It would be hard not to notice how meditation and mindfulness have entered the lexicon of the mass consciousness. This is a good thing and yet have you noticed when words are popularized, they often start to lose their essential meaning. The word, meditation, begins to become associated with a marketed activity; i.e. yoga class to strengthen the core and meditation class to relax the frenetic mind. Don’t get me wrong. Classes can be useful but often they are viewed as a means to an end which is the opposite of true meditation, which really doesn’t have a goal. We may choose meditation because we think it will make us more peaceful but meditation has a life of its own. When you dip you toe in, sometimes it brings peace and sometimes it ushers in choppy waters. I guess that wouldn’t make a very good marketing slogan.

I had a client recently who forbid me to speak of meditation because when his girlfriend cheated on him, she often used the excuse that she was going to “meditation” class. Now the very mention of meditation became a signal for him to want to catapult out of his chair. So I began to think about other ways to talk about this activity that has been integral to me for the past 40 years.

How would I describe what it is I am doing without the word ”meditation” or “mindfulness” or the ubiquitous “presence”? The word that first bubbled to the surface is “listening”. I’m listening. I close my eyes, not because I must, but simply because it’s easier to listen deeply when not distracted by vision, which for most people is the dominant sense. I listen to the sounds both in and surrounding my body. I listen to thoughts if they are there, without getting caught up in them or resisting them, just noticing them like a cloud passing in the sky of my awareness. I listen to a high pitched tone that is the beautiful hum of consciousness and thankfully not to be confused with tinnitus.

This deep listening goes beyond hearing with my ears and starts to merge with my other senses. I notice patterns of light, and dark and sometimes color. I notice that what is initially felt as sound or light at a deeper level is experienced as vibration. This vibration at times also has a feeling quality. My heart may feel very open and old emotions may drift to the surface for release. A body part may shout for attention that too is noticed. Intuition and insight may bubble up from inner depths.

Another word that comes to mind to describe this deep listening is attentiveness. I’m attentive to everything without a sense of something being important and other aspects of experience not being important. As that attentiveness grows, I often notice riding the wave of my breath, feeling my lungs expand and contract, as well as the subtle rhythm of the beat of my heart. This essential rhythm of life draws me in as if I am floating on a raft in a gentle sea. As the mind grows quiet these vibrations no longer get coded by the mind as “my breath”, or “my heart”. It all becomes just a sense of marvelous flow, becoming one with this rhythm of life moving the breath. And dropping deeper still into this vibration, there is stillness, void, pure possibility.

Not all meditations go that deep into the wormhole of consciousness. Sometimes one dances on the surface. Sometimes the mind is full of thoughts and the body is full of itches and jerkiness.

It is a misunderstanding to judge such a meditation as less good. I am not saying this as a consolation prize for those less than blissful meditations where samadhi is nowhere to be found, but from my own hard won experience of having seen through mental conditioning or finally hearing the message my body had been trying to deliver. When we decide that our only intention is to listen fully to whatever is arising, we are meeting the true spirit of meditation. Listening is effortless and we need not judge ourselves harshly for anything we might hear. Again, I’m speaking of listening in that broader sense that includes all of your senses.

There is so much beauty in going into a space where nothing is judged, and all can be listened to and heard. Call it whatever you like, but I highly recommend going there! I wonder what you will hear?