If you are living in any of the major cities in the world, you know what I mean when I say life can feel like a whirlwind. We are all constantly on the go, working, eating, sleeping and repeating and trying our best to squeeze in quality time with our family and friends. Yes, that’s right, we have to squeeze in time for those we love the most.
How much sense does that make? In a world where you are really stopping and thinking about it—probably not much sense at all. And speaking of stopping and thinking about it, we caught up with author, journalist and meditation expert, Maggie Richards (MaggieRichards.co.uk) who spelled out so many reasons why it’s important to meditate on a daily basis.
She answered all our questions and we’re pretty sure she will answer most of yours.
Why is meditation so important?
Meditation is a direct route to inner peace, a state achieved in the here and now despite life’s frazzledness, disappointments and frustrations. It has always been this way and always will be. The terrible acts of violence that humanity is still committing against itself and the animal kingdom is testament to how vital it is that we each seek to be as peaceful as possible in life. Peace ‘out there’ really does start with finding peace ‘in here’ (imagine me placing my hand over my heart); that’s how important each one of us is.
CWL: So you are saying that individually we can make a difference to the collective whole? What’s my part as an individual in finding the peace ‘in here?’
The ego, or lower mind as I call it, tends to insist: “I’ll be calm and contented once X, Y, Z has happened.” The heart, or Higher Self, however, knows that peace has no conditions, for peace is an aspect of unconditional or Divine love, the very highest love – which I believe we’re all searching for, whether we know it or not.
Inner peace is reached in stillness and silence. By contrast, we live in an unprecedented time of ‘shouty’ stimulus and information overload. Never has it been so easy to be dragged off-centre, so to speak, tempted by temporary, superficial pleasures.
CWL: I can talk to you for days about technology and simple pleasures, are there any benefits to all the advancements?
All this complex technology, we forget, is partly there to free up time to enjoy the simple things in life – admiring a sunset, laughing with friends and family, following our dreams, discovering our potential, being grateful. Our pure enjoyment is experienced by the universe as a thank you. Just like us human animals, the Divine also values heartfelt please and thank yous. Yet how many of us stop and consider all that we’re given in life? It’s awe-inspiring! We take so much for granted. So it’s very smart to do what makes you happy and give thanks for what you have, because then the universe has a very cool ‘habit’ of blessing you with more of it.
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Mindfulness and meditation are sanity-saving antidotes to the modern disease of busy-ness (a symptom of which tends to be forgetting to give thanks). It teaches us to be more and do less by allowing us to rest in an ever-present pool of inner peace and calm that is a transformative balm to the soul. In my experience, when I’m peaceful, the whole flavour of my days changes. I feel carried by a guiding flow in which my judgements, irritations and annoyances fade away. I feel gently awake, loving , generous and kindly. It’s a GREAT state to be in! Imagine whole nations living like that; would we harm one another?
CWL: So does meditating sort of off-set the damage done by technology and life in general?
I found that the more I let myself be in meditation, the more I recognised that my problems and issues weren’t really problems and issues; it was just my thinking that made them so. Freed from my self-made suffering born of negative thinking and too much ‘doing’, I began to enjoy an enlivening new clarity that in turn gave me more confidence, and blessed me with amazing new friends and opportunities, not least helping others find the hidden virtues within them.
CWL: How does meditation help you control your thoughts?
The more we dip into our inner pool of peace and quiet, the less bothered we become by – literally and figuratively – both external noise and the distracting noise of our own negative thoughts and emotions. In a newfound steadiness we naturally become more connected to our spiritual side. Calm, clarity, simplicity, kindness, patience, acceptance – all are aspects of the Divine us, our Higher Self, which is the part of us that calls us to meditation in the first place.
Meditation is the counterbalance to racing along life’s motorway and helps us ask – where exactly am I going and why? Because there is a very big reason why each of us is alive on Earth right now. The sooner you discover and live your purpose, the happier you’ll become – and it will be a true, bright-eyed, lift-others-up-with-you happiness that no-one can take away from you.
CWL: Who can meditate? Can anyone do it? Or do you really have to be the ‘relaxed’ type?
Everyone can meditate, though of course there will be exceptions (e.g. someone in a coma). If you consider yourself a non-relaxed type, then that’s all the more reason to jump into meditation, I say! There will be reasons why you’re not relaxed and mediation will help resolve those imbalances quite naturally.
