Ending your meditation practice
We’ve talked about “Stage Zero” as being the important preliminary stage where we set up good conditions for meditating by working with our posture and our inner attitudes. I’ve compared it to the stage of mixing the ingredients for a cake, as well as making sure that the oven is at the right temperature. In other words we’re making sure that the conditions are congruent with the outcomes we want to achieve.
But in baking a cake there are also some things you want to do at the end of the baking process to make sure that the cake comes out right. You want to make sure, for example, that you have oven gloves on so that you don’t burn your hands and drop the cake on the floor. You need to check that the cake is in fact properly baked and that it doesn’t need a few more minutes in the oven. You need to place the cake on a rack so that it doesn’t go soggy.
Similar considerations apply in our meditation practice. It’s possible to ruin a perfectly good meditation by hurrying out of the practice. So here are a few tips so help ensure that your meditation ends well. I call this process of ending the meditation “Stage Omega” because it’s the final stage of the meditation, but isn’t usually enumerated. (You probably know this already, but Omega is the last letter in the Greek alphabet and is often used to represent the last thing in a series)
Stage Omega is important because you need to give yourself time to absorb the effects of the practice.
If you don’t pay attention to the effects that the meditation practice has had on your mind and emotions, then you might not realize that any changes have taken place. This can be rather dispiriting, to say the least. Often we develop much more of a sense of calmness than we are consciously aware of, and if we don’t give ourselves time to appreciate this we might immediately undo the positive states that we’ve created by smothering them with despondent or frustrated thoughts and feelings.
Taking your meditation into the world
In a way, Stage Omega is not really the end of your meditation, it’s just a transition from meditating with our eyes closed, sitting on a cushion, to meditating with our eyes open in the midst of everyday activity. Our meditation practice should have a beneficial effect on the way we live, and it’s more likely to do that if we make the transition from sitting meditation to everyday activity as smooth and elegant as possible.
I suggest that you go recall how I end the guided meditations. Notice how I suggest that you gradually broaden your awareness. At the end of the fourth stage you’re focusing on the subtle sensations at the rims of your nostrils. You can broaden your awareness from that narrow focus to become aware of the whole breathing process. Then you can become aware of the whole of your body, and then you can include other dimensions of awareness such as feeling, emotion, and your mind. And lastly, you can broaden your awareness right out into the world around you, becoming aware of your external sensations of space, sound, touch, and light.
Actually, it’s very beneficial to go further than that so that you try to maintain your mindfulness as you get off your cushion, bow to your shrine (if that’s the sort of thing you do), blow out the candles, straighten up your meditation equipment, and leave the room. And even then you should try to maintain your awareness as you go onto the next activity.
When I’m leading group meditations, I can often tell how someone has been working in their meditation by the way they get up and move around. If they make a lot of noise and the drop their cushions with a loud “whump” at the back of the meditation room then it’s a fair bet that they either haven’t been making much effort or that their effort has been pretty crude. If their movements are elegant and they lay their cushions down carefully and quietly, then I have a good idea that they have been working internally with the same kind of grace, balance, and care.
Take your time moving onto the next activity
One very good reason for taking your time coming out of the practice and moving onto your next activity is that it’s possible to become emotionally “jarred” by rushing into the first item on your “to do” list. It’s often the case, as I’ve mentioned above, that you can develop more calmness that you at first realize.
Another quality that you can develop is a greater degree of emotional sensitivity, and if you do not respect this then the first encounter that you have (which is likely to be with someone who has not been meditating and who is in a very different mental state from you) may be very unpleasant. Somehow this is less of a problem when you take just a few minutes to allow the effects of the meditation to sink in.
I don’t know what happens in this process of assimilation, but I suspect that in some way your subconscious mind makes some subtle internal readjustments which allow you to deal more effectively with encounters with others.
If you do give yourself a few minutes at the end of your practice to assimilate your experience, and take your time elegantly making a smooth transition from the cushion to the world, then you will often have the experience of finding that you can meet others who may even be in a very antagonistic state of mind, and be able to calmly absorb the other person’s emotions without even a ripple appearing on the surface of your mind.
If your calmness is like a great lake, then an elephant can jump in and the waters simply close over it. But if your calmness is like a small pool, then when an elephant jumps in there will be such a splash that there will be no water left!