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Learn How to Meditate & Love it


statue of buddha in meditation
Stillness, sitting in the form of a human being. Be the heart of the heart itself.

I’ve meditated pretty much every day for the past twenty years. How I’ve defined and approached meditation has changed many times over and to this day, every sit is different - sometimes, I’m even laying down. 


About five years in, I heard one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Gil Fronsdal, reflect that the first 15-20 or so years of his meditation practice was bittersweet. Wait what? A few months later, I overheard two friends chatting about how much they loved their sits and didn’t understand why everyone didn’t. “As soon as I close my eyes . . . Absolute Bliss.” Umm. Sorry, what was that? That. was. definitely. not. my. experience. In fact, for the majority of my meditation career, I was very consciously attempting to meditate - following a formalized practice of retraining and focusing the mind - attempting to quiet or dis-identify with the incessant chatter through various methods of observing the breath, noticing bodily sensations, inwardly repeating a mantra, and conjuring visualizations. My practice was laced with a subtle sense of effort or discipline and not the easeful or supreme experiences espoused by the great masters. It wasn’t until I heard the wonderful Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault refer to herself as a C+ meditator that I let myself off the hook to practice whatever method was calling and to understand that mine was a humble practice, not a terrible nor particularly enviable one. 


In general, I’d set a timer and take 3-5 gentle low belly breaths. I’d bring awareness to the natural rhythm of my breath or the sensations in my body. I’d notice the mind wandering - which it did. Continuously. I’d bring awareness back to the sensation or breath or sound or image, or whatever. Eventually, sometimes after an eternity, the alarm would sound and I’d set about on my day.


More often than not, I felt more peaceful after practicing. Every once in a while, a shift would occur - not of my doing. Not of my efforting nor of my intending. The shifts generally aligned consciousness into another state or dimension of awareness. A “click” into Being occurred. The shift, in all of it’s mystery, mercy and grace, could not be replicated, no matter how hard I-Britta might will it so or how much I-Britta did not try to reproduce the experience, because everyone knows that rule number one in meditation is not trying and certainly not trying to achieve a particular sensation or state of awareness. Ahem. The occasional, haphazard shifts, however infrequent, were enough to keep my little slog of a meditation practice going year after year.  Directly experiencing the Truth of who I Am (who we all are) was the only motivation I needed.  


Then! About four years ago, I realized that dysfunction from childhood still had a pretty massive physiological carryover into my adulthood. Because I experienced chronic stress as a kiddie, I didn’t instinctively feel safe in my body or in the world. I’d always known that my upbringing affected me - later compounded by losses and traumas as a young adult - but I hadn’t made the biological connection between what it was like then and how my central nervous system was continuing to operate now. Stress states can be so familiar that we don’t even know it's happening, often because the sympathetic system is in a habituated vigilant or freeze state. The waters we swim in . . .


And yet, that whole time I'd been thinking I was so very calm. I mean, I'd stumbled into meditation through yoga, which meant that unconscious vagal toning was already in action, I was somatically aware and had accumulated thousands of hours of quietude up to that point. Alas. My nervous system told another story and was actually fairly dis-regulated. Unwittingly, my sympathetic system was in hyper-drive and I was often in a dorsal vagal or frozen/fatigue state. My health and sense of well-being were continuously impacted, sometimes subtly, oftentimes notably. Once I clearly identified the nervous system component, I was able to integrate targeted approaches that finally allowed my body/mind to heal and grow in the ways I’d always hoped. And, believe it or not, it brought a quality and ease to my meditation too. 


One adjustment to my practice that was particularly helpful was that I started meditating with my eyes open. Open-eye or open-focus meditation is not new. Trataka, the Sanskrit word meaning "to gaze", is an open-eyed style of meditation wherein the practitioner focuses on a specific point or object - like a candle flame, or in my case, an unlit hearth or sun shadows along a wall. Trataka has been practiced for thousands of years. But. It was new to me! And Hooo-Boy! It was an absolute game-changer. Before open-eyes, my mind wandered with regularity. I rarely felt that deep relaxation after a meditation. It was more like I’d “done my time” and was set up for the day. With open-eye, I was able to seamlessly enter states of stillness without effort and I was able to linger there longer. Yippy. 


