To borrow a metaphor that Minnie Biggs used the last time we taught a meditation course together; guided meditation is like taking a guided tour on a bus and silent meditation is like getting off the bus and exploring for yourself.
Personally, I practice both. I love my 15 minutes silent meditation every morning; a time to listen within and reconnect with what is beyond my small life, beyond my mind.
As Osha said:
“sound is our mind, silence is our being”
It’s a time to let go of doing and to just be. In my ‘silent’ sits, there isn’t always silence. My mind is often quite busy. But, I get to observe it, notice the twists and turns that it takes – get intimate, curious and interested in my habits of thinking and how these impact my body mind.
One of the greatest myths of meditation is that you aren’t doing it right unless you can empty your mind of thoughts. Thoughtless consciousness is a beautiful thing but having the expectation that this is the goal of meditation on each occasion is a pretty certain set up for disappointment.
To quote Minnie again – “whenever we sit with the intention to meditate – whatever happens is meditation”. You really can’t get it wrong, the only way to get it wrong is to not do it!
I usually end my day with a beautiful guided meditation that is filled with beautiful words and messages that give me a sense of ease and allow me to drift off into a sound and peaceful sleep.
When we first sit (or stop in any position) to meditate and begin turning our attention inwards, it can be a little overwhelming when we realise all the background noise in our minds that we’ve never really noticed was there and driving us. Guided meditation is a good place to start a meditation practice. Especially a practice that allows us to explore all the dimensions of our being and that is grounded in the body; feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, joy, awareness – all explored as sensation in the body. Being with sensation in our bodies is being in the present moment. Our usual practice of judging these feelings, emotions and thoughts as either good or bad falls away when we trace them back to the sensations in our bodies. They aren’t good or bad, they are just sensations. However, getting to know them in this way takes practice and a willingness to observe them and to hold the judgements to question. This is our conditioning, right here, up close and personal. Our bodies are a portal through which we can discover that conditioning, and what lies beyond it.
There might be moments of silence in guided meditation when the sensations in our bodies replace the words or stories in our minds. Just as there might be moments in a ‘silent’ meditation when the chatter of the mind ceases and we notice the spaces in between them. But to expect to reside in this silence the entire time is unrealistic. If our attitude in meditation is to control our minds, we aren’t open to what is beyond the mind and our usual patterns of thinking, we will just perpetuate them. If, on the other hand, we remain open to observe ALL that arises, across ALL dimensions; thoughts, emotions, memories, images, feeling tones in the body, and adopt an attitude of welcoming everything just as it is – without refusing anything, inventing anything or getting caught up in anything – we can receive what is beyond our conditioning, beyond our small lives. We can touch that which connects us all, the mystery of life from which we all spring, what is naturally there when the story stops.
Beginning an exploration of this territory is what meditation offers. Whether it’s a guided tour of if you prefer getting off the bus and exploring on your own – both are a holiday! And, just like every holiday there will be moments that are tiresome, and moments that are sublime. Either way, it’s the exploration that’s important.