Contributor: Evan Griffith. Evan is the consummate artist: deep thinking, profound, highly excitable, and just the right amount crazy. Author of Burn, Baby, Burn: Spark the Creative Spirit Within, he’s also a talented writer. His blog, Notes for Creators, is a passionate exploration of the intersection of creativity and divinity. Here is an interview I did with him a few years back for my book, The Power of Acceptance.
Mollie: How long have you been practicing meditation? What was your first experience of meditation like?
Evan: In my teens in the ‘70s, my very conservative yet searching Christian mom brought me to a yoga class that ended with meditation. Later in high school and college I sporadically experimented with meditation. By my senior year I became so enamored with the possibilities that I created an independent study course in Human Potential with a friend—approved by the college!—that focused heavily on exploring different types of meditation, yoga, guided imagery, affirmations, New Thought books, sleep experiments and more. It sounds so normal now, but it felt daring at the time, a little less than four decades ago.
The most memorable early meditation I can recall was with a candle—simply focusing on the flickering flame. We were high so it really doesn’t count. But it intrigued me enough to want to try it in a normal state of mind. Once I did so, mind-altering substances utterly lost their appeal. To me it was the difference between a sloppy beer-party tryst and falling in love. Deep, life-long, love.
Mollie: What made you continue to meditate?
Evan: From my earliest meditation attempts in college, I took to it right away. Even while experimenting with different forms of meditation, I felt profoundly at home in the process. From then on, meditation was a part of my life—though I didn’t develop an ironclad daily meditation process until many years later, after an intense spiritual experience.
Mollie: Have you ever experienced a healing through meditation, bodily or otherwise? Can you tell me about it?
Evan: I’ve experienced many healings that I associate with meditation—bodily, financially, creatively, relationally. I even credit it with helping me find my life partner.
The first time I realized meditation could be used for healing was while reading a magazine. I think it was a yoga magazine, or Oprah’s magazine—something with a cool spiritual slant. There was a brief article about how meditators could stop headaches.
Immediately, I sat up a little straighter.
I’m a meditator! I thought. Why can’t I do this?
I decided to try their simple process: After my first inkling that a headache was coming on, I stopped everything and got into a meditative space. After going deeply into my meditation, I brought my conscious awareness into, rather than away from, the point of pain. Then I visualized conduits and pipes running through the area of pain with pressure building up in them. Then I imagined myself turning a valve to off gas the pressure, releasing the tension, releasing the pain.
The very first time I tried this, it worked! Maybe only a month or two into experimenting with this game I never had a headache again.
Techniques like these are counterintuitive. We’re always shrinking from pain. We unconsciously tighten up around the pain points, in an attempt to block them. But meditators—people with sufficient practice accessing that deep state of consciousness where reality plays out fluidly within the body-mind—can transform the pain with their focus.
Incidentally, I’ve described this process to a number of people over the years. I’ve never seen it work for a non-meditator.
Regarding other types of bodily healing, years ago I settled into a simple pattern whenever I would feel some kind of distress coming on: At the earliest opportunity I would drop into meditation and bathe the area with love and healing. Then that night before falling asleep, sitting in bed, I’d drop into meditation again. At the end of my usual meditation practice I would envision healing … and then fast-forward to the morning. I’d see myself waking up and feeling wonderful—amazing—having almost forgotten that I even had an issue. Then I’d see myself remembering the issue and smiling, thinking to myself, Oh yeah, that’s gone. Love that process. I love how things work out so freaking well when I set the intention deeply.
With this, I’d lie down and drift off to sleep.
This process has worked astoundingly well for me, to the point where I can go years without getting sick. It’s only when I get cocky about it and don’t go as earnestly deep in my visualization that I seem to have issues.
Mollie: What is meditation to you?
Evan: Single-pointed stillness. More specifically: An enveloping shift sparked by single-pointed attention in silent stillness. You start with you and your little mind silent and focused, and when it goes well you spring through a cosmic bliss portal.
Mollie: Describe for me your meditation practice. Do you focus on a thought or image, or just not think at all?
Evan: My favorite practice is what I call “love zazen.” In zazen you sit comfortably and attentively. As thoughts come, you notice them, then let them go.
My method is similar: First, you sit quietly and comfortably, engendering a feeling of love or appreciation in yourself. This becomes quite easy once you get the hang of it. If you’re having difficulty with it, though, conjure up someone you adore. Or something you relish doing. Or a favorite place, a treasured memory, or an experience charged with affection. Focus on that person or experience until you feel washed in appreciation or love. Then focus on the sensation, and let go of the image that sparked it.
Next, begin to observe your thoughts. One by one, notice them, then consciously fill them with the love you’re feeling. Often thoughts of things you’re keenly grateful for will come up. Love and appreciate them. If a thought about some difficulty in your life arises, let your loving appreciation sensation surround it, too. Find something to appreciate about that difficulty. Appreciate the hell out of it! As you do this, whatever rises up in your thoughts will whisper away, and you’ll be left with just the loving appreciation sensation.
I swear by the moons of Jupiter that I’ve resolved more issues this way than by any other method. If I miss a day of this practice, I miss it in the way you miss a person; I’m actually sad about it.
Another favorite meditation of mine is a listening meditation—simply sitting comfortably erect, and listening. You become attentive to the sounds surrounding you, as well as the sounds and feelings within you. If you’re out in nature you might hear a brook, birds, a dog barking, squirrels skittering along tree branches, wind picking up and dying down, blowing through and around what surrounds you. If you’re in a more urban environment, you’ll hear cars and people and snatches of conversation. You’ll hear sirens or music or doors or creaking. I’ve practiced this in New York City on Ninth Avenue with jackhammers going—it still works. After a while you’ll start hearing the beat of your heart and the coursing of blood through parts of your body. A little while longer and you’ll swear to God that all the sounds are being orchestrated together. You begin to feel part of a great symphonic movement that is being played through all the elements of Earth.
Mollie: Is there a learning process to meditation?
Evan: Yes! It’s primarily learning to relax into the process. And learning that sitting in silence for five or twenty minutes—whatever your commitment—is meditation. Regardless of outcome. Many people think they’re doing it wrong … they’re not. Sitting softly erect, going calm, slowing your breathing down, focusing on the method you’ve chosen is all it is. Even when you feel unfocused much of the time. With practice, the pauses in between mind sparks become longer, more sensuous. You begin to feel the space between your thoughts … and it’s voluptuous. Rapturous even. In time that spaciousness envelops even your thoughts. It’s a loving saturation that comes to permeate the entirety of your being. Soul, mind, body, the external world … they all meld into that loving, saturated emptiness. I use the term emptiness because that space is devoid of markers. It’s a complete absence of all the things we normally associate with existence. And yet emptiness doesn’t do it justice. Because it’s also dense with life energy.
Mollie: What might you tell a new meditator to help them through the first part of the learning process?
Evan: I would tell them to take it easy. Flubbing it is meditation!
Pick whatever method feels natural to you and go for it. Fifteen minutes of Internet research will reveal at least fifteen different methods. There’s no wrong way to evolve your way through your meditation practice. Try as many methods as you need. You’ll find yourself coming back to one or two favorites. That’s your cue. Explore those that intrigue you most.
Mollie: Sometimes we talk about meditation as if it’s a similar experience for all. And we now know that the same regions of our brain are activated no matter which practice we use. What do you think: how close is what one person calls being “in touch with God” to the feeling experience another has of mere “rest and relaxation”?
Evan: It’s like sex. There’s a commonality. But within that commonality there’s a widely diverse experience, from rote to ecstatic.
Belief matters, even in meditation.
Intention and expectation frame the meditative moment intensely. Once I believed it possible, asked for it, and then went into meditation allowing for a deep spiritual connection, that’s what I got. My God was it ever mind blowing. Even now, sometimes it feels as though my neural circuits are being overloaded, in the best of ways. As though my own wiring is being rewired into something better.
Mollie: Do you have a particularly fond memory of a meditation experience?
Evan: Here’s a funny experience that happened with my friend Gil, who was in the independent study course with me. In a book we read by channel Jane Roberts and spiritual entity Seth we read that in a rare instance someone expands too quickly in consciousness—and then bursts out of existence. It’s as though their body was not equipped to handle the sudden energy surge.
This became a running joke with us. As in, “Watch out, I’m feeling the meditation vibe tonight; I might combust at any moment.”
Late one night we both decided to go down to the lake and sit on a berm and meditate.
That night was windy as hell. In Florida we get these intense storms, and this was the precursor to a particularly intense one. No rain yet, just wind that was whipping limbs and trees around. We settled down to meditate, but after a short while I became uneasy—wildly uneasy. It just felt off, eerie. We were in the pitch dark, side by side just a couple of feet from each other. The wind had picked up even more. I wasn’t gripped with fear as much as foreboding, as though something terrible was about to happen.
I opened my eyes and glanced at Gil. I could only see his silhouette, but he seemed to be deep into his meditation. Not wanting to disturb him, I silently got up and headed back. My girlfriend was in my dorm room and I spilled out how relieved I was that she’d shown up—I was that unsettled.
Maybe five or ten minutes later, Gil comes bursting into my room, flinging the door open so violently he almost destroyed it.
“Whoa, Gil, what’s wrong?” we both blurted out. As soon as Gil could regain his breath, he huffed out: “Jesus, I thought you had combusted!”
Mollie: How often does meditation feel good in the moment? How often are you itching to get out of the chair?
Evan: It always feels good to me. I drop very quickly into the meditative moment. I almost never find myself itching to stop soon—but I would certainly allow myself to do so if I were having difficulty.
I don’t set a timer or have any kind of prompt that ends a meditation session. I simply stop when it feels right. Consequently, a meditation can be just a few minutes to twenty, thirty or even forty minutes long. Most of my night meditations probably last twelve to twenty minutes.
During the day I am apt to drop into very short visualization-type meditations to suggestively pre-cast how I’d like an impending experience to turn out (a meeting, a negotiation, a conversation, an activity) or to ask for guidance or a solution to an issue. Sometimes I may be getting away from meditation and more into asking. I guess you could call it prayer. But I see it all as part of a continuum so I rarely make those kinds of distinctions in my own mind.
Mollie: What about when you’re depressed or angry or in a bad mood? Does meditation still help you feel better? How often does it help you get out of your rut? How often does it fail to do so?
Evan: Some form of meditative or contemplative or envisioning moment is my go-to method for any and all stresses. As well as all joys and triumphs and satisfactions. There’s nothing in my life that I don’t take into my practice of silence. It is that helpful.
The more I bring with me into the silence, the easier life unfolds. It’s that simple.
It is so effective a process for the turbulence that comes my way, that I know almost no other way to deal with issues. I say this with great respect for the importance of exercise, sleep, nutrition, expression and loving relationships as other pillars of a well-lived life.
I’m powerfully drawn to writing meditations as well. In fact, many days a week I write a Vision Page in the mornings. I also practice moving meditation, most commonly through walking. While driving I often speak affirmations aloud.
Mollie: What’s the best thing about meditation for you?
Evan: That it is so interwoven with the “rest of” my life that I can take it with me wherever I go.