How to Meditate Deeply
How to Meditate Deeply – An Interview with Oldriska Balouskova
HTM: Do you meditate? If so, what is your preferred meditation method?
Oldriska: I love to listen to all that is– become silent and listen to everything as if I was listening to my own self– because it is all my own self. Listen to silence, to birds, to cars, to trees– to space and everything in it. I love to feel the life force of my body– to put my attention on that– on what Eckhart Tolle calls the inner body and what in Chinese is called the Chi.
I love following breath with my attention. And I love to breathe into different parts of my body. I used to love going to formal Vipassana retreats at Spirit Rock in Northern California but now my meditation practice has become more informal– I meditate/bring awareness to what is every time I think of it.
HTM: It sounds as if you have some experience with meditation. I am interested in hearing more about your current practice of listening meditation and following breath– and want to return to that. However, I would first like to hear about when you first began to meditate. How were you introduced to it?
Oldriska: I was first introduced to meditation when I was 14 and started practicing yoga (I am 36 now). In my early 20’s, I fell in love with the practice of following my breath with my attention. At the same time, I also started working with a shaman. For years, I would give my attention to both formal Vipassana meditation and to shamanic journeys.
HTM: Do you mind going into your first experience in detail, if you can recall it? What about it managed to keep the interest of a fourteen year old?
Oldriska: I was drawn to “spirituality” as a teenager; I was 16 when the communist government in Czechoslovakia finally went down. When I started practicing yoga, the spiritual aspect of it was basically illegal. I was drawn to stillness in it and at the same time, it was hard to be still at that age– but I was drawn to it nevertheless. Now I realize that my whole life, I could feel presence just around the corner (perhaps it is that way for everyone).
I was looking for my true self and I could sense it in yoga and meditation, even though I felt restless when I was practicing them as well. The fact that it was something almost forbidden was attractive as well. As a child and teenager, always knew that there was more to life than what people around me were telling me. Please let me know if you need me to be more specific about any of this.
HTM: Was there anyone who encouraged you? Did you have any yoga and meditation peers? Also, were there any books or other forms of media that nudged you in this direction?
Oldriska: A couple friends signed up for a yoga class when it first opened (the first yoga class in my hometown ever, probably)— they soon stopped going but I continued. No one encouraged me– no one really knew anything about it. There were initially no books and no media coverage at all. Eventually, I got a book written by the yoga teacher whose direction we were following.
I was growing up in a small town (14,000 people) in a country occupied by the Soviet Union. The media never talked about yoga. It only talked about socialism, communism, work, and the Soviet Union. When the opportunity arose, I was immediately drawn to it but all my encouragement and motivation were completely from my inner self. My parents still to this day have never meditated or practiced yoga.
When I was growing up, people’s spirits were crushed by the occupation and everyone was basically emotionally and spiritually hiding. In high school, I also considered writing a thesis about clinical death but people were afraid to discuss the subject and it was also hinted that I may have to leave the school if I persevere with it. Eventually, I lost interest.
HTM: Can you tell me about any significant “inner events” while meditating where you were surprised at the level of peace, beauty or bliss– that may have led to a deeper commitment to the practice?
Oldriska: Do you mean when I first started at 14 or later on in my early 20″s or just in general?
HTM: I’d like to hear about the progression, beginning with these early years—what occurred in the way of inner landmarks up until the present. I suppose this is much to ask, so what I am wanting most is to know about the first real powerfully significant “aha” moment in your life of meditation.
Oldriska: When I was 24, my heart opened during a shamanic journey and I was in a state that might be called awakened for about 2 months after that. Then some hard stuff came up and the opening became covered up by my “usual self” once again. This experience deepened my commitment to meditation because I felt that meditation was taking me to the “same place”.
It is not so much the a-ha moments as it is the difference between the state of simply being and the state of perceiving everything through the filter of mind and thoughts that keeps me interested in meditation/awareness practices. Initially, it was the “a-ha” moments. Now it is simply too painful to be in the egoic mind for too long or too much.
When I first started meditating on a regular basis, I put too much effort into it. I tried to get somewhere. Eventually I realized that meditation is another name for simply being aware of what is– that I am already “home”– that there is nowhere to go– that the only thing “to do” is to allow myself to sink deeper into this moment now.
