Tag Archives: meditation

Emotion Meditation 1

Whether you have a little or a lot of experience with meditation there are a few simple Taoist meditation tricks that work very well and can do you a world of good.  It’s first helpful to delineate three general meditation categories.  You could make the focus on your Body, your Mind & Thoughts, or your Emotions.  

In this article I’m choosing Emotions, by themselves and as they interact with Mind and Body.   We know intuitively that there is a continuous interaction and what we need to do is experientially understand that process better.  An experiential understanding is what gives us the means to shift everything toward more balance and harmony.

1.  Let’s look at what emotions may arise in a simple everyday situation.  Say you’re in a public place and find yourself in the presence of a complete stranger for whom you have an immediate dislike.  That’s one emotional reaction.  Next you might ask yourself why you were so prejudicial, another emotion.  That may take the form of embarrassment or guilt.  You might then reassess your reaction by feeling acceptance instead, which in turn might make you more comfortable, or proud of yourself.  Or you may say that your first reaction was right because you sensed a good reason to avoid this person, you just have to learn to trust your intuition.    Or it may dawn on you that this person just happened to trigger one of your buttons from way back, something that you need to get over already.  But maybe you can’t deal with that right now. 

It may surprise you to realize that all these emotional reactions, about ten in that example, could come and go in a few seconds, producing a small  “tempest in a teapot”.  Multiply that by a few hundred simple interactions in a day and you might have a big mess brewing just below the surface.  All these emotions will have a direct effect on what you say, think and do in the immediate situation as well as in the long term.  

1.A. The first step in gaining some stability in this possibly turbulent stream is simply to sit quietly and take notice.  Pick a situation which could be emotional but doesn’t require you to interact such as watching the news or listening to an argument.  Or you may want to go internal and examine an emotionally charged circumstance in your life.   Ask what emotions are coming up and what others they lead to.  If you get caught up in them, take note of that and just keep watching.

This perspective, which is found in many traditions,  is sometimes called the Independent Observer.  You could be watching with your intellect but you might also be accessing a part of yourself that is beyond, behind, deeper than, more stable than the vagaries of capricious emotions. 

You will realize that emotions come and go like the breeze and might have about the same importance.   One perspective is that all humans throughout time have had these same emotions all their lives and you are just one of them here in one moment.  To think that yours are all that significant could seem a little ridiculous. 

With practice you will notice that certain patterns repeat themselves, that you have certain habits.  It’s probably less important to know how they developed than to note how they are maintained.  

1.B.  A second method you could try might sound as though it requires a bit more courage:   Take any situation wherein you find yourself, intense or neutral, attractive or repelling, and allow whatever you see and hear to be absorbed into yourself.   Let in the humans, buildings, media, weather, whatever, and then let it all out again.   You could try inhaling and exhaling as you do.  Observe what emotions arise.  Keep this up until something changes, for example becoming more comfortable with what was uncomfortable.  

A refinement of this exercise is to bring the scenes into and out of your three main energy centers, brain, heart, and belly.  There will be a different sensation in each one. What is the nature of each and how do you react differently?   Note that no situation need have any particular effect on you;  you still are who you are.  

2.  That’s dealing with emotions alone, but of course they never exist all alone.  So next you could watch how they interact with your thoughts.  What might be associated with an everyday thought like  “If I’m late I’m late?”  Relief?  Relaxation?  Anticipation? Resignation?  Urgency?  Dread?  Callousness? 

Any of these emotions will lead to another set of thoughts, so if you’re Relieved you might think,  “I could just do some breathing exercises.”  If you reacted Callously you might construct all kinds of ways to blame it all on anyone and anything else.  Watch what emotions are then associated with these thoughts.  It sounds like an endless morass but you’ll soon discover a lot of repetition. 

3.  You can also examine the interplay of your emotions and your body.  In a literal  sense emotions live in your body.  They express themselves through changes in your breathing rate, your heart rate, your nervous system firing, your organ functions, your muscular tension.  Conversely, the condition of your body affects your emotions:   How you feel affects how you feel.  

An easy exercise here is to pick any one emotion, feel it as thoroughly as you can, and see what it does to your body.  Where do you feel Fear or Joy or Depression or Anger?  What happens where you feel it?  

Then pick two emotions, opposites like Courage vs. Fear.   Inhale one and exhale the other, either way, and feel how it changes your insides.   Pick other pairs of opposites like Contentment vs. Desire, Appreciation vs. Disgust, Enthusiasm vs. Depression and amplify them as you breathe in and out.   Notice also the difference when you switch each one from inhale to exhale, e.g. Courage in vs. Courage out, Fear in vs. Fear out.

