What is This Site?I’m a meditation teacher – that’s all I’ve done for the last 42 years – so mostly, it’s just pragmatic information about what actually happens when you meditate – the great stuff and also the hazards to be avoided. This website consists mostly of replies to questions people ask me, and as time permits I edit the answers into essays. Over the last 10 years it has grown in a haphazard fashion, as I write one page at a time and post it. Prompted by the insights, questions, and challenges that meditators tell me about in person, by email, and on the phone. Each page of this site is something that somebody, somewhere needed to know that day. I’ll write something up, post it here and often never look at it again, unless someone emails me because they spot a typo, want more detail, or find it useful.
It’s not edited, and there is repetition. I apologize. The books are much better, because they have been edited by Camille, and then by professional editors at the publishing houses.
Why have all this information up on a web site?
The CDC - The Centers for Disease Control - conducted a nationwide survey and found that 7.5% of Americans have done Yoga. 7.1% had done yoga in the last month; 10.2% have meditated, 7.6% in the last month. Here is a link to the research, in PDF form. The CDC was interested also in what Americans do, who do they call, if they have an ache, or headache, or feel stressed out. Half of Americans interviewed said they thought an alternative approach, such as yoga or meditation, would be interesting to try out. All these people need access to practical information about meditation.
The population of the United States in 2002 was almost 290 million,*so as of the time of the study that is about 29 million people who have meditated, 22 million of them recently. No one knows what these 29 million people are doing when they close their eyes to meditate. For my Ph.D. research, from 1978 to 1987, I spent about a thousand hours interviewing five hundred meditators of all types and traditions, just listening to them talk about their techniques and what they experience when they practice them. No one is the same.
There are thousands of different meditation techniques described in print, and when people read an instruction, they translate it into their own unique idiosyncratic internal method.
Almost all meditators are unsupervised, just practicing on their own. Even if they are in a meditation school, individual coaching is almost nonexistent. Unlike, say, yoga asana, which is visible, and can be supervised and corrected by a yoga teacher, meditation is an invisible internal practice. So perhaps less than one percent of meditation practitioners have access to a trained meditation teacher to talk about what they are experiencing in meditation and what issues they are having. People just work things out on their own, or not, or do the wrong meditation and don’t get good results, or start searching for a method that better suits them.
When difficulties arise, people often stop meditating because they do not have access to that one bit of information they need to handle the problem.
Of these 22 million people who have meditated recently, it may be that:
- some are just beginning to explore.
- some have meditated consistently for awhile, a few weeks or months.
-some have meditated for many years, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, or more.
Occasionally meditators want to check in with a teacher. “Let me run this by you . . . “ or “How do I handle this?”
It is very common for a person to meditate for 3 months, a year, or several years, then outgrow the technique. They have fulfilled its purpose, and need to move on. They may need to leave that group, or modify their internal technique in some tiny way. Or they need to include some aspect of themselves that they have been trying to delete. It is always a challenge to move on to the next phase, especially when this means leaving your meditation group behind.
Tech Support for MeditatorsIdeally, there would be a site devoted to meditation in which you could type in any question and find an answer. Tech support for meditation techniques! Just like the support pages of a company such as Apple, http://www.apple.com/support/.
Sometimes all a meditator needs to know that day is one simple thing, which could be any one of ten thousand things:
- Meditate less. You are meditating too much, for who you are right now and your daily life.
- Don’t meditate before bed.
- Give up being a vegetarian for awhile. Eat to be strong, and forget about purity, stop worrying about food.
- Dance with wild abandon.
- Exercise more.
- Stop reading spiritual books and just live.
- Find something you love so much that you can lose yourself in it.
- What makes you cry? Movies? Classical music? Country Western? Give yourself that.
- Get better at time management.
- Stop meditating for a month. Then start again and gradually re-invent your approach.
- Drop just one syllable from your mantra. It is fine, but a bit too long.
- If you have too many thoughts during meditation, go clean up your closet and organize your files. Throw away everything you don’t actually need or use. You will find that you have many fewer thoughts during meditation after you do this.
It could be anything. Sometimes a mantra just doesn’t work for a person anymore, it grates on their nerves. The breathing technique was great for six months and now it is overblown, does not create the right effect anymore.
In a good tech-support world, just that one thing you need to know is available, you can get that and move on. Or if you need an intensive course, that would be available.
My entire life since age 18 has been devoted to making meditation available – teaching in all kinds of contexts, doing research on the physiology and psychology of meditation, and improving instructional methods.
* Ok, it was slightly less. July 1, 2002 population = 288,368,706
** These numbers may be trending upward.
*** I do not know what the percentages are in Europe, Russia, the MidEast and Asia. Calls, emails, and visitors come from those areas as well.