When I’m teaching my clients about meditation, I usually describe the following techniques to them: Active Meditation, Guided Meditation, Traditional or Empty-mind Meditation, and Mindfulness Meditation. It’s the traditional ’empty-mind’ method we usually think of as meditation, but this can be the most difficult to do, and for beginners, it often makes sense to explore the other techniques first.
You have probably also heard of Relaxation Meditation. Personally, I think all of the techniques can bring about relaxation, but in strict Relaxation Meditation, you start by focusing on a body part and consciously relaxing it before moving to the next body part and so on. I often incorporate brief relaxation techniques into my guided meditations, and relaxation is definitely part of the mindfulness process, but if you want a classic Relaxation Meditation, just type this term into a search engine. On this page, I’ll focus on describing the other techniques.
Active meditation is an everyday activity like housework, a creative activity like painting, or a sport or exercise activity. In this form of meditation, your body is moving and active. The activity you are engaged in is consuming your full attention, stilling the mind and helping you to be fully present in the moment.
With sports and creative activities we might be meditating without realising it, entering into a slightly altered state of mind where time our perception of time changes and hours can pass in what seems like minutes. Intense concentration is combined with a flowing sense of ease and in some instances it can feel as though we are simply observing ourselves in the activity, as though the activity has taken over and is showing us what needs to be done, pouring through us as though we are simply the channel.
In Aura Colour Therapy, my book about aura colours, I have a colour called Sanctuary Green, which is found in the aura when a person is spending time in active meditation. Our active meditation is a haven, a sanctuary where we can rest and be still, or as still as we are capable of being, as active doers! Active meditation is very well suited to meditation beginners, people who tend towards hyperactivity and those who tend to get caught up in their heads or have trouble with grounding. Here are some examples of active meditation:
I will always remember finding Sanctuary Green in a client’s aura alongside a psychic image of them gliding effortlessly along the ground as though ice-skating. When I quizzed my client, he told me this was him rollerblading. Rollerblading quietened his mind and helped him find an inner stillness. He was still thinking, in a manner, but the thought process tended to flow with ease, problems unknotting and solving themselves as he let go into the joy of a feeling as though he could fly!
I personally have experienced the absolute zen of mountain climbing, where every move might be your last if each hand and foot hold isn’t secure. My mind was silent and I had to discipline myself to stay focused on the task at hand, rather than psyching myself out with mental images or dialogue about falling, and risk freezing up. Years of meditation practise had prepared me well for this.
Some less intense examples of active meditation include yoga, tai chi, chi hung and the form used in martial arts.
Painting, singing, cooking, photography, landscaping, writing….
These are my favourite creative meditation techniques. What are yours? The rule of thumb to measure a genuine form of active meditation is the loss of time awareness. Hours go by in what seems like minutes and you emerge feeling satisfied, fulfilled, restored, rejuvenated.
Sweeping, rearranging the furniture and washing the dishes are my housework zen. For my husband it’s watering the garden. How can you tell what your housework or gardening zen is? It makes you feel peaceful, you lose yourself in it and you don’t mind doing it.
Sweeping indoors doesn’t do it for me, but put me outdoors with a straw broom and I’m in heaven. I always have this strange sense that I am sweeping my aura clean with each sweep, and I love the rhythmic sound of the broom as it switches back and forth. I enjoy the feeling of the movement and the methodical step and sweep, step and sweep. Do you have a housework or garden activity that makes you feel like this?
Homework – being present in the moment, and present in your body.
Sometimes I deliberately cultivate active meditation in a client who is prone to anxiety by giving them some homework. They have to chose a daily activity and while doing that activity, be as present in the moment as possible. We can do this by anchoring into the moment via our physical senses. If you are watering the garden for example, you will listen to the sound of the water, watching the rainbow sparkles on the water spray, breathe deep the scent of water and garden, notice the breeze through your hair or the feeling of sunlight on your skin. If you mind wanders, you very gently and patiently bring it back to this moment and re-engage your physical senses.
GUIDED IMAGERY, CREATIVE VISUALISATION, INNER JOURNEYS
This is the next easiest meditation technique on your journey towards traditional meditation or ’empty mind’ meditation, because it still gives your mind something active to do. To being with, we go on guided journeys, meditations designed and spoken by another person, until we can learn to focus our own mind enough to embark on our own inner journeys.
Homework and troubleshooting
These exercises build mental discipline and focus. In Audio Meditation section of this site you will find a series of guided imagery meditations that will help you develop these skills. Some of them are psychic self-care meditations, but there is also a ‘meet your spirit guide’ meditation and some guided healing journeys. Here are some tips to help you:
1) The english language doesn’t lend itself well to describing this meditation modality. ‘Imagery’, ‘visualisation’ and ‘imagination’ all seem to imply the the experience is a visual one, when in actual fact, it’s multi-sensory. Where in active meditation we are encouraging a grounded experience where we engage the physical senses, in guided imagery we are wanting to activate our imagined senses, and not just the visual, but ALL of them. So if your meditation guide guides you into a forest, don’t just attempt to visualise the forest, imagine what it would smell like, sound like and feel like.
2) As per the previous paragraph, this isn’t just about seeing with your visual imagination so don’t panic if visualising doesn’t come easy, especially at first. It might be easier for you to just imagine what it would feel like. If you get the odd vague image in your mind here and there, that’s great, but don’t panic if you aren’t getting the full panoramic visual in high definition. That comes with practise! The easiest way to do this by far, until your inner sense (imagination) really kicks in, is to just tell yourself the story about how you are ‘walking into the forest and listening to the birds singing’. What happens when you read a fictional book? How do you understand/comprehend what is happening? Guided meditation is the same process.
