Why I write this article
In conversations with others, I have noticed that many people seem to have some kind of exaggerated respect for meditation. This is more of a hindrance than a help. Many seem to see meditation as something, one „should do” in order to lead a better life. Something that is „good for you”, but requires strict discipline. It is associated with asceticism, not pleasure, and many people keep on postponing their meditation aspirations, which in turn makes them feel guilty. This doesn’t benefit anyone.
Now, in this article, I want to highlight how joyful and enjoyable meditation can actually be. Those who know me, know that as a second chakra type and pleasure seeker, I like to indulge and have fun … And really, there is no contradiction between enjoying life and meditating regularly.
Meditation is like running or any other sport or learning to play an instrument: you get better with time and practice. And still, every day is different.– Noémie
In the following, I will present you a number of different methods I have experimented with and which I enjoy. But you don’t have to follow any particular method in order to meditate. For a very simple form of meditation, you can just sit with your eyes closed and your spine erect – no lotus position required and you can even lean your back against the wall – and concentrate on your breath. The next step is to concentrate on the sounds around you, then on the sounds inside you, then the thoughts, letting them pass without clinging to them like clouds in the sky. And just sit. That’s the easiest way.
Frequent misconceptions about meditation
- Meditation doesn’t necessarily have to do with spirituality: It has been scientifically proven many many times now that regular meditation has a positive effect on the brain. (see for example this article from the Harvard Business Review). MBSR – Mindfulness-based stress reduction – is a good example for a more sober approach and a nice start for all those who are not into gurus, mantras and incense 😉
- You don’t always have to sit for ages. You can start with 5 to 10 minutes. This will do you so much good already.
- There are many different methods of meditation and some of them are the total contrary to sitting in silence. Besides, some people also „meditate” while they work in the garden, ride their bikes or bake … This, too, can be just as powerful.
- It is never easy to establish a new routine. This requires dedication and the willingness – especially at the beginning – to accept setbacks and to not be discouraged by them.
- You don’t have to take meditation that serious. When I facilitate meditations, I like to tell the participants that there is no „right or wrong” and invite them to simply relax and enjoy the experience.
All beginnings are difficult
To reassure you: In the beginning, it wasn’t easy for me at all. I needed several attempts until I „got it”. The main reasons were that
- I „didn’t have the time”. Everything else was more important (in reality, I just didn’t take the time. Maybe because I didn’t want to and felt some resistance),
- I didn’t have the patience (sometimes I opened my eyes again after just one minute and got up again),
- I was bored or that I couldn’t quiet my (monkey) mind.
Even when things got better and I established a habit of meditating more regularly, it happened quite often that I fell asleep. Sitting on a chair. Although it is usually impossible for me to sleep sitting! At that time I regularly went to a meditation center in southwest Berlin, where we practised guided meditations with an emphasis on opening the chakras. There, I couldn’t keep my head from dropping onto my neighbour’s shoulder and would only wake up when the teacher said: „And now, you can gently open your eyes …”
When I finally „got it”, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Suddenly I entered other spheres. Something opened up inside of me – in front of my inner eye, in my soul, in my third eye, in my chakras … although I didn’t even experience a „kundalini awakening” in the classical sense. The monkey mind started to calm down.
I really noticed this a lot when practising the darkness meditation alone at home. I have already described it in detail in this article. Sitting in my dark corridor, I could really see my thoughts ascending: They usually came into my field of vision as streams of light from the lower left side, clearly aiming to flow like an arc through my whole field of vision. But this never happened. Instead, they „rained down” like fireworks in front of my third eye before they could complete their circle. The thoughts really had no chance. I couldn’t think them through, even if I wanted to.
Naturally high with Osho’s active meditations
And then I was introduced to Osho’s active meditations which use movements and sounds to penetrate the layers that we „modern” people carry around with us and which can make it quite hard for us to dive into meditative silence.
