The Thoughts that Arise in Mediation
“Oh my God, it is such a relief to just sit down for a minute.”
“F**K, there are a million thoughts flying everywhere.”
“All I can think about is all the unfinished stuff on my to-do list.”
“This can’t be right. All I can feel is the pressure to do more.”
“My mind is like fifty televisions playing simultaneously.”
“My nerves hurt. They are just buzzing with fatigue.”
“Ouch, I am soooo tired.” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
“What time is it?”
“I just felt the muscles in my throat relax – guess I was holding something there.”
“My heart is racing. It’s like I’m nervous to feel what’s in store.”
“That conversation was weird this morning. Why did I respond like that? I could have just said no.”
“Owww . . . it is so uncomfortable to sit here and face my feelings. I think I will just stop meditating right now and check my email.”
“I don’t want to get up. God, I haven’t been this relaxed in days.”
The Impulse toward Action Continues in Meditation
In the real world, these are the kind of things you hear if you listen to people who have busy, active lives as well a thriving meditation practice. When people grab a few minutes to meditate, the impulse toward action continues. There is an alternation of restfulness and restlessness. Accomplishment-oriented thoughts cycle in a rhythm with restful sensations, as the brain clears its mental desk and the body settles into relaxation.
There is often a review of the to-do list and the items that have been done or are awaiting completion, with a few seconds of relief and satisfaction here and there. If you can tolerate the intensity of all this, you’ll emerge refreshed in twenty minutes, relaxed and ready to go. Meditation is a bath in the life force.
The Movement of Prana in Meditation
In yoga terminology, there are some great clues to all this. Prana (prana) is “the breath of life, vitality, vigor, power.” And prana flows and pulsates. This is the nature of life, which is continually healing itself, renewing its vitality, and making the body ready to engage in action. Yoga texts talk about this dynamic, ever-changing brilliance of prana as composed of five rhythms: prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana. Think of each word as having a spectrum of the following energies.
Prana – propulsion and momentum.
Apana – the vital force flowing downward and outward, elimination.
Samana – assimilation, absorption, consolidation.
Udana – upward movement, speech, expression.
Vyana – expansiveness, diffusion, free circulation everywhere.
Notice that there is no hint here that you are supposed to calm down, make your mind blank, or suppress the dynamic dance of prana. Rather, when we meditate, we are invited to experience the genius of prana as it dynamically flows through our entire being on all levels and rejuvenates and restores us. In meditation, prana may continually change its energetic tone from propulsion and momentum to elimination, to assimilation and absorption, to expression and expansiveness. These changes often happen by surprise and are almost shocking in how powerful they are.
Pulsations of Prana in Meditation
The first pulsation is action and rest. So we find ourselves alternately feeling active and feeling restful. Everyone likes feeling totally restful and relaxed in meditation. But many find it a challenge to sit there buzzing with excitement – even though this is an equally essential phase of meditation. The next pulsation has to do with what happens when we rest. Our bodies heal up and retune themselves.
So we fluctuate between pleasant restfulness and the painful sensations and emotions that have to do with healing. This tends to happen every few seconds and then every few minutes, over and over. When meditators develop bad habits, the bad habits may often take hold here in the transitions between resting to healing, and resting to feeling excited and active.
Meditation is Pure Improvisation
Meditation is pure improvisation, with the five pranas bouncing off each other. The five pranas are combining, transforming into each other, and activating your instinct to survive and thrive. If you want to have a good time in your meditation, and have your practice be healthy, cultivate the attitude of delighting in each phase of prana as it appears. Savor the delight of the breath of life flowing through you, be grateful for each wave, each pulsation, each changing experience. Life is a genius at maintaining itself.
When we meditate in a way that is in tune with our own prana flow, we feel how our power is flowing and where it is stuck. The stuck sensations are uncomfortable. And if we gently attend to them, they usually figure out how to reestablish a healthy flow. Meditation allows everything to get unstuck and circulate.
By the same token, if you meditate in a way that is not suitable for you, you may find it frustrating and depressing. Monks, for example, take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience. So their meditation practice needs to help them suppress the flow of sexual desire and kill their ego. If you are not a monk, and practice in the style of a monk, you may just end up lonely and broke.
Meditate in a Way that Supports your Purpose
The great challenge of meditation is to discern what your type is, and then meditate in a way that supports your purpose of living. For example, if you have a love life, or want to have a love life, cherish every impulse of passion as it arises in meditation, wherever it sparks in your body. If you feel a tingle of lust, or an urge to express emotion, or a creative urge to jump up and rearrange the furniture, love those impulses in themselves. Stay there in meditation, savoring the impulses, for however long you intended to meditate, ten minutes or thirty minutes or whatever.
Think of meditation as an invitation to the dance. The internal dance of the five pranas. Take inspiration from prana, apana, samana, udana, vyana, as the basic rhythm pattern of the dance of life.
Dr. Lorin Roche began practicing with the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra in 1968 as part of scientific research on the physiology of meditation. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where his research focused on the language meditators generate to describe their inner experiences. He is the author of The Radiance Sutras and Meditation Made Easy. With his wife, Camille Maurine, he wrote Meditation Secrets for Women. A teacher of meditation for 46 years, Lorin’s approach centers on how to customize the practices to suit one’s individual nature. Lorin leads the Radiance Sutras Meditation Teacher Training, a 200 hour certification program registered with Yoga Alliance. Lorin teaches regularly at the Esalen Institute and around the world.