“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
To think, I never learned how to breathe properly until I was 24. For most of my life, I habitually breathed from my chest instead of my belly. This might not sound like a big deal, but for me, it was fueling an anxious and fearful mind. I was always walking away from fire and moving towards the waterhole. Any idea that would rouse anxiety in me(which was often), would instantly start my inner brainstorm on how to avoid said idea/event. All this was caused by using my body improperly and building a horrible habit.
If you ever observe an infant, you will notice that they breathe from their bellies – the belly will rise with an inhale and will deflate on an exhale. This allows the diaphragm to properly expand down and allow our lungs to fully expand. Most of the time when we are stressed, or distracted or just moving too fast, we tend to breathe from our chests. This locks up our mind and makes it think that something is wrong. Breathing is something you do from the time you are born until you take your last breathe – it is VERY important. Yet, most people put very little thought into how they are performing this task. Breathe is the link between the physical world and your mind.
Enter the float tank – A tool that allows you to enter a deep meditative state. Out of the many things I have done, the float tank has been one of the most powerful tools I have ever utilized. It has made me more appreciative, empathetic, motivated, creative, courageous, calm, and present.
The float tank was invented by neuroscientist John C. Lilly while trying to investigate sensory deprivation. It is a lightless, soundproof tank which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. This allows the mind to relax since the brain isn’t receiving any sensory impulses from your body (not even gravity). This feeling can be analogous to being in your mother’s womb.
Once in this state, your mind is able to break free from neurotic holding patterns and allow yourself to reunite with your true essence and inner child that has been polluted by your environment. For a newcomer, this environment might sound quite scary. But like most things in life, if you ever want to improve upon your current state, you must challenge yourself and expose yourself to new environments. The float tank is just one small step in that direction, and a direction that can help to self actualize your true being.
Your mind is the most important foundation for how you perceive and interact with the world. Most of the time, our minds are caught in constant repetitive thought patterns. Our minds are either dwelling on the past or anxious about the future. All this makes us miss the eternal presence right in front of us. It stains the present with constructs of the mind.
John C. Lilly used the metaphor that our mind chatter is caught in a cyclone or a hurricane. It constantly just loops back around and is hectic, but if you can get to the eye of the storm – it is calm, serene, peaceful and allows us to think clearly without distraction. There is an old Sufi saying, “When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees is his pockets.” If you are always thinking and looking for the pockets, you are missing the whole true picture.
From the moment you are born, you are told how to act and if you go against the act, you are punished. We constantly seek the love and approval of our fellow human beings. If you perform something and you are praised and rewarded, you start to believe these acts are the ones that are righteous and correct. However, you have merely been conditioned by your environment and not responding to the world as you naturally would want to. All this leads to judging other people, comparing ourselves to others, and stirring an inner conflict with what we really want and with what society deems ‘correct’. In the end, it is just BULLSHIT that is keeping you from where you really should be.
It keeps you from being present and aware of all the beauty that is right in front of you. There is no right or wrong, there just IS. Only our perspective and mind create these judgments. A great book to help with this would be The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book). Check it out, it is a quick read.
The only captain driving your ship, is YOURSELF. You are responsible for your own life. No one or thing is going to make any progress in your life, but yourself. This is why meditation is so important. It allows you to go within yourself, explore your mind, and come back with new insights on your behaviors, actions, and desires. The trick though, is to silence the mind chatter so you can enter this sacred space.
This article mentioned float tanks because I have found it the easiest way to meditate. However, there are many other techniques to get you there. One technique is chanting. In the Eastern traditions, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum (I bow to the jewel in the lotus of the heart) is chanted out loud. This mantra works in several ways. For one, instead of repeating the same thought-loss mind chatter you normally do, your brain focuses on the chant and in a way gets hypnotized by it. Secondly, the different sounds when spoken correctly resonate different parts of your body. In a sense, these vibrations are “massaging” different regions of your body and cause energy to flow to them. It is analogous to a great singer stirring emotion in you because the singer is vibrating different parts of your body with her voice. This might sound silly, but just like a guitar string needs to be tuned from time to time, so does your body to align it with its original self. Here is a 30 minute recording of monks chanting. Try to sit comfortably with the recording and see where it takes you.
Another method is to just focus on your breath. Since breathing is fundamental to life and something everyone has done, most people are comfortable with this form of meditation. Just sit quietly in a safe place and just focus on taking a controlled breath in and a controlled breath out. Think about breathing in relaxation and exhaling tension. So take a deep belly breath in…hold for 2-3 seconds…and then exhale while bringing the belly in. Eventually, you will fall into a comfortable rhythmic pattern that will be similar to your breathing patterns during sleep. Once in this state, just try to be the silent observer that is observing your thoughts. Don’t judge your thoughts, just witness them. This is the beginning to a beautiful practice of mindfulness.
There are many other techniques to meditate. None of them are the “right” way, so try to explore and find the one that works best for you. You can even do a guided meditation where someone walks you through different imagery and thoughts. Here’s one I found on YouTube:
This one is a great simple tutorial:
Take care, rediscover your true self, and self actualize your being…
Want to find places to float near you? Click here for Float Tank Directory.
Ram Dass article breaking down Mantras even further: http://www.ramdass.org/RD/mantras-2/
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