In my mid 20s I discovered I was in a chronic state of tension; I’d frequently grind my teeth at night, religiously tear labels off beer bottles on nights out (a repressed fight (of fight/flight) response I later learned when I trained in a pioneering trauma resolution approach called Somatic Experiencing), and would speak my mind without hesitation. Frankly, I was feisty. Zen I was not.
But as I learned to meditate (alongside having therapy and counseling) and dedicated part of every day to relaxing and going within, a miracle happened.
I became gentler, kinder and more compassionate towards myself and others – and I began to like myself a great deal more! My lack of relaxation was not the real me – it was a result of my life experiences* up until that point, plus my lack of tools for dealing with them.
*Between the ages of 6 and 18 I was sexually abused and assaulted by several males I knew.
CWL: Is there a type of meditation that works across the board? Or do you have to find what works for you?
While meditation is for everyone, not every form of meditation is for everyone. Some people need to be in nature, others reach higher states of consciousness through mantras or chants, yet others use a candle flame to still their minds. Find out which works for you, then commit to it. What is across the board, as you put it, is the actual state of meditation. The types of meditation are really ‘just’ ways in which you reach that inner state of grace.
CWL: What are some things meditation can do for you that most people don’t really know?
The truth is there is no part of you – physical, mental or spiritual – that meditation doesn’t have the potential to touch or can’t improve. That’s how powerful it is. It is the ticket to overcoming all that is dark in you, all that pulls you back from being brilliant, beautiful and beaming. How? Because in the silence and stillness of meditation we learn to tap into our all-powerful, eternal essence – to The Divine. That transcendent source of life knows exactly what you need for your highest good and happiness.
It is like nothing else, because it changes you from the inside out – permanently. Brain scanning technology is now showing us how the brain changes with regular meditation. And when your brain changes, you change.
Science is picking up a pace in discovering the far-reaching benefits, though the most far reaching it cannot measure, for they go far beyond objective logic and into esoteric realms of the inexplicable and unquantifiable.
I’m not a scientist in the traditional sense but I’ll gladly present the evidence of what meditation has done for me.
1. It makes you super-sexy!
The anti-ageing, youth-boosting wonders of meditation are well documented, yet nothing quite beats meeting long-term meditators and witnessing how mind-bendingly young they are in spirit. I have a wonderful 76-year-old friend who has meditated most of his life. He’s got long grey hair, a face full of deep wrinkles, and the zest of a 30-something! He even goes on solo international motorbike adventures. What a dude!
It’s quite something to be in his presence because there’s nothing old about him. In fact, I find his vitality and open heart and mind far more attractive than someone of my own age who’s physically buff but self-obsessed and selfish, for example.
I, too, feel all the more attractive the more light I find within myself. Immersed in the healing power of inner silence, what is not you begins to wash away. The compromising habits, the keeping small, the old beliefs and the fear-based patterns start to wash off and reveal the beauty of your being. A couple of years into being a meditator I naturally began wearing more feminine, flowing and colourful clothes. I also, without any conscious effort, began wearing jewellery. As I tenaciously tapped into my inner beauty, it began being reflected in the physical world. As within, so without, as the universal law decrees.
The way I felt about my body, changed too. I stopped using it as a defensive weapon to ‘lure’ men, only to push them away (an ugly unconscious habit) and began to appreciate its aliveness, health and sacredness. I danced lots more and of course, the happier I became, the stronger my positive vibration became. I received so many compliments in those early years, and the best bit was, now that my heart was opening, I could receive them. Magic.
2. It can make you see into the future
What I really mean is that it can wake up latent innate abilities. Because, in deep meditation, you’re tapping into the realm of Spirit which is the eternal now, which is not bound by (linear) time as we know it, space or geography you may, if you are deemed deserving, be shown glimpses of the ‘future.’
One of my first experiences of this was when I was due to move home and live alone for the first time. I was sitting quietly when in my mind’s eye I saw a still scene of a space I didn’t know. The picture was hazy, yet clear enough that I could see a sofa at a right angle in in the middle of the space, a window behind, and a kitchen area to the right. The apartment I ended up getting and which I lived in for seven transformative years was an open-plan space exactly as was revealed to be in the image.
One of my favourite meditation-related premonition stories is that of 20th century Indian spiritual behemoth Yogananda Paramahansa whose destiny it was to introduce yoga to the West. He was just 27 years old in 1928 when, in deep meditation, he had a vision of a crowd of Americans listening to him intently.
