Alison shares some tips and resources from her experience as a meditation practitioner who also has MS.

Meditating outside

Creating guided meditations is a joy for me and a favourite part of my work as a meditation coach.

Of course, you don’t have to use a guided meditation when you meditate. Our bodies also enjoy music, the natural sounds around us or silence. Our own feelings, our imaginations and the natural rest-repair rhythms of our bodies can take us into an inner journey without our needing to do anything at all except show up. That being said, in my own experience and that of my students, a guided meditation can provide all kinds of benefits. 

Meditation is an inner self-care practice where we have a fantastic opportunity to cultivate skills we can bring to our lives to increase our health and happiness. Although many people hear the word “meditation” and see the stereotypical cartoon of a person sitting in lotus and focussing on their breath, meditation can be something much more nourishing, dynamic and life-enhancing than that, and certainly much more active in our individual healing.

Whether you are using a guided meditation, attending a class or taking your inner journey privately, here are a few tips for making your meditation experience a rich and rewarding one.

1. Meditation Is A Natural State 

One way to think about the state of meditation is that it is something wired into us and innate. It is part of our bodies rhythms and we dip in and out of that state many times a day, often without realising it. Our beings “meditate” naturally and spontaneously and though we may not be aware that something like gasping in wonder at a majestic sunset, breathing in the tranquillity of a summer sky or feeling our heart race with thrill when we are excited by something are all examples of meditative experience, they are.

It can be interesting to notice all the times our attention becomes naturally absorbed in wonder, gratitude, a daydream, an activity or a piece of music.  Life seems to become more magical for a moment and we may have a sense of time and space becoming more expansive. Our bodies love this state and use it to switch into the parasympathetic nervous system’s rhythms of rest-and-digest and repair-and-renew.

The more we can bring this feeling of informality, naturalness and personal love-of-life to our conscious meditation time, the more enjoyable and valuable our experience will be. In this way, like creating our own natural medicine, we are directly tuning into our own healing and intuition.

2. Cultivate a Personal Sanctuary 

Your inner space is the most sacred, private and personal space you could ever have. Cultivating the inside of us as a landing space for all our fears and worries as well as our hopes and dreams means that we have a portable therapeutic space available to us at all times.  It can be a huge relief to fall into that space and spread out – surrendering all our outer-life masks and armour. It can be a place to bathe in wonder, gratitude and love, like having an internal spa experience. And it is your choice what you do there.

No one is watching what is going on inside you. There is no god in a chair pointing a finger at you, no judge and jury holding court over your experience.  You are not performing for a crowd. You are home. You can cultivate personal freedom here to an infinite degree. You can offer yourself sanctuary and freedom here and bless yourself with an actively positive, welcoming and positive inner gaze and a desire to befriend every part of yourself. Here, you can relish in being with your secret places. You can be with your fantasies and guilty pleasures, you can connect to what is meaningful and spiritual to you, and you can cultivate a response to yourself which helps you to heal, nourish and thrive in your outer life.

When you meditate, let the “you” that is you feel welcome, cherished and honoured by your inner gaze and feelings.  It is in this way that we can come home to ourselves.

3. Cherish Your Individuality

There is no uniform “cookie cutter” meditation shape. A technique or suggestion which resonates with you directly might be meaningless to someone else and that is the way it should be. It is exciting to develop a personal approach in meditation and build our own meditation repertoire – one that has meaning for us and supports and enhances our outer life. This is an approach we build from within, by listening to what our body enjoys. Be yourself in meditation. What makes being human special is that each of us is a unique individual. In each moment of your life, whatever you are experiencing, you remain the same “you”, as valid and valuable as ever. If being with your breath doesn’t interest you, make a playlist of your favourite music and dive into that instead. Feel what resonates with your own body. 

There is a Sanskrit word in yoga and meditation: Svarupa.  Svarupa is “the shape of your soul.” We don’t need to change our shape when we meditate or force it into another shape.  Rather thinking of meditation as a performance with a desired outcome, think of it as your being experiencing a journey and be open to surprise. Give yourself infinite freedom. Notice if you are trying to micro-manage, restrain or “fix’ your body and your experience. See of you can give yourself permission to relax and let go of the need for control. The more we can allow our intelligent body-mind system to do what it knows, innately, to do, the greater its ability to initiate deep healing and repair.

4. Make Yourself as Comfortable as Possible

Particularly in MS – but really, in everyone – we want to be super-comfortable when we settle in to meditate.  That cartoon image of a person sitting and focussing in meditation comes from another time and was developed for different bodies which were using meditation for other reasons. The tradition of a sitting meditation for clearing the mind was developed by celibate men who were monks, living in India thousands of years ago.  They never would have foreseen that thousands of years later modern householders, engaged in a different reality altogether, would be using their techniques!