In addition to practicing with my eyes open, a few other factors absolutely helped improve the quality and enjoyment of my meditation: 1) I invested 2-5 minutes of nervous system rebalancing and vagal toning exercises before meditation and throughout the day.* This increased my sense of generalized ease and allowed my body to feel safe. The balancing and toning in combination with my eyes open (no one could sneak up on me and the mind was less apt to wander), I was able to increasingly recognize the Stillness that is always already t/here. *For more information on vagal toning and nervous system rebalancing, please check out my other posts on the subject. 2) I finally understood that Silence or the Ground of Emptiness exists on its own, beyond my mind and my mind’s perception. True stillness is not attained or conjured. There’s an extant, neutral presence or Beingness that involves an awareness of all things, always. Clear perception is not something I need or can manufacture; 3) Everything in the Universe is comprised of this "perfect, brilliant stillness" - that includes you, and me, and everything else, which means . .  I AM stillness. The stillness is me. I Am not Britta the wandering mind or the laundry list of things to do or a bunch of programmed thoughts and behaviors. The Truth of who I Am is Consciousness - again, not something to aspire to or an experience or knowing that the mind can fabricate, but a Truth that always already IS.


I can now say, after these many years and various paths, I adore meditation. It’s not something I feel I’m supposed to do for whatever X Y Z attainment. I cannot not practice because I simply love resting in Stillness. A morning meditation prepares me to more easily return to the stillness throughout the day: during breaks, errands, and with clients. Depending upon my schedule, I’ll formally sit anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, usually first thing in the morning before venturing into mild breathing and gentle yoga/stretching.  The more my nervous system calibrates to calm, the more spacious and available meditation becomes and vice versa. And that of course goes for the rest of life too. 


I offer you this rather long glimpse into my trajectory not to steal you from disappointment or dissuade you from meditating in any way. In fact, I’m actually suggesting that your foray into meditation need not be an arduous or lengthy one like mine was - the opposite, I hope!


One of my greatest wishes is that you integrate meditation into your daily rituals and routines. When we open to something greater, the world becomes greater. My hope is that you read this and perhaps see something of yourself in here. Perhaps you notice a dis-regulated nervous system in need of tending, or maybe you realize that the particular meditation style you’ve been practicing isn’t actually doing much for you. Maybe visualizations help you quiet the mind. Maybe visualization is way too hard because focused attention is tricky, but open-eye gazing immediately brings a sense of calm. Perhaps you’d like to try just a few minutes of meditation just to see what it’s like? Maybe you discover mantra is your jam. Maybe you prefer to follow the breath. Perhaps you first need to enter a parasympathetic state so that you can sit comfortably and then find which technique matches you that particular day. Maybe you need a lot of support pillows or a wall behind you. Perhaps laying down and body scanning brings more relief and expansiveness than any other method. All to say: there is no right or wrong way. The best way is your way. 


To help you discover your own best way, l want to share a bit on the basic principles and various styles of meditation, and also discern what meditation is and isn’t. A few guided versions are added at the close to help get you started or to deepen your already existing practice. 


Meditation Basics


Meditation is a tool to relax the mind, which invariably relaxes the body. With practice and grace, meditation offers an opportunity to experience Consciousness beyond the mind’s average waking state. Through specific techniques and observation, we become clearer on what and how we think. This is bio-hacking. We recognize patterns and cultivate moments of pause to choose differently. It’s great for the parasympathetic system, bringing online rest & digest mechanisms that awaken feelings of wellness and ease. Meditation can catalyze ventral vagal states, and, when we are lucky, we might even experience the entire center of Consciousness and All That Is. As a non-denominational spiritual science, meditation follows particular principles and espouses precise techniques to produce verifiable results. No joke. 


Numerous schools from all over the world have developed various methods of meditation.  I’ll outline the basic traditions, and, if you're curious about an evolutionary timeline of meditation, I offer a brief overview at the end of this piece. I typically blow past the history of things so I can get to the juice, so that’s what I’ve done here.


The Purpose of Meditation


The true purpose of meditation - as it was originally intended -“is to answer, once and for all, the true nature of the mind. The pursuit of higher consciousness, the process of waking up, the journey to enlightenment—whatever term you use, meditation solves the problem of the divided mind by opening the door to whole mind” (Chopra). 


The practice of meditation invites us to relax otherwise constantly churning thoughts to directly experience the deeper forces that shape our reality. We have the opportunity to touch the Source of all there is, as well as, unveil the shadows that shape our surface thoughts, desires and emotions. Unconscious habituated thoughts and beliefs are at the root of anxiety, depression, loneliness, addiction and more. The unrelenting habit of thinking “I want this," I don’t want that,” "this is good," "this is bad" - is a mind divided against itself.  


