Do you feel you are going as deep as you can go, that your meditations are genuinely moving you towards consciousness as much as they can be?
Perhaps you feel stuck, or you've hit a road bump. Maybe you don't feel as though meditation is bringing much of a change in the way you experience your daily life - it's normal to have 'boring' meditations but if over a period of months it feels like you are going through the motions rather than the meditation opening you to understand more about the nature of reality, helping you to feel connected to something greater than yourself, helping you be kinder to others and yourself, supporting you in making conscious decisions from a place of inner clarity… Then maybe these tips are worth a look at. (Or maybe you just feel you can go further!)
Before we get into what you can do to deepen your meditation practice, let me first emphasise something about the value of meditation: How long you meditate for doesn't matter as much as how deep you go into the meditation. You could advance towards enlightenment far more by doing 5 minutes of meditation sincerely than doing 2+ hours a day without the same sincere inner attitude.
Remember that in your work with meditation, you are cultivating a state of Being. This state of Being isn't meant to end when you open your eyes again - being present throughout the day is far more important to your spiritual progress. Your interactions with other people throughout the day matter, as does the way you treat yourself (with respect, reverence etc).
That being said, Here are some things you can examine in the way you approach meditation that can help you to utilise it more powerfully!
Focus on your intentions
The intention with which you meditate is one of the most significant factors in how much the meditation can transform you, reveal to yourself your true nature.
There is both long term intention and short term intention to consider:
Short term intention is holding a specific focus for that particular meditation that can help you to expand your awareness in a particular way. E.g. you could ask of a higher power 'please help me let go of any fears I hold around the work meeting on Monday' or enter the meditation with the intention 'I would like to see things more clearly so I can make loving decisions in my relationship'
Long term intention is how deeply you are devoted to the essence of meditation. How devoted you are towards your awakening.
Ask yourself: When you meditate, why are you meditating? Are you meditating because you want to let go of some form of suffering, and to connect to a greater sense of inner peace? Are you meditating because you want to clear out any distractions that could get in the way of living out the rest of the day in a state of presence? Are you meditating because you are preparing yourself for the difficult times in your life that may arise, knowing that having this habit established now will help you stay grounded and centred if you find yourself in a challenging phase of your life in the future? Are you meditating because you want to see how far you can go with this awakening thing? Are you meditating because you feel a weight of grief from the unconsciousness you see in the world and you want to find a way to let go of that? Are you meditating because you want to clear your heart so you can be the greatest vessel of love possible? Are you meditating to prepare for death?
There are all sorts of motivations for meditation. Some of them are more the realm of the casual meditator - 'Just feeling a bit better'. Others of them are expressions of being devoted to something deeper: wanting to find a way to move closer to truth, to love, to peace. Dig deep inside of yourself and find a sincere motivation to bring to your meditation practice. You'll know you've found it when it is also a statement of how you'd like to live your life.
I want to be connected to an inner state of love as much as I can.
I want to be a vessel of peace.
I'd like to let go of attachments.
I'd like to know more about the nature of reality.
I would like to see the truth.
Of course, you can set a specific intention for the meditation you do on a particular day. Often, there will be phases of your life where you are working through a particular spiritual block you've become aware of and you could offer that as your intention for days, weeks or months, inviting illumination around that theme in your life. You can phrase an intention as a request for help towards a higher power or make a statement about what you are willing to change within yourself E.g.
Please help me to let go of the hurt I feel from the argument I had with my partner.
I am willing to let go of my impatience at work.
Please help me to stop trying to control others.
Please help me to stop needing other people's approval.
Please help me to trust my inner voice.
Please help me to love myself more.
The more sincere your intentions are, the more this helps the flow of spiritual energy (kundalini) move in the body and transform your inner experience.
Connect with your heart
Some people in the quest to not be attached, become overly stoic. They close down their heart, and with it, lose connection with its wisdom. But the state of enlightenment is one where the heart is completely open, all the time. Closing your heart down is generally going in the opposite direction of awakening. There are some times when there is intense trauma arising and the heart needs a rest, where the heart is not able to be fully open, and in these cases it shouldn't be forced open. Like a flower in the spring, you hold an attitude of being willing for it to open again naturally when it is the right time. But you aren't fighting to keep it closed and resisting the parts of your heart that are still communicating with you. You are just witnessing that it's not fully open and that's okay for now, and it will do its thing, and you trust something greater than yourself in that process: the forces of the universe, divine grace, the wisdom of the body…
But recognising the spiritual heart and listening to its wisdom, is part of the piece of awakening. Sitting with and holding space for strong emotions that arise during the awakening journey is a part of the process. It is not spiritually wise to shut down the emotions, except for short periods where the body is in overwhelm (and the body does this naturally). An important distinction to make is to understand the difference between pushing down an emotion and observing it with neutrality.