The next day he received a letter inviting him to speak at an International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. He didn’t speak English at this point, but being a man of great faith, he went to America – where he instantly recognised many of the people he’d seen in his vision – and succeeded in his life’s mission. It is thanks to him that we all know about yoga now.
3. You’ll boost your good karma big time
Regular meditation invites grace into our life. Grace is a divine dispensation of mercy. It balances karma and causes miracles. Karma is the law of cause and effect, or, what goes around, comes around.
A friend of mine, not even a year after she first began meditating, turned vegetarian overnight – literally! She had the thought while sitting quietly before sleep and hasn’t eaten meat since. Even she can barely believe it was that easy.
I’ve experienced something similar when, in meditation, I was visited by the presence of Yogananda Paramahansa, the author of Autobiography of a Yogi I mentioned earlier. “Go vegan!” he instructed. Admittedly, I didn’t straight away. But some months later, when my flatmate did the 30-Day Vegan Challenge, I did and I haven’t looked back!
I was already vegetarian, but as soon as I cut out all products that harm – and not just kill – animals, I feel even lighter and more peaceful through my whole body. And my bowel movements, well, they’re over the moon! I’m very grateful for the strong prompt I was given in my inner world, because my lower mind may have for years or decades convinced me that I was ‘doing enough’ being a vegetarian. When my truth is I – my soul – am aiming to lead a harmless life. Harmlessness is the acme of spirituality.
CWL: How did you come up with the seven stages of calm?
Nothing dramatic. I’d known Alex, the CEO, for years. When he founded Calm, he asked me to create something that would help an absolute beginner to meditate. I chose 7 steps because 7 is the number for The Divine. Each practical step is designed to guide the novice experientially to the realisation that they can control their thoughts, and therefore their emotions, and therefore their life.
When practiced with pure intentions, the steps – or rather, the results of them – can begin to hint at the liberation that may be attained through self-mastery, achieved when a person has transcended all their vices and become a purer order of being. The steps came from my personal experience of meditation and Somatic Experiencing – a pioneering therapeutic model that helps regulate the nervous system – the movement of life-energy around our body and brain. In meditation, as you know, we are actively bringing ‘online’ our physiology’s innate relaxation response. The more relaxation we can bring into our daily life, the more in harmony we feel with ourselves, others, the world.
CWL: How did you choose the right voice for the meditation on the app?
The original voice of Calm was a friend of mine and a student of The Spiritual Path to Self-Mastery who meditated daily. It was very important to me that a kind-hearted person who walked the talked was the ‘voice’ that would guide the thousands of people to, potentially for the first time, the stillness and silence of their being. After all, we can only lead others where we ourselves have first gone.
CWL: Do you have a favorite online app that you recommend?
There are a lot of meditation resources out there right now, to the point of overwhelm. To forge your path through the feelgood forest, I recommend (a) inwardly asking The Divine/the Universe to guide you to the right one(s) for you; (b) shopping around until you find the one teacher/class/app that works for you – you’ll know when you’ll have found it! (c) trusting your instinct. Learning to meditate is a profoundly personal experience in which things generally ‘just click’, exactly like when you meet a BFF- or partner to-be for the first time.
Of course it’s inspiring to hear that an app or course is working wonders for a friend. But don’t be concerned if you don’t feel drawn to it, or you do it and it doesn’t light you up inside. It just means you need to continue with your sincere search.
CWL: Are body scans the same as meditation?
Body scans are relaxing and good for the brain, but they are not going to propel you on your evolutionary path. The saints, sages and prophets of human history did not attain great spiritual heights by doing body scans! They learned to delve much deeper into their potential by silencing their mind at will, and dwelling in inner peace as they went about their day. Protected from the vicissitudes of their own minds and desires, they remained open to the secret instructions of Divine Will that ultimately secured them liberation from the human condition.
CWL: A lot of these apps cost money… some of them $10 a month. Do you think it’s worth it?
There are two points I wish to make about the money aspect: 1) What price is there on inner peace and happiness? When you so much as taste the ineffable, limitless bliss of your eternal nature, the question of money will vanish like a pebble dropping to the bottom of the ocean.
What does bliss feel like? It’s not easily reduced to words but let’s say it’s a direct experience of the ultimate reality that you have no problems – not one! You – specifically your Higher Self, your essence – are pure, everlasting peace and love. And you are powerful! You are nothing less than a spark of God! When you realