What does meditation feel like?
During meditation, we generally are experiencing through our senses – all of them.
Sensory Modes in Meditation
During meditation we are often feeling sensations in our muscles, experiencing sensations having to do with breathing, hearing internal conversations, and seeing inner pictures. We are sometimes visualizing energy flows or yantras, hearing a mantra, thinking a focus thought, or experiencing emotions. In other words, we are feeling, hearing and seeing. All this is happening in the present tense, by the way. Some people think that if you are feeling a sensation then you are In The Present Moment, but if you are feeling an emotion or thinking a thought then You Are Not In The Present Moment. This is an unskillful way of looking at what the present moment is. In reality, all experience is happening in the present moment.
There are phases of meditation.
1. The first phase is when you feel the call to meditate, or you are in a class and it is time to meditate or lie down in shavasana. One way or the other, you close your eyes and give over to experiencing whatever happens.
2. The next phase is settling in. You can sense that you are starting to orient toward proprioception, sensing your self.
3. Then there is a state that is sometimes like falling or descending or floating. Attention gets engaged with the inner world, and you become more restful
4. There may be brief moments of simple awareness, when you are just there, awake.
5. Mind wandering, releasing stress, planning, worrying. These are phenomena of the outward phase of meditation.
6. Re-orienting. This is when you remember that oh, you are meditating, and you have been off thinking thoughts for some time. At this point you can decide to quit, or you can go another round.
Once you have settled in to meditate, you may notice that you flow between phases 3, 4, 5, and 6 every 30 to 90 seconds. This is just a statistical average – what is your rhythm? How often do you become aware of the outer world and start thinking of your to-do list?
Remember, thinking is not an obstacle to meditation. It is one of the phases of meditation, in which the body takes advantage of the relaxation and ease of meditation to choreograph the asana flow of your day.
mental images: you can look at thoughts. When you see a thought, you can attend to it more closely by noticing:
There are various kinds of thoughts that people talk about:
- restless thoughts
- planning thoughts
- remembered conversations
- mental movies of doing a chore
- photo-like images of a friend or lover, accompanied by a feeling of longing
- replay of the day, with "ouch" feelings at mistakes
- memories of past experiences
- painful thoughts
- imaginations of desired experiences
- repetitive thoughts
There is also:
being absorbed or lost in thoughts
a light cloud of thoughts
there are thoughts about thoughts:
- “I really shouldn’t be thinking this . . .”
- “I must not be a good meditator, I am thinking so much”
- “O.K., that’s enough!”
- “I wish these thoughts would go away”
- “Grrrr . . . get out of my mind, damn thoughts!”
- Or: “Hey, that’s a pretty interesting thought, maybe I’ll sneak off and play with it for a bit.”
How do I know that I am thinking?
think about it—how do you know?
do thoughts hit you?
do they float through your mind like clouds?
grab you by the throat?
whisper or yell at you?
appear on the screen of your mind?
move up from your belly?
thoughts can be experienced as sensory phenomena
thoughts always are sensory phenomena,
we are just inattentive usually
for example — thoughts as seeing
Mental images: you can look at thoughts. When you see a thought, you can attend to it more closely by noticing:
- is it a still photo mental image or a moving picture series of images.
- if it’s a moving image, is it a repetitive tape loop or an ongoing epic?
- what about the light source: is it sunlight (and is it from above, as in mid-day, or sunrise or sunset) or is it artificial light (from the side or above)?
- is there abstract imagery or graphics?
- has your mind constructed scenes or are you looking at photographic images?
- black and white or color?
- is the image fine grain, like a good photo or movie, or grainy like television?
- is the focus clear, or is it fuzzy?
- perspective — what’s the angle of view? straight on, looking up from below, looking down from above.
- wide-angle lens, telephoto lens?
- what’s the figure/ground relationship?
- are the surrounding things in clear focus
- also, are they lit up or in shadow?
