
It is ironic perhaps in the age of distractions from devices and social media, that we might feel guilty about taking time to look out of the window and daydream! If you can scroll through all your social media platforms for 10 minutes several times a day then you know you have time to meditate. You may tell yourself otherwise, but it’s simply not true. Your tendency to look at your phone is a sign you need a break and some time out in another space.
That same instinct is your call from within to meditate. Learn to recognise it as such and try using that time to be with your inner world – you can fantasise, daydream, laugh, get curious, express yourself and revisit favourite moments in meditation – basically that’s pretty much what you do with your smart phone. It’s up to you what you want from your “inner social media pages” and feed. Try it.
These two common obstacles are deeply connected and here is your exactly where your practice is. Many of us are taught that we must earn the luxury of time and space to ourselves. When we are a child, we think nothing of playing or daydreaming a day away and this is healthy for us – we are encouraged in this (hopefully!). Recovering that permission means recognising you have this obstacle – guilt – and working with it to make it something positive and healthy – the permission to be yourself, follow your instincts and self-tend.
Inside all of us is a craving for time and space away from all the calls to action. When we deny that call, we build up stress within our bodies which can be manifest in all kinds of ways in our lives. There is a time for action and a time for rest and repair. When we take that space, we see how busy our inner world has been while we have been away! Welcome the busyness – all it wants is to be recognised. In addition, all these thoughts and feelings are the hum of life inside you. Just as the rainforest is busy and noisy yet so serene and magical, so is the life inside of you. The more willing you are to enter deeply there and experience the buzzing and activity, the deeper you will go and the more magic and serenity you will find.
The practice is to tolerate feelings of urgency and stressful thoughts while continuing to rest within yourself. This is why your personal gateway is important – be it music, or a delicious cup of tea, a thought you love to hang out with, an affirmation, mantra, connecting to the spirit of your breath, a special place you love to be in such as your deck or garden. Explore.
In our instinctive meditation approach, we welcome every obstacle and make it an ally. Never be put off by an obstacle.