Many people doing meditation think they should feel or experience something special when doing meditation. I sure did for a very long time. I found out that there is indeed something to experience when in meditation.
The telltale feeling that you experience when you meditate correctly is that you are both aware of the object of meditation and aware of the fact that you are aware of the object of meditation.
Now, besides this, there are numerous other thing you could feel or experience when in meditation. And all of them can be an indicator that your are heading the correct way.
Let’s dive into the most common ones.
- The telltale experience that you are meditating
- Do meditation experiences really matter?
- What are people commonly feeling when doing meditation?
The telltale experience that you are meditating
Meditation is really about consciousness. When meditating, you are aiming to make your subconscious processes conscious. This is done through various techniques as I discuss in my post on how to choose the best meditation for you, but this is what unites them all.
So, if this is the aim, we need to see our experience in meditation in the light of this aim.
But before you go start to assess whether or not you are doing meditation right, you need to know that doing it right is different for each level of meditation you are at.
In the beginning, you will only briefly experience the sensation of being aware of the object. Later on, these periods will become longer and you will also slowly become aware of the fact that you are aware.
If you do not have these experiences yet, just continue, they will come. But it takes time and practice. You can read more in-depth about how to know that you are meditating right in this article.
Increasing consciousness is what you are after and is all you really need to know, but from the many meditation stories, we know it is not the only thing you can feel during meditation.
Do meditation experiences really matter?
In the following sections, we’ll look at some experiences people have when meditating, but the question is if these are really significant.
There is a famous Buddhist tale where a meditator goes to his master and says he has attained incredible calm.
The master replies that this is excellent but that he needs to meditate more and gives some pointers on how to do this.
After a few months, the student comes back and tells that he has seen the gods in his meditation.
Again the master does the same: excellent job, meditate more and gives new instructions.
A third time, the student comes back, now he has encompassed the whole of the universe into himself.
But the master repeats the same: well done, just continue.
The moral of this story is that the actual experiences are real nice to have, but do not really matter.
They are however signs of progress.
They are stages that can be attained and once you have them, you are ready to move on to the next stage.
Mind you that not all experiences are positive. Since meditation makes the unconscious conscious and we carry a lot of baggage in our subconscious depths, there is a clear possibility to uproot this too.
And this is also seen as progress. Once uprooted, we can move past our fears and worries to a better future. I discuss this in detail in my article about ‘Is mindfulness dangerous‘.
As per the advice of the meditation master, I just continue to meditate.
What are people commonly feeling when doing meditation?
In the following sections, you will find what people commonly feel when doing meditation.
They are organised from the unpleasant to the pleasant.
Some of these experiences will occur more in the beginning, and some when you are a little more experienced. But all can happen at any stage you are in.
Truth be told, the unpleasant ones are more at the beginning and the pleasant ones tend to come later on. Excepts for the nyam, where you are dredging your subconscious to move on to the next stage.
Do not forget that even if you have none of them, it does not mean that you are not meditating correctly. The only real sign of progress is how aware (mindful) you are during your meditation session.
You feel nothing special nothing special at all
The most common experience in meditation is to feel nothing special at all.
You just sit and do the prescribed meditation and that is it.
There is nothing more to say about it except that this is perfectly normal. Except for the fact that people think they should be feeling something special.
Trust the process and you will be fine. If you are looking to feel something special during meditation, you will be disappointed most of the time.
Doing the meditation for the sake of meditation is the fastest track toward success.
Some people get very frustrated when doing meditation.
Even when doing an exercise that is experienced as relaxing by most, like the body scan, they get very annoyed.
There are a two things you can do to overcome this.
First, you should not stop meditating because you have stumbled on a roadblock. You really need to continue the meditation until the irritation subsides.
When you are more experienced, you will just drive through because you know that is the only way to go.
But as a beginner, this is a tough call to make as you have no evidence that meditation will work for you.
The solution is to try a different meditation style. Usually, a style where you are less close to your mind will suit you better. Try to go for a walk with a guided meditation.
You can feel very, very bored when doing meditation. Especially when you are just starting your journey.
It can be very dreadful. And then the ideas of all the things you could do that would be such a better use of your time will start to pop up.
I also used to look at the timer every so often. When I do this, it seems that time slowly comes to a halt. It moves forward at the speed of a tortoise.
The solution to this problem is to focus more on the object of meditation. increasing your power of concentration is the hight route towards joyful meditations.
In modern western psychology, they know very well that concentrated tasks make for happy people. There is a lot of research that has been done on flow where they precisely see this effect.
So when you get bored, refocus on the object of meditation.
And when you want to look at the clock like I did, don’t. It was a bad habit that I had trouble breaking.
All kinds of bodily sensations
There are a lot of bodily sensations you could experience. They vary greatly in intensity and kind. Mostly, you should just ignore them. But if some thing persists for too long, you should check with your MD to see that all is fine.
