Here is a short collection of meditations I’ve recorded, organized in 4 groupings based on topic and level. These are mostly drawn from the meditation instructions I give at the beginning of my meditation group, Insight Meditation Satsang.
I consider these “meditation instructions” rather than “guided meditations,” so after the recordings, which are all 10-15 minutes, sit as long as you like in silence. At Satsang we generally sit for 20-30 minutes after instructions finish. For guidance on how long to sit, and how to think about sitting meditation as a daily practice, read this post.
All the meditations are appropriate for practitioners of all levels, but I suggest that beginners start with the meditations in the “Basics” set, and either do each meditation at least 3 times, or find one you like and do it 10+ times, to really integrate the instructions. Once you feel you understand an instruction enough to do the meditation in silence, without the recording, I encourage you to just practice it on your own.
Meditations are also embedded with talks that were given on the same night, often practicing with the same themes as that evening’s talk or study topic. You can find all talk and meditation recordings in my archive, here.
Blessings in your practice.
Basics: Mindfulness & focused attention
Meditation, at its most basic, is a practice in which we practice directing our attention at something and keeping it there. Attention is the quality that perceives through the senses, including physical, emotional, and mental experiences. Attention, which we can think of as part of the autonomic nervous system, is like the breath in that it can be consciously directed and functions by itself unconsciously all the time.
When attention is doing what we choose, we call that focus, concentration, mindfulness, or the strange term “paying attention.” When attention is acting by itself, it generally gravitates toward whatever stimulus is most compelling, either the strongest pleasure happening at the moment, or the strongest pain. What we call “distraction” is just a way of saying that attention, while not under conscious direction, turned toward some other stimulation than whatever I am trying to focus on.
Meditation begins with exploration of this simple dynamic of focused and distracted, or conscious and unconscious, attention. We try to keep the attention from “wandering” to other stimuli by giving it a home base, or an “anchor,” like the breath or sense of the physical body.
The main challenge is that emotionally-charged thought, especially the very compelling stories of “me,” including “what happened to me,” “what will happen to me,” “what’s happening between me and other people,” and “what all of this means for who I am,” is more stimulating than the body or breath. Our task is to get more interested in what’s happening here and now for ourselves than in our stories of the past, future, and other people. (They’ll come later, don’t worry.)
Let your meditation be relaxed, rooted in the felt sense of your body in whatever posture you’re in, and try not to try too hard. 😉 Focus builds when we’re relaxed, not when we’re straining. Sit either on a cushion on the floor cross-legged, or kneeling over a cushion or bench, or in a chair. Lying down and standing are also classical postures for meditation. The most important thing is to be comfortable enough to stay still, allowing the restless energies that we carry around our busy lives to slowly settle into a more easeful, settled state.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel peaceful or settled right away. We’ve been practicing distraction and restlessness for our whole lives, unconsciously. It takes a while to grow new habits. Think of stillness and focus as slow-growing plants in a garden. We not only need to tend the seedlings carefully and be patient while they grow, but also know that it takes a garden several seasons before the soil is rich and fertile.
Warm wishes as you set out!
Deepening: Embodiment & inquiry
Meditation is an embodied practice. How could it be otherwise? Our bodies are what sits, what feels, what listens, what knows, what thinks. Both European and Asian spiritual cultures understand bodily and mental phenomena to be different, but the two traditions think of these aspects of our experience in very different ways.
Many of us raised in Western culture have inherited, mostly unconsciously, Christian doctrines like those famously expressed by René Descartes, around the absolute separation between matter and spirit, which most commonly plays out as the sense that the mind and body are fundamentally separate things. They’re not, of course, and the way I think about this through the Buddhist lens is that every aspect of my experience comes through the body, including sensations, emotions, and thoughts. So although I use the conventional designations “body, heart, and mind,” I don’t see a clear border between them.