We can think of meditation as welcoming the rest-repair-renew rhythm of life that we get when our parasympathetic nervous system is activated. The more at ease we are, and comfortable in our bodies, the more quickly we can access this state. We are collaborating with our nervous system’s need to move out of an action-phase (sympathetic nervous system) for a while and process a backlog of wear-and-tear.  Like a truly restful sleep (and often, better), meditation is a place where we can recharge our energy.

Sitting for long periods can be very uncomfortable as is having to concentrate and focus. When we let go of these ideas in meditation, we are collaborating with our healing. When we are forcing ourselves to “stay with” or “push through” force and effort, we are resisting healing.

I love reclining in a daybed on my veranda to meditate. I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, I listen to birdsong and my fountain, I watch the clouds float across the spacious sky or I let my eyelids and relax and my mind drift and my body hum.  If you crave low or zero stimulation, you can lie on your bed with the curtains drawn. If you feel restless, you can bring in some organic movement like rocking, swaying or even dancing. Meet your most delicious being and relax into it.

5. Give Yourself Time to Settle

It is very common for people to begin meditating and give up after a few moments because the nag of their to do list is tugging away at their conscience. Just as it can take time for us to transition back  from a deep nap into the outside world, so it works the other way round. We can’t force relaxation. Our bodies unwind at their own pace and a lot of that has to do with the amount of effort or experience we are transitioning from. Our thoughts can be particularly lively when we first come into a quiet space and our bodies and hearts can sometimes show us aches, pains and tenderness we were too distracted to be aware of when we were being busy. It is important to let this process happen and be with it.

Allow the fingers of fatigue to caress your body,  your mind to reflect on all its been and to begin rehearsing the future, allow the tenderest of emotions and the depth of passion as they come forward. It may not feel like what your idea of relaxing is, but in fact your mind is engaging in the stress-relaxation response and what you are feeling is a backlog of tension being flushed through your nervous system. Surrender to the feeling and it can be like having an internal massage or a work-out with no effort. Results will come.

When it feels “busy” inside, you can consider it like coming home to your family and friends at a Christmas party – there is a reunion going on in which your body is greeting all the parts of you, not just the immediate ones but the lost and exiled places, and the parts of you that have important messages to give you for the purpose of your healing and thriving.

6. Ask: What do I need right now?

As tempting as it is to reach outwardly to find what we need, especially when we are stressed or tired, the reality is that only our own being can give is the truth about what we need. Once we have checked in with ourselves and taken a reading on what we are feeling, we can be discerning in our choice of the best meditation, either guided or personal, to support that. In every way, meditation is in fact a process of taking space and time with our own thoughts, emotions and feelings in our bodies so that we can catch up with ourselves and offer ourselves something nurturing.  I know, for instance, that the times I find myself suddenly hitting the “stop button” – that point of fatigue when I have lost all charge and cannot move another inch – that I realise I have probably missed a lot of earlier signals to take a conscious internal pause. A great gateway to personal meditation is to spend some time breathing into your body and feeling. Let your inner life catch you up on how things have been going in the background while you have been busy with your life.  Ask yourself what might support you best now. There are guided meditations for absolutely everything you could desire. So a first step for any meditator is to learn to get in touch with what their mind, heart, body and spirit are craving. This kind of self-attention of course, is a great skill to cultivate when we are learning to take care of ourselves.

7. In Guided Meditation, you Don’t Have to Follow all the Guidance

Every piece of guidance I offer in my guided meditations is optional.  Not every piece will be for you. Meditators are are not performing monkeys, and meditation is not an test to pass, a grade to achieve or a destination to reach. There may be some meditation instructions which seem boring or hard to some people, whereas to others they are delightfully engaging. Let your body decide what it wants to engage with. I offer a range of guidance in my meditations, not to dictate a point-to-point course to which you must stick religiously, but in the hope one or some of those instructions may meet an individual just where there are and free something up inside them to continue their journey – perhaps without needing to hear another word. Don’t attach to every word of guidance, especially if you are struggling to concentrate or to “feel the guidance.”  Take that sense of struggle as an indication that you need to detach from the guidance, not as a failure on your part. When we feel we are “failing” to meditate, what is really happening is that the techniques we are employing are failing us. Let your body hear the words that resonate and run with them. Any time you like, you can return to the meditation to hear more. Trust your body to take the inspiration it needs, even if that is just a few words. Always orientate towards developing what works for you and cultivating ease. The less you effort, the deeper you will go in meditation. Let your instincts guide you. It is absolutely fine to fall asleep in meditation too – if that happens, it will be just what was needed!
 

