Okay, what is meditation, why should I do it, and how do I do it? Also what about emotions, creativity, and drugs? Ask anyone, and you'll get a different response. Here's mine in under 11 minutes although I could talk about this for hours.
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There's something deeper meant to come out of your heart in this life. What is it?
As humans we shift into and out of illusion and reality. We have the power to create, to imagine, and to make believe.
As much as we delight in the fantasy-lands of the mind, we also crave knowledge. Hard facts. Deep understanding. Truth.
These seemingly different realms are very much entangled. They are both defining features of human identity.
There is an aggressive pathway to creative expression as well as knowledge—the one where the “small self’s” quest for praise, validation, and power is dragged into the quest to create or to understand. Then there is another path, where recognition and acceptance of an ever-present, non-personal power eliminates the need for external validation and orients the soul to its purpose. Meditation helps us to see the difference.
Then there is another path, where recognition and acceptance of an ever-present, non-personal power eliminates the need for external validation and orients the soul to its purpose.
I say this not to create categories for positive and negative judgment. I simply am pointing out that there is a difference in the paths. Don’t overthink this and “try” to get on one path or the other—simply continue in your commitment to observe. You might catch yourself veering toward attachments and then it’s your choice whether you keep going or change direction.
What is your project?
Meditation can support the development of skills that empower us in our explorations of expression and truth. Open, genuine contemplations and inquiries create a pattern shift into wakefulness.
To what would you want to bring wakefulness? Do you play music? Are you an artist? An athlete? A caregiver? A student? A politician? What area of your work would you be interested in bringing wisdom to?
To what would you want to bring wakefulness?
What are you creating, what do you want to know, and what inside you do you desperately want to express that seems inexpressible?
There is a way to bring light and form to your confined expression. The following are just a few touchstones for moving and expressing wakefulness.
Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect anything at all.
As you proceed in your meditation practice and your project, take notes along the way. Map your findings. Learn the many languages of the soul. Don’t be afraid to talk about it, but don’t feel pressured to either. We can be informed by one another's journeys.
Then revisit. Revise. Return to the practice. Let the insights brought on by inquiry inform your actions—let the practice bring depth and luminosity to your creative expressions and intelligence and structure to your projects.
If you have not yet been united with your purpose, or if you have lost touch, consider that you may now be closer than before, and remember that becoming disconnected creates a beautiful opportunity to reconnect in a profound way.
Begin the Journey of the Self. 21 days of meditation and inquiry.
The Pattern That Connects
Meditation is dynamic, full of surprises, compatible with the whole range of human emotion, and positions you to engage your life in ways you never would have anticipated.
I have designed these meditation programs with two core purposes: to support inner peace, and to inspire action. I often find that peoples’ impressions of meditation are that it’s all about “being calm.” That’s nice but would be so incredibly boring (I promise you I wouldn’t be involved in meditation if that were all it’s about) and I’m so happy to tell you that is not the case.
On the one hand my approach does resemble “typical” meditation programs. They are very much geared toward learning techniques for stabilizing the nervous system and establishing practices for emotional regulation. I am committed to supporting myself and others in the journey of peace, and if peace or relief is all you seek right now, that’s perfect. There is not much in life that fulfills me more than playing a role in the dissolution of somebody’s anxiety. So the meditations are tools for creating that “resting space.”
On the other hand, but not in conflict with the first hand (I let my hands know what each other are doing) my purpose is to excite: to encourage inquiry, to stimulate creativity, and to point out new possibilities and narratives for your life. There is a great need for creative action toward a reconfiguration of the way humans live on this planet. So within my meditation programs, I endeavor to illuminate pathways whose qualities and destinations are unclear. I encourage inquiry as a pathway for change.
Yes--sometimes you need to spend time healing and resting before approaching the liveliness. Sometimes this liveliness is just what you need. Listen. Ask yourself.
We can become skilled in both establishing stability and stimulating transformation, finding contentment and taking action, being at peace and raising energy.
So the context that you will next read may not seem to fit with your conventional notions of meditation, but I assure you it is relevant and intrinsically important to your practice. I include it not only because it belongs with meditation, but because I think it has the power to make the journey very exciting and rewarding. I encourage you to give it a read and, if you have questions, bring it on!
Mind, Nature, and Projects
The idea of "The Pattern that Connects" was presented by the late anthropologist and ecologist Gregory Bateson. Bateson was interested in processes of evolution, culture, the nature of mind, the patterns of nature, and perhaps most of all, the connections between all these. He coined the term “The Pattern Which Connects” (which I have adapted to The Pattern That Connects for a grammar reason that I will only explain only upon request).