These meditations remind us to keep the body central in our practice. They use sensation, posture, and other aspects of our felt sense of the body as the foundation for stabilizing the attention. In the Buddhist tradition, one of the purposes of stabilizing the attention is so that we can see subtle aspects of experience more clearly. This clear seeing, which is a literal translation of the Pāli term vipassanā, is the path to awakening, and generally starts with seeing more clearly the process of constant change our bodies are experiencing.
These meditations build on the basic skills taught in the first set of meditations, and deepen in the direction of subtler energy and more refined observation. The key here is to invite the pleasurable and easeful aspects of practice to become stronger, and to invite more and more continuity of attention.
Trauma & Healing: Working with our wounds
As Buddhist and Hindu Yoga lineages take root outside of Asia, their insights into human nature, the causes of suffering, and the paths to joy and liberation are finding fertile soil in sincere seekers and dedicated spiritual practitioners worldwide. As many of us find our personal and collective journeys deeply served by contact with these ancient teachings, we are also finding that the particular conditions of our postmodern lives require care and in many cases real healing if the yogic practices of introspection and embodied inquiry are to bear fruit. The collective traumas of racism, sexism, economic precarity, and environmental crisis affect us all, and despite our various privileges many of us suffer in addition the painful symptoms of attachment rupture, physical and emotional abuse, injury of many kinds, and the stresses of busy, unstable lives.
Central to the Buddhist path is a profound inquiry into suffering (Pāli: dukkha) and its cause: habitual contraction around both pleasant and unpleasant experience. The medicine for this suffering lies in our ability, with training, to remain alert and vibrant through both ease and difficulty. In Buddhist meditation, the practices of Mindfulness (sati), Skillful Attention (yoniso manasikāra), and Loving-Kindness (mettā) depend in large part on the practitioner being able to settle the mind and heart in the present moment, focused on experiences as they arise. Many modern practitioners, however, find even this most basic aspect of meditation very difficult, and may spend years wrestling with anxiety, self-doubt, regret, and overwhelming emotions in meditation. Trauma resolution models like Organic Intelligence® (OI), Somatic Experiencing (SE), and Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory, by restoring healthy nervous system function, build the ability to be relaxed, embodied, and present, deeply supporting meditation and other spiritual practices.
More than just being supportive, trauma work is also an application of Buddhist and Hindu Yoga teachings around energy, attachment, and the sense of self and other. The process works to restore natural rhythmic oscillation to the nervous system, which expresses itself as both expansion-contraction (energy) and liking-disliking (preference/feeling). As natural oscillation is allowed to return, long-held patterns of fight, flight, and freeze are completed, unbinding the heart from habitual resistance to experience. As resistance melts, experience becomes vibrant, less rigid, more free.
As you explore these meditations, go slowly and gently around places where you’ve been wounded, whether in individual traumatic events or around the pervasive traumas of systemic oppression. These meditations are just the beginning of skillful trauma resolution work, which benefits deeply from the support of an external guide like a therapist, counselor, close friend, or spiritual director. Any time you feel activation starting to increase quickly or in a way you’re not sure if you can handle, stop the meditation and turn your attention to the space around you. This is the practice of orientation, which these meditations emphasize. When you do feel resourced enough to engage with the intense emotions and bodily states connected with trauma, again do so gently, touching the pain only as much as you can handle easily, and allow time for integration afterward.
The contemplative path and healing path are not separate, but healing from profound violations of safety takes time and skillful support. For a list of skilled counselors trained in trauma resolution (largely local to the Bay Area, though some work virtually), see this resource page, or search in your local community.
Mindfulness & trauma: Orientation to the here-and-now (6.27.17)
Orientation through the senses (3.28.17 at Insight Meditation South Bay)
Mindfulness & trauma: State, thoughts, and 3 qualities to track (6.20.17)
Mindfulness & trauma: Mettā for the benefactor, and working with breath (6.13.17)
Mindfulness & trauma: Orientation to posture & pleasure (6.6.17)
The still Point; the eye of the hurricane (8.29.17)
For more on trauma and the nervous system in meditation, listen to this series of talks.