Nadabrahma – bathing in the sound
During my first silent retreat, we practised the Nadabrahma meditation every day. This Osho meditation is still one of my favourites today. It was adapted from an old Tibetan technique and involves humming and certain hand movements done to a special music with bells and bowls. Through both the humming and the hand movement, conflicting parts of your being start to fall into tune, harmonizing your whole being. It has a centring, refreshing and grounding effect and brings peace, silence and bliss to the meditator. It can be practised alone, but I prefer to do it in a group: When many people hum together – we were 50 in the retreat – this creates a very powerful sound bath. You feel the vibrations penetrate you, which is a fabulous sensation for both body and mind.
I used to see colours and other images, felt my crown chakra open for the first time and once my ego dissolved and I realized that my „I” doesn’t really exist. This realization was powerful and stirring, but it didn’t last too long. Today only a vague memory remains.
The Dynamic Meditation
After these mind-expanding experiences, I was hooked. I really liked the group experience and also: This was better than taking drugs!
Both was available in the then still existing Osho studio in Kreuzberg, which is now closed, unfortunately. There I went quite regularly to practice Dynamic Meditation. The Dynamic Meditation is often seen as „the most blatant” of all active Osho meditations because it is very strenuous and sweaty and can make you go really deep very fast. It also requires a certain commitment, as for the best results, it should ideally be done at least 7 or up to 21 days in a row every morning right after getting up. There are five stages in this meditation: 1. chaotic breathing, 2. catharsis, 3. concentration of energy in the Hara (sex/life centre in the pelvis) by jumping up and down with raised arms while shouting „Hoo!”, 4. silence, 5. dancing.
In this meditation, you can really let off steam. It works as a catalyst and can help you to get to deep-seated issues very quickly. I once went there first thing in the morning after a break-up and screamed and wept so much that afterwards, I felt pretty relaxed. The „issue” wasn’t solved, but I could deal with it in a calmer way.
It should be said that some meditations – especially if they include intense breathwork – can stir up traumas and are not always gentle and calm. These types of meditation are also mostly precisely aiming at releasing trauma and not so much at „just” calming the mind. It is best to practice them in a safe space with a facilitator or at least someone who knows what they’re doing.
V for vipassana – an excursus
I was a declared Osho fan by now. But when I came into contact with a group of vipassana meditators through my neighbour I was also intrigued to know more about this technique – I always want to try everything! – the „wonderful technique” as Goenka, their „guru” calls it. So, in addition to my morning sessions at the Osho center, I now also regularly sat in silence and practised the body scan, which is what this method is all about. I grew more interested and in order to experience the real thing, I signed up for a 10-day silence and meditation retreat at the Dhamma Vipassana Centre in Bogor, Indonesia and left in January 2019.
What is vipassana?
Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist practice also known as „essential meditation” It is the foundation, or the essence, of all other existing meditations: Sitting and observing in silence. Being the witness.
The Goenka style
The traditional forms of vipassana, including Goenka’s technique, are very strict and rigorous: As a first-timer, you spend the first three days of the retreat concentrating exclusively on the breath, observing it only in the small triangle between the nostrils and the upper lip. On day four you start scanning the whole body, directing your attention to all bodily sensations and how they are constantly changing. The essence of it all is contained in one word: „annica”, which means „life is constant change, nothing remains.” This method teaches us that both attachment and resistance are pointless. This is something I actually like a lot. It’s also what Eckart Tolle always says: „It is as it is.”
10 days of Dhamma boot camp
In the Dhamma Vipassana Centers, you follow a very strict daily routine and distractions are kept to a minimum: As soon as you sign in, you have to hand in everything that could distract you – phone, computer, books and pens. You agree not to exercise for the duration of your stay and to wear discreet clothing. Men and women are separated from each other. The diet is special too: no wheat, no caffeine, all vegan, because you also commit to practising „ahimsa“, the principle of absolute non-violence. They really want you to concentrate only on what’s happening inside of you, so that you may enter new spheres and understand yourself and life better. The method excludes everything that „does not belong”. You only pay attention to the ever-changing body sensations, including pain.
My own experience was definitely interesting and also revealing to some extent, but I wouldn’t call it life-changing. Maybe because I already did so much „work” before I went, I don’t know. That’s why I have not yet managed to write an article about it and probably never will. Been there, done that. Nuff said.
Vipassana à la Osho
What I didn’t know at that time: Osho also has a so-called vipassana meditation. I got to experience it a few months later during my stay at the Osho Afroz in Greece. It has a lot in common with Goenka’s method, yet it is fundamentally different. Osho found Goenka’s approach much too cold, too dead and too boring. And so „his” form of vipassana is a juicy, lively and joyful practice. He expresses it best himself:
„Nothing is a disturbance in vipassana, it includes everything such as thought, judgments, feelings, body sensations and impressions from the outside world.”
„Here, vipassana is a juicy experience; it is not dry. […] I want you to learn meditation as a play, as a playfulness.”
„Life is accepted in its totality. […] This meditation may create songs in you, may create dances in you, may give a new impetus toward creativity in all dimensions of life.”
„Your silence should not be the silence of a graveyard, your silence should be the silence of a garden. Once in a while, a bird starts singing, but it does not disturb the silence, it deepens it. Once in a while, the breeze comes with its song, passing through the pine trees, but it does not disturb the silence, it deepens it.”
„I want a meditation that can laugh, that can dance.”– Osho
For me, diving into this alternative form of vipassana was a real revelation! Because it stands for what I mentioned at the beginning of this article: Meditation can be joyful and even in silence you may find joy, pleasure and life.
During my first vipassana sessions at Afroz, I still got lost in thoughts a lot but noticed it quicker than before. When I noticed it, I didn’t judge or condemn myself for it. Instead, I watched and observed what was happening and became better and better at it with time: I watched my thoughts, paid attention to my breath, became aware of my environment and then a „space of consciousness” opened up somewhere between me and everything. A beautiful space where there is no judgement. I listened to the crickets, the birds, the insects, felt the wind and sun on my skin … I felt: life. I was alive and attentive. Not always, of course. But more and more often.
Soon, I began to enjoy the vipassana sessions so much that I volunteered to facilitate them daily for a week, even though I had many other things to do as well. Still, these quiet morning sessions are one of my best memories of that time.
Enjoy your meditation!
At Afroz, all meditations begin with the words „Enjoy your meditation”, spoken by the facilitator and accompanied by a warm smile. You can maybe imagine, how this immediately opens up an energy field full of joy, which makes you dive into your meditation with grace and ease.
The „Evening Meeting” (formerly „White Robe meeting”), which takes place every evening, is also opened with fifteen minutes of ecstatic dancing. Imagine a whole field full of happy people of all ages, dancing like nobody’s watching. It really is pure happiness. Pure ecstasy, followed by an almost sacred silence. This may sound like complete hippie madness, but in the end, it is not much different from today’s Ecstatic Dances. Only that the ecstasy is followed by a meditation.
Speaking of Ecstatic Dance: Dancing and shaking can be a meditation or serve as preparation for it. When you dance and/or shake you manifest through your body that you don’t take it all too seriously. You shake yourself free in order to be able to engage yourself in (even) deeper silence.
On another note: If you’re not a fan of Osho (although you don’t have to like the man in order to enjoy his meditations …), there are many other examples of joyful meditation. Punnu Wasu Singh, my teacher at the Meditation Teacher Training I attended earlier this year in Bali, is a living example of a deeply spiritual person who is also very funny. In the training, we focused on active consciousness meditations which really are quite the opposite to boring. We went really deep, there was a lot of trauma work, a lot of cleansing and healing. We really experimented with everything and I felt very alive through all the meditations. I felt that our bodies are not some disturbing factor which have to be meditated away if you want to reach silence and stillness and your deep chore. Our bodies are wonderful instruments with which we can sing, dance, love and laugh. Between meditations, Punnu played music, sang, told jokes … Once he even surprised us by rapping Panjabi MC’s hit „Mundian to bach ke”!
Some final thoughts
At the end of the day, however, meditation is never really about the method. Rather, it is about understanding life as meditation and being a mindful observer in every moment. If you succeed in this, you no longer need any routine or practice and can sit back and enjoy life.
But who knows, maybe you will find just the right meditation technique that works for you and brings more joy to your life. And if you already have your own routine of a completely different kind, through which you switch off your mind and in which you are completely absorbed (e.g. the gardening work already quoted at the beginning), then just enjoy that. The main thing is that you take care of your well-being in some way – and that includes body AND mind.
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