Your Meditation Has a Personality
For the past few months, I’ve been dabbling in a meditation style known as “Recollective Awareness” — developed by former Buddhist monk and psychotherapist, Jason Siff.
In his approach, technique is essentially thrown out the door and in its place, an opportunity to sit, do nothing, and afterwards, have insights revealed through a reflective journaling practice.
This approach sounds like the antithesis of “count your breaths and when you get lost in thoughts, start back over” – and in a way, it is. Because its aim is to become more familiar with thoughts and emotions, which is difficult to do when you cut them off before they’ve had a chance to go anywhere.
I gotta tell you, the past few weeks of journaling my experience has been UTTERLY ILLUMINATING.
And I’m not talking about a step-by-step recount of what sounds I noticed or what sensations I felt (because you’re probably thinking, who cares? And I would be too.)
But what I’ve discovered, is that my meditation practice has… a personality!
Several, in fact.
Over several written reflections, I’ve discovered three meditation personalities who regularly come to visit.
What I mean by personality is that there’s a certain quality; or tone; or even, character; that turns up in the meditations, either between sittings or, even, within the same sitting.
They’re so distinct, I’ve given them each a name!
Hippie: “Like, yeah, man, there are no rules here, only love. I’m allowing my mind roam free and explore.”
Drill Sergeant: “ATTENNNNTION! Sit up straight. Cross your legs. Focusss! You are a statue of the Buddha.”
Baby Bear: “Ohh, this is so warm and cosy. I’m going to rest my eyes here for a bit while I snuggle back in comfort.”
What I realise from this insight, is that I’d already seen a similar, affirming (that I wasn’t nuts) kind of list – in Lorin Roche‘s book, Meditation Made Easy (one of my all-time favourite books on meditation, btw.)
Twenty Types of Meditators
On page 172 of his book (if you’ve got it!), Lorin describes the personalities of different kinds of meditators, each bringing unique intent, perspective and personality to their practice.
Here are a few examples:
- Rebel: “To hell with the world, this is my time.”
- Exhausted Labourer: “It is pure relief just to sit still for a few minutes.”
- Scientist: “I want to know how things work and I am going to perform meditation as an experiment to gather data.”
- Gourmet: “Ah, what delicious air; this is better than chocolate.”
- Boss: “I am going to take charge around here. Clean up that mind! Organise those dreams!
- Healer: “I have compassion for the whole world and all the wounded people walking around in it.”
The point of this list is to highlight there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation. The Healer, for example, would likely feel at home practising lovingkindness, whereas the Scientist might take to a labelling technique.
People can be meditating for decades, trying to perfect some ideal, or the technique they were first introduced to, and not progress to a practice they actually enjoy or thrive from.
Do you recognise yourself in any of these “personalities”?
Have you been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole when it comes to the technique you do?
Jason Siff developed Recollective Awareness Meditation as an antidote to when meditation instructions themselves become a hinderance, preventing us from progressing in our practice – or doing it at all.
In his method, a written reflection of how the meditation unfolded is a vital component of the practice. This is the “mindful” part of the meditation. The meditator becomes mindful in retrospect, putting language to their experience.
How to Practice Recollective Awareness Meditation
- Sit (or stand or lay down)
- Do nothing. In other words, drop the technique and simply be receptive to anything and everything that arises – including thoughts and emotions – allowing them to run their course
- Use the felt experience of your hands/seat/feet as a supportive “home base” if you need some structure or relief from your internal experience
- Spend five or so minutes at the end writing down what you recall of the meditation. Some ideas include: what sensory experiences you were aware of (like sounds and body sensations), thoughts you had, feelings and emotions, and/or any transitions you noticed. It doesn’t need to be a full recount of the meditation moment by moment. Just what you remember of it, as you remember it
- Over time, as you become adept at describing in words your meditative experiences, look back on your journal entries to see what insights are revealed.
It’s through this journaling practice I was able to articulate the three unique personalities who were turning up to each sit.
Over several written reflections I discovered:
- There is always a period of time, maybe 10-15 minutes and usually at the beginning, where my mind drifts or roams. This is a pleasant, dreamlike experience (i.e. the Hippy!) in a large part because I’ve welcomed thinking as a valid meditation experience.
During this phase, it’s difficult to discern what any particular thought is about, except for perhaps one or two piercing reminders about something I’ve forgotten, or ideas that cut through the blur. Often I am compelled to keep my eyes open, staring into nowhere, while I allow myself to do nothing.
- Then, in an instant, something marks that the drifting is coming to an end. Like the clouds parting to reveal the sun, the breath makes itself known; or if I’ve had my eyes open, I actually see what it is I’ve had my eyes directed towards. Drill Sergeant has arrived on the scene!
- An increasing awareness of the breath follows, becoming more and more concentrated, but without having to do any concentrating. I am effortlessly present for the breath, like hearing a cat’s purrs while curled up in your lap.
- In this space, I feel warm, comfortable, and at peace (Baby Bear). It’s a stunning sanctuary; vast and open, and my body knows it. It’s what it feels like to be home.
- But it doesn’t last and I don’t expect it to. In a final transition, my eyes snap open or my body jerks to attention (thanks again, Drill Sergeant) and I let the previous state recede for another time.
What’s Your Meditation Style?
When sitting down to meditate, Lorin Roche suggests you choose a technique in the same way you’d decide what music to listen to. On some days you’ll fancy Taylor Swift (most days!) and others – a bit of 90s grunge. When you have agency over your practice, you’ll instinctively know whether you need some Metta, a mantra, or in Jason’s approach, simply “to be” and let mindful journalling afterwards reveal what it reveals.