Pushing it down is: 'I don't want to feel this. I'm going to ignore this sensation. I don't want to listen. I am closed to the intuitive messages that may be trying to come through these bodily sensations'. It is saying No to the reality of your life. It is a contracted, closed off, resistant state.
Observing the emotion with neutrality is: 'Okay, I am recognising this is here. There's no point in resisting what is. This emotion is something that needs to move through me as an energy in my body before it can be released'. Generally I would not recommend focusing on feeling where the sensation is in the body as this can exacerbate trauma and make you subconsciously afraid to release it. I would recommend instead to set the intention to relax into your body, to invite a sense of safety to envelope your experience and to simply let it pass in the background. You aren't identifying with the emotion and feeding it, but you are recognising that its movement though your body is a wise choice the body has made and that there is a subtle intelligence being communicated through its passing. After the emotion has passed you may have a spontaneous epiphany or feel lighter. Observing with neutrality is an expansive, open to the divine, flowing state.
To push down your emotions is not an act of being present or mindful. This is to confuse non-attachment with avoidant attachment.
Avoidant attachment usually develops in childhood. From a psychology perspective there are two forms of avoidant attachment: dismissive avoidant attachment and fearful avoidant attachment. Fearful avoidance is a mix of avoidant attachment and anxious attachment. Dismissive avoidant attachment often develops when a child's caregivers are consistently emotionally unavailable. All children have an innate need for connection with a caregiver/s in order to feel emotionally safe - their brains are not able to self-regulate their emotions as well as adults can. As the child learns that reaching out to connect with their caregivers (E.g. wanting a hug, wanting someone to comfort them when they cry, wanting someone to listen) generally leads to rejection such as being ignored, shamed, shouted at etc, the child has to find a way to calm their distress. The child learns to numb and ignore negative emotional feelings because expressing their feelings does not generally lead to their emotional needs being met. It's a way of coping with an emotionally neglectful environment but if the pattern persists into adulthood it can lead to being unable to maintain healthy relationships with others and to poor mental health. People can become avoidantly attached in adulthood too. Many cultures are avoidantly attached in their social norms too. I live in England and I've noticed a lot of avoidantly attached traits that are seen as normal, for example most people here don't often express their feelings openly, and people often prioritise their work life at the expense of maintaining healthy relationships with others.
When you numb emotions, these emotions are still there deep down. They are still manifest as trapped emotions stored in your physical body. There is a literal physical record of these emotions in your body! On the soul level, that part of the soul has not moved into illumination. Emotional numbing is one of the biggest reasons why people don't make spiritual progress in a lifetime or why advanced students miss out on enlightenment.
There are monks in monasteries who have been there for decades who still don't understand this crucial aspect of what is means to meditate deeply. To get to the highest levels of consciousness, when you meditate, all of your Being must be meditating. That includes all of your heart too. Your heart must be moving towards opening with compassion for all living beings.
You can give up all your physical belongings but if there is an inner part of you that is not willing to go into the meditation, that can be a roadblock.
If you don't feel connected to your heart as much as you could be, there are many practices outside of your meditation that can help support you to do that:
You might explore:
Placing your hand over your heart for a minute or so as a regular practice. This helps you to connect you to your heart and sends healing energy from your hand to your heart to support it in feeling safe.
Finding something that naturally opens your heart e.g. a piece of music, spending time with a pet or walking in nature and immersing yourself in these activities often.
Journalling. Some possible prompts are: 'How am I truly feeling right now?', 'What would my heart like to say to me?', 'What do I truly need right now?'
Creating an art form: creative writing, poetry. writing a song, painting, dancing etc. Let your soul express itself through these forms. Your skill level doesn't matter - it's about building a relationship of intimacy with yourself and expressing yourself.
Practice listening deeply to others, connecting with the soul in front of you. Hold the intention to really see the other person and to be a compassionate witness to what they are sharing. Can you practice maintaining attentive eye contact with the other person? Can you listen with the intention purely to understand what they are saying rather than listening and then going into your mind, trying to think of a response?
