The darker seasons of autumn and winter provide a special opportunity for self-inquiry as we head into a partial hibernation. We snuggle in at night to keep warm, we feel tired earlier because the sun has set, and we can lower the lights in the home to stay attuned to the season.
When the world outside is blanketed in darkness, it can be easier to calm the senses and draw attention inward. Here are a few meditation practices that can light you up from the inside, connect you to the deeper truth of who you truly are, and help you stay connected to community should you decide to meditate with friends or use the Chopra App.
Lovingkindness (Metta) Meditation
Get into a comfortable seated position. Take a few deep breaths to settle down. Before practicing lovingkindness (metta) meditation, take a few moments to center yourself in the present moment. Look around the room, notice how your body feels, notice your thoughts, and give yourself a few moments to be right where you are. Then enjoy the benefits of self-love, compassion, and connection that come through this practice.
During the practice, you will start by sending yourself lovingkindness, a word translated from the Pali word “metta.” Metta is also translated as friendliness. It’s the energy of friendliness, compassion, and kindness. After sending this energy to yourself, you will send it to various people then to all beings. The method is to choose phrases that embody the well-wishes you send to yourself and others. You can choose different phrases, some of the most common are here in this practice:
Hold yourself in your awareness. Send yourself these wishes, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe and protected.” Sit for a moment and let the energy of lovingkindness envelop you.
Hold in your awareness someone it’s so easy for you to love. Send them the same wishes that you sent to yourself, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected.” Sit for a moment in the silence and feel that energy flowing between you.
Hold in your awareness someone you know who needs extra care right now. Send them the same wishes, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected.” Again, sit for a moment in silence to send this energy.
Hold in your awareness someone you don’t know well but you see often. Perhaps someone at the store or the post office. Send them the same wishes, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected.” Sit in that energy, wishing them well.
You can add others here, too. The point is to start with yourself, then people you are close with, and those you haven’t seen in a while. Then move out further to those you know less well.
You can add in now someone with whom you have a small conflict or misunderstanding. Holding them in your awareness, wish them well. “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected.” This might feel challenging. It’s an exercise in expanding compassion.
Finally, end with all beings. Holding all beings in your awareness, send this wish and visualize it as so, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe and protected.” Pause. Sit. Allow yourself to feel the effects of metta.
Metta is often taught by prominent meditation teachers, including Sharon Salzberg. On her website she also has a series of short videos called “Street Lovingkindness” offered as a way to shift from feeling stressed to lovingkindness in everyday situations. Her examples demonstrate how practices on the cushion are beneficial in everyday life, too.
One of the special meditations that Thich Nhat Hanh shares is tea meditation. Focus on the tea and your relationship to the tea while taking small sips and pausing in between the sips. In the same way we use our breath as a focus during mindfulness meditation, we can use the tea as a focal point during tea meditation in this way:
- Sit upright in a comfortable position.
- Hold a cup of tea in your hands.
- Notice how the cup feels in your hands, including which parts of the hands feel warm because of the heat from the tea.
- Become aware of how the tea looks, if there is steam, and any other observations with your eyes.
- Allow the scent of the tea to delight your sense of smell.
- What else can you become aware of about this cup of tea and its relationship to you now?
- Take a sip of the tea, with gratitude and enjoyment of this moment.
- As you focus on how the tea tastes and feels in your mouth you become more present to this moment, letting go of the past and not worrying about the future.
- After you sip the tea, pause. Let its effect sink in as you go back to the other senses, feeling the cup in your hands and appreciating this moment.
- Alternate sipping and pausing and when you have finished the tea head slowly into the rest of your day.
This practice is beautifully described by Thich Nhat Hanh in his visit with Oprah. In this Super Soul Sunday clip we see her experiencing tea meditation with him for the first time.
Who Am I?
One of the meditations Deepak Chopra leads is a meditation in which we ask ourselves repeatedly, “Who Am I?” We sit in silence with that question.
Sitting with this question, asking oneself again and again without forcing an answer, we move past the answers of who we identify as in our daily life and become aware of ourselves as pure awareness. Deepak Chopra, in his article “A Surprising Answer to ‘Who Am I?’” explains:
“In the practice of meditation perception shifts closer to the source of awareness. That is the open door through which the self is glimpsed, and with time and attention, the divided self melts away leaving only the unified Self. In that process lies the whole story of answering ‘who am I?’”
He further explains in “’I Am That”: A Secret Teaching Comes Home for All of Us” that this “silent awareness contains infinite resourcefulness, intelligence, creativity, and love.”
During this time of year when nature in its hours of darkness encourages us to go inward, to learn lessons about our true nature, and to become more introspective, the “Who am I?” meditation feels emblematic of this time. It helps us connect to the light of inspiration, hope, and infinite compassion that we so often seek around us, only to discover it lies within us, too.
Anchor yourself this season with balancing Ayurvedic practices that support a healthy mind, body, and spirit with Winter Holiday, a four-part program with Dr. Sheila Patel, available now in the Chopra App.