I want to thank everyone who took the time to answer this poll about meditation practice. You shared some really nice insights into what you experience and why you practice.
In this post, I want to share some of the common themes and the particular language people used to express what happens in a typical meditation practice session.
Body-Centered Meditation Practice
The first big theme was how physically oriented many people are in their practice. Here's one description that captured the body-centered practice well:
The first process is of physically settling in, sitting or standing . After a few minutes, mental calm will follow, then more or less in order physical releasing and smoothing out, then emotional smoothing, lastly nervous smoothing.
And other description of the process, again anchored by a connection to the physical body:
The way it goes is more or less always the same: it begins easily, then when I start to really get into some spot that needs attention, things can become quite painful, or unnerving. Then there's often the part when things seem to take hours to resolve, and I have to stick to it and really discipline myself not to let my attention jump around. Then I get some sort of release, and it starts feeling good. By the end of the session, once the body has been completely scanned and I've gone through the moving parts of the set, my body feels all light and fluid.
Overall, there seemed to be an assumption that body-centered practice was not the same as "higher-level" esoteric practice. At the same time, many people recognized the immediacy of addressing the physical body in their practice. At the top of the list for many people was a clear benefit for the body:
What I almost always get is physical relaxation and a better sleep.
In the past, we've explored the energetic continuum from the physical body out to more subtle frequencies. Perhaps the way that this continuum is organized gives us some clues. You can't address the more ethereal aspects of your self and your relationships to other people without being grounded in a healthy physical body.
Meditation for Being in the World
In fact, some of the descriptions of meditation practice blended the physical and relational dimensions:
Unwinding the work day is like softening a tight muscle.
Or having a clear dual purpose:
I think the feeling I start with is one of looking for a practical way to recharge and be able to bring it into my daily life. When the session is over I usually feel mentally flexible and physically accepting of my bodily discomfort.
And even when the goal is more along the lines of emotional or mental, like:
I began to practice because I wanted to be a calmer person,
there is still a sense of bringing the body back into the world.
Striving for Perfect Practice
Now, many people also wrestled with how well their practice was going. Perhaps the clearest articulation of the dilemma of progress in meditation was expressed here:
This almost seems like a trick question because I believe that the mediation sessions that are the most frustrating, annoying, painful, etc, are the better sessions for me. If I have what I think is a "good" session, that's usually a dead end. I'm happy with myself and that's it for the day. If I have a "bad" session, that seems to be more helpful in moving me in the direction of greater consciousness, mentally, physically and emotionally. Putting that aside, the result my ego likes most and considers a good session, is a reduction in tension. My body becomes more relaxed and as a result I can feel more. My thought becomes more relaxed and the repetitive chatter slows down and stops for longer periods of time. As a result I can think much clearer and work much better. Emotionally, I don't react to negativity around me as quickly and can avoid getting caught up in it.
And sometimes, you go through a process of working on one dimension or another of your practice, and get to a place where the practice is just an essential, but everyday part of your life:
Originally I started meditating when becoming aware of the racing thoughts in my mind and wanting to eliminate them. Of course, it did not take too long to realize there is no eliminating those thoughts as they arise but that the real benefit was to become the observer.
Over time and the practice of different Qigong, the experience deepened and now becomes a way to realize a type of wholeness or unity or synergy with everything, that transcends the focus on what to get done today, body awareness of hunger/pain/etc, and the other things we associate with being human.
And, now the emotional attachments to what I considered a "good meditation" have left as well. Where before I might have considered having a meditation where I transcended the universe of matter and anti-matter and found the crack between realities some kind of big deal, I now can just accept that it happened (or didn't) without any judgement, joy, elation, etc.
Do these experiences line up for you? What did I miss in trying to capture the language around meditation?
It seems like Wu Jianquan's advice on practicing Tai Chi also applies to much of the meditation practice that people reported on here:
2. CHARACTER TRANSFORMATION
When emptiness becomes a habit, it causes you to have a milder temperament and can eliminate arrogant behaviors. When calmness becomes a habit, it causes you to have a clearer mental state, increasing your ability to deal with problems. When naturalness becomes a habit and your body has a smooth coordination, it causes you to have a more robust build, which gives you a more leisurely attitude. When softness becomes a habit, it causes you to have a friendlier disposition, giving you more confidence.
3. INCREASED INSPIRATION
Because every part of the Taiji boxing art contains scientific principles [This seems an airy claim since there is no specific scientific analysis in this book, but becomes more reasonable when taken in the context of the larger body of Taiji literature: for example, Xu Zhiyi's 1927 book contains three chapters exploring Taiji's relation to psychology, physiology, and physics.], and also due to its alternations of emptiness and fullness, it is a method that is inexhaustible. When practicing the solo set, the whole body feels comfortable, and when practicing the pushing hands, the whole body feels enlivened. Therefore after practicing for a while, not only will one not feel tired, but one's spirit will also feel awakened, a clear demonstration of one's sense of interest being boosted. However, for beginners, because they have not yet become familiar with the map that will lead them to their destinations, they easily begin to get bored, and they must be patient for a period, after which they naturally will gradually come to find the more scenic vistas of sensation.