Yes, itching is something very common in meditation. It is actually a very interesting experience since you will get very concentrated when it happens and you try to resist scratching.
You can learn so much from itching.
But do resist scratching until you cannot anymore. You will see that itching arises and then changes. It can become very intense and then, without doing anything, reduce very much.
From the point of view of mindfulness, it is invaluable. But do not worry, I rarely experience it any more in my meditations.
Once you get more concentrated, itching disappears almost completely.
Pain is a very similar feeling than itching. It tends to come and go, even without doing anything.
One moment you have an ache in you leg and the next it is gone.
Keeping ta strong concentration is the perfect solution. Do not let yourself be distracted.
But you need to use your common sense. If your back hurts so much, meditate in a chair. If you keep having pains in locations not related to meditation, you need to see a doctor.
Energy movement through the body
Many people report feeling strange movements of energy through their body.
These can be tingling sensations or rushes of electricity or heat that moves from one location of the body to the other.
Do not be alarmed by these. They are perfectly normal signs that the body is getting used to the meditation. They will all vanish in time.
There is nothing special you need to do except continue to meditate. You can move your focus to these sensations if you are practicing mindfulness meditation. but if you do concentration meditation, just continue focussing on your chosen object.
A less common feeling in meditation is that you get the impression that your body is not in the position you know it to be.
For instance, if you are sitting on a chair, suddenly you feel as if your upper body has made a 90 degrees turn and is now pointing in a different direction
When you open your eyes, you discover that your body has not moved at all.
Another instance of this is when you are meditation when lying down and you have the impression of floating. Opening your eyes confirms that you are still just lying down, as you expected.
Also here, do not worry. These are perfectly normal meditation experiences and you can safely continue practicing.
This is the opposite of boredom.
Often when I meditate now, the timer signals the end of the 30 minutes and I have the feeling I just started the meditation.
Time has passed by so quickly. It is truly the experience of flow when this happens.
The only caveat is that you need to make sure you remain conscious during the whole time.
When I first started meditating, I also had this experience. But the reason was that I spent 3/4 of my time fantasizing about getting rich (sigh).
And although this is also perfectly normal in the beginning stages, it is not what I am talking about here.
I am talking about meditation sessions where I am mindful most of the time and that lack even the slightest trace of boredom.
Along with progress in meditation comes the feeling of deep calm.
All your troubles fall away for the brief duration of the meditation. Experiencing this state of mind is usually what makes people wanting to learn and practice more.
As you concentrate more attentively on your breath, you will first notice that it becomes more shallow until it reaches a very slow pace.
In between exhalation and inhalation, you will also observe a pause that will become longer as you relax more.
This is not something that you should try to achieve. It will happen on its own accord.
You can however speed the process up a little by gently relaxing your muscles before you start meditating, but you do not need to do anything more than that.
Once you get the hang of meditation, you will start to have periods where your concentration is very much intensified.
Let’s take as an example following the breath.
Ordinarely, you will notice whether you are breathing in or breathing out. But by closely following the breath, you will start to experience a lot more sublte details. Microscopic fluctuations become apparent. In my case, I feel the breath as silky, as it this were a symbolic representation and unhindered flow of air.
In the case of visualization practices, the object will come to your mind in full color and 3D. The liveliness of the imagined object will be like it was really before you.
When concentration meditation is perfected, prepare to start feeling joy. In Buddhism, they call the joy felt during meditation priti.
This is a normal aspect and, as I have read, can become quite intense also. It can become an all-encompassing feeling.
Unfortunately, I did not reach these heights in meditation yet, but the advent of joyous feelings in my meditation is undeniable. It is something I am always looking forward to.
I welcome this feeling when it happens, but I remember myself that it is not the aim of the meditation, it is an experience for which I am grateful.
Colors become brighter, everything is more beautiful
This is not a feeling arising during sitting meditation, but one that arises when I do walking meditation in nature.
Almost as soon as I notice the world around me with full mindfulness, the colors start to become brighter. All of nature seems to become more intense (in a good way) and come alive.
It is a very noticeable difference. I was quite shocked the first time it happened. I was walking down a road from my commute home to my car. I decided to try some mindfulness exercises when suddenly, it happened.
The red of the sidewalk was almost beaming at me. The trees looked more alive. And all seemed to be accompanied by a great sense of calm.
Unfortunately, not all my walks are like this. I wish. But it is certainly something that can happen.
What I hope to have conveyed in this article is that there are a lot of meditation experiences that can (and will) happen if you persevere. You can feel happy or sad or bored, but none of these really matter.
Whatever happens, continue meditating and the goodwill slowly starts to prevail on the bad. Exactly as it is intended.
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Featured image is ‘Experiencing Bliss’ by Martin Snicer