Saturday, September 28, 2019

Aspects of Meditation

This article is an overview of my most current views on meditation. Detailed instructions on how to meditate can be found on my meditation web page.

It can be helpful to be aware of these aspects of meditation:

  • Relaxation - Letting go of stress and unpleasant emotions.
  • Concentration - Staying lucid.
  • Half-smile - Relaxing meditation may feel so pleasant it makes you want to meditate with a half-smile. Smiling can unleash your natural state of happiness.
  • Surrender - When you stop fighting against your emotions you may feel a new sense of freedom.
  • Practice in Daily Life - Practice in daily life to reinforce and maintain the benefits of meditation throughout the day.
  • Diet - Meditation depends on the brain. The brain has to have the right nutrients to function well.


You can get a lot more out of a meditation session if you do relaxation exercises before you meditate. Below are some relaxation exercises that are very effective when done in combination. These relaxation exercises can help you become very relaxed and put you in a pleasant relaxed mood. They can turn off the body's response to stress. When you deeply relax, you may find that unpleasant emotions disappear.

  1. Progressive muscular relaxation - Move each part of the body five or ten times. This can be done, standing, sitting, or lying down depending on the movements you use.

  2. Hypnotic induction - Mentally relax each part of the body making it feel "relaxed and heavy".

  3. Visualize each color of the spectrum Visualization produces theta brainwaves. You may feel yourself becoming more and more relaxed with each visualization.

Do these exercises in order. Exercises #2 and #3 can be done sitting but are most effective if done lying down. After #3, count ten breaths and repeat from #2.

When you are deeply relaxed and feel like you are floating or are in the hypnogoic state (experiencing vivid imagery and it is hard to concentrate for more than a few seconds),  you may feel yourself shift into a pleasant mood and find that unpleasant emotions have disappeared. Sometimes this happens automatically - you may feel a wave of relaxation flowing through you. Other times if you open your eyes and look around noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you breathe in a relaxing way, and half-smile, focusing on the pleasant feeling may shift you into a pleasant relaxed mood.

Spend a few minutes letting the pleasant relaxed mood stabilize.

  • Relaxation can cause you to let go of unpleasant emotions. Relaxation puts your mind and body in a suitable condition for the next steps.



Count the breath. The right level of concentration is important. Too much interferes with relaxation, too little and the wandering mind will prevent relaxation and everything else about meditation. When your mind is very quiet, you may stop counting and just notice the breath if you prefer. Concentration helps you to stay lucid.

  • Concentration quiets a turbulent mind and produces a state of peace, non-attachment and equanimity.


Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, "... practice breathing with a half-smile. You will feel great joy.". If you don't understand this, try it and see what happens. But too much joy can be tedious. You can learn to adjust it to just "pleasant". Smiling in meditation is not a forced smile, the feeling of relaxation during meditation is pleasant and should make you want to smile - like resting in a hammock on a warm summer's day, or slipping into a warm jacuzzi.

Smiling releases pleasant feelings, observing them produces a feedback loop in the brain generating more pleasant feelings. At first it may be interesting to experience a high intensity of these feelings. In time that may become tedious and you can learn to tone them down to a relaxed pleasant mood by balancing (reducing them not eliminating them) them with more relaxation and concentration.

In fact, intense states of bliss not really necessary, simply practicing this relaxing meditation can produce the same pleasant relaxed state. By practicing getting into and maintaining this state during meditation, you can learn to maintain this relaxed pleasant state during daily life when you are not meditating.

  • Relaxing meditation produces a pleasant relaxed mood characterized by feelings of compassion, good will, aversion to harming other people or other living things, and an absence of ill will.


Surrender is a way to let go of unpleasant emotions. Surrender is the feeling you get when you realize you are trying to ignore or suppress an unpleasant thought or emotion and you relax and stop resisting it. You stop fighting it.

  • Underneath most unpleasant emotions that arise is a fact or thought that you don't want to acknowledge or accept. Surrender means acknowledging and accepting this fact or thought. Doing so takes away the force of the emotion. Frequently the fact or thought is related to our sense of self. Examples of things you might resist acknowledging include: failing, losing, being wrong, being a victim, losing social status, being insulted, aging, illness, incompetence etc. etc. Your unconscious mind may be hiding these thoughts from you and you might have to dig through layers to root them out.

  • You let yourself feel the emotion. You let it express itself in your body without letting it take over your mind. You observe the sensations in the body that comprise it.