His specific question was “What is the pattern that connects all the living creatures?” How is everything connected? He suggests that containing or connecting all patterns is The Pattern That Connects. Though it is not a “thing,” it can help to imagine it as a connective weave through all life. I suspect it’s closely related to if not synonymous with the Tao but I’m not sure (maybe you can help me find out?) The problem is when we try to apply our minds to this problem in the ways we are used to solving problems, we get in our own way. This is because we are approaching terrain that is not "symbolic," it does not "represent" something the way words or numbers do--it is not an idea. We are trying to get at reality, or the nature of things, or "suchness," and because language is necessarily symbolic, whatever we say about it is going to be off the mark. Perhaps exploring states of consciousness and creative expression are more promising when it comes to understanding the Pattern that Connects.
According to Bateson, The Pattern that Connects is lively:
“We have been trained to think of patterns, with the exception of those of music, as fixed affairs. It is easier and lazier that way but, of course, all nonsense. In truth, the right way to begin to think about the pattern which connects is to think of it as primarily a dance of interacting parts and only secondarily pegged down by various sorts of physical limits.”
–Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature
This means that there is no fixed code or reference point for us to uncover, but rather, a continuously unfolding process. This creates a situation where the imagination and eternity intersect. Something ever-shifting is bound to give rise to creativity, and we are both receivers and shapers of the patterns that make up the present moment. Consider the patterns of thought, the wavelengths of brain activity, the rhythm of your heart, and so on. This liveliness, interestingly, may contrast with descriptions of the Tao as unchanging stillness and emptiness. (What is the relationship between the Tao and the Pattern that Connects?)
We can either interfere with or get with the patterns of nature. Currently our human affairs seem to depend heavily on patterns of our own creation that do not accord with those of nature. Imagine there is a large circuit network, and you zoom in on just a piece of it so you can’t see the bigger pattern it is part of. For example—you find that you can cure illness with antibiotics, but that achievement operates in a bigger system, all the parts of which were not considered, and so we get superbacteria. When you engage with just that one segment you can see, that’s the "conscious purpose" mind, the analytical, divisive, self-interested mind. It’s a very useful and powerful form of consciousness, but if we are so zoomed in we forget to see the forest for the trees, this perspective is liable to lead us unwittingly into illusion, and therefore suffering. We're missing important context. We need, from time to time, to take another perspective, to transcend the self-imposed restrictions of the ego. We may say we need to take on the perspective of Mind with a capital M, which would be the total mental process of nature. This perception has no attachments, for it is devoid of a self.
It’s not that as humans we have truly departed from the Pattern that Connects—it’s just that if we start acting out of accord with that which supports the conditions needed for life, we end up with unexpected consequences (e.g., climate change). Eventually nature’s deeper patterns break down the ones we built if we did not build them in such a way that they are not destroyed by the forces of time and change. Bateson considered awareness of the broader patterns in which smaller patterns operate to be “wisdom.”
Meditation is one method for recognizing at least the fact that we are embedded in much broader patterns and that our most familiar forms of knowing are incomplete. The following insight was a lucky accident in a conversation with my philosopher friend: we can allow ourselves to be informed by the broader patterns. It took me several weeks to realize he didn’t mean informed in the sense that nature explains to you how to be, but rather, you allow the patterns of nature to arrange themselves within you—within your heart, mind, and body. This kind of experience presents insight into a larger set of possibilities of how to live simply because you have opened yourself to something other than your usual habits of attention.
...You position yourself in a way that you let go—so that those patterns can arrange themselves within you—within your heart, mind, and body. This kind of experience presents insight into a larger set of possibilities of how to live, simply because you have opened yourself to something other than your usual habits of attention.
Meditation brings us into states of consciousness that may often be dormant during the day to day activities of our lives. We can take these new perspectives and bring them together with our familiar ways of knowing for a clearer picture of what is taking place in this life. Then, we are still responsible to make decisions on what to do, who to be, and how to live.
I will refer to The Pattern that Connects in my meditation programs. For deeper understanding, I recommend reading Bateson’s “Mind and Nature,” and “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.” But if you don’t, it’s fine. I’ll be providing context along the way.
The project I invite you to join me in is first: how will you tap into connectedness, and second: how will you manifest it? How will you bring Awareness to Action?
Foundations: 21 days of inner exploration.
It can take time to open up to anyone, including yourself.
If changes have not been clear as you practice and you feel somewhat lost, you’re not alone. It may be the case that you will come to your practice regularly for a month or longer without noticing anything “happen,” simply because that is part of your process. Something is indeed happening (something can’t not happen), but it may be too subtle to notice.