If you are lying to yourself, and also practicing meditation, those are opposite directions to be pulling yourself in! Just as when the heart is closed your whole Being cannot enter the meditation, if you are not willing to be honest with yourself, you are choosing to be selectively present. I'm willing to meditate but I'm not willing to see things differently. I'll meditate but I'm not willing to admit to myself that my mother is a narcissist and I need to do something about that to take care of my wellbeing. I'll meditate but I'm not going to admit to myself that I have a drug problem. I'll meditate but I'm not going to give up having casual sex even though I know deep down that it's hurting me.
You're bargaining with God! Being selectively present isn't going to work out for you. Maybe you can avoid the truth for a while but sooner or later you will suffer. Often the thing you are lying to yourself about is the thing that most needs your attention and is the biggest hurdle to your progress spiritually!
Unless you are willing to be honest with yourself, you can't love other people very effectively. Your denial might start out about one particular thing, and you can tell yourself it doesn't hurt anyone, but that too is a form of denial! Denial can become a pervasive attitude towards life where you are unwilling to see the truth, where you just keep pasting your mental programs onto your life, onto other people. In this state of mind the capacity to empathise with the people around you, to really see them and consider the impact you are having on them can be quite reduced.
Of course, on the spiritual journey everyone encounters moments where they realise something that they didn't see before. Maybe you don't figure out the first time that you meet someone that they are untrustworthy, but eventually you get there. Maybe you don't immediately realise you are overtraining in your fitness regime - you were doing what your personal trainer told you because you thought they knew your body better than you did. Being honest with yourself is not about being perfect at immediately realising all of the big picture. It's about being willing to listen, both to your inner voice, your intuition, your inner compass, and in the outside world to observe the evidence in front of your eyes without bias. With consistent practice you will find yourself seeing the big picture more quickly and accurately but it's the attitude of wanting to recognise what's true that matters most.
Denial is an energetic pattern that stops the spiritual energy from fully circulating through the body and flowing through the chakras (particularly third and crown chakras). Denial is one of the biggest blocks that keeps people from making spiritual progress. You have to be willing to see the truth - not all at once, but to move in that direction.
Some people are afraid of the truth, afraid that it means looking into a dark place inside. But the ultimate truth is Love. An enlightened being is immersed in love all the time. So if there is something you are afraid of being honest with yourself about, you can recognise that the sticky, scary, uncomfortable part is not the end point. There is something beautiful underneath the pain that can emerge.
If you are starting or renewing your journey of looking towards the truth, be compassionate with yourself. You don't have to examine everything at once - not only would that be humanly impossible, but trying is just going to be overwhelming. All you have to deal with is one step at a time in the present moment. You choose to be present in this moment. You choose: 'either in this moment I can be pushing the truth away or I can be open to it. I choose to be open to it'. You'll find that even though there may be painful moments, being honest with yourself is a great relief. You don't have to hold onto stuff. Pretending is actually quite a weight - it's exhausting. If you've been doing it for a while you don't realise how heavy it's become! It's like taking off a 20kg backpack and laying down in the gentle grass. When you become open to the truth, you open yourself to connect with the universal energy field of love, because truth is Love. You lose your protective mechanisms, yes, but you gain something much greater. You let go of fear. You only lied to yourself because you were scared. As you build your courage through looking honestly at things you can see that facing the truth has a healing power. You will have to face discomfort if you are honest with yourself but you will also have to face discomfort if you aren't honest with yourself. But when you are honest with yourself you also can also access inner peace.
Let's say you are faced with a big truth that is extremely unpleasant, like learning your wife is cheating on you. Now, I can't say that you will just magically go into a state of bliss because I told you that Love is the ultimate reality! You will still have to work through your feelings of hurt, of anger, betrayal, a sense of violation, grief… whatever comes up for you. You'll still have to figure out your arrangements with your wife. That won't go away. But 'my wife cheated on me' is the first layer of truth. It's the starter on the menu.
As you go deeper, the truths emerge.
My wife cheated on me, but it's not personal. She cheated on me because of her stuff, her unconscious patterns. I'm still worthy of love.
My wife cheated on me, and when I'm present I can see how much she was hurting to be able to do that. I can see that she was acting out her own pattern of self-hatred. People who are at peace with themselves, who are loyal to themselves, aren't unfaithful. It isn't an excuse for her actions but I can see her predicament, that she's not in a better position that I am. Even if she runs off with the other guy, I know she can't be truly happy inside until she faces herself and learns to love herself.
