Many new (and not-so-new) meditators wonder: what kind of meditation experiences should I be having? What should I be feeling? Is my practice even working? It’s easy to forget that meditation requires patience. Why? Because the potential benefits of our practice may be less obvious than the obstacles, especially at first.
Almost all meditators find themselves distracted by thoughts when they try to settle down to meditate. Somehow, instead of staying focused on the sensation of breathing, the mind naturally pulls us in the direction of our to-do lists, hopes, and worries. When this happens, we might think there is something wrong and wonder if we’ll ever be able to meditate properly. There are so many other things that need to be done – maybe, we think, we’re just wasting our time when we simply sit.
With time, though, our ability to remain with the practice increases and we start having subtle experiences that confirm that our meditation practice is working. We notice that our thoughts and sensations are less likely to disturb the feelings of completeness and peace that meditation produces. It may take longer than we anticipated, but sooner or later we’re going to discover that the journey is the important part: in fact, the journey is the goal.
Meditation Feelings & Experiences
When you start naturally tuning into your thoughts and feelings during meditation, you’ll know that something is definitely working. Here are some indicators to watch for:
- Your concentration improves
When you can easily concentrate on one activity at a time, you’re doing something right. The practice of mindfulness meditation emphasizes the non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. You feel less stressed about the future and more in tune with the here and now. As your concentration improves, so does your ability to work on a single task efficiently. Interestingly, even when you aren’t formally meditating, you are becoming more aware of your mind from moment to moment. The act of realizing that you’re thinking is actually a significant step in the direction of mindfulness!
Try the exercise of counting your outbreaths: if you can go from one to ten without losing count even once, then you’ve made significant strides. You can also tune into how thoughts and sensations that arise during your meditation practice feel. Check in, then let go. Remember, you are not trying to become a great counter of the outbreaths, but a greatly mindful and dedicated meditator.
- When other people notice the changes
Although we might be experiencing different meditation sensations while practicing, we may not be aware of any physical or psychological changes in our everyday lives until someone points them out. Sometimes we’re so fixated on meditation experiences that we lose focus of what’s really important: the subtle results that come from simply being present. The thoughts and sensations that occur in meditation are fleeting and will vary from session to session, but the positive changes that take place in our minds and actions are more stable and are apt to be noticed by those around us.
- Having amazing meditation experiences
You may feel like you’re having amazing meditation experiences... and you may not. Any meditation teacher worth their salt will tell you that experiences aren’t what it’s all about. Being aware of what you are experiencing in the moment and maintaining a position of impartial observation is what it’s all about. Whether you know what you’re feeling or thinking, or you’re aware of your sense perceptions, or you’re aware of your breath, or you’re aware of amazing meditation experiences, that awareness is the sign that your meditation is spot on.
It’s likely that some of your meditation sensations will feel a bit odd. For instance, during practice your sense perceptions may seem heightened or different than usual. This is completely normal; in fact, such meditation experiences may be an indication that your practice is evolving. The key here is to resist the temptation to try to replicate or analyze – or even reject – the experiences. It’s when you can maintain a very natural and objective awareness of whatever arises without grasping at it one way or another that you’ve really made progress.
What does deep meditation feel like?
Meditation teaches us that there’s a difference between trying to analyze what we’re feeling and simply observing it. Analyzing and acting on thoughts and feelings is what we’re pretty much always doing; it’s a very strong habit, and one that most people aren’t even aware of. In meditation, we learn that there’s another way to approach mental events: we can let them go.
There are, however, certain feelings that accompany deep meditation. When meditating deeply, you gradually loosen the restraints of self-centeredness. As you ease into the practice, your mind shifts to a more subtle kind of awareness. You become less self-conscious. Physical pain and emotional stressors can vanish for a time, and there can be a profound and abiding feeling of peace.
If you notice that you’re having pleasant meditation thoughts, and even getting lost in these thoughts, realize that they too are just thoughts, and come back to your breath. There’s no limit to what the creative mind can come up with when it has the space! Embrace the various thoughts and feelings that arise during meditation and learn to appreciate everything that travels through your mind. This recognition and letting go is an essential component of the mindful path, and it’s one you have power over - unlike trying to pick and choose your meditation experiences.
Another thing that might happen when you’re meditating deeply is that your experience of time changes. Sometimes, time seems to pass by faster than you anticipated - you may have been sitting for twenty minutes but it seems like it’s only been ten. Other times the opposite happens and time seems to stand still. Also, breathing generally slows down during deep meditation because the body is extremely relaxed.
There you have it, a detailed explanation of what it feels like to meditate. For a comprehensive and authentic understanding of meditation, download the Mindworks: Guided Meditation App. This excellent resource contains rich daily Guided Meditations and Mind Talks given by qualified meditation teachers to get you started and keep you going.