3) If your mind wanders off, don’t panic, that’s exactly what’s meant to happen. These exercises are simply giving your mind something to focus on, so that you can notice when your mind isn’t following you instructions. “Oops! I’ve wandered off again, thinking about the bills and that itch in my foot, instead of staying focused on the meditation!” As soon as you notice that you’ve wandered off, bring your mind back to the task at hand, but be sure to do it with gentleness and patience; getting crabby with yourself will defeat the entire purpose of this exercise! Even if you have to do this 50 times during a guided meditation, no drama: that’s what meditating is all about- developing self-awareness so you can recognise when you are wandering off track, and developing the mental discipline needed to return yourself to the task with calm equanimity. This proess is far more important than the content of the guided meditation itself.
4) Once you’ve been doing this for a while, your mind will start to generate it’s own images, feelings and stories and this can be confusing if it conflicts with what you meditation guide is saying. Learn to block the guide out and go on your wander; the guide will always be there if you get lost and your self-generated imagery fizzles out. This kind of internal wandering, rich with inner sensory impressions and a cohesive story-line, is valuable evidence that you have built a bridge from your conscious mind into your unconscious, intuitive inner world.
5) Once you get to the stage described in the last paragraph, practise blocking the speaker out when your mind generates it’s own imagery/story, and then tuning back into the speaker at will. An excellent sign of progress is being able to keep one part of your mind aware of the speaker so you can tune back into him or who as needed, while not allowing the speaker’s dialogue to interfere with your own journey/experience. Once you can do this with ease, you are ready to go on your own self-generated inner journeys!
TRADITIONAL MEDITATION, EMPTY-MIND MEDITATION
Meditating is a three step process.
1) Give the mind a job to do, a task to focus on (such as observing your own breathing or saying a mantra)
2) Notice when your mind wanders away from this task.
3) Gently and patiently guide your mind back to the task.
This three step process IS meditation. Unfortunately, most people get to the ‘wandering off’ bit and immediately throw their hands in the air saying “I can’t do it!” and promptly give up before they have even begun. You simply can’t expect to suddenly drop into an experience of empty, still or silent mind on your first or second attempt. Experienced meditators certainly do experience more internal stillness, silence and peace but it takes many years of practise to accomplish this in any consistent manner.
You can google ‘meditation techniques’ for ideas about what to focus your mind on, or particular breathing techniques to meditate on. Here are some starting points:
The passive or yin aspect to this practise is to simply observe your mind. Watch it and see what it does. Notice what your thoughts are and what you are focusing your attention on. Do all of this without judgement or internal comment. It’s not so much your mind that stays quiet as the observing part of you that stays quiet. It’s like realising there is another part of you that isn’t your mind: an observer pat of you.
I often liken it to being a parent watching children playing together; it’s a calm, quiet observation without interference. We provide a safe space for the play to occur, then we step back, get out of the way, and watch. Notice your thoughts but don’t latch onto them, engage with them, or critique them. Just watch them and let them be. When you get really good at this, you notice a thought and then you let it go. You don’t attach yourself to the thought. You notice it, let it go and wait for the next one, which you also notice and release. It’s a lovely fluid, open feeling inside yourself of watching and releasing.
It’s this releasing process that is the more active or yang side of meditation. Actively release the thought you have observed and redirect your mind back to the observer’s position rather than allowing it to follow any thoughts down a rabbit hole!
For me, mindfulness is all about developing self-awareness, but rather than being just about the mind, our self-observation in mindfulness includes our body and emotions. In mindfulness we are listening to the mind body as a whole and noticing how it feels. In doing so, we build greater emotional intelligence and insights into the connections between our thoughts, body sensations, emotions and experiences of reality.
In mindfulness meditation we employ the techniques used in the other three methods, such as staying present with body sensations, noticing your attention wandering and redirecting your mind. But unlike the ’empty-mind’ observer-self who stays entirely quiet, in mindfulness we are observing and looking for patterns and asking questions. There are are some typical attitudes and questions we employ while in a mindfulness observer mode. I’m going to demonstrate two methods below. The second technique is similar to relaxation meditation.
MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUE 1
*What are my typical thoughts? What kind of thoughts do I think?
*What do these thoughts tell me about myself and the way I view reality?
*How do these thoughts influence my perception of reality and my emotional state?
*Is there a connection between my thoughts and my emotions?
*How does my body feel when I think these thoughts?
*Why am I thinking these particular thoughts? Have they been conditioned into me by my childhood, society etc.?
*In recognising these thought habits and the way they influence my perceptions and behaviour, I’m detaching from them rather than being controlled by them. I’m realising I have choices. I can choose different thoughts that lead to healthier perceptions and experiences of reality. Conscious thought-choices can liberate me from emotional reactivity, narrow-minded perspectives and irrational thinking.
MINDFULNESS TECHNIQUE 2
How does my body feel right now? I’m scanning my awareness/attention over and through my body to notice the uncomfortable, tight or painful areas. When I find these, I rest my attention on them and listen. I meditating on this part of my body and if my mind wanders I notice where it wanders and I ask if the direction it wanders is might be connected to this body issue.
I keep focusing on the uncomfortable area of my body and listening, noticing thoughts, feelings, memories and issues that may arise and asking myself if there might be insights here for me; connections between my body sensations, emotions, thoughts, memories and so on.