First of all, the discrete, noticeable manifestations of meditation, may not happen *during* meditation, but during another experience of the day or week. One session sitting may set something into motion that does not become clear for months. You may not be able connect the dots for a while, or ever. Sorry, life is mysterious!
Second of all, it may for example be the case that you are protecting yourself from difficult emotions or life situations, and you may have to go through many sessions before your heart, body, and mind begin to trust the practice enough to start to let energy shift. In this scenario, which is not an unusual one, the feeling that nothing is happening is a happening in and of itself. There’s more beneath what limited effects you can sense.
The feeling that nothing is happening is a happening in and of itself.
I’ll share my story. There was a time when I returned to an already very irregular practice after being away for quite a while. A crisis with no clear light at the end of the tunnel had struck, and that on top of an intensifying structural, long-term problem I was dealing with.
There was so much to process at this time. Today my understanding is that to manage the potential overflow of emotions, my body had locked some of my emotional floodgates (thank you, body!). I had many many meditation sessions where I felt practically nothing—even though my daily life was filled with anxiety, cautious hope, confusion, and inner conflict. My heart’s unwillingness to speak was something I would need to go through for a while before I could begin to open up to myself. Luckily I understood that I needed the support that everyone said meditation could offer. So I did not give up. I trusted what people have been saying for centuries. I had just enough patience to keep revisiting my practice. It’s not that in my practice I was only ever drawing blanks, but some important aspects of the journey just couldn’t be rushed.
My heart’s unwillingness to speak was something I would need to go through for a while before I could begin to open up to myself.
Over time, the gates opened just slightly, enough to let out the emotional waters in a manageable way. I was having emotional breakthroughs (my alternative term to emotional breakdowns, because I see them as a necessary and live-giving part of transformation) while not meditating. It was just when I tried to go inward that I’d get radio silence. Funny, isn’t it, how sometimes people (ourselves included) get quiet when we start actually listening. Because ah—you might actually hear what the soul is saying, and there’s a sensitivity and fear around that. There will not be opening up until there is trust—and there’s a wisdom there. So look—you’re already experiencing a wisdom at play within yourself.
Funny, isn’t it, how sometimes people (ourselves included) get quiet when we start actually listening.
I didn’t *do* anything special in my meditations. I just kept sitting with myself. I started journaling a bit here and there, delicately rekindling my faded relationship with my inner truth. Eventually things began to shift more and more. Looking back at my meditation journal today, I can see in my entries that more was taking place than I realized at the time. In the larger context, everything really started to make sense.
My process of getting past the state of being self-protectively blocked and getting to a point of feeling my pain and sadness enough to realize I needed to take action took about eight months. Eight months is not very long when it culminates in a life-changing, liberating decision that brings you into contact with your higher purpose and into connection with yourself.
Meditation delivers contents when you’re ready for them. Sometimes meditation has to build you up for a while before it can safely carry you into the depths of your emotions. Sometimes it feels like you will never be ready for something, but if it comes up, it does so because you are ready for it.
Sometimes it feels like you will never be ready for something, but if it comes up, it does so because you are ready for it.
Today, I am inexpressibly grateful that I sat through those first uneventful sessions and trusted the practice to eventually show me what I needed to see, and to carry me along at a pace I could handle. It’s these kinds of experiences that nurture a profound trust in and appreciation for the intelligence of our deeper selves and teach us how to let go…and that’s worth quite a lot.
So, if you’re not feeling much, know that wisdom is at play, and if you continue to trust and visit the practice, adventures of heart and mind are inevitable.
The 21-day Journey of the Self meditation program supports you in developing a consistent practice--this can be very helpful for getting through the initial stages where it seems like nothing is happening.
Where, When, and How? Meditation Logistics
Figuring out when, where, and how to meditate is important, fun, and personal. Most likely you will need to try out different times, places, and postures before you get a sense for what really works for you--and it can change on the scale of a minute to a decade.
I recommend having a designated place, but if that’s not realistic for you, that’s okay. It can change. I have a meditation setup in the corner of my room by a window. My cushions are from Still Sitting Meditation Supply and I am very happy with them. However, it is not necessary to have a cushion. It is nice to have because it supports a steady and comfortable posture and its presence in your home or office serves as a reminder of mindfulness and practice. It can also be motivating if you have trouble committing to a practice but would like to become more regular. The cushion inspires and beckons.
