Welcome back to Part 4, the final part of this Blog series on balance. I am excited to have guest, Dr. Victor Shamas, who will explore balancing the mind and opening to Spirit through awareness practices that still the fluctuations of the monkey mind, and create a more sensual daily experience of life.
In Autumn, as your body is slowing down, so is your mind. This is a wonderful time to turn inward and open up the mental space between thoughts. The experience of meditation lives in this space.
I see an important difference between meditation as an experience and as a practice. At certain moments, when my mind is silent, I connect with something wonderful and breathtakingly beautiful within myself. This is my true nature—my essence—which is the nature of all things.
Over the past three decades, I have learned to stretch the experience of meditation and make it last. Why? Because for me, this is the ultimate adventure, the epitome of fun, and the source of infinite inspiration and delight. Sometimes, people try to turn meditation into serious business, and perhaps for some of them it needs to be. For me, though, the experience feels more like true Lila or divine play. My struggles as a tiny, isolated entity in this world cease just long enough so that I can be who I truly am, doing what I most fully enjoy.
Each of us spends so much time trying to be somebody that we may lose sight of the staggering power at our disposal. In moments of meditation, we can fill ourselves to overflowing. Then we are not just somebody but everybody. The whole universe lives in us at those moments. Or we empty ourselves so completely that we are nobody. This may sound daunting but being nobody means you are pure awareness without form or identity. There is nothing you need to know, nowhere you need to go, and nobody you need to become. You are completely immersed in the experience of the now, which is perfect and complete. Are you familiar with the sensation I am describing? If not, or if you would like to familiarize you more deeply with it, that is where the practice of meditation comes into play.
In my journey of exploration, I have come across hundreds of techniques that are intended to facilitate the experience of meditation. These techniques can be broken down into two types: concentrative and mindfulness meditation.
Concentrative meditation practices bring the mind into silence. Typically, these techniques have you focus on one thing, such as a Mudra (gesture), Mantra (a sound, syllable, or utterance), or Mandala (visual symbol or icon). As you concentrate, you shift your attention out of its normal mode of operation, in which its tendency is to jump from thought to thought in a manner analogous to the monkey jumping from branch to branch. Something interesting happens when you fix attention on only one thought and then hold it there. You mind goes from one thought to no thought, for reasons that I explained in my last book, Deep Creativity. In concentrative meditation, you empty yourself of yourself so perfectly that only pure essence remains.
In mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, you expand attention, shifting it in an entirely different way from an active mode to a receptive one. Instead of grasping onto any single thought, you seek to draw as much as possible into your field of awareness. From a visual standpoint, the analogy would be the ability to shift from a hard gaze to a soft gaze. In a hard gaze, your visual attention is like a laser beam aimed at a specific target, whereas in a soft gaze, there is no grasping. Everything you can take in lives in your visual field at the same time. Mindfulness is all about perfect receptivity, without grasping, judging, or expecting anything at all. You fill yourself with everything, taking in all of creation at once.
I want my meditation practice to be fun and easy. That is why I gravitate to play activities for concentrative meditation. From earliest childhood, I always knew how to empty my mind and lose myself in the experience of the moment. That is called play. The kind of play that works for me is non-demanding and non-competitive. There is no strategy or thinking involved, no goal or objective. It is purely experiential and usually somatic. Our bodies offer so many avenues for the experience of meditation. Think of all the possible forms of bodily delight that you can explore. As far as I am concerned, sensuality can be a profound meditation. Tantra masters have come up with practices like this: When you bite into the strawberry, be the strawberry. Be the juicy sweetness that makes the lips glisten and the taste buds tingle. There is so much richness to be experienced in a single bite of a ripe, juicy strawberry that you can build an entire spiritual practice around this one simple activity.
I can come up with hundreds of other play activities that would be just as effective forms of meditation for myself: dancing, chanting, swimming, walking in nature, or pretty much any facet of lovemaking. In this fall season, find the play activities that work for you. Pick something you love to do and lose yourself in it. Remember what it was like for you as a child to throw yourself into the joy of an experience wholly. Every meditator aspires to the single-pointed focus that children demonstrate when they are immersed completely in play. That is exactly what you are seeking to do here. Be the child that you were then and still are. Throw yourself into the act with total abandon, the way you might jump into a pile of freshly raked autumn leaves.
That covers concentrative meditation. Now, for the other end of the spectrum, which is mindfulness, I can sum up my practice in one word: Repose. Over the years, I have talked with thousands of people who have studied mindfulness techniques. The vast majority of the meditators I have met found these techniques effortful and challenging, at least at first. That is certainly not my style. Remember, I gravitate to fun and easy. Nothing is more fun or easier, at least for me, than Repose.
Here is how Repose works: Lie on your back, on a comfortable surface, with arms extended perpendicular from your torso and legs spread open as far as you comfortably can. Think of savasana on steroids. Or look at the accompanying pic. That is Repose in a nutshell. My research has shown that lying in Repose for seven minutes three times of day has all kinds of benefits: reduced stress, elevated mood, improved mental performance, and overall increases in physical, mental, and social function. (See Image Above)
Although these are all great blessings, none of them is the reason I have made Repose a mainstay of my meditation practice. For me, Repose is the ultimate pose for facilitating the kind of receptivity that allows you to fill yourself completely. The idea is to open yourself up to a universe of possibilities. It turns out that when you open up your body through Repose, your mind follows. I have found that Repose opens my mind to inner wisdom and intuition; fresh ideas and insights; and profound experiences of epiphany and creative inspiration.
For this autumn season, I suggest you try these two ways to slow down your mind: Lose yourself in play at least once a day, choosing the play activity that resonates most with what draws you or what your body craves at this time of year. Then try Repose at least once a day for seven minutes. If you can lie in Repose three times a day, that is when some big magic happens. I can tell you more about the wonders of Repose, but I prefer the idea of you finding out for yourself. Repose is easy enough to build in your schedule. I do it first thing when I wake up in the morning, just before going to sleep at night, and mid-afternoon, when there is a natural lull in my daily energy cycle. This lull happens around 2:30-3 for most people regardless of geography or culture. It just seems to be built into our natural daily rhythms as human beings. Inserting Repose into this lull is very nourishing and reinvigorating.
I come out of Repose feeling relaxed and energized at the same time.
Now you know fun and easy ways to slow down your mind, turn inward, and open up the space between thoughts. That space holds the core truth that lies at the heart of yoga and Ayurveda. And that core truth can only be known through direct experience, free of the mind.
Insert Picture of Repose
Dr. Victor Shamas is a University of Arizona psychologist, the founder of two Tucson-based nonprofit groups (Global Chant and PlayHaven), and the author of four books: Deep Creativity: Inside the Creative Mystery, The Way of Play, The Chanter’s Guide, and the Amazon bestseller, Repose: The Potent Pause, co-authored with Jhan Kold. He has devoted his life to understanding the kinds of profound experiences associated with creativity. His research has focused on intuition, self-transcendence, play, receptivity, and the role of consciousness in the creative process.