  • You allow your conscious mind to recognize the emotion. You acknowledge unpleasant truths and let yourself think the thoughts you have been trying to ignore.

  • You understand that you can't control everything in life and you accept with equanimity that things you don't like will happen.

  • You use other aspects of meditation: relaxation, concentration, half-smile, practice in daily life, etc., to produce and maintain a pleasant relaxed state of mind which makes it easier to release unpleasant emotions by counterbalancing some of the unpleasant feelings that may occur when releasing emotions.

Surrender means you are lucid with respect to your emotional state. When you are angry, you know "This is anger, this is what it feels like, this is how it affects my mind." The same is true for other emotions, anxiety, sadness, etc. Being conscious of emotions helps to prevent them from taking over your mind. From repeated observations, you learn what emotions are and how they come and go and this helps to make it easier to let go of them.

If surrender does not eliminate an emotion entirely, it may change the emotion from an unpleasant experience to a neutral sensation in the body.

Surrender is not just a thing to do, it is an attitude for daily life. By surrendering to unpleasant emotions that may arise, you can also learn to keep the surrender attitude even if you are not feeling anything unpleasant.

The attitude of surrender is letting go of identity view. Surrender means you relinquish the need to defend your ego (your "self"). Unpleasant emotions occur when an ego attachment is threatened. An ego attachment is something you consider you or yours. It can be something close to you like your beliefs, or it can be something somewhat distant like your favorite rock band. Not defending your ego does not mean you ignore problems. It is not referring to physical action it is referring to psychological defense against unpleasant emotions. It means that if you stop fighting against emotional pain, if you do not need to defend your ego, you can decide what to do about problems using logic and compassion without selfish emotions clouding your judgment.

Surrender also means you don't have to be perfect. This includes being perfect at spiritual practices. Having an attitude of surrender means you don't have to perfect at surrendering. It means you don't have to be perfectly non-attached. You don't have to have perfect concentration. You don't have to be perfectly relaxed. You don't have to filled with joy all the time. It means you don't have to have perfect equanimity. You will actually increase your equanimity by allowing yourself to have imperfect equanimity.

The pleasant mental state and feelings of compassion, non-attachment, happiness, and good will produced by relaxation, concentration, and a half-smile help you to surrender. When you are happy, you don't want anything. You are self sufficient. You are strong. You don't need to hide from anything. You are emotionally resilient so you don't need to defend yourself emotionally. You can accept reality as it is.

If you practice keeping the attitude of surrender during and after meditation sessions, you will get better and better at it.

It feels very nice to have the heavy responsibility of defending your ego lifted off your shoulders. You do not need to defend your ego.

  • The attitude of surrender is letting go of identity view.

After a session of meditation try to continue doing this practice mindfully during daily activities. If you find life's stresses disturb the pleasant relaxed mood, you can try to meditate to get back into it as soon a it is practical to do so.

One thing nice thing about this practice is that you get benefits (relaxation, elevated mood) from the first time you try it, and over time you get benefits (increased equanimity and compassion) in proportion to the effort you put in.

This practice will cause increases in equanimity, compassion, non-attachment and reduce self-centeredness (freedom from identity-view). These factors may lead to gradual enlightenment.


Practice in Daily Life

Finding ways to practicing meditation and mindfulness in daily life can help you to reinforce and maintain the benefits of meditation throughout the day: the pleasant relaxed state and feelings of compassion, good-will, non-attachment, and surrender produced by meditation.



Meditation depends on the brain. The brain has to have the right nutrients to function well. Metabolism varies from person to person so it is not necessarily possible to describe a diet that will work for everyone. What I say on this subject is not meant to be definate truth, but more of a suggestion for readers to consider if they are experiencing problems. ...

  • It is my opinion (and it is just an opinion - other people may have different experiences that lead to different opinions) that for optimal meditation one should refrain from anything that can affect consciousness: recreational drugs, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine.

  • Sugar and carbohydrates can also be problematical. Too much or too little may result in problems. Different types of carbohydrates (different foods) may have different effects that would vary among individuals. For more information, look into the effects of carbohydrates and protein in the diet on serotonin levels in the brain.

  • I also do not advocate a vegetarian diet - again that is my opinion, others may have a different opinion, but in my experience it does not lead to optimal brain function. I don't mean to imply anyone should stop being a vegetarian, only that I don't advise it or believe it helps meditation or is necessary for spirituality.


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