My wife cheated on me, but this doesn't separate me from love. If our relationship is over, this doesn't separate me from love. I shared my love with her, and she helped me realise the love I have inside of me. Even if I feel pretty closed down right now, I can share that love still. I can share it with myself, or I can share it with my dog, or I can share it with my children, or I can smile and share it with a stranger on the street. Even if her love has left me, Love has not left me. Even if I feel separated from Love I can find my way back to it.
My wife cheated on me and I'm still a soul.
Practices to help explore self honesty:
Speaking aloud to yourself in privacy - letting yourself hear your thoughts out loud
Journalling - possible prompts: 'Is there anything in my relationships with others where I might not be looking at them honestly?' ,'If I completely loved and respected myself, is there anything in my life that I would do differently?', 'What stands in the way of me being honest with myself? What could I do to help myself feel more emotionally safe?'
Reading spiritual / self development books and using them as prompts to make notes of any unconscious patterns you notice with yourself.
Find the ideal amount of meditation for you
At the two extremes: Too little meditation for where you are on your journey can be not challenging yourself to grow and lead to stagnation, being less present day-to-day and making more decisions from a place of fear. Meditation may be an 'anchor' to the state of presence, helping you to make conscious decisions, and when the meditation slips, for some people, other areas of their life start to be approached in a less conscious way. On the other hand, too much meditation for where you are at personally is not necessarily a good thing for your spiritual path or emotional health. Meditating for much longer than is ideal for you can bring up trauma you can't integrate. Few people seem to be talking about this!
At the furthest end where meditation may not be an ideal central focus, for some people, when they have gone through an extreme trauma, perhaps they have PTSD, traditional meditation can be unbearable or even impossible. This is for good reason - the brain needs to be gently eased into a feeling of safety. (If you are at a place where the act of meditating itself is traumatic, know that this is not a spiritual failing. You can practice being present in your day to day life, focusing on the sights and sounds going on in the now, as you lovingly teach your brain with repeated practice that the present moment is safe. If you would like to be able to meditate again, it will happen again in time. There are lots of ways to progress spiritually in your waking life that don't involve the traditional eyes-closed meditation. Being gentle and compassionate with yourself is also an essential quality to master on the way to enlightenment and this would likely be a wise focus for you if you are in this sort of position).
For those who haven't recently experienced or aren't mentally re-experiencing a serious trauma, I still wouldn't necessarily recommend that people dive into meditating for hours and hours a day, or going to an intense meditation retreat or something like that. Sometimes people are in the right place for that, but there are other times where the limitations of the body and mind are to be respected. Meditating for extended periods can be like throwing yourself off the deep end - if you don't have the tools and the perspectives in place to process any intense emotions or experiences that happen in meditation, or if you don't have support from someone who has gone further than you are going, it can be a destabilising experience.
Sometimes people throw themselves into an extreme meditation routine, and maybe they follow it for a week or 30 days or whatever the plan was, but afterwards the fear that arose within them catches up with them and they run in the other direction, away from spiritual progress and back into destructive habits. I've known people who could do 'mammoth meditation sessions' that fell off their path in a very serious and grave way because they weren't focusing on the other stuff in their waking life. The attitude with which they were approaching meditation wasn't one of balance. If you're planning to increase your meditation time in a significant way it's wise to ask yourself why you're drawn to doing it: is it because you're trying to prove something to yourself or is it because it resonates with you in the depths of your being, and it feels like a clear, calm decision? It could well be the right decision but it's worth checking in with yourself.
I would recommend muscle testing to ask the body how much meditation it would truly like. The subconscious does not lie.
For example, before each meditation session you can muscle test the question:
'It is for the highest good me to meditate right now?' (Yes/no)
If you get a no, there may be something else that your body would prefer you do, for example go for a walk, eat or take care of something else affecting your physical, mental or spiritual health. You can use your common sense and muscle test 'is it for the highest good for me to do (activity) now?'
If you get a yes, that your body would like to meditate now, you can ask:
'Is it for the highest good for me to meditate for half an hour or more now?' (Yes/no)
Depending on if you get a yes or no you can increase or decrease the amount you are muscle testing for:
E.g. if muscle testing is suggesting to lower the amount of meditating: 'Is it the highest good for me to meditate for at least 5 minutes?' (Yes/no) - keep increasing in increments of 5 minutes until you get a no and you find your answer.
If muscle testing is indicating your body would like more than half an hour of meditation you can ask: 'Is it for the highest good for me to meditate for at least 45 minutes?' (Yes/no). 'Is it for the highest good for me to meditate for at least an hour?' (Increasing in increments of 15 minutes until you get a no).