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Psychedelics and meditation have both had a strong influence on my life and are somehow inextricably intertwined. I first got interested in meditation in the aftermath of primary experiences with LSD, and now meditation, in some way or another, informs every psychedelic session I take.

There is dispute in the Buddhist community about the value of psychedelics ‘on the path’ and if you’re interested in the intersection of Buddhism and psychedelics, I highly recommend the book Zig Zag Zen. There are plenty of other articles on this topic, but today I’m just gonna share a bit of my story and how these two things have weaved their way into my life.

Discovering LSD

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I first tried LSD as a curious guy keen for new experiences. As someone who enjoyed being creative, I was especially interested in new ways of thinking. I also wanted to have fun. I had little idea what I was in for when I put that little piece of paper in my mouth, but looking back, I now see those first experiences as pivotal in my life. Though they’ve affected me in many ways, one that stands out is how they lead me to meditation. At the time I had never tried meditating, nor had any real idea what it was, but if I had never tried LSD, I honestly doubt I’d have started meditating.

How Psychedelic Experience Lead Me To Meditation

On the tail end of my first LSD trips, I didn’t have any ‘comedown’. The post-trip chapter I experienced would more accurately be described as a serene, contemplative afterglow. After the ecstasy and madness of the peak, I descended to a more peaceful state which was in its own way, my favourite part of the whole experience. Though at the time I didn’t have any clear idea of what ‘meditation’ meant, I described the afterglow state to friends as meditative; my mind was sharp and clear and I was deeply reflective. I also noticed that my breathing naturally became long and slow. This tuning into the flow of my breath was a naturally induced meditation session.

When my friends and I didn’t naively first time candy flip on a Sunday and have to go to work the next day without getting a wink of sleep (see: my first time on acid – I started a new job that Monday – another story, another time), an ideal recovery day would be spent chilling with my fellow travellers. We’d order pizza, smoke joints and get comfortable on the sofas for a run of movies. After a long session, we were always physically exhausted, yet my mind was always energised. With this mental energy I’d wander philosophically through themes and ideas that came up in the films, conversation, music or anything else. As we watched movies I’d interpret them in all kinds of novel ways, see metaphors the writers and directors had put in, and understand concepts that I hadn’t considered before. I’d make notes in my journal about interesting ideas that came to mind and, of course, just generally enjoy hanging out. Relaxed but attentive, naturally contemplative, it was a taster for meditation.

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In the wake of these experiences, my mind was clearer. I had a greater awareness and detachment of my thoughts. I felt wiser. I was looking at things from a greater perspective more often and more naturally, like that mental trick you do when something bad happens and you ask yourself “how much will this matter in 5, 10 or 20 years?”, or you zoom out on google maps to try and coerce the overview effect. I was thinking more creatively and seeing metaphors in almost everything, and my behaviour became less guided by fear and petty concerns. The effect was sudden and obvious, and lasted some months before beginning to fade and older mental habits and ways of being began to return.

I missed my newly found but now fading clarity and wisdom, but I’d experienced another way of being that I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Following a wikipedia trail, I was lead from psychedelic drugs to non-ordinary forms of consciousness to meditation; a method of changing awareness, without substances. Though my access to psychedelic substances was gone, my newly whetted appetite for discovery remained, and I moved to Asia with a job teaching English.

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From the UK to China

In my new home city of Shanghai, I started going to classes on meditation and reading books on the topic. Reading books about Buddhism felt like I was reading books about psychedelic experience, and in retrospect, they were some kind of integration texts. I began a daily meditation practice, and soon after went on my first silent retreat in 2012.

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Temple stay in Korea

In the 6 years that have passed since, meditation practice has become a key foundation in my life. I’ve been back on other retreats and temple stays, was part of a Zen sangha in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh in Spain, and last year started a weekly meditation group in Berlin. Meditation is what a friend of mine would call a fundamental – others include exercise, diet, community and creative projects – and mindfulness is a skill I find applicable in so many situations of life. 