First ask yourself when in your schedule it is realistic to practice meditation. Some people like to meditate in the morning. When I meditate in the morning, I like to do it after a few sips of coffee, but if it works better for my schedule, I do it before coffee. I do find it a really wonderful way to start the day, even if it’s just five minutes. That said, some people feel pressure to get to work or school in the morning and the thought of sitting still for some time just makes the morning feel more rushed. If that’s the case, don’t worry about it! It’s not necessary to meditate in the morning.
Some people like to meditate when they come home from their main activities of the day—work, school, sports, or what have you. I have found this to be an ideal time to sit because it helps ease the accumulated tensions of the day. But some days, I just want to move my body and sitting more sounds miserable to me. So on those days I don’t meditate after work.
Some people like to meditate before bed. In my experience this is a rather inviting time to meditate because there’s less background noise (people doing yardwork, cars driving, family/housemates, etc.) and because I myself am ready to shift into calm and slow my thoughts before I lie down to sleep. The only risk with waiting until before bed is that if you wait too long you could become too tired to meditate. And I mean, if you do, that’s okay, just go to sleep.
Is it important to have a regular practice of meditation? How often should you practice? Again, this is personal. You’ll have to find out for yourself. I am a person who does well with little structure and irregular practice and I can usually tell intuitively when I’m in need of a session—and that’s true for most areas of my life. For others it is not so clear. Some people may have reasons for keeping a very regular practice. Some people know about themselves that if they miss a day they will not get back into the practice for months. I’ve read that people coping with mental illness or crisis may want to consider a daily practice, but missing a day or a week is not something to stress out about. When I’m going through a hard time, I make a greater effort to meditate daily. Meditation is a wonderful tool for sifting through and making space for each day’s emotions.
Find what works for you. It’s a question like, “How often do you exercise? How often do you tidy your space?” The answers are up to you. If you listen in, you will become ever more intuitive and ever more equipped to attend to yourself and your needs from one moment to the next.
This is “how?” in the postural sense—not in the sense of how to steady the mind, which I go into more detail in the meditation programs. Traditionally, meditation is practiced in a seated posture, but it is not necessary to practice seated. The benefit of sitting is that it generates a feeling of stability in the body and prevents you from falling asleep. I like to sit on cushions. Some people prefer to sit on a bench or in a chair. If sitting is not comfortable for you, consider lying down. The important thing is to support yourself in being at ease. You do not need to sit or lay perfectly still during meditation either. If your body needs to adjust, let it adjust. We are not trying to be rigid or controlling in our meditation practice. You won’t disturb the process by listening to your body and making gentle changes. If anything, becoming aware of what is needed in the moment is a sign of meditation letting you in to your body’s cues, which we often overlook when we are not present.
Meditation gives us opportunities to be our best self and live our best life. Meditation has changed me, and definitely for the better.
So, give it a try. Switch it up. Be open to change, and enjoy getting to know yourself better. Get started with five days of guided meditation.
The question that nobody ever seems to be able to answer clearly.
The answer to “what is meditation” depends on who you ask. Not all responses accord with one another, but these inconsistencies are not worth getting hung up on. It’s not necessary to get a firm grasp on a definition of meditation—the real understandings will fall into place as you practice. That said, a framework to begin with can certainly be helpful.
The real understandings will fall into place as you practice.
Meditation is a transformation of consciousness. It is a process of recognizing and dissolving the patterns of a highly associative and conditioned mind. More simply, meditation is becoming quiet enough to notice what is happening right here and right now—everything from the flow of thoughts, to the settling of the joints, to the background noise, to the breath, to the interconnectedness of all life.
In the biological sciences there is something called "baseline monitoring" where you collect data to find out how an ecosystem is doing before you make any changes. Meditation is kind of like that--familiarizing with where you're at and what your "baseline" feels like. Then you can consider if you want to change the quality of your baseline, and what it would take to do that.
In the biological sciences there is something called "baseline monitoring" where you collect data to find out how an ecosystem is doing before you make any changes. Meditation is kind of like that.
Through this consistent observation meditation can reveal patterns of sensation, thought, and emotion, and can shed light on the projections and illusions we entertain that block us from connecting with ourselves and others.
How it will unfold is not something that anybody can tell you. It’s for you to find out. I will share a quote from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali:
“Freedom is at hand when the fundamental qualities of nature, each of their transformations witnessed at the moment of its inception, are recognized as irrelevant to pure awareness; it stands alone, grounded in its very nature, the power of pure seeing.”
But if that's confusing to you, don't worry. Don’t worry about your meditation being like anything in particular, or yielding any specific results. All there is to do is to become quiet, to listen, and to be present with what happens.