When we practice meditation, watching the breath, for example, we focus on something other than these fragmenting thoughts. The mind will invariably wander - that is the nature of mind. And so, we simply return to our place of focus. Over time, as we break the distracted habits of the mind, the barrage of thinking slows, thoughts garner less attention, and they don’t take form so easily. In the spaces between thoughts, there is stillness. In the stillness, we come to know the Truth. We start to see that we are but waves in a vast ocean. Over time, we see that we are the Ocean. 


"The Vastness that is perceived by the mind is not the True Self. The vastness in which the mind itself is perceived is the Self." - Mooji


I mention the ultimate purpose of meditation since Western adaptations tend to focus solely on the health benefits such as stress and anxiety reduction, elevated mood, improved attention span, increased memory and so on. All great things! The health benefits of meditation are well researched and impressive, and, why stop there when meditation can also dispel the illusions that block us from Absolute Truth.


Different Types of Meditation


From my understanding, there are two main types of meditation: Samatha (calming) and Vipassana (insight). Samatha is a concentration based form of meditation. The intention of a Samatha practice is to calm the mind by focusing on a single object – a candle flame, a visualized image, the breath, or the repetition of a mantra. Through concentration on one thing, the mind slows its wandering, and the practitioner is able to rest in a state of relaxed awareness.  Vipassana is an ‘insight’ based meditation tradition that utilizes Samatha (calm) and sati (mindfulness) to bring the practitioner into a state of awareness of reality - as it is - in the present moment. This is achieved through mindful breathing (anapanasati) and mindful scanning of the sensations of the body. Through Vipassana, the practitioner experiences “impermanence as observed in the bodily and mental changes, to gain insight into the true nature of this reality.” (Wikipedia) The aim of Vipassana is to create perfect, unbroken awareness with your reality (Pandita, 2018). From these two primary traditions of meditation many schools and techniques have evolved.  


The most common meditation practices found in the West can be guided or unguided and include, but are not limited to:


Breath-focused (Anapanasati) - this classic Samathi meditation spans many cultures, ages and traditions. Anapanasati involves focusing attention on the inhalations and exhalations of the breath. Awareness of the breath cultivates present awareness and quiets the mind. When you notice thoughts (the mind wandering from the breath), you simply, gently return your awareness back to the breath. Breathing techniques and Breathwork have been gaining tons of ground because through the breath we have the capacity to arouse the parasympathetic nervous system and chillllll out. A few breath-centered practices to reduce stress and elevate mood can be found in this other blog post. 


Body Scan - a simplified Vipassana, this technique invites us to mentally scan sensations of the body from the top of the head to the tip of the toes and back up again. This technique helps quiet the mind, sync the mental, physical and emotional bodies and develop a sense of equanimity.


Mantra - a form of Samathi meditation, this technique focuses the mind through the repetition of a mantra (a specific syllable, word, or phrase). Mantras are often given by teachers to students. The repetition quiets the mind and the vibration of the mantra uplifts the being and dissolves blockages in the energetic and emotional bodies. Mantra is one of the primary aspects of Transcendental Meditation. 


Transcendental Meditation™ - taught one-on-one by licensed TM teachers, this style of meditation is mantra based. Teachers explain the method and philosophy behind the practice before bestowing each practitioner with a personalized mantra. Students are encouraged to sit comfortably with eyes closed for 20 minutes twice a day morning and evening.


Metta or Loving kindness - this technique is about flowing loving feelings and thoughts to ourselves, to close friends and family, and also to people whom we find challenging or have conflict with. This practice focuses our awareness, often in the heart center, and helps quiet the mind as well as generate a sense of kindness and compassion towards all beings. 


Visualization - without effort, we are invited to picture someone or something for a sustained period of time. The image focuses our attention and quiets the mind. Visualization practices can be simple or complex - some invite us to systematically build images of a yantra or guru, focusing on one detail of an image and then the next. This keeps the busy mind active, so that it may eventually rest. 


Zen or Zazen - a specific seated meditation with the mind trained on the breath as it moves in and out of the abdomen, the space right below the navel (Dan Tien).  The mind is invited to simply Be. Zen helps cultivate presence, calm and alertness.


Resting awareness or Pristine Awareness - Taught by teachers of the Vedanta and Dzogchen traditions, this practice invites the practitioner to fully and truly rest in pristine awareness. As thoughts arise the reminder to stop, to rest, emerges and the thoughts quiet again. 


Noting or Labeling - More of a mindfulness or insight practice focuses attention on breathing (or simply sitting in silence) and then make “note” of distractions as they arise. For example, you may follow a few inhales and exhales and then you’re planning what you’ll prepare for lunch. As you become aware that your mind has wandered, you label the thinking “thinking,” and return your attention back to the breath. By noting the thought or emotion, we run interference on the spiraling mind, we let the habit of thinking go for another moment, and we develop an awareness of our deeper mental patterns. 


Chakra Meditation - similar to body scan, this technique involves heightening awareness of the sensations of the energy centers or chakras of the body. By drawing awareness from the crown to the root and root to the crown, subtle energies are encouraged to flow, recalibrate and harmonize. Paying specific attention to the third eye center, for example can enhance perception of subtle realities and release mental blocks. Attention at the heart center can deepen our sense of love and connection. Focusing on the sacral chakra often releases unconscious patterning and brings about a stronger sense of safety and security.


Walking Meditation - involves resting the mind on the physical experience of walking, bringing careful awareness to particular aspects of each and every step. Walking meditation, sometimes referred to as mindful walking. is a bridge between seated meditations. The practice helps quiet thoughts and attenuates the mind to the present moment and to the naturally arising and passing sensations of the body.


There are a bunch more types, but that seemed a good first pass. Okay . . .


What Meditation is and is Not: Dispelling Myths about Meditation


Meditation is a Practice

That means, meditation is a practice. In the same way that you might practice scales on a piano or jog your miles or learn to master decoupage. It takes time. Meditation benefits from a balanced nervous system. Teachers and recorded/guided instructions can be so helpful. Collective sits can enhance your practice in the same way that a dance or tennis camp can up your game. There are retreats for extended practice. There is no real goal aside from becoming more aware: of your bodily sensations, of your thought patterns, of your breath. Its always changing. It’s everything and nothing all at the same time.


Meditation is not:


Myth 1: Meditation is hard - Meditation techniques are usually quite simple. Our active minds steer us from very basic instructions, making the practice seem much more complex and challenging than it is. When we notice the mind wandering in meditation, we softly, gently return our attention back to the object of focus. That’s it. Keep returning with a smiling heart. As with any practice, the more we do it, the easier it is to break the distractedness of the mind and the more enjoyable it becomes.


Myth 2: Meditation means you stop thinking - Nope. When you notice thoughts during meditation, you are doing it correctly. Meditation is about honing our ability to notice our internal experience—its not about changing our internal experience per se. Cultivating single-pointed awareness shifts the focus from our constantly chattering mind and helps slow the stream of our thoughts. Over time, we learn to become a neutral observer and notice habitual patterns of the mind. We create a space between identity and thoughts, discovering that we can choose what we think, and we discover the pleasant calm of just resting in the quiet when the thoughts cease - even if just for a few seconds.


Myth 3: Many years of practice are required to gain any benefit - The benefits of meditation are both short term and long.  Most people immediately experience reduced stress levels and subtle feelings of well-being.  The more frequently and regularly we practice, the more likely we will experience it's more profound and lasting benefits.


Myth 4: Meditation is uncomfortable - While some formal and traditional Eastern meditation practices teach long-held postures, most Western teachers suggest that a physically comfortable practice is essential. If we need to shift or reposition our bodies, we do that.  If we need to scratch an itch, we do.  If we need to cough or sneeze, by all means. Gesundheit.


Myth 5: If it’s hard, you’re not cut out for it. Okay. First of all, meditation is not rocket science nor a God-given talent. Well, maybe its God-given. But. The point is, everyone can learn to meditate and reap the benefits. If meditation is challenging, try a different style, a different posture. Take a few minutes to regulate the nervous system and vagal tone. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the primary purpose of yoga is to prepare the mind/body for meditation through physical asana. Consider movement meditations, listening to music while you sit or lay down. Utilize guided meditations - there are hundreds if not thousands available online and on apps. Also, we enter flow states when we sleep, make art, run, hike, dance and hum (to name a few). Any activity that helps us transcend a chattering mind and get in the zone is a meditative act. A quiet mind is not always linked with a still body. Experiment, explore, enjoy.


Myth 6: Its hard to make time for Meditation - If you have time to scroll social media, you have time for meditation. Full stop. Just set an alarm for 5 minutes and see where that takes you.


Okey-dokes. I hope some of this is useful. I hope that something in this got you a little more curious about meditation. Maybe even take a few moments right now and set a timer. I dare you! With all the love in my heart.


If you’d prefer a bit of guidance, here’s one of my favorite thirty minute meditations from one of my favorite meditation teachers of all time: Mooji:


Here’s an oldy but shorty, I recorded for a Meditation Course a few years back:






If you'd like to schedule an intuitive healing session to more easily enter states of tranquility and increase your somatic awareness and meditation capacity, reach out anytime. You can find me on text/phone at 917.519.2432 and by email at britta@intuitivehealthhealing.com.






If you’re not weary of reading more . . .


A Brief History of Meditation

Deriving from East Asia, primarily India and China, later spreading to the West. The oldest documented images of meditation are from India 5000 BCE. Wall paintings depict people sitting crossed legged with eyes half closed, thought to be in deep meditation. From written record, Hindu Vendatic texts (1500 BCE) describe sophisticated meditative practices as well as the Yogic practice of meditating in caves. Many modern meditation and yoga traditions derive from this lineage.  Development of other forms of meditation in Taoist China and Buddhist India occurred between 600 and 500 BCE. As early as 600 BCE, Daoist philosophical texts describe meditation techniques used in China.  Because written record is far more recent than oral tradition, we don’t actually know how long ago ancient civilizations developed meditation. We do, however, know that meditation practices can be found across numerous cultures and spiritual traditions – including Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.


While the exact timeline of meditation is tricky to pin-point, a few prominent philosophers brought the practice of meditation throughout East Asia and beyond. The most renowned are Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, a sage from Nepal (563 BCE to 483 BCE), upon who’s teachings Buddhism was founded. Lao-Tzu (600 BCE), a Chinese philosopher and author of the Dao-te-Ching, an esoteric guide to life that references meditative practices. Confucius (600 BCE) an enlightened Chinese philosopher whose meditation techniques (Jing Zuo) emphasized personal evolution and contemplation. The 7th Century monk Dosho who learned about Zen on his travels through China. He later established a Zazen (sitting meditation) monastery in Japan, which spread throughout the world.


Along with traditions of Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Zazen, Sufism is an esoteric Islamic tradition founded after the death of prophet Mohammed in 632 CE. Through practices of dance, stillness, contemplation, and self-reflection, practitioners strengthen a conscious contact with Allah (God). Influenced by Indian meditative practices, Sufi meditation focuses on the breath and mantras (words/chants) to invoke stillness of the mind.  In Judaism, meditation practices are referred to in the Torah (6th century BCE). Judaism’s mystical Kabbalah tradition especially emphasizes meditation, deep thought, philosophical inquiry and prayer. Christianity, founded after the death of Jesus (24 CE), focuses more notably on the power of prayer. While prayer and meditation are quite different, Jesus taught that the practice of prayer is deeply personal and best done in solitude and silence. By today's definition, it's very possible that he was meditating up a storm.


In the 1700s, Eastern spiritual texts like the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist Sutras, were translated into a few European languages and slowly, the philosophy of meditation spread to the West - albeit as more of an intellectual pursuit than practice. I cannot recommend the Indian classics/vedas highly enough.


The intellectualism of meditation shifted significantly in 1893 when Swami Vivekananda spoke about it at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6aHYAwJi3c . The presentation popularized Eastern spirituality in the West and inspired other gurus to move to the US. To name a few: Swami Rama who established the Himalayan Institute, Paramahansa Yogananda who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation. Spiritual teachers from the Zen and Theravada traditions also migrated to the West as well, teaching Buddhist methods of meditation. 


By the 1960s and 1970s, meditation had gained serious ground in the West, utilized by people from all walks, not only those pursuing enlightenment. Bolstered by research, Meditation was soon touted as a means to relaxation, health and self-improvement. One early study showed how high level meditators could control bodily functions previously thought to be involuntary, like heartbeat, body temperature and blood pressure (Feuerstein, 2018).  In 1979, Westerner Jon Kabat Zin introduced the Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) program establishing the first Stress Reduction Clinic in the States. Simultaneously, Transcendental Meditation gained attention and was adopted by celebrities like The Beatles. By the the 1990s, meditation had widespread appeal and was known for its positive effect on stress reduction, the treatment of anxiety and depression, personal evolution and more.


And here we are today. We have access to authentic and deeply talented meditation teachers and lineages from around the world. There are apps and videos, mp3s and links of all kinds. We can attend international classes online from the comfort of our homes and thankfully can attend short and long in-person retreats again. There is no reason not to try. Please test-drive different options. Find what works for you! Here, here! (Now).

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