Like many others, my practice started with psychedelics. And while my first psychedelic journeys lead me to meditation, meditation has boomeranged back around and played its role in my psychedelic sessions. Today I’ll share one example.

How Meditation Helped On A Deep Journey

On a grey Saturday a couple years ago, alone in a friend’s house whilst he was away for the weekend, I took 250 micrograms of LSD. In the months before, I’d been reading various psychedelic-therapeutic protocols and had prepared accordingly for the session. I managed the anxiety of a turbulent come up by relaxing myself many times as I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and directing my attention to my breathing. Around an hour in, as the lysergic waves really began to come on strong, I was lying down, looking up at the ceiling.

In one moment, a monster appeared above me. It was hovering over me, looking down at me from the ceiling. I was looking directly at its face, and it was looking right back at me, right into my eyes.

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I was instinctively gripped by fear. My shoulders and rest of my body tightened up instantly as I stared in shock. The beast was of course not physically there, it was a manifestation of my fears, a representation of what scares me and had been avoided.

I held the monster’s gaze, took a deep breath in, and with a long exhale, relaxed my body, letting tension go. As I did this, the monster dissolved into harmless patterns right before my eyes. The visual information was in fact the same – the rich ceiling patterns that made up the monsters face were still there – but they no longer appeared scary or even as a being to me. What changed wasn’t the sensory information I was receiving, it was my perception of it. What made up the ‘monster’ was still there, I just saw it differently. I had a new perspective.

There were a few other moments leading up to this confrontation where I noticed myself getting anxious and tightening up, and I consciously relaxed my body. I see these as like smaller hurdles that once passed, allowed me to get to the point of this confrontation. The dissolution was like a jumping off point, and after this I dropped deep into ineffable experience.

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The journey was deep and had many chapters: there were visions of a past life, alternate realities, and repressed emotions burst up and were released though uncontrollable bouts of sobbing. In the most profound chapter, it was a transpersonal experience; ‘I’ disappeared, along with time, and experience just happened.

I’ll share this story in more detail another time but for now I think its enough to say it was a significant experience that shifted something deep inside of me. The next day I felt lighter and clearer. I had more understanding and compassion. And my meditation practice was revived with a spark. I hadn’t been this affected since those very first journeys – the ones that spurred me on to meditation. I didn’t become a holy and all-understanding being overnight, but I inched in that direction. 

Reflecting on the session afterwards, I saw how techniques that I’d learnt in meditation helped me to relax, to let my guard down and open to the experience with lessened resistance. And this is why I recommend meditation to anyone considering a first psychedelic experience. Including you.

Thanks for reading.

 

The other day I stumbled upon this short video which begins with an interviewer saying to Bill Murray:

“Tell me what it is that you want that you don’t have.”

His answer is surprising and meaningful. I’ve long been a huge fan of Murray as a comedy actor (who isn’t?) and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him talking about the power of mindfulness and being present. I won’t speak for him so I’ll say no more on his intriguing answer, you can see for yourself.

– If you can’t watch the video I’ve posted some quotes below.

  • N.B. The volume is low on this video so you’ll probably want to crank it up a little.

Without using the word mindfulness, Bill is clearly aware of the benefits of raising your consciousness and being more aware and present, and I hope someone recommends him to start meditating. If anyone knows Bill please send him over to my page 😉 – Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Quotes

‘Are you here? And most of the time you’re not’

‘That’s not me there, that’s what I’m doing now, but that’s not necessarily me’

‘I’d like to just be more here all the time and I’d like to see what I could get done, what I could really do, if I were able to not get distracted, to not change channels in my mind and body – so I’m my own channel, really here, and always with you. You could look at me and go ‘OK he’s there, there’s someone there…”

‘This is not a dress rehearsal, this is your life’

‘You kill a man, you kill every opportunity he ever had’

‘It resonated, it rang a bell inside of me, a bell that rings a lot that says “Remember Bill, come back, remember, remember. This is your life, this is the only one you’ve got”‘

 

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Do you know of any other famous people speaking about meditation or mindfulness? We’d love to share it too, send us a message or leave a comment!

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Guided meditations are one of the best ways to get started. Just like a class, an experienced meditator will walk you through it and tell you what you should be doing. Before you know it you’ll remember the instructions and will be able to meditate without a guide. If you’ve already tried meditation but found it didn’t quite click with you, I’d suggest trying different styles or techniques – I’ve tried to include a variety in this list. If you’re not using guided meditations and are finding it hard to maintain focus during your sit, they’ll help in gathering your attention.

So, I’ve scoured the web and tried a host of different meditations from different resources, made this list of the best ones, free of course. For beginners and ease of trial I’ve put a direct link in green to a short meditation from each resource so that you can dive right in.

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Centre

screenshot-2A great place for beginners to start, the site has a few different meditations ranging from 3-20 minutes, all of them straightforward and easy to follow. You can stream the tracks direct from the site or download them for later use. All of them are by the same woman so if you’d prefer a male voice or a different accent, perhaps try one of the others (if you’d like a British accent – scroll down to Mental Health Foundation).

Stream/download: Yes/Yes
Podcast in iTunes store

Recommended meditations for beginners:
Body scan meditation [3 mins]
Breathing meditation [5 mins]

The Free Mindfulness Project

Screenshot (3).pngThe Free Mindfulness Project has a wider variety than UCLA in a selection of different types of meditation ranging between 3 and 45 minutes, they have meditations with a few different teachers, so you should be able to find someone with a style that you like. The only downside is that you can’t stream the tracks directly from the site, they need to be downloaded first and then played.

Stream/download: Yes/No

Recommended meditation for beginners:
Breathing w/ Peter Morgan [3 mins] – Direct download link

Tara Brach

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Tara Brach has a massive selection of meditations. She adds a new meditation each week and for ease of use you can subscribe to her podcast channel and access them that way. She also has a page on her site specifically for those new to meditation where you can find shorter basic meditations – a fantastic place to start – as well as some talks and a lovely letter welcoming you to the practice of meditation!

Stream/download: Yes/Yes
Podcast in iTunes store

Recommended meditation for beginners:
Ten-Minute Basic Meditation Practice (10 mins)
A short introductory meditation with a body scan, bringing focus to the breath, sounds, then resting in awareness. Click here for direct download.

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As well as meditation and mindfulness, this UK-based organisation also has materials on topics such as relationships, nutrition, and exercise. If you’re only after meditations and mindfulness, you’ll find most of the stuff on this part of their soundcloud page, but you’ll have to poke around their podcasts page to find everything. If you like a British accent, give them a go.

Stream/download: Yes/Yes (from soundcloud)

Sample meditation:
Mindfulness Practice Exercise [10 mins]
This relaxation exercise is narrated by mindfulness expert, Professor Mark Williams, and features a series of breathing and visualisation techniques. Direct download link
[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/17058507″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

F*ck That: An Honest Meditation

[Youtube – 2 mins]

  • Tip: When using guided meditations from youtube, turn off autoplay. This’ll stop some other video playing immediately after, leaving you in peace after your meditation.

This meditation may sound like a joke but that doesn’t stop it from being calming as well as damn funny. If you are in need of a smile, go for this one. The creator Jason Headley said that the meditation was created for the realities of today’s world and it’s certainly connected with a lot of people – it’s been massively popular collecting over 8 million youtube views. Many people have reported they find it difficult to meditate to because they are laughing so much – but laughing is healthy and relaxing, and coming out of a meditation with a smile on your face can’t be a bad thing.

  • Due to the popularity of the video, Jason created an app for $2 with longer meditations called H*nest Meditation – iTunes app store / Google Play

If you like the ‘F*ck That’ meditation, maybe also try Inner F*cking Peace: A Guided Meditation (youtube – 5 mins). It’s in a similar comical vein and a couple minutes longer.