These exercises will shine a light that enables you to recognize what your usual patterns are.  It will also give you the sense that you can have some direct control over your emotions and your body, an immensely useful ability. 

Once you realize that you can create a more balanced emotional life you can do these Taoist meditation exercises whenever you feel the need.  You will also be able to empathize with other people because you’ll recognize their particular patterns.  There will be a harmonious effect on all your interactions.

Practicing the Extraordinary

Our modern western culture is obsessed with being stimulated, delighted, awed and amazed.  We have developed such a familiarity and boredom with the everyday that we fail to appreciate the extraordinary nature of the commonplace and seek out ever more stupendous phenomena.  We have long since passed the point of exhaustion but we don’t know it and continue headlong into this unsatisfying, useless, pathological endeavor.  (Okay, you could argue that it keeps the economy going.)

We all know the solution inherently:  Slow down enough to discover and appreciate  the superb nature of whatever  we are in right now.   There are any number of ways to do this and the Taoists invented Qi Gong exercises with this as one of the main goals.  

There is a certain unique satisfaction in immersing oneself in  a discipline so vast and deep that you never run out of new territory to explore.  Yes this is still seeking, consuming perhaps,  but internal discovery and gratification has a way of reverberating into your external life.

Taoist Qigong has standard exercises where the same movements are repeated ad infinitum and might appear to be boring and mindless.  But hidden with the movements are numerous details that promote discovery, awakening, peace of mind and a sharpened sense of being alive, not to mention great health and how good that feels.  

It’s common practice to spend months and years exploring the depths of any one standard exercise.  Every time you practice you have the capacity to discover something new and different, an opportunity to go deeper. 

Students often ask  “How long should I practice?” 

My best answer is  “Until you discover something new.”

All  Qigong exercises are governed by basic principles such as usefulness, efficiency, balance, integrity, relaxation, naturalness, groundedness, clarity, etc. (For a more formal list go here.) Typically you learn the main exercises by breaking them down into multiple sub exercises wherein all the same principles are imbedded.  From there you integrate it all back together and apply it to whatever you need or wish to do.   You might know the phrase “fractal zoom” denoting the repetition of patterns in ever smaller and larger scales. 

Cloud Hands L EvenLet’s take the standard Qigong exercise “Cloud Hands” as an example.  Here you adopt a moderately wide stance and slowly shift your weight from one leg to the other, turn left and right, and raise one arm as you lower the other, all in synchrony.   I recently made a list of 50+ details and sub exercises for Cloud Hands.  One is simply shifting your weight 100% back and forth to each leg repeatedly, smoothly,  maintaining a relaxed, grounded balance.  Sounds simple enough. 

Sub exercise Number 2, Try it with your eyes closed.  Number 3, Try keeping your weight on one leg for a few minutes.  Can you do either of these without generating any tension?  Almost no one can.

 Now a series of leading questions could arise and you’re about to discover something about your human nature.   How When Why and Where did What kind of tension come in?    What are your capacities and limitations here?   You could spend many hours taking an honest stock of yourself, or you might rather focus on one little item like keeping your balance. 

Next you could to take it to another level, to your mind and emotions.   How do you react to your level of ability?   Are you proud, satisfied, embarrassed, frustrated, in denial, neutral?   Suppose that, in good Taoist fashion, you wish to do these extremely simple exercises as perfectly and gracefully as possible for a full hour.   What is your approach?   Do you buck up, get creative, have fun, persevere, get upset, fake it, get lazy, space out, give up?   How do you measure success or failure?   How do you react to either one?

 If you haven’t realized it by now, what we are doing is using a very simple challenge as a microcosm for your life.  How do you typically approach larger challenges?   What are your habits?   How does all this affect your interactions with people and your environment? 

 Whatever you find in the micro will almost certainly reflect the macro.  Sooner or later you’ll have those “Ah ha experiences.”  “Oh I didn’t know that l’d rather fake it than get it right.” ‘”I didn’t realize that I focus so hard I don’t enjoy anything.”  “Why am I so dang proud of myself?”  Most likely you will gain insights into what makes other humans tick also, which might increase your empathy and compassion.

 This is not meditation or psychotherapy per se but it’s close enough for most of us and will accomplish many of the same things.  You certainly could add meditation, if and when you wanted to take on yet more complexity.