HTM: You say “my heart opened” and I want to get some deeper details on that experience if you don’t mind– sensation, awareness, the shamanic journey that triggered it, etc. Would you mind sharing some of the details of what happened at 24?
Oldriska: The journey itself involved a lot of shedding of old skin. For example, I realized that I was holding back who I truly am for fear of losing people close to me; and then, I let go of that fear. I just let go of a lot of fear. On my way out, the guide said to me: stay awake– and I did not quite know what she was talking about. When you are awake that label no longer matters, at least in my experience. One simply is.
During those two months, I would be with someone and without trying to do anything the person would just naturally come into a state of complete presence. The presence that was coming through me would naturally align other people as well. It was as if I suddenly became the most amazing healer but I was not doing anything at all. I was completely permeable– not driven by ego at all.
I saw the Buddha in the cashier in the supermarket and the cashier completely expressed the Buddha in herself while she interacted with me. I did not feel drawn at all to any spiritual teachers during that time because teachings would pour down on me like rain simply because I was open to them. No need for outside guidance whatsoever– I was simply and completely guided by life– there was no separation between me and life.
When I looked at paintings, I would see so much life in them– I would be moved so easily. An artist friend of mine commented to my boyfriend that I must have had a lobotomy of some sort– that I had completely lost any sense of judgment— that the worst art looks amazing to me. Yet during those two months, I also read a few pages from a friend’s journal without her knowledge. I felt compelled to do so and then I felt compelled to tell her what I did. She got amazingly angry. Her anger poured down on me and all I felt was gratitude for her allowing me to see how she felt.
Interestingly, that state of openness did not prevent me from reading her journal. She later expressed gratitude for the way I received her rage. It was not “my” doing, of course. I thought this state of being was there to stay but then as suddenly as it came, as suddenly it disappeared again. As you can imagine, I spent some quite time after trying to regain the paradise lost. To know that it is possible to live like that– and then for it to go away– it was hard to be “back” in ego-land.
HTM: This all makes it more clear to me how to meditate deeply. I especially like your references to how being present and alert (awake) draws others into being present. It is as if we are all ready to welcome that opportunity and just need an open heart to come along. Can I assume that you are now in a similar space (in terms of being open) that you were during those two months? Also, have you had the opposite occur where your presence posed a threat, repelling someone who was not ready to meet you there?
Oldriska: During those two months, I was living in the house that belonged to my ex-boyfriend’s mother. At one point I was with her in the same room and I suddenly felt my love for her and I told her that I love her. She screamed at me: get out of here immediately! She could not stand being told that I loved her. Her response surprised me but it did not upset me.
The state I am in now changes—sometimes an awareness of myself as awareness/consciousness is at the center of my perception of reality, and sometimes that awareness is more in the background. I do not feel those amazing healing powers at the moment. Not to that extent. That was pure magic. Do you?
HTM: It was nice to hear of the repelling effect. You are asking if I feel amazing healing powers at present. It made me laugh. Without going into too much detail, I must say that my commitment to the present moment and honesty is pretty strong. In the face of conflict and difficulty I rarely go into my head any more. I instead process the pain in the moment.
I have some deep trust issues that are still being healed. As I continue to heal, to this same extent do I see it reflected– mirrored in my encounters with others. I am eager to ask a few questions about your current practice. However, I have two more questions to ask first. You wrote about how you tried very hard at meditation at one point and then finally chose to just let go of the struggle.
There are many accounts of individuals having crazy determination then finally dropping it all– which paradoxically triggered a spiritual awakening of sorts. There is even a metaphor of an apple (like an ego) needing to ripen until it falls naturally from the tree. The ego being developed and focused on until the ego-mind state is intolerable. Do you believe that trying hard was a necessary stage for you to go through?
Oldriska: Since I had to go through it, it must have been necessary– but perhaps if I had met someone deeply present at that time, perhaps they could have communicated to me what meditation is truly about.
HTM: Do you feel that growing up in an oppressive environment (meditation being illegal) made you that much more clear on overcoming both inner and outer oppression– to set yourself free?