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I hope that you’ve found something useful here or better yet a teacher with a style that you like and can regularly meditate with. I am always interested in finding more resources, so if you know of any good ones I’ve missed, please leave a comment. All the best and mindful meditating 🙂

Still not sure if you should be meditating? Check out this infographic on the science behind how meditation makes you happier.
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Want to meditate in silence without a guide? Check out the How To Meditate: A Beginner’s Guide

In search of some motivation? – Why You Should Start Meditating Today

Best Free Guided meditation online beach

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Looking to deepen your meditation practice? Here are 10 ideas…meditation salar de uyuni salt flats bolivia

1. Make It a Daily Practice

If meditation isn’t yet a daily practice, make it one. I can’t emphasise the importance of consistency enough. Making it a daily habit is the best thing you can do for your practice over the long term. Make a 100% commitment to it and don’t leave it as a choice, make it an obligation. If you struggle to find time, then you should actively schedule time for it.

If a day comes thats just full of obstacles, then shorten the meditation, just don’t skip it. If it’s that desperate just sit for 2 minutes (but really, you can’t spare 10-20 minutes?). This way you will still retain the habit of sitting down and taking the time for yourself. It will become a habit rather than a chore and will become a regular part of your day. When you have to brush your teeth, do you ever think ‘but I don’t have time today’ or ‘I’m too tired’ – no, you just do it because you always do it. Make it so with meditation. The best way to form the habit is commit to a month without skipping a day.

  • When you do miss a day… don’t miss the next!
    If you do miss a day – because hey, you’re human – make absolutely sure that you don’t miss the next day. The next day is crucial to make sure you get straight back to it and don’t allow a run of missed days to form. Accept the missed day and just like you’d bring yourself back to your point of focus during a meditation, bring yourself back to your practice: calmly and smilingly.

2. Have a Meditation Buddy

Having a friend that you meditate with is a tremendous way to support your practice. When I first started meditating in China I was lucky enough to have a close friend who was also just starting to learn at that time. We went to classes together, exchanged tips and shared our experiences on the learning curve. We lent each other books on the topic and meditated together after work before going out for noodles. At the time we were both working as teachers at the same school and when we both had a long enough break between classes we’d take an empty classroom and sit for 20 minutes. We turned out to be a great support to each other and both of our practices were strengthened because of our influence on each other.

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  • Alternatively, your meditation buddy doesn’t have to be someone you physically meditate with, it could be an accountability buddy. You can check in with each other regularly to make sure you are both keeping it up.

3. Create a Dedicated Spot For Meditation

Set up a ‘meditation space’ in your home. It could be anything from a small spot with cushions on the floor to a particular room with an altar. Ideally this space will be used exclusively for meditation and you will not do any other activity there. The physical segregation will create a ‘safe haven’ and this will help your mind to settle down more quickly and allow you to go deeper with each meditation.

4. Read a Book About Meditation Or Mindfulness

Each time I read a book about meditation or a related topic my awareness gets a little boost because I’m getting reminders and calls to awareness whilst reading – and I could be doing this anywhere (commuting, in the park, before bed). I’m generally more aware of the mind and its wanderings and I ‘catch’ and therefore place my mind, far more often. When reading you also learn new techniques and get new insights into the practice of meditation, deepending your understanding and expanding your practice. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books have been hugely influential in extending my mindfulness from my formal meditation to daily life and everyday tasks.

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Photo by Amber Metcalfe

Two Books I’d Recommend

5. Do a Course Or Silent RetreatIMG_2869 (3)

Doing a course is a surefire way to boost your practice. You will get the time and mental space you need to do serious meditation. Escaping the distractions and frenzy of the modern world will enable you to develop your level your focus and you will almost certainly learn something new about the technique of meditation as well. Moreover, after an intensive period of meditation it seems much easier to extend the duration of your daily meditations and integrate it further into your life. I have done temple stays and meditation courses and if you are serious about meditation then one course I’d happily recommend is the 10 day vipassana meditation course – I even convinced my Dad to do one. They’re available all over the world and there’s lots of info online. You can read my advice about how to make the most of a 10 day course here.