Stepping back to the physical exercise, once you have a better picture of how you move and what you’d like to modify you can begin to experiment. 

Sub exercise Number 4:  Say your  point of weight change as you land on one leg and push off toward the other, from Yin to Yang, is very clunky and you’d like to make it smooth and seamless.  Here are three possibilities.

sine wave1.  Slow down near the change point so that it takes longer.  This is on of the natural courses of a sine wave with steep rises and falls between long ebbs and floods.   We see this in the seasons where the light changes very rapidly in spring and fall and very slowly in winter and summer.  

 2. Add a little curve at the end point so that you have a small loop rather than a sharp bounce. 

3. Anticipate the end points by beginning a return before you reach the end.  One way is to have a part of your body pulling back while another part is still stretching out, effectively doing two opposite things simultaneously.

 You might want to consider how these three methods could make other clunky pieces of your life more smooth and natural such as driving, dancing or diplomacy.  Exploring the transition between Yin and Yang is an endless pusuit in Taoism.

 If you go the the beach and watch the ocean waves you’ll see these same three things going on.   1. The distant waves move in sine.  2.  When they break they loop.  3.  At the beach the final inflow merges with the previous outflow.    You’ll see a small sample of how nature creates and adapts to it’s own Yin/Yang fluctuations.  Wherever you look you’ll find another variation.

Taoists love to invent Qi Gong exercises that follow nature.   Which brings us to another point.  When you understand the natural processes experientially from the inside out you can create your own movements, and because of this you will have a deeper appreciation for the whole unfolding.  If find yourself  creating new movement spontaneously it shows that you understand without the need to think about it.  There is a certain joy that comes with this territory. 

So what do we have?   Through repetition and variation, we have continuous discovery of the vast complexity of human nature, which can make you more compassionate.  We have creativity in your capacity to adapt and change.  We have natural spontaneity and joy.  You can’t download this kind of magic.  

You can gain great insight through any field or even by scrutinizing any five minutes of your life.  The genius of the Taoists was in designing natural exercises that promote  insight, change and vitality in your physical body, the energy that governs it, your emotions, your mind and even your spirit.  And that is very gratifying.

 

Tao of Love

One of my neighbors used to say to her boyfriend, “Honey it’s late, let’s go home and practice,”  explaining  “Just when we think we have it all down perfectly something new happens.”  They were’t the first ones to approach it that way.

The Taoists developed energetic (Qigong) and meditation practices in the context of simple activities such as standing, sitting and walking.  They also saw fit to explore the more intense human activities as vehicles for discovery and  transformation including fighting and love making.   Using fighting as a meditation tool is unique to Taoism but sexuality traditions have existed somewhat openly  as part of Tantra in India and more secretively in western monotheism.   The Taoists societies were often secretive depending on the political climate and it is only in recent years that their practices are coming to light.

Qigong generally is meant to give you more energy and what you do with that extra energy has five traditional applications:  your own health, healing others, martial arts,  sexual arts and meditation.   These categories have considerable overlap, for example the fighting arts can be done in ways that make you very healthy.   It is also possible to use sexual energy therapeutically  both for yourself and your partner, as well as for meditation.

Humans have the understandable drive to seek out pleasure and yet the conflicting tendency to avoid  it, not appreciate it, and keep moving restlessly on to whatever next thing.  What would it be like if you just pursued the pleasure and allowed it to soak in and make you content?  What if you approached this as a meditation?

Perhaps the most obvious reason to do sexual practices is to enhance the experience, to make it more profound or just more fun, to generate more of that wonderful energy.  Most people would be quite happy with that.  It’s also true that many of our issues, our baggage, our stuff shows up around and in our most intimate of expressions in ways that are not particularly enhancing.   For those few who want to do the courageous work of meditation/transformation this means sex presents a unique opportunity.   I will talk about both of these motivations.

Traditionally Taoist couples engaging in “double practice”  also had their separate individual practices in Qigong, which laid the groundwork for coming together.  While this is preferable it is not really necessary.  If only one person is doing the practice the other will still feel the effects just as happens with the other two-person practices of fighting and healing.   Unless one of you is a born natural, the more work you’re willing to put in individually, the  less work, the easier, the deeper it will be when you come together.

So just what do you do?