All there is to do is to become quiet, to listen, and to be present with what happens.
If the absence of a clear definition feels unsatisfying to you, consider this: Do you really just want to have answers? Imagine if someone could just tell you in a few words how a beautiful song makes them feel. If all you cared about was answers, you wouldn’t bother listening to that song yourself—you would read the report. My guess is that you want something more than answers. You’ve found your way here in part not to be given answers, but because you want to hear the music.
Get started with seven days of guided meditation - less than 15 minutes a day.
Meditation and/or spiritual experiences can be very powerful, but they are not "one and done."
Life have a way of “springing” or “flowing” back to a state of need, no matter how skillfully or potently we fulfill and enrich ourselves. For example, after a good night’s sleep, it’s only a matter of time before we are tired again. After a healthy, satiating meal, hunger is just a few hours around the corner. A pleasurable experience one day likely won’t set us in a good mood for the rest of the week. We can’t exercise one day a month and relax the rest of the time and expect to become stronger and healthier. When we finish stretching our hamstrings, they begin to shorten again. Powerful, insightful experiences do not guarantee us clarity and wisdom for the rest of our lives.
Animals follow their instincts to maintain and modify their need cycles, and we do too. However, it seems that humans have developed conscious thought, and the problematic part is that we have technology to amplify our peculiar ways of life. We need to implement something to correct/limit ways of living and thinking that disturb mutually supportive conditions for life. We need a diversity of perspectives, frames of mind, and experiences of consciousness to be able to recognize when, where, and how we need change. In this era, we especially need something that doesn't chop everything up into analytical pieces--something holistic that can support our and the earth's flourishing. I am not suggesting that a holistic view or mystical vision is ultimately superior to "ordinary" consciousness. It is conceivable that in another era or another kind of universe or planet, the holistic view is intact while there is need for analysis and reasoning. Compassionate power and insight come from experiences of many perspectives.
We can instate practices that invoke nature’s self-correcting (or self-healing) forces, which very much help us to manage the ebbs and flows of our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves. This means consciously taking steps to get out of our own way enough to let the patterns of nature guide us back to equilibrium.
We can instate practices that invoke nature’s self-correcting (or self-healing) forces, which very much help us to manage the ebbs and flows of our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves.
The most important thing to remember is repetition. No matter how wonderful and deep your practices is, and no matter how many years you have spent cultivating equanimity, compassion, and so on, there will always be forces at play that pull you the other way. That’s the “springing back.” This—the reformation of the ego—is probably one of nature’s ways to ensure survival, but now that we have technologies that support our lives in ways like never before and very complex social structures that have special behavioral requirements, it makes sense to establish a different kind of relationship with our impulses.
It makes sense to establish a different kind of relationship with our impulses.
This is where art, meditation, sincere conversation, reading, movement, creative expression, reflection, writing, music, and many other avenues to the soul come in. When we approach these practices from the heart, they have the power to correct for the forces that, if unbalanced, pull us out of connection, out of compassion, and out of touch with the wisdom and joy of the foundational patterns of life. Perhaps this fits in to Alduous Huxley’s “Quest for Grace.”
If these practices are approached from a place of striving for status or power that you think will place you above or in control of nature or others, their balancing functions will not be properly activated, and you will remain frustrated. That does not mean you will miss all the insights brought on by these practices, but something will indeed be missing. With meditation, you can begin to perceive the difference between these approaches. Noticing that there is a difference is step one. The next steps will become clearer as you proceed.
Aligning with the "way" or the "pattern that connects" means contact--access to that which is bigger than "you." When we commit to abide in that space, we enjoy a perspective that supports a fuller and clearer picture of what is at play in the universe.
Unsure where to begin or how to dive in? Start with what’s accessible.
One of the most difficult predicaments is to not know where to begin. Sometimes you see too many possibilities and get stuck trying to decide, while other times you see no starting points at all.
For your practice of meditation, I generally recommend bringing awareness to breath and/or sensation. But some days the breath is not so approachable. Sometimes sensations are too vague or too painful to anchor into. So, the best advice I can offer is to go with whatever is most accessible. If your stream of thoughts is most accessible, follow it. If your right shoulderblade is speaking, listen in. If the breath is steady and receptive, start with that. If what’s most prominent is your uncertainty, well, that’s something too. Where you begin isn't as important as you might think--you can sing any song beginning on any note.
So go there. Then simply observe what next unfolds. It’s important to acknowledge that just because it doesn’t seem like something is happening, doesn’t mean something isn’t happening.
Best of luck.