The sure sign of spring up here in Vermont’s snowy Northeast Kingdom is the sap flowing inside the sugar maple trees after a long winter. Like the dove with the olive branch carrying the promise of dry land to Noah after months at sea, the sap rising invisibly inside the majestic maples carries the promise of melting snow and return of summer.
You can’t see the sap flowing, and often in March it still feels like winter with the land covered in snow and few signs of life. Yet inside the tree, water is flowing from down deep in the roots of the trees up to the tips of the highest branches. The tree is equipped to pump the slightly sweet sap up to feed the buds that will soon become leaves and seeds for next season’s growth and regeneration.
We learned from the Native Americans who lived here before us how to tap into this annual spring flow, collect the sap, and boil it down into the most delightful sweet syrup. And every spring Vermonters continue this annual ritual because it gives us hope of sweet renewal after a long season of cold and darkness.
Feeling Your Own Flow
The practice of meditation prompts a similar flow of energy inside of you. When you take time to pay attention to your senses, and notice your thoughts instead of being absorbed by them, you begin unblocking your natural energy flow. You can feel this as a slight tingling sensation in the body or buzzing in the ears.
As you pay attention to your thoughts and learn to witness them with neutrality, instead of engaging with them, your mind naturally becomes more quiet and still. And in those fleeting moments of stillness, you can notice the background movement of energy.
Tapping into this natural flow of energy in your body and mind is like tapping into the natural flow of sap in the maple trees each spring. You don’t notice the sap flowing until you tap into it, just as you normally don’t notice the energy flowing in you until you pay attention.
A key to meditation is that you are simply noticing something that is always there, but which you rarely notice because you are distracted by your thoughts. As you practice meditation and learn to let go of thoughts, a space emerges between them in which you can feel the background flow of energy. You might experience this as a subtle current of vibration or buzz, running through your entire system.
Practicing meditation is simply putting your attention on the sensations that are there in the background all the time, instead of your conceptual thoughts. In this way you encourage the natural flow of energy within you and allow it to nourish and support you.
Letting it Flow
The nourishment and support you get from this natural flow of life-force energy is similar to the vital nourishment the maple tree gets from its sap. To collect and use the sap from a maple tree, we don’t have to pull the sap out or force the tree to produce it. The tree naturally produces it and pumps it up from deep in the ground each spring, and all we have to do is tap into it and collect it.
Your natural energy flows in exactly the same way, constantly nourishing and replenishing you. All you have to do is allow it to flow. And the way to do that is to pay attention to it by bringing your awareness into the present moment. Notice what is happening subtly in the background, instead of being fixed on the content of the continuous stream of stories in your thinking mind.
You will begin to see how your thinking mind blocks your vital energy and drains it off into thoughts of fear, worry, anxiety, resentment, or anger. Your thoughts are obsessed with what has gone wrong, or what could go wrong, and you rarely have moments of calm where your mind is at peace. This makes your body tight and constricted and you feel suffocated and constrained.
Meditation begins with simply noticing how constant these heavy thoughts are and paying attention to how they undermine your hope, contentment, peace, and love. With some gentle discipline, clear intention, and dedicated effort, you can learn to simply let go of these heavy fear-based thoughts, and begin to see how they are not necessary for your safety or well-being.
You will notice after a while that there is no consequence of merely letting go of negative thoughts, and they are not serving you at all. Instead of making you safe or secure, these thoughts that bombard you constantly are making you anxious, afraid, insecure, defensive, and uptight. They block the flow of energy in which your true joy, freedom, and serenity exist in endless abundance.
Practicing meditation in this way is medicine for your wellbeing that addresses the problem at its cause. Instead of trying to override the negative thoughts with a positive narrative, you learn how to cut them off and let them go. This is similar to the process of pruning a tree or plant so it grows stronger and has a clearer path for its vital energy to flow. (See my last blog on Pruning the Mind)
As you practice cutting off and letting go of your mind chatter, space opens up for your natural energy to flow and increase. Pure awareness of the sensations of this moment replaces chronic thinking, and is much more relaxing, enjoyable, and nourishing for your being. This is the essence of meditation.
To learn to practice meditation it helps to have the support of a teacher or coach, and a group to practice with. Going on an intensive retreat is perhaps the best way to deepen your practice as you will more quickly get beyond thresholds of resistance and experience the deep relaxation of a settled body and mind. For details of intensive silent Insight Meditation retreats led my Miles, click here.