Monday, March 31, 2008

Meditation Myths and Half Truths #3

Myth #3: The purpose of meditation is to have a mystical experience.

This is a popular misconception. It is also one of those myths that leads folks to abandon the practice when such experiences don’t come--or when those that do, don’t last.

Transitory experience of any kind is not the goal. The purpose of meditation is something much deeper and more lasting--the complete transformation of our lives. Sounds heady, I know, but it’s true. While you will have some meditations that are delightful, and may even have moments that could be described as mystical, you will likely have many sessions that are boring, irritating or downright disturbing. A meditation high is not the goal. If it is--even on an unconscious level--your meditation will be in danger of devolving into a technique for entertainment, an additional method of grasping, or just another project. And really, don’t we all devote enough of our precious energy to that sort of thing already?

Meditation helps us learn to be right here, right now. Our attention strays repeatedly, and we continually draw it back from wherever it has gone. In so doing, we begin to gain clarity about what we gravitate toward in the absence of any external stimulation. We become aware of the webs we weave, of our habitual tendencies and agendas, of the way we dissociate from pure experience--including experience of the Infinite--as a matter of course. But more important than any of these realizations--which might be interesting, but when all’s said and done, somewhat irrelevant--we increase our ability to bring it all back home, back to this moment. We learn to be present.

Over time, the effects of such a practice begin to filter into the rest of our lives. We learn to live more fully, to experience more deeply, to choose our focus more consciously. It’s what meditation does for us off the cushion that really matters. Are we calmer and more loving? Can we keep things in perspective? Do we recognize when we’re being carried off by a story line about the life in front of us rather than remaining alive to things simply as they are? Do we catch ourselves sooner when we’ve been snookered once more by our mind’s version of reality or when we behave badly? Can we come back to center? These abilities are the gifts of meditation.

And there is another one. Ultimately, as we practice wholeheartedly and steadily, we will be better able to recognize and open to the Divine as It appears within the stuff of our lives. Here’s the truth embedded within this particular myth. By enhancing our ability to be present, meditation can over time increase our capacity for direct experience of the Holy. So, while going to our cushion with an agenda is detrimental to being present with whatever happens there, we may eventually find ourselves coming into a more intimate relationship with the Sacred.

While many committed practitioners never have a direct experience of the Infinite while meditating, others do. Such encounters, however, are not worth much if they come without a sense of the Holy that carries into daily life. Being able to experience the Sacred in every moment of our small lives--in the beautiful and the terrifying--and to act from that awareness is to live within a mystical perspective. Meditation may or may not bring us the Hollywood version of discreet technicolor mystical encounters, but it can be a method toward adopting a mystical way of life. This is so much more valuable.

As has been said before, meditation is a relationship like any other. There will be highs and there will be lows. It is the ability to nurture an abiding devotion--day in, day out--that’s crucial. Otherwise, just as is the unfortunate reality of too many human marriages, you and your meditation practice may go your separate ways once the novelty wears off. And this is so unfortunate because, just as in those human relationships, it’s when the novelty wears off that things really get hoppin’. That’s when you can truly begin to grow and deepen.

One of the things I’ve learned as a psychotherapist is that big, in-your-face changes are not nearly as trustworthy as those that start small and steadily grow to bear fruit. I believe the same is true of meditation. If you do have a wildly ecstatic incident or an amazing vision, just be there as fully as you can--just as you do when you sit through a particularly annoying time. Keep your focus steady and remain open to whatever is given you. But don’t become too enamored of these times, and keep coming back to the process even when those knock-your-socks-off moments are few and far between. Remember, the real fruits will be experienced over time within your daily life.

While lovely experiences are...well...lovely,we do not meditate to get goodies. We meditate to live more fully--which I guess you could say is a goodie. It’s a goodie, though, that keeps giving long after your meditation session is over. Every moment we fully experience is a gift. And to the extent that these moments contain the seeds of further gifts, there is an exponential growth of goodies awaiting us. We just need to allow ourselves to perceive them and be with them fully. As we do, a mystical way of life may, indeed, become ours.

I have heard it said that our job in meditation is simply to show up. The rest is in God’s hands--however you conceptualize Him/Her/It. I like that. Our responsibility is to show up, day after day, through dry times and moist, through boring sittings and ones we might describe as magical. Just sit. Just be here. Now.


Loanne Marie

PS. For other Meditation Myths and Half-Truths in this series, please see Myth #1, Myth #2, and Myth #4. I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Expanding Out Of Fear

Grace* sat immobilized on the couch across from me--facial muscles tight, head bent, shoulders hunched, torso caved inward. While thus far in session, she’d moved through a variety of emotions, Grace recognized instinctively what was at the core. Fear. Grace was quite literally--quite visually--collapsed into fear.

What was most upsetting to her on this particular morning was that she could no longer access the spiritual awareness she’d found in our last meeting. The strength, comfort, and courage she’d felt then seemed lost to her now. “I know my spirit is still there, but I can’t feel it,” she cried in frustration. Grace’s fear had collapsed her into a place so small, so tight, that she could access no other component of her rich being.

Fear does this. It acts as a type of microscopic lens through which we narrow our awareness--and then mistake this limited view for reality. However, just as Grace realized intuitively, whether perceived or not, Spirit remains untouched. Spirit abides.

So, what can be done about this all-too-human capacity to zoom into a small, fear-based perspective? We can cultivate the ability to zoom out, to access a larger and ultimately more accurate view. We can to learn to see with our spirit eyes.

Although Grace began the session by articulating what was missing, she found herself fleshing out an image of her full rich spirit. She envisioned it surrounding her--whole, healthy, vibrant--enveloping both her personality and the small cavity into which fear had pulled her. This image grew roots, took form. Grace closed her eyes and chose to subscribe to a fuller realization of all that she was.

And she allowed me to witness this transformation and to share it with you. First, she became still. Then her spine straightened, her shoulders rose and rolled back allowing her shoulder blades to slip down and support the rising of her chest, the opening of her heart. Grace’s jaw unclenched, her facial muscles relaxed. Her breath deepened. Grace grew radiant, exuding calmness and a profound strength. All of this occurred in a matter of seconds. The metamorphosis was stunning!

Grace had found a way to expand her consciousness beyond the tight box of fear. Yes, she could still acknowledge the difficulties ahead of her, but she now viewed these from a perspective of wholeness.

No matter how powerful it seems, fear is just an emotion. This emotion can paralyze, act as an impetus to explode into rage, or morph into any of the other emotions we find so difficult. Each, however, still contains that kernel of fear at its heart. When we become locked within our fear, we cannot experience all that we are, the totality of who we are. Nor can we fully comprehend the realities of our life. We can pretend, we can try, but who are we fooling? We’re terrified and that’s that. We have shrunken our awareness and disallowed ourselves a larger and truer vision.

Grace’s experience was so pronounced that it has remained with me. All I have to do is recall the visual and energetic shift she demonstrated, and I know the path beyond fear and can articulate it better for myself and others. We won’t all exhibit Grace’s visceral response as our own shifts occur, but we all do have the capacity to alter our perspective, to transcend the tight trap of fear, and to move into a larger, truer view of ourselves and of life itself.

Next time you’re ambushed by fear, or any other emotion that lays claim to your awareness and forces an inaccurate tunnel vision, try the following:

~~First, acknowledge the trap. Experience the contours of the limiting emotion. Know the edges within which you are confined, your tight, cramped awareness. Although it may be tempting to hurry through this step, don’t. We must know our prisons to walk free of them. (More on this idea in a future essay.)

~~Next, envision your larger Self--all the parts of you that lie beyond this limiting emotion. See that Self streaming out beyond the dark space of your fear, the confines of your body, the limits of your personality.

~~Allow yourself the belief that you can choose your perspective. Maybe not always, maybe not totally. Adopt this belief anyway.

