Why would someone sit still for minutes or even hours, doing nothing but watching the mind? The truth is, it’s not just because meditation feels great. In fact, a lot of the time, meditating feels a lot less than great. Nevertheless, meditation’s constant appeal over countless generations has a lot to do with the way that it makes you feel. In this article, we delve deeper into what meditation feels like, in the body and in the mind. Read on to find out exactly what a meditator experiences, and why it keeps them coming back to sit, day after day.
The Many States of Meditation
The first thing to note about meditation is that it does not just describe one feeling. People sometimes refer to the “meditative state”. However, as any meditator will tell you, that state is by far not what the majority of meditation sessions look like. When you see people meditating, they are sitting still, sometimes expressionlessly.
Inside however, there might well be a whirlwind of feelings happening. In one meditation session, you could experience calm, frustration, happiness, excitement, restlessness, desire, wistfulness and rage, all in the space of a few minutes or hours. As such, I would be reluctant to say that there is just one thing that qualifies as “the meditating feeling”. Meditation is complex and manyfold. It is an activity that provokes a range of different feelings. Here are a few of them:
Frustration is a common feeling among beginner meditators. In fact, it might keep occurring even in more advanced meditators. Frustration is the feeling that tells you “this is pointless”, “this is not going well”, “this meditation session is unproductive”, “you are failing at this”. Although frustration leads many people to stop practicing, it is a perfectly normal and healthy part of meditation. Like any feeling, it is simply something which you must observe, without reacting, and learn to let go of.
With frustration, there also come feelings of tiredness, boredom, and restlessness. Again, use these feelings and incorporate them into the practice. Notice where you notice these feelings most. Become curious of these feelings and notice them without placing any judgement on them or following them with thinking.
Then, there is calm. Although not every meditator will experience calm during their sessions, it is one of the most well-known meditation feelings, and a favorite among many (yes, it’s okay to have favorites). In fact, many claim that the feeling of calm which they experience while meditating is what keeps them coming back to their practice (even when frustration becomes prevalent). The calm that comes from meditating is a deep and peaceful sort of calm. It is a feeling of time slowing down.
For a minute, or even for a few hours, thoughts slow down, the mind stops racing, and you experience a deep sense of calm. Inside that calm, there is bliss. A profound feeling of satisfaction in being here, now. The best thing about the feeling of calm that is experienced during meditation is that it tends to linger after the practice has indeed. People who go on week-long meditation retreats often report feeling consistently calmer for the months following. This is the power of the calm feeling that meditation can give you.
Experienced meditators, but also novices, sometimes access a very peculiar sort of feeling, in which the mind seems to have expanded. This feeling also comes after long periods of calm, during which the mind is at rest. Suddenly, something switches. The mind is not just at rest, the mind is empty, vast and beautiful like a clear blue sky. Imagine your brain was a small crowded attic.
During meditation, it might begin to declutter, lose a few cobwebs. And then suddenly the attic is empty, not only that, it is also clean. And it’s not an attic anymore, it’s an open field, as wide as the ocean or the sky above. This is what the so-called “meditative state” feels like. That’s right, it’s pretty awesome.
The Body Feel of Meditation
Now that we’ve covered three stages of feelings experienced when meditating, frustration, calm, and vastness, let’s focus on the body for a minute. Meditation is a practice that does sometimes blur the boundaries between mind and body. During meditation, the mind races, but the body races too. At the beginning of a session, practitioners often experience tingling, scratching, or random aches appearing in the body.
What frustration is for the mind, those feelings are for the body. They are the types of feelings that make you want to quit, stand up, and give up on the practice. Other feelings can arise like tiredness. All of a sudden, you may feel that your body has become heavy, sluggish, sleepiness seems hard to overcome. This is a difficult part of a meditation session, but a useful one nonetheless. Like thoughts of frustrations, these feelings are only feelings, nothing more, nothing less. And very often, they lead to more positive bodily sensations.
During the calm moments of a meditation session, the body will often feel light and airy, supple and flexible. There is a mellow warmth that spreads from the toes to the crown of the head, bathing the whole body in a calming, peaceful feeling. At the peak of the “meditation state”, the body is completely relaxed, free from any tension, but also free from sleepiness.
Ultimately though, the feeling of meditation can’t be simplified as a combination of mental and physical feelings. There is something in meditation that goes further, and that is not necessarily describable. Many meditation practitioners, especially those who practice for spiritual ends, describe meditation as experiencing a feeling of the divine.
When meditating, they are transforming into something more than human, they feel they are closer to another world, which is not the material one which we inhabit. All of this is to say, the full extent of the feelings that come when meditating can’t be described in words. Different contemplative traditions have different words for it, and religions around the world give that feeling different names. Simply put, something about meditation escapes the barriers of our language. And this is part of the appeal too.
The goal isn’t to feel anything specific
Ultimately, what you will experience during your practice will be vary different than someone else’s practice. It may even vary for you day to day. The point is to drop this notion or need to feel something specific.
Meditation should be effortless. You just need to be with whatever is present and notice it without any judgements. Even your desire to feel something during meditation is an object of consciousness your can observe during your practice.
We don’t need to fabricate anything. If we bring feelings that are positive or negative into the practice, notice them. If you notice the breath, watch it. If you feel the sensations of the body, be with it. Whatever you feel, it isn’t incorrect or isn’t what you shouldn’t be feeling.
We hope that this article has helped you gain insight into some of the feelings that can be experienced when meditating. Meditation is a practice that is much deeper and much more complex than simply using breathing techniques to enter a “meditative state”. There is no singular meditative feeling, and every session is different. Remember that meditation is a practice that involves many feelings—and that trance-like state you’ve heard about is only one of them.