Conversation with Sarah #1

When I was doing my tour for Soul Centered, I was interviewed for the women’s health site EmpowHER by writer Marcia G. Yerman.

In reviewing my book and explaining to her audience the benefits of meditation,  Marcia became interested in beginning her own meditation practice.

Beyond the questions that she raised in order to write her article,  Marcia had a series of additional inquiries and observations that were similar to those that many others have encountered as they embark on the path of meditation and self-awareness.

As we discussed these topics, we hit upon the idea of Marcia contributing monthly for my blog, we’re calling it “Conversations with Sarah.” In addition to tackling material that we believe will be of interest to the community through a dialogue, we invite you to submit questions that you would like to have addressed—as you sail forward in your meditation voyage.

Send an e-mail to mcleanmeditation@gmail(dot) com, with BLOG TOPIC in the subject line.

Yours,

Sarah

 

 

 

The Meditation Journey Begins

by Marcia G. Yerman

 

June of 2012 was a rocky month for me. Reality kept rearing its insistent head, reminding me that my son was leaving for college—and a new life—in sixty days. All the decisions I had been able to put off for years because of my son’s priorities were now rushing to the fore and demanding my attention.

Ironically, it was during the same time frame that I was working on an article about Sarah’s new book, Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with MeditationAs part of the press kit, I had received her meditation CD. I listened to the first track. It immediately resonated and made the lessons from the book visceral for me.

Soon, every morning before getting out of bed, I put on my headphones and meditated along with Sarah. At night, I did the “Transformational” or “Gratitude” meditation—always ending with the “Crystal Bowl Healing Sounds,” which served as a kind of auditory amen. I had sandwiched in my own personal ninety-second prayer, the one I have been reciting since the age of six. As Sarah frequently explains, meditation can co-exist with your religious beliefs.

Recognizing that my nervous system was on overload, I was excited to discover that meditation could alter brain patterns—regardless of one’s age—and that there was real science and date to back the findings up.

Beyond the actual act of meditation, I began incorporating a number of Sarah’s lifestyle suggestions into my daily routine. Previously on my own, I had been gravitating toward many of the behaviors that Sarah advocated in her book. Intuitively and organically I was on the same track.

I felt calmer when I sought out green oases within the urban sprawl of New York City. I had decided to cancel my newspaper subscription for the three months of summer because I was feeling as if I were drowning in a morass of frustratingly bad news that I could not impact. It’s what Sarah calls a “media-fast.” In addition, without yet knowing of Sarah’s “one-day a month” retreat of unplugging from electronics, I had decided that for a week I would only fulfill essential computer work. That meant staying off social media over the weekend (I am an inveterate Tweeter!).

It made a difference.

I still got a lot of news from television and online media, but I felt that a weight had been lifted off my shoulders—the responsibility of feeling that I constantly needed to be on top of every bit of information.

Meditating helped me settle into the fact that my son was leaving, and helped me to enjoy the moment and the time we had left to spend which each other. I focused on “my own world” and what was “under my control,” as Sarah had explained. When I felt overwhelmed, I turned to her “Peacefinder Exercise,” a stress buster to “refresh” my attitude and “shift my body’s response.”

It worked.

In August, I spent five days in the vicinity of Woodstock, New York. I went with my son and his father, taking my new awareness with me. I went on several hikes with my son. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn’t. Yet, in the midst of nature we both felt very connected. I stopped in a Tibetan store and bought a turquoise colored beaded bracelet that I began using during my mediations to help me stay attentive.

By the time my son had left for pre-orientation, I was in a different state of awareness. I had a whole new set of resources in my toolbox. I wore the bracelet when I traveled up to his campus to drop off his belongings, a reminder that I didn’t have to fall into the old patterns of reactivity when things got stressful.

Upon returning to an empty apartment in disarray from last minute packing, I was able to sit with uncomfortable feelings in a fresh way. As August turned into September and Labor Day summoned an end to summer, I thought about where I had been emotionally on Memorial Day. I became aware of the new rhythms that had begun to take root in my life.

Perhaps the clearest and most recent example came several days into the month when my dog had a medical problem. I rushed her to the vet. In the waiting room, not only was my dog anxious, but I was too. Intolerant of how long it was taking to see the doctor, I repeatedly looked at my watch, worrying about the dog—as well as the time I was losing from my workday.

Then I stopped.

I remembered Sarah’s advice about “starting again at any moment.” I realized that I could make a different choice and change “rote behavior.” I took a deep breath. I cleared my mind by concentrating on my breath. Inwardly, I repeated the mantra I had learned. The fear and nervousness started to release, and I accepted what part of the situation was under my control.

There in the vet’s office, I recognized my old patterns and chose a different way to respond. Or in Sarah’s words, “You can’t change anything about yourself until you see it.”

September 22nd is the first day of autumn. I look forward to moving into the new season with a reframed self-awareness that will put me on a new path.

Cultivating inner peace is the goal.

The Five Essentials for Successful Meditation

An excerpt from the Introduction of Soul-Centered: Transform Your Life in 8 Weeks with Meditation 

Before you begin your 8-week journey to becoming soul-centered, there are five basic keys to success in meditation that I want to address. These are: (1) it’s okay to have thoughts during meditation, (2) don’t try too hard, (3) let go of expectations, (4) be kind to yourself, and (5) stick with it. And it’s important to know this: The way you meditate and treat yourself in meditation is the way you treat yourself as you live your life.

1. It’s Okay to Have Thoughts

If you’re thinking, I probably can’t do this program because I have too many thoughts, then you are not alone. Perhaps you’ve already tried to meditate for a few minutes once or twice, and it “didn’t work.” You sat down, closed your eyes, and tried to clear your mind but couldn’t. Then you gave up.

Students in my classes often tell me, “I can’t stop thinking.” My reply is, “That’s right, you can’t stop the thoughts.” I explain that you can’t stop thoughts by thinking about not thinking, because the nature of the mind is to think, like the nature of your eyes are to see. If you try to stop thinking, your effort will make you frustrated and possibly give you a headache.

You don’t need to completely stop thinking during meditation. Instead, the meditation practices you will learn in this program naturally settle your mind and body, making it easier to experience the subtler levels of your thoughts and impulses. Sometimes the thought process even stops for a moment or two, and before another thought or sensation arises, you’ll have experienced the silence that is always present, underlying the thoughts, the silence of your soul. This stillness of mind is not created by you stopping your thoughts. Instead, it is a natural process that is always available to be experienced—it is merely revealed through meditating.

2. Don’t Try Too Hard

I once taught meditation to a heart surgeon and his wife on New Year’s Day (he had called and set up an appointment at 9 a.m., wanting to start the year off right). After they learned to meditate he asked how he could “get good at it.” I responded by asking him how he got to be “good” at surgery.Practice, right? Well, it’s the same with meditation.

At first, you may try to do it “right.” But you soon find that overly working at it, trying too hard, forcing it, or concentrating only creates more thoughts and bad habits. You can’t try to do anything without the mind getting involved.  Instead of expending mental effort or trying to have a certain experience, you’ll learn to refocus your attention, gently. Contrary to what so many believe, you don’t get good at meditation by trying hard to do it. Instead, the practice requires ease and effortlessness.

With meditation, your mind and body will settle down naturally, and as with any natural process, too much effort can ruin the process. For example, trying to go to sleep, even if you’re tired, can make you miserable. Trying to come up with a new idea and force through a creative block is the same way—it rarely works. Trying to meditate is similar, because meditation is an effortless pursuit. The only effort you put in is the effort to set aside the time and space for your regular practice. Some of us are in the habit of having to be doing something in order to feel a sense of satisfaction, and that includes “doing” meditation, trying hard at it. Instead, meditation is trains you to get comfortable “being”, being yourself without effort.

3. Let Go of Expectations

You may have preconceived notions of what is supposed to be going on during meditation and how you should feel or what you should experience. Many of us have seen pictures of the monks in robes or yogis sitting cross-legged, some have heard  stories about the wild experiences some meditators have, but I love to teach those who have no expectations about meditation. First timers come and sit with me for 15-20 minutes and then report that they felt great and that it was easy. I attribute this to “beginner’s mind,” an attitude you’ll learn more about in Week Three.

During meditation, you’ll have all kinds of experiences—some you like better than others, and some you’ll want to repeat in your next meditation. It’s important to treat each meditation as innocently as the first time you learned, and expect nothing. Let go of expectations or wanting your meditation to go a certain way. The body and mind are intelligent and will naturally do what they need to do to eliminate stress and to create a nourishing effect.

I’m often asked, How will I know I’m doing it right? My answer is that when you approach meditation without expectations, without trying “too hard” or attempting to control your experience, and with a sense of ease and welcome for whatever experiences arise, then you are doing it right. Instead of judging your meditations as good or bad based on the experiences you have in meditation, you’ll see if it’s working another way. Ultimately, most people notice they are doing it right because they notice changes in their lives: they’re happier, more relaxed, less stressed, more creative, more perceptive, and more appreciative of their lives.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

An essential key to meditating correctly is to be kind to yourself. This is one of the most important things I have learned through my years of practicing and teaching meditation.. While it should go without saying, I still say it because many people have learned to be tough on themselves. Being tough on yourself does not help change your behavior; it’s simply a bad habit. Instead, be gentle towards yourself as you commit to transforming your life. Don’t get down on yourself in meditation if your mind wanders, or you get bored, or the experiences you have in meditation don’t fulfill your expectations. Be nice to yourself when you are not meditating too. Don’t compare your experience to others’. All is well.

5. Stick with It

Finally, meditation only works if you stick with it and don’t give up. During your meditation period your mind may wander, you may feel restless, you’ll have a brilliant idea, or you think of something you simply must do (like check your email or write something down) and you may want to give up. But don’t. Simply begin again and return your awareness to the focus of your meditation. Have the discipline to do the practices and stick with the entire meditation period you committed to each day, whether it’s five minutes or half an hour, even if you’re antsy or bored.

By staying with the practice, you will create a new relationship with your mind. As you let the thoughts and impulses come and go, without taking action, you change your reactivity to a thought, and become the witness to your mental activity. This will lead you to a deeper understanding of how your mind works. Often when you feel a fidgety or feel frustrated in meditation, it’s an indication that you’re releasing a lot of stress. If you stick with the practice, the stress will dissipate and you’ll experience a “meditator’s high”. Don’t quit before the bliss! Don’t quit the program either. Stay with it each day for eight weeks. Meditating every day will give you the benefits, but not meditating won’t. Even if you don’t think anything is happening in meditation, science shows dramatic changes in the minds and bodies of consistent meditators. And you’ll soon believe it once you see the benefits for yourself..

***

Now is a good time to ask yourself: What is my intentionHow do I want to live my life? How do I want my life to transform? If you don’t discover the answers right away, be patient, eventually the answers will come. Each meditation you engage in will reveal, or be inherently inspired by, your sincere intention.

Read on, visit http://www.Soul-Centered.com for more excerpts!

© 2011 All Rights Reserved. Sarah McLean, Sedona Meditation Training Co. www.SedonaMeditation.com

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