~~Now, CHOOSE. Allow yourself to expand out of the oh-so-tight confines of your fear. Move into this larger, fuller experience of yourself. Right here. Right now.

~~Breathe into this choice. Grow into it. Experience it. Permit yourself to fully inhabit this more complete realization of who you are. And allow Spirit to fully inhabit you.

While our spirits can still shine while being aware of a spot of fear, we simply cannot be simultaneously consumed by fear and fully alive to the Light. To identify with your larger Self does not mean you must disown the fear or deny the challenges facing you. But you can hold your fear within a larger perspective that will bring with it additional resources which you cannot touch when ensnared by fear. The fear may still be there, but it will be put into context.

As you can imagine, Grace will need to cultivate and nurture the ability she discovered so clearly that day. She will need to choose her perspective again and again, as we all do. With practice, however, the path from fear to a richer, fuller identity becomes more easily trod. Luckily, walking this trail frequently means we won’t need to bushwhack every time!

May you subscribe to a truer vision of who you are, and may that process allow you to transcend your fear today and always.

I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Loanne Marie

For more on the topics discussed here, I refer you to two books detailed in the Resources section of my website, the delightful, wordless book, Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, and Pema Choedren’s book, When Things Fall Apart.

*In this and all my blog entries, whenever I refer to an experience with a specific person, know that the individual has been consulted and has given written permission for me to publish my thoughts about their journey. Know, too, that I have changed identifying information, given the person the opportunity to review my entry before posting, and offered the individual the pleasure of choosing her or his very own blog name.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Meditation Myths and Half Truths #2

Myth #2: Meditation is for patient people only.

Not true! Patience is not a prerequisite. Most committed meditators have logged in many hours of impatience and restlessness--have become convinced their timer has malfunctioned or they’d forgotten to set it; have taken a break ‘just for a second’ to jot down an earthshaking insight or deal with a VERY IMPORTANT task; have answered the phone because it might be something urgent; have gotten up to put the cat out, let the cat in, check to see if perhaps the cat might be thinking of going out--whatever! Sitting still--minute after minute after minute--is enough to make anyone buggy at times.

With steady practice, though, one learns the ploys of a restless spirit and becomes less apt to snatch the bait. Gradually, one learns to rest within the stillness, even to rest beneath the agitation.

And so this myth does contain a truth. One needs to be patient with the overall process. Remember, this is a relationship like any other--the relationship between you and your meditation practice, between you and Spirit. It will take a while to recognize, and learn how to effectively cope with, the various strategies of a rambunctious disposition.

What’s important is having a method to work with impatience. In an earlier post, Myths #1, March 3rd, 2008, I discussed helpful ways to conceive of a meandering mind. Since restlessness is to the emotions what a wandering mind is to the intellect, the view I shared in that essay will work here as well, and I refer you back to it. To see your impatience as an expression of the ceaselessly creative universal force may help you be, well, more patient with your impatience. Gentler. Restlessness really is just the stuff of being human.

But other than having a helpful way of conceptualizing such basic human traits, what can you do? The first task is to pull back from judging. Truly, what would make you conclude you should not be impatient? Assuming you were raised in mainstream Western culture, you have had little encouragement to be still. Everything is fast-paced and oh, so busy. Stimulation abounds. Never a dull moment. Until you sit down to meditate, that is.

So, an individual who has been surrounded by busyness, infused with busyness, sits down for half an hour to meditate. How do you suppose such a person will react? If your answer is that they’d be delighted as the silence stretched out ad infinitum, you’d likely be wrong!

We human beings are quite the hoot. We seem to assume that whatever struggle we’re having is some sort of aberration, and that the rest of the human race sails through such waters with hardly a ripple. Even when we know better intellectually, we still respond as though we’re defective.

And if you give that tendency full sway, you will expand a smallish difficulty into a big ISSUE. You will not only feel impatient, but will feel inferior about feeling impatient! At the very least you’ll feel impatient with your impatience! And then, well, you might as well give up meditation all together because why bother, you’re hopeless! Obviously, not a helpful process!

But lets say, just for argument’s sake, that you are particularly impatient, more so than most. So what?!! One thing about sitting in silence is that it will likely bring up whatever entanglements you have. That very patient person you know? Sit him in silence for an extended period of time, day after day, and his issues, whatever they might be, will rise to the surface just as certainly as do yours. If you already know your challenge is impatience, congratulations! You’re just that much farther along.

Don’t turn this proclivity into something so big you’ll sabotage the whole endeavor. When we clamp down on a tendency such as this, we concretize it. What could have been a momentary, passing impatience becomes something we KNOW about ourselves, now and for all time. Instead of feeling fidgety at a particular moment, you may begin to view yourself as AN IMPATIENT PERSON. Case closed. Obviously, this is not true. Even someone with more than their share of impatience is not impatient every moment of every day. Repeatedly reinforcing a stereotype will give it so much more power, and will make it more difficult to see yourself with all your gradations, nuance, and rich textures.

So, now that we’ve cut this predilection down to size, what can you do about it? There are several techniques you might find helpful. And these can be applied to a wandering mind as well.

~~You can simply note the impatience and return to a concentrative technique--focusing on the rise and fall of your chest, counting each breath, repeating a mantra, etc. This method assumes that, in that moment and over time, withdrawing your precious energy will dissipate whatever emotional reaction you’re having. As often as it arises, just that often can you decide not to feed it, choose to disengage.

~~You can simply watch the impatience, noting where it’s centered in your body, it’s quality, its moment to moment alterations. Neither jumping in nor moving away, you let it be. Most often, something will change. Thoughts, feelings, and reactions tend to be quite fluid, seldom remaining the same for long. Without the story line, your experience can simply be what it is, thereby allowing for the possibility of change.

~~You can welcome Spirit in. Allow Spirit to enter you, let it permeate each cell of your body, each fragment of your soul--including, of course, the impatience. Turn the restlessness over to Spirit. Don’t grasp it so tightly; give it away, perhaps just for this instant. Ask Spirit to attend to it, while you let go into richness of the moment. Obviously, this works best for those who conceive of meditation as a communion with Spirit. You touch Spirit simply as you are, impatience and all. No need to be shy. No need to be other than you are. Just show up and give yourself--yes, all of you--to Spirit.

Over time, each of these approaches will teach experientially that we are more than our fleeting reactions. But these are just some ideas. If restlessness is your issue, you can also ask directly for guidance on how best to respond. Then be still and listen. Whether it’s Spirit or intuition that answers, you’ll likely get a nudge in one direction or another. Honor it. Follow it.

Months may pass before you find a rhythm that translates into a more accepting, calmer approach to meditation. Allow yourself this time to settle in. Trust the process. Trust your process. If you have felt ‘called’ to meditate, trust that the appropriate skills and attitude will come to you. Give yourself a chance to discover that this is, indeed, true.

May we each show up in our meditation practice, in our lives, simply as we are, and come to accept the inevitability of our blossoming, trusting and allowing the Essence within us to flower.


Loanne Marie

PS. For other Meditation Myths and Half-Truths in this series, please click on Myth #1, Myth #3, and Myth #4. I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Angels Sing

One of the misconceptions people frequently have about psychotherapists is that our work is about witnessing emotional pain. This is why many folks can’t quite understand why someone would choose such a profession. Conceived of this way, I can’t say I blame them!

While bearing witness to pain is integral to the work, it does not embody its essence for me. Rather, being a psychotherapist is about witnessing transformation--again and again--within a session, cumulatively over a treatment episode, and throughout a full career. Now to be given a front row seat at that type of event is another matter entirely!

I first began my work in 1979, when a stint as a camp counselor brought experiences I hadn’t expected. Along with the privileged French-Canadian girls who were sent to the States for a 2-week camp to improve their English skills, there were several girls in state custody; their harried caseworkers had dropped them at the camp for the whole summer due to the dearth of available foster homes. While I enjoyed all the girls, I was most drawn to those whose young lives had been filled with abuse, betrayal, and abandonment, not because of their pain, but because of the gift they offered me--the opportunity to help ease it.