8. Having Thoughts in Meditation is Not a Problem

If you want to induce artificial suffering in meditation, tell yourself it is wrong to have thoughts. This is a pervasive and harmful misunderstanding in modern meditation whose roots lie again in the practices of our friends the monks living in ashrams several thousand years ago. Their practices were all about supporting their choice to renounce life, possessions, family, relationships and their bodies’ natural impulses. 

Not only is it impossible to stop having thoughts, it is undesirable – not the least because thinking is a major part of our having consciousness. Yet I meet so many people who say they “can’t meditate” because they can’t “clear their minds”. I always find it ironic that people who come to meditation to “get out of their heads” end up engaging with that space entirely as they seek to resist, block, edit, filter and control their minds’ natural flow. Rather than finding inner peace, they are fighting with themselves and life – and using up a lot of precious energy in the process. as opposed to accessing peace. They can be beating themselves up on the inside about having thoughts. This is not meditation but more a process of internal neurosis!

Embrace inner freedom. Let your thoughts come – let them come at speed and be lively if that is what they want.  If you find you are “too much in your head”, ground yourself by feeling your thoughts in your body. Every thought we have comes with an emotional charge that can be felt as a buzz in our chest, a tingle in our belly or a tension in our shoulders. Take your breath and attention to where you feel the charge. If your thoughts feel harsh or critical, offer yourself some love and compassion – a good thought or two. This can be a fantastic practice for upgrading our self- talk and self -compassion. 

9. We Are Allowed To Feel In Meditation

Most of us need to engage with our emotions more – and not just the ones we were taught are “good” and allowed to be there. Repressed anger can become depression and despair, for instance. In a  healthy meditation practice, we welcome all our feelings, whatever they are. We all have our own experiences of intimacy with wonder, awe, peace, love, joy and also of challenging deep feelings such as loss, loneliness and sadness. Our nervous systems are wired to process and assimilate these.  There are no invalid emotions.

Responding to ourselves emotionally is important for everyone and especially for those of us with MS as feelings that have not had a chance to be felt, grounded, moved or released, can get build up inside us and overwhelm our nervous systems. Ask your heart to show you what is moving it – from the depths of pain to the heights of elation.

A great gateway for meditating with our hearts is gratitude. This does not mean putting a happy gloss on everything, but it does seem to open our heart space up and create a welcoming energy for all that comes, even the most exquisitely tender of feelings. I have found in myself, with my clients and in my reading and research, that cultivating emotional freedom promotes a depth of self-acceptance that can heal a lifetime of anxiety and low self-worth.

10. Give Yourself Permission to Have Your Own Inner Journey

This is your life and no one else’s. This is your body and your journey. You are not expected to strike a pose, put on a “meditation costume” and  become someone else in meditation.

Meditation at its healthiest feels natural and familiar and “like me.” It fits us like an old worn-out dressing-gown, while inviting a hint of the new and surprising yet to evolve inside us.

When I create audio meditations, my aim is to hold space for those experiencing them to have their own particular unique journey.  We are, after all, one-off individuals. Add to that, that we have our different lives and are at different stages and ages, there could never in the world be a one-size-fits-all-meditation. 

11. Have fun, Explore, Experiment

Meditation should never feel like a chore. If it feels in anyway burdensome or an effort – we are not going to do it. Once we engage with our own personal preferences when it comes to our inner practices, we find we prioritise them until they become a seamless and wonderful part of our lives that we cannot live without.

Play, experiment and explore. Make this time you have chosen with yourself delicious and compelling. Create your own personal meditation repertoire.  Observe how your life changes when you find you can offer yourself just the right meditation at the right time – whether you need to release tears, surrender to a deeper rest, be inspired, renew your enthusiasm, befriend your body or make peace with yourself. Remember, the meditation space is your sanctuary. It is your private, personal space and time. Relish that.


SUGGESTED RESOURCES

Video

This short video “Why Your Body Loves Meditation” beautifully evokes what is happening inside us when we meditate and how we need not be worried about our “busy brains”.

Watch some more videos about meditation from my Facebook page.

Books

The app Insight Timer offers the largest free library of guided meditations in the world and definitely has the biggest range of choice and style with menu that allows you to search for just what you need in the moment. It also has a great timer option for your personal meditation.

You can find a selection of  my meditations on Insight Timer, but also a bigger library on my Soundcloud, which is constantly being updated. I also take requests! 

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Heather (not verified)

Wow! What a wonderful explanation of meditation. I have tried to meditate and never succeeded but after reading this article realize I do meditate and do it often and very well. Thank you so much.