6. Join a Weekly Group

Like meditating with a friend, meditating with a group can be a superb boost to your practice. It’s a great way to meet other meditators and a place where you can share your experiences and receive support. Having a weekly appointment in a set time and place is a great way to make meditation into a fun and sociable event on your calendar and mixes up your practice helping to keep it fresh.

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Meditation groups can be found almost anywhere- I’ve attended meditation groups while I’ve been based in China, Spain and Korea and they’ve helped me in many ways. I’ve often found the quality of my meditation was improved when sitting with a group and others said the same. Groups are great for learning different techniques of meditation and meeting new people in the process. Search online for a group and if you can’t find one, try starting one yourself, all it takes is setting up a facebook group.

7. Meditate For Longer When You Can

Yes, I’ve banged on about the importance of consistency and cementing the habit. Shorter and daily is better than longer and less frequently. But it doesn’t always have to be shorter, meditate for a little longer when you can. If you normally meditate for 5 minutes a day but on Sundays have more time and an easier schedule, then meditate for 20 minutes. You’ll likely notice a difference in the meditation.

8. Integrate Mindfulness In To Your Life

The aim of meditation isn’t to become skilled at watching the breath for 20 minutes a day, it’s to become more aware of our minds and lives. Mindfulness is basically meditation in a non-formal setting and is the practice being aware of where your mind is when you aren’t sat down in a quiet spot with your eyes closed. While mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and anytime, it will be much easier in the beginning to practice during activities that are done alone and that can be done slowly: taking a shower, brushing your teeth, taking a walk, eating. Choose one or two of these, and everytime you do that particular activity, make it an exercise in mindfulness, a mini-meditation if you will.

Mindfulness really can be extended to anything. Just like meditation, it is the practice of choosing one thing, your anchor in the present moment, and being totally conscious of it. Simply do as you would do with a sitting meditation, but rather than using your breath or mantra as an anchor you will use the activity you are doing. Focus on the thing that you are doing, taking care to do it calmly and with all your attention. This will keep your attention in the present moment and not swept up in unrelated thoughts. Every time you notice your mind has wandered off, calmly bring it back.

9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Do Miss it

When you’re meditating and realise you’ve drifted off in to ‘thought-land’, it’s important to retain your equanimity and calmy, smilingly bring yourself back to your point of focus. The same is true when you miss a day or fall out of rhythm with your meditation practice; it’s the same teaching on the macro level. When you realise you’ve let your regularity of practice slip or skipped a few days, don’t be annoyed at yourself or feel guilty. Calmly accept the reality and return to your practice, just as you would return to your point of focus.

10. Don’t Keep It a Secret: Come Out As a Meditator

When I first started I was a bit timid about sharing the fact that I was a meditator; I was worried about being judged and seen as a weird hippy. Despite its growth meditation still isn’t the most commonplace practice and for many people conjures images of ascetic monks and brings to mind religious practices of exotic Eastern religions. Whilst there’s no real easy way around this until perceptions change, it’s better just to be honest and open that you’re a meditator (isn’t that the case with most things?). You may be surprised to find that someone you know is interested and may even want to learn – you could even find yourself a meditation buddy.

Housemates, friends and those close to you will understand that you need that quiet time alone and it will be easier to make time to sit without worries of distraction. If your boss knows you could even ask if there’s somewhere at your place of work where you can meditate. By ‘coming out’ you’ll identify yourself as a meditator and this shift in mentality will help you to maintain your continuity of practice.

In this way you can also break the stereotype that meditation is only for buddhists and hippies. A former work colleague of mine was surprised when it came up that I meditated regularly and went to a local meditation group. It turned out that he’d already read a few articles about meditation online and was curious to try it. Upon finding out about my practice he seemed relieved and said ‘well… if normal people do it too’. (!)

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These methods have all helped me along the way and I’m sure will help you too. Do you have any tips for how to improve a meditation practice? Or maybe you can recommend a course? Post a comment below.

10 Day Vipassana meditation courses are available all over the world. This post is intended to give you an idea of what to expect on the course and, if you decide do one, to make the most of your 10 days.  Read more