Oldriska: Meditation was not technically illegal but everything spiritual was basically taboo. Yes, I was always very aware of the oppression– far more than my peers– more sensitive to it. And it did make me love freedom/truth more than anything.
HTM: Just the statement– “love freedom/truth more than anything” is very powerful. Okay, now I would like to hear about your current practice. Let’s start with the listening. Is this a metaphor for receptivity or are you particularly audio-oriented?
Oldriska: It is both– it is a metaphor for receptivity but it is also a powerful practice of receptivity for me– by listening to what is– I open up from the more limited sense of self to the spacious sense of self– to the space that I am. It works beautifully when I can receive what people have to say in the same manner– as the space for it– as the listening itself. It is such a simple practice of allowing what is to be– when you truly listen, you cannot be thinking at the same time.
HTM: I understand. Listening is sacred. Being truly heard affirms who we are. I don’t know how familiar you are with chakra work, but it seems your heart opened at 24, and your third-eye and crown (associated with the senses and hearing) are open now in this way. Did you feel any progression through the throat area at any time? This would have had to deal with self-empowerment and a “calling” of sort. Some women have a difficult time with this chakra center. For men, it is more the heart.
Oldriska: I am a town guide, a teacher and an interpreter as far as work is concerned so there is definitely the throat area involved in all of that. Allowing myself to fully feel everything I am feeling is definitely a process of self-empowerment for me, though I am not sure what chakra that would be.
HTM: You mention both “listening” and “breathing” and that you do this throughout the day. Is there anything that you routinely set time aside for that focuses solely on meditation? If not, I want to hear more about the breathing and why this is important to you.
Oldriska: My main practice is allowing the present moment to carry me. It is allowing presence to permeate me and to flow into everything I am doing– feeling myself being breathed– feeling the life force in my body. Feeling presence is what I “do”– that is my meditation practice in this moment, and, in terms of linear time, all day long, day after day. Everything I “do” is a meditation. Life is a meditation.
HTM: That was beautiful. “Listening to What Is”… Thank you. I understand what you mean when you say “Life is a Meditation”. For some it is time set aside. Others like yourself, have managed to integrate this awareness into everything. It’s wonderful. You speak of allowing and being supported which are lovely images. I have more than once during this interview thought of a little book I have on the Upanishads translated by Eknath Easwaran. The “Isha Upanishad” includes this bit of text–
“The man who sees all creatures in himself, and himself in all creatures knows no fear. The man who sees all creatures in himself, and himself in all creatures knows no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude that man who sees its unity?”
You speak of being breathed. I have felt this way. It sounds as if you have managed to drop much of the false border that we so often imagine between ourselves and all else. Can you describe this feeling and if there is anything you consciously “do” to return to it, if necessary? Do you feel that this is how to meditate deeply and be more present?
How to Meditate Deeply, One With All
Oldriska: Thank you for the beautiful quote from the book on Upanishads. You say—”It sounds as if you have managed to drop much of the false border that we imagine between ourselves and all else. Can you describe this feeling and if there is anything you consciously “do” to return to it– if necessary?” It actually feels a bit different “each time”– and it is hard to describe– perhaps best described by poetry– but often there is softness in the perception and a feeling of perfection– the great symphony of life– and a feeling of being one with the fabric of life– with its multiplicity and with its unity. And a feeling that we are always one with all that is– but we are not always aware of it. How do I help myself remember? By accepting what is in this moment– even if it is a feeling of separation– by truly feeling that and allowing it to be—by feeling life breathing me—by putting attention on the chi/life energy in the body.
HTM: I like “one with all that is”. Your poetic account of this experience is a delight. I am drawn in particularly by these words of yours– “accepting what is in this moment– even if it is a feeling of separation– by truly feeling that and allowing it to be” and it is clear from this that the “way in” so to speak, is through acknowledging and to allow feelings.
This is an interesting issue for me, as so many associate “being present” or “the awakened state” as being wholly blissful and so put a lid on feelings that are not entirely joyful. This leads to a suppression of what we might unfortunately refer to as “negative” emotions. Do you believe and is it your practice to completely allow feelings of any kind– that to feel fully is the key, regardless of what those feelings may be?