Nearly 29 years have passed since those mistreated girls offered me a glimpse of my vocation. I finished my undergraduate education and was hired to work with street kids who were now doing for money what family members had demanded for free. I completed my Master’s degree and worked in mental health centers, often with trauma survivors. Eventually, I moved into private practice. As of this writing, I have had the honor of witnessing the transformation of literally thousands of people; I recognize that the lives of even more have been altered, as the ripples of individual change move out and expand exponentially.

Folks arrive at my office with a variety of presenting difficulties, but though the issues we address vary, the essence of our work is essentially the same: transformation. I sit with dear souls hour after hour, day after day, as they share with me the challenges of their lives. And I’m invited into those moments, those glorious moments, when the heavens open and an individual is bathed in light sitting on that couch right in front of me. And something shifts. Something heals. Something is transformed. I hear Angels sing.

I speak in metaphors, of course. I am neither clairvoyant nor psychotic. But I do feel something shift, sense energy dancing in the room, respond to a brightening of the vibration. It is only through these metaphors--Angels singing, heavens opening--that I can hope to capture the experience.

But there is more. The Angels are not merely a resonant chorus of applause. They are not passive. I have known their influence, time and time again, in the synchronicity of events that together weave an opportunity for metamorphosis--in a siren from a passing ambulance that plunges someone into an ultimately curative catharsis; in words that escape my mouth before I know I’m thinking them, thus opening a fresh avenue of exploration or helping to dislodge an emotional logjam; in the appearance of a squirrel on the windowsill that suggests a salient metaphor.

Yes, I believe that my clients and I are guided each step of the way. I realize I may be wrong, that we may only be guided from within. But that, too, strikes me as miraculous--a dream that launches someone into new and ultimately transformative territory; an intuitive sense of just the intervention that is needed at a particular moment; a client’s random thought that, when voiced, speaks volumes. I’ve come to love those times when someone prefaces a statement with words such as “I don’t know why I thought of this, but...” or “You’re going to think I’m crazy for saying this, but...” I’ve learned that, most often, preambles such as these are my cue that pearls are about to materialize in the room. True, these pearls are not always polished--that’s our work--but they are pearls nonetheless. And they are bestowed so freely!

Ultimately, it makes little difference to me whether Angels and their gifts exist externally or if these images are simply a way to conceptualize the inner workings of our own souls. Regardless, the transformation is real, and these metaphors speak to my psyche in a such a way that I sit up and take notice.

Of course, full-blown transformation does not occur in each session, and sometimes folks remain stuck for quite some time. But with eyes that can appreciate the ripening process of profound work, the evidence of a budding metamorphosis can be seen even in stuckness, as a seeming paralysis often precedes gigantic leaps forward.

So, I guess it’s obvious by now how blest I feel to be granted such soulful employment. Witnessing pain is simply part of the process and makes the ultimate transcendence all the sweeter.

I have, indeed, been given an amazing vantage point in this life. The lessons are many. Proof of the resilience of the human spirit. Trust that no matter how bleak or despairing are the realities of a life, wondrous healing is possible. Awareness that our individual responses can effect others, as well as the tenor of the world around us. Faith that assistance of just the right sort is available, if we can open to receive it.

May we each know these truths as we face our own abyss. We may not see our path or know where our travels through this dark valley will carry us. But if we can remember that we are guided and will not only survive, but emerge with our essence more fully felt, then our journey will be infinitely easier. When less energy is drained off in fear or resistance, more is available for the work of transformation.

May these truths resonate for you, not just intellectually, but from within the very marrow of your bones. And may you hear your own Angels sing this day!

Loanne Marie

Monday, March 3, 2008

Meditation Myths and Half Truths #1

Myth #1: One must be able to keep a still mind to meditate.