1.  The possibilities are myriad, but grade one step one is getting the unique quality of sexual energy to be felt anywhere in your body at will.   Some folks have this naturally but most have to put a little effort into it, just as some can naturally sing and dance but most need practice.  Some parts of your body are more responsive and some less. Mouths and hands?  Yes.  Feet and spine?  Maybe.  Liver and kidneys?  Uh, that’s a bit more research.  Start with what’s easy.   Spread the energy nearby at first,  e.g. if you’re kissing wake up the back of your neck.  Or wake up the top your head where all the vertical meridians converge.   Or just go where you’re drawn.

2.  Once you wake up some part of yourself that you like particularly well, try keeping your mind there without wavering.  Or you could choose to focus on one point of contact with your partner, like wherever you kiss.  Keeping your mind focused is a standard meditation practice, but students often let their minds wander to something more interesting like sex,  so there’s a certain ingenious motivation here.  One thing this will do is expand the minutiae into something much larger, amplifying and intensifying the experience.   This can make you more appreciative, more grateful, more fulfilled by it all.   Allow the appreciation to penetrate into your cells and beyond.

3.  One of the things you learn in Qigong work is to project and absorb energy from any part of your body voluntarily.   Yin and Yang is one way to understand this.  Yang expands outward like light from a bulb or a laser.  Yin absorbs inward like the ocean enveloping a diver.

You could try this just holding hands or while in embrace.  A natural pathway is from your heart  out your arms and hands to your partner’s heart and back again.  Or skip the arms and connect directly heart to heart.   Or try it with your whole body.

We know intuitively that each place and each way we physically connect brings out a different quality of energies.  You could take a lot of time and discover what these are and explore what they do for you, for your partner and for your relationship.

Learning to exchange energy is a skill and you’ll get it sooner if you stay relaxed and don’t force it.  It’s one thing to absorb easily and quite another to swallow your partner whole.  It’s one thing to enter gently and another to lumber in all huffin’ an’ a puffin’.  True, some couples like this intensity but if it’s subtlety you’re after too much noise will drown it out.

4.   This brings us to the main practice of the original, Water Tradition Taoists: Dissolving, relaxing, unraveling, letting go, melting, and perhaps the best term here, Opening.  How can you enter into and stay open throughout the experience especially in your physical body and your nervous system which reverberate into your mental and emotional spheres and beyond?

Besides your physical body a natural place to approach dissolving energetically is your heart center.  We generally associate the heart with emotions so it may seem counter intuitive to dissolve them for the occasion.  You do want to dissolve negative emotions, your pains, fears, expectations, and conditionings which often assert themselves and just get in the way.    But you are not trying to create or amplify any particular positive emotions.  Rather it’s about becoming neutral without preconceptions,  opening to what  is present and allowing it to unfold naturally.   It’s creating the empty space out of which springs spontaneity and surprise.  Nothing has to happen but many things will.

Here one could digress a little and wax cosmic:  Creation “ex nihilo”, Something out of Nothing,  Emptiness as the Undifferentiated Source of All Potentiality.   Perhaps you can get some real down home experiential sense of this grand theoretical construct.

Dissolving is Yin and women have a more natural tendency, even a prerequisite to open, to be more Yin.  Men have to work a bit more to find a balance here because Yang is their prerequisite.   It usually takes men longer to find a sweet spot, so to speak.  (Maybe I shouldn’t go there.)  But due to the nature of arousal, everyone must find how to balance it with relaxation.

Dissolving is not the same as denial, stuffing it away somewhere,  and you only learn the difference by lots of practice.  When your issues do come up, at the first hint if you can, keep dissolving.  Keep opening.  Just let all that stuff go.  Out of your body. It’s very simple yet deeply profound.  You won’t learn it all in one lifetime.

Letting go is also a safety mechanism for unloading any disagreeable energy you really don’t want to take in, which could be a risk when you’re mixing yourselves together.     That’s a much larger discussion.  One guiding light for dissolving generally is the words of Lao-tzu,  “When the false leaves, only the true remains”.

The Taoist actually did many years of extensive research on where sexuality as a meditation path could go.  Dissolving is always present at every stage from the moment you step in the water until you become the ocean.

These are a very few of the many exercises and many more variations you could do to enhance what is already one of our greatest pleasures.   We might summarize them as Wake up your Body, Focus, Magnify, Saturate, Exchange and Merge, Stay Relaxed,  Become Content.   The concepts are simple whereas the practice is, well, practice. Whatever you do, don’t let work prevent you from enjoying one of God’s good gifts.

I have left much unsaid in between the lines in this brief introduction to an ancient tradition.   For a very thorough treatment you can read. Taoist Sexual Meditation by Bruce Frantzis.