Oldriska: It is my practice to completely allow feelings of any kind to be what they are– to give them space to be what they are– not to go into thoughts about them but to stay on the level of sensation and energy and feeling in the body—being present to me means being present with all that arises in the space that I am.
Not putting a lid on anything– anything at all– no matter how painful or scary it might seem– which does not mean acting it out or identifying with it– but just feeling the energy/sensation of it. For me, to feel fully is the key, regardless of what those feelings might be—without a doubt.
HTM: I think we have struck gold with this— so beautiful—so important. I believe that what you pointed out marks the important difference between understanding these practices intellectually and the actually practicing them. The truth of where we are reveals itself when serious feelings kick in. Do we trust these feelings and sensations or do we start interpreting them through thoughts?
Thank you so much for that. Incidentally, there is a great book by Osho on this subject titled “Emotional Wellness”. Okay, I have another question and you can tell me whether or not you are comfortable addressing this, or not. What advice would you give those just getting started with meditation?
How to Meditate Deeply, Allowing
Oldriska: Meditation is allowing “what is” to be. It is not about getting anywhere other than where you are right now. To meditate is to be right here right now, to feel what you feel, regardless of what it is. It is not about trying to feel something different. Nature is a wonderful teacher of presence. Meditating in nature, listening to its sounds, meditating while watching trees– all this can be very helpful. Bring awareness to everything you are doing– meditate while brushing your teeth or washing the dishes, for example.
HTM: Thank you. This has brought up an interesting question for me, so here it goes. You speak of meditation as allowing “what is” to be”. My cynical mind responds with… “What is” by its very nature is already being, so what does it matter if I allow it, or not? How could I disallow “what is”?
Oldriska: That is a great question. Of course what is already is regardless of whether you allow it or not but it makes a difference to your state of being– if you do not “allow”/accept it, you are in resistance and that is what you will experience.
HTM: I have one more question. This may seem redundant, but I have to ask. How exactly do we go about this art of allowing? What does allowing mean? What is it in particular that makes the difference between allowing and resisting?
Oldriska: It is hard to answer that question verbally because for me, it happens so much on the level of feeling open versus contracted. I will get back to you if and when more words come to me regarding this question.
HTM: I understand. It is an extremely subtle dynamic in our experience that makes room for allowing. I feel that we are sharing much clarity on this subject so I want to venture deeper into it. It’s quite possible that we have gone as far as we can with words.
My reasoning is that for those who have yet to embrace this art of allowing (to feel what you feel) it might be helpful to know what makes this so important difference. Perhaps another way to get at this subtle behavioral dynamic is to look instead at how we habitually disallow. I think it may have something to do with projection, denial and fear– the fear of encountering oneself.
Perhaps it has something to do with the willingness to see self– see anything, for that matter. This is your interview, and I don’t want to put words out there that are not in keeping with your sense of all of this. Do you think it has something to do with this willingness to pay attention– just this subtle wish to encounter self?
Oldriska: It definitely has to do with the willingness to truly feel all that I am– the whole of the universe– not to resist any part of it. It is not Oldriska waking up– it is the universe waking up to itself– and it feels amazing. The allowing is so much about feeling myself as the universe– feeling the vibration of the universe– and us communicating about this feels so much part of this– of the universe waking up to itself. I hope this makes sense– I am feeling that vibration pretty strongly now.
HTM: Is there anything that you do to help this happen? If, by contrast, there is a way that someone can retard or prevent this process, what is that they do? And so, what is it that you do instead to help? This same effort makes us both serious and impermeable, does it not? With motive we are not in receptivity but instead wish to alter what needs no altering. Still, I don’t believe checking in necessarily requires effort– perhaps just an awareness. Perhaps your “bringing attention” is the dropping of effort.
How to Meditate Deeply, Letting Go
Oldriska: It wants me to meet it anew all the time– to be creative about presence. The process/unfolding can surely be delayed– and there is a part of us (sometimes called the ego) that does its best to delay it. How does it do that? By pushing against what is, by separating from it, by analyzing it, by judging it, by fearing it… To help another, you can be there as an intense presence.
HTM: So, rather than push against it, or analyzing it, or judging it, you embrace it. It is inviting and you accept the invitation. It is just as you experienced with others who felt safe to meet you when you approached them with an utterly open heart during the two months you referred to earlier in our conversation. Your “intense presence” made the space for them to set aside their fears. Would you say that this is accurate?