Emotion & Vastness: The heart practices
All this observing of changing phenomena and focusing attention on stable anchors can feel a little dry, especially when we’re beginning, and it takes a while before the deep joyful and peaceful states we’re hoping for start to reliably happen in meditation. Part of what’s needed as we develop in practice is a brightening of the heart itself, so wounded by all the insults and assaults and simple disappointments of our lives. Love is such a deep part of spiritual awakening that it’s not inaccurate to say, as some traditions do, that the very nature of the universe is love. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to rest in conscious awareness of that love.
So, of course, we practice it! The 4 emotion-based contemplations known as the Divine Abodes, or Divine Abidings (brahmavihāra) are among the most beloved practices in the Buddhist system. They use the feelings of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity as the objects of focus, rather than the breath, and in the style of practice I offer here use a body-centered approach in which we imagine “radiating” the various qualities, like love, or lovingkindness, outward in all directions.
These are meditations that respond to, and work to heal, places in the heart that have been wounded. But they’re also stabilizing meditations themselves, and many dedicated practitioners find the states of immersion (jhāna or samādhi) easier to attain using these meditations than other objects like the breath. These are practices that integrate healing with insight, psychological processing with meditative stabilization.
Like the “trauma” meditations, these can stir the pot, and are considered “purifications” in the sense that they bring to light feelings and stories that need to be felt and processed before we can be free of their influence. Many times the very opposite emotion arises as we practice! Invoking love, I feel hateful. Invoking peace, I feel disturbed. Invoking strength and ease, I feel weak and challenged. All of this is normal, and to be expected. After all, any good cleansing involves contact with dirt!
Be kind to yourself — ok, that’s the whole practice — and patient. There’s little better work we can do than to slowly but persistently invite our heart to open. Open to self-love, love of those close to us, and love of those more distant or different from us. If you come from a Christian background as I do, these meditations can be seen as a way to cultivate in a meditative way what Jesus taught as “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12.31) In the Buddhist system, these meditations point to the potentially infinite reach of love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, as our experience of each feeling grows till it seems to encompass the entire universe and everyone in it.
May our hearts be healed, for the end of violence and injustice, and the liberation of the whole world.
The 4 brahmavihāra: Radiating mettā in all directions (8.1.17)
The 4 brahmavihāra: Radiating Compassion in all directions (8.8.17)
The 4 brahmavihāra: Radiating Appreciation & Joy in all directions. (8.15.17)
The 4 brahmavihāra: Equanimity! (8.22.17)
Meditation and/is Intimacy (2.14.17)
For more about the brahmavihāra, listen to this series of talks.
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana: The Subtle Dance
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana (HYS) is a structure for the study and practice of energetic cultivation through movement, breath, and attention training. It is self-directed rather than teacher-led because inner energy opens in different ways, at different speeds, and through different pathways in different bodies and heart-minds. It is open-source, improvisational, and unfixed. Like all remixes (and everything is a remix) it combines elements of several distinct traditions, none of which are new. Because this form works with intuitive movement as energy cultivation, I call it “The Subtle Dance.” It can be both blissful and uncomfortable, profoundly easeful and deeply challenging.
The important threads of this practice are inner listening, following movement impulses that come by themselves, and cultivating a kind of somatic intuition through the body. Then uplifting and sustaining vitality and energy through the body.
The core Buddhist practice that supports movement inquiry like this is the limb of Right, or Wise, Effort. This limb discusses how to work with the states — energetic, emotional, somatic — that are present as the backdrop to every moment we’re alive.
For a broad overview of the practice framework, and some writing on the origins and ideas behind this form, please read this post.
And here is a visual tool (PDF), outlining the Haṭha Yoga Sadhana structure and basic flow.
Talk: Intro & setting up for self-guided yoga practice.
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana, basic sequence.
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana, deepening in the structure and basic flow.
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana, mobilizing practice
Haṭha Yoga Sadhana, settling practice