- size of screen — square, rectangular, round?
- is there a frame around the image?
- distance of the screen from your mental eye
- three-dimensional or flat?
- wrap-around panavision or right in front of you or to the left/right
Other kinds of internal seeing
dancing particles, microscopic luminous somethings
directions of movement and dimensions of vibration
qualities of space, depth
the sense of hearing
is it a memory of a conversation or something constructed?
tape loop of the same voice, same words or improv?
tone of voice? pleading, commanding, blaming, criticizing, complaining, demanding, apologizing, questioning, praising.
is the voice your own voice, an abstracted voice?
directionality: is the voice coming from the left or right side, from the middle, or from below or above? does it move around?
mono or stereo sound effects?
- internal sounds, such as the vowel sounds, continue by themselves
- resonances permeating the body or focussing in one of the centers of the body or along the spine
- harmonics of the sounds - rich chords
- sounds becoming faint, barely perceptible
- a feeling of being inside of the sounds or surrounded by a field of sound, or permeated by sound
- hearing the sounds of the silence
- energy sounds, hearing the energy in the air or flowing through the body
- silence as a musical phenomena
(there are about twenty senses included in this one!)
- skin sensing, hair follicle sensations, tingling, temperature, pressure
- touch in the membranes: the texture of air as it enters the nose, flows through the throat, fills the lungs and then empties, slightly warmer
- pulsing of the heartbeat - feeling it in the chest, throat, wrists
internal proprioceptive sensing
- muscle sensing - movement, tension, fatigue, relaxation, vibration, charge, trembling
- joint sensing — the position of the limbs, the angle of the joints, the arrangement of the body in space (this can be a feeling and also a seeing — with the eyes closed, many people have an abstract image of the skeleton, a graphic showing where the arms and legs are)
- heaviness and lightness — sinking into the Earth or levitating
balance — in movement and in stillness
the angle of the head when the body is straight
intense sense of movement when the head is moved 1/10 of an inch
energy sensing or subtle touch
feeling an “energy skin” extending out from the body three, five, ten, twenty, or even thirty feet
energy currents running up or down the spine, up or down the front of the torso, the arms, the head, genitals, the feet.
shifting the domain of perception from the physical body to the etheric body, which is experienced as charge, electric charge in space, sometimes in multidimensional space
notice: is the energy flowing free or is it restricted? is there a sense of too much or too little energy in a particular spot?
midline torso sensations
- notice the variety of tinglings, excitements, clammy feelings, sinking feelings, and urges to move
- anywhere from the area between the legs to the upper chest along the middle, or midline, of the torso.
- sensations in this area get the special name: emotions. An “emotion” is a label, generally an evaluative label, about midline torso sensations the line continues upward through the throat to the top of the head
other things to notice:
sequences of thoughts
or image –>voice–>image
Speed or velocity of thoughts, the rate at which thoughts come and go. Many times meditators complain, bitterly, about the speed of their thoughts, as if there is a rule that thoughts are supposed to slow down during meditation.
Notice transitional times: waking up, going to sleep, shifting between feeling tones and modes during meditation, shifting from thoughts back to the focus.
As you pay attention to any sensory modality, it differentiates: if you taste coffee a lot, after awhile you can tell the different kinds apart. Some wine tasters can take a sip and tell you when and where the grapes were grown.
Anything you do a lot and pay attention to, your senses develop finer perceptions in that realm, and you tend to develop mental categories for ‘types of’ that phenomena. The brain actually devotes a larger area to processing input from those nerve endings, and this starts to happen within days. This leads to an enrichment of experience. There is a training effect in running, for example: the body grows hundreds of miles of new capillaries, and the entire cardiovascular system is strengthened. We don’t really know how to talk about the training effects of meditation: the yogis talk about microscopic nerves made out of energy substance, which are upgraded, which vibrate at a higher frequency, are strengthened and purified by meditation.
what you experience when you meditate?