Meditation has been a game changer for countless people. Are you a meditator?... Or maybe you're someone who struggles with meditation. Todays episode takes you on a decades long journey that begins and ends with ecstasy.
“The healthiest response to life is joy.” - Mark Twain
“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.” - Emily Dickinson
“Mediation is not spacing out or running away. In fact, it is being totally honest with ourselves” – Kathleen McDonald
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” -Buddha
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” - Marianne WilliamsonSupport the show
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Mark Twain said, “The healthiest response to life is joy.”
Welcome to The Soul Podcast, I’m Stacey Wheeler.
When I was a young man, I loved to backpack. I go off with friends and hike all day, stopping only when we’d find a good place to set camp. Once we were settled in, one of my favorite things was to go off alone. I’d find place with a nice view, maybe on a boulder or a peek. I’d sit and experience the world around me, and just watch nature go by. Or, if I was lucky in my timing, maybe I’d catch the sunset. These experiences always seemed to fill me with the most amazing sensation. I felt so very alive. Everything was beautiful and life felt limitless. Right place, right time, right mountain. That’s all it took.
There’s a painting by American artist Maxfield Perrish, made in 1929. It’s called Ecstasy. You’ve most likely seen it. It’s been used in advertising campaigns in the last few decades. It depicts a woman standing on a mountain peak with a saturated blue sky in the background with layers of white clouds upon the sky and layers of mountains fading in the river valley below. Her feet are planted on the edge of the rock outcropping. Her hands are high, supporting her neck as she gazes skyward. Her face shows a combination of tranquility and bliss. When I think of the sensation I got at the end of my hikes, this image comes to mind. And ecstasy is not a bad word to describe it.
After years of hiking, I knew I could usually count on that ecstasy if I could find a quiet place to sit after a long hike.
And for years, I mistakenly believed this sensation could only be reached by being in the right place at the right time. I’d found a workable way of getting to that state of inner peace. Most of the time it worked. All I needed was a few days to hike and I could find that happy place again, where I could connect with that deep sense of peace and joy.
Right place, right time, right mountain.
So, I looked forward to my hikes. It was the one place I could connect in that way. And then one day… while reading a book and sipping a beer on a patio of a caffe, it happened. That sensation! It was the same sensation I felt sitting on top of a mountain in the back country. But how?! Right time, right place, right… caffe?
I know you’ve felt it to. Haven’t you?... that moment when joy builds in your chest, and it bubbles up to become a smile on your face?!
It’s that moment.
For years, I believed it could only happen when things lined up. I could guide it a bit by getting alone in nature. I could coax it to the surface by being in a beautiful location in nature and letting go of my worries. And then the sense of joy would overcome me.
But unexpectedly, on the patio of a caffe, in the middle of a large city, it was back. That same sensation. I was happy to feel it. But I was baffled.
The memory was indelible. I remember how the sun felt on my skin, the state of the beer I was sipping, the rippling conversations around me. I even remember the book I was reading when it hit me. (I still have that book… short Scottish writings). The memory stays with me. But how did it happen? I even wondered if half an ale could do that to a person… It felt like magic, but I knew it was the moment.
After that, I started to look for moments like that. I even tried to set them up. Get a book, go to a sunny café patio… Some days I’d get a small taste of that same sensation.
Always outdoors.. and always short-lived. And the memory of the café lingered. And many years passed.
And then… I became a meditator.
With meditation, I learned how to let go. To drop into the moment. To not allow the past or the future in; just be in the moment that I am in. Soon I started to drop into that beautiful space of bliss. In time I could do it almost anywhere.
A few decades had passed since the café. And I finally understood.
It was so simple. All I had to do was let go of my worries and be present in the moment. The ecstasy happened when I allowed myself to simply release and be with myself in the moment.
As time passed -and I became a better meditator, I learned I could get there with less and less effort. That beautiful sensation was there at my request. And now, I go there often.
Today, I don’t think of it as “that beautiful sensation”. Now I think of it as my Soul coming to visit. When we are silent within ourselves, where Me the body, gets out of the way for Me… the deepest part of myself… that’s where it is found.
Being in nature helps, but it’s not required. Sometimes all you must do it be quiet and appreciate the abundance of this life we are living.
And you know, it’s not a new idea, finding joy in this way.
Emily Dickinson said,
“Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough.”
What she’s saying is that joy can be found by allowing your senses to understand that you’re alive.
Slowing down is a vital part of the practice. When I slow down, it’s easier to appreciate the beauty of this life. I can more easily see how amazing it is -that I’m alive in this moment.
It took years of meditation... and practice. And I got good at dropping in. And now, when I want to feel that amazing sense of peace and joy, I can open to it wherever I am. My mountain top, my sunny patio…. It’s wherever I slow down.
Even sitting in my office at work. I can slow down, breathe, open myself and get a moment of the sensation. And it serves me well. It allows me to be more peaceful and grounded. I’m more relaxed and effective in my life because of this ability. And it’s been available all along.
How is it that no one told us about this when we were young? How is it that there’s not a special course in school, where they take us aside and tell us about the joy that’s available anytime, we desire it?
It’s as though, a great secret that has existed for thousands of years... is not a secret at all. Ask the Buddhists or Hindus, they know all about meditation. They know all about connecting to our deeper selves.
Sitting silently is where Joy is found.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us, that all the major religions have a facet to them that involves sitting silently. Whether you call it, prayer or meditation, or silent reflection, walks in nature… these are some of the places where the joy can be found.
It’s there for us any time. We only need to slow down and be open to it.
To Stop. To breathe it in. And to simply Be in the moment.
Maybe the Buddha had it figured out. He said,
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
When we have a peaceful mind a peaceful heart follows. Joy, is a good word for the gateway to ecstasy.
The author, Marianne Williamson wrote,
“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.”
For many years I thought I knew what meditation was. It was a kind of escape of sorts. But of course, that’s before I started meditating. I was projecting what I thought it was. I didn’t know a thing. When I began meditating, all my assumptions dropped away.
Author and Buddhist teacher Kathleen McDonald wrote,
“Mediation is not spacing out or running away. In fact, it is being totally honest with ourselves.”
I agree. Most of the time we’re not being honest about the reality of this life. We’re in the moment. Playing the role we’ve been given, like a stage play on the most massive scale. Of course, we believe the character we play matters. Of course, we want to see our character victorious in this lengthy play we call life. But in the end, it is just a role we’re playing. We are not the body. We’re not the name on our ID. We’re not the name we offer when we shake the hand of a new acquaintance. We are something much bigger and grander than all that.
We are souls sitting on a mountain top at sunset. We’re a saintly heart sitting on a café patio in the sun. We’re the smile on a baby’s face. Meditation brought me a different level of honesty about myself. And a greater appreciation for the subtle beats of this life.
When I pause and be in the moment…
These precious moments… we call living.
Whether you’re on a mountain, in a coffee shop… or just making your way through the day. You’re alive today. In this moment, we can all pause and recognize we are alive. And life is good.
Talk to you soon.