Do we gain courage by having the will to actually look– actually be willing to witness? To use your terms, the universe invites itself. Having been separate, it must extend the invitation through its realized self to the unrealized self, and the accepting of the invitation dissolved the one invited into the one accepting the invitation. Prior to accepting the invitation, the one invited has identified itself as separate. The unrealized must accept the invitation from itself.
How does it do this? Is it through willingness– a desire to dissolve this barrier? This is very subtle. I have an article I just wrote on meditation and frequency posted on this site. It is about the periodic checking in all of us do. I believe we progress at a rate that is line with this frequency of contact with source which is governed by our willingness to witness self.
For those that have realized self more fully there is no down time of not checking in. However, for those still wanting to progress towards this through meditation or any other means, this checking in is I believe the key. Tell me what you think of this.
Oldriska: Meditation and other means definitely help us to stay “tuned in”. I go through periods when I feel completely guided by life (when the ego is barely there), and then I go through periods when I put more effort into bringing attention to the present moment. You say—”I believe we progress at a rate that is line with this frequency of contact with source which is governed by our willingness to witness self.” Do we even progress, though?
I feel that we are already there and the only thing that changes is our level of awareness of the fact that we are already “there”. Perhaps we can use the word progress if we know that we are not truly the ones doing it, and that the progress is not linear and that it is creative and playful. It is our conditioned self, which is serious, sometimes even harsh, and interested in progress.
The unconditioned self feels like love itself. You say—”those still wanting to progress towards this through meditation or any other means, this checking in is I believe the key.” Yes, yet at the same time, it is the unconditioned self which is waking up and making it possible for us to become more permeable. It is important for me to remember that I am being held and carried and I don’t have to work too hard.
But yes, the checking in is wonderful– and helps us breath more easily. We can try to understand this with our minds to some extent but feeling presence is truly the only way to be. If you need to clarify anything, please keep asking.
How to Meditate Deeply, Clearing the Fog
HTM: I see what you mean about the word “progress” as it suggests effort and destination. What word is appropriate in reference to what amounts to a fog clearing? The issue is difficult to grasp with language. In your last response, first paragraph, you say– “I go through periods when I put more effort into bringing attention to the present moment”. Is it not the effort that gets in the way?
Oldriska: I like “fog clearing”– that expresses it far more accurately for me and thank you for bringing my attention to what I said about effort– the effort indeed gets in the way– yes, it makes us serious and impermeable and makes us forget who we truly are– you put it beautifully: With motive we are not in receptivity but instead wish to alter what needs no altering—exactly.
Checking in does not have to require effort, not at all, just a slight shift in what we put attention on. What I really meant to say is that sometimes I feel completely receptive to what is, and sometimes I remember to slightly shift my attention to return to reality—but even that remembering really happens on its own. What I said about effort in the previous message did not accurately express what I feel. Thank you for catching it. Noticing that we are out of alignment brings us naturally back to alignment.
HTM: I love your last sentence– “Noticing we are out of alignment brings us back into alignment” and you also speak of the remembering happening on its own. How does something divided by focus alone recall its own truth of not having actually divided? Even the “happens by itself” is so easily projected by the belief in source as being separate.
We ARE that which happens. We ARE that recollection (the once again collecting). We ARE all that is happening by itself. In our mindfulness we ARE responsible through the choice of our focus, are we not? Or is this beyond choice? Who notices we are out of alignment and how?
Oldriska: We are the living truth– we are the remembering. In our mindfulness we ARE responsible through the choice of our focus, are we not? Or is this beyond choice? Who notices we are out of alignment and how? It feels to me that I have a choice in what I put attention on, at least to some extent. Awareness notices that we are out of alignment. How? I don’t know the answer to that.
HTM: It feels to me that we have reached a natural conclusion to this interview. I have really enjoyed it. It has really been good for me. Thank you so much for doing it. Do you have anything else to add before we conclude?
Oldriska: It has been an amazing journey, though we have never left. It feels complete to me to. It feels great to be able to communicate about these things. I have nothing else to add. Thank you.