Well, if that were true, there’d be no meditators worldwide! Minds are meant to think--that is their job. It takes little effort to imagine where we’d be as a species were our minds geared toward emptiness. We need these active brains of ours to do many of the tasks an abundant human life requires--language acquisition and communication, problem solving, effectively meeting the demands of our day, engaging future challenges--to name a few.

An active mind is simply performing the task for which it was designed: thinking. The bugaboo, of course, is that these busy minds of ours can impede other endeavors that are also essential to a rich human experience. Enjoying a precious moment fully. Relinquishing struggle. Letting go into the Sacred. Trusting. Accepting what is.

This is where meditation comes in. Meditation is, in part, the practice of learning to be right here, right now. The truth in this myth is that minds do need to learn to be still if important experiences in life--of life--are to be fully savored. Minds can learn this and they will, with a little coaching. But to believe a quiet mind is a prerequisite to growing a vibrant meditation practice is erroneous. It is also harmful, as it seems to be the most common reason folks give for not meditating--and in the process, missing the bounty such steady exercise can bring.

Imagine taking this notion into any other activity. How many brain surgeons, skiers, mechanics, artists, parents--and the list goes on--would there be if folks believed they had to already be accomplished in their field before entering it? It is just as ludicrous to assume one needs an already still mind to begin to meditate, or to continue once the first blush has passed.

What one does need is a method of working with the mind and a way to conceptualize the process. Sally Kempton, in The Heart of Meditation (see the Resources section of my website,, shares a friendly view of the mind’s busyness that works magnificently for me. She describes our individual minds as infinitesimal manifestations of the vast mind of the Infinite. The force that breathes the galaxies into and out of existence finds simply another expression in our small brains, ceaselessly spinning their own creations.

Wow! Suddenly, I was able to call a truce in my struggle with my frisky mind. Of course it is a monkey, swinging from vine to vine! Fashioning lianas out of nothing is simply another expression of the creative force that supports the whole Universe. I got it!

This conceptualization brings me to my cushion with a more benevolent perspective of my mind’s shenanigans. I am more warmhearted toward the thoughts that inevitably arise, and much less likely to shove them harshly away or berate myself for not being a ‘better’ meditator.

This doesn’t mean I let the creations of an energetic mind run roughshod as I sit. I make a conscious choice to suspend creating--just for now--so that I might more fully receive. Thoughts do, indeed, arise; however, as I withdraw the energy of my consciousness from them, they just as quickly dissolve. I come back to simple, quiet awareness...again, and again, and again.

When I do so gently and with good humor, the tenor of my thoughts seems softer as well. They seem to get that I’m not out to obliterate them, just to infuse a bit of balance. We’re kinder, more neighborly these days, my thoughts and I. The edges of an inner peace are tasted from the get-go.

As I learn to approach the inevitable fabrications of my mind with grace, something new is occurring. At times I am able to maintain my larger awareness while a thought comes into existence. My consciousness at these moments does not shrink into the narrow confines of that thought; rather, it is able to hold the thought within a larger panorama. When I can maintain an awareness of the cosmos, there is no need to blot out the planet of a particular idea or begrudge its orbit around the sun of my ego. I am able to simply be with this manifestation of the Dance. These moments are still rare, and all the more precious because of it.

So, while it is certainly true that, with practice, our minds learn to be quieter for longer periods of time, it is absolutely NOT a prerequisite for meditation. A commitment to staying with the process is. With that commitment, meditation becomes similar to any other relationship: it grows and deepens over time, and opens onto vistas one could not have anticipated.

My mind leans toward the meandering and the rowdy. She’s not the attentive, straight-A student in the front row. No. She’s the one in the back of the room, alternately covering her notebook with doodles, passing notes, staring out the window, and hurling spit balls at her classmates. Though, I must say, with this friendlier view, even this student is settling down.

The point is, if I can meditate, certainly other persons on this planet can do the same. I’d love to hear about your efforts.


Loanne Marie

PS. For other Meditation Myths and Half-Truths in this series, please see Myth #2, Myth #3, and Myth #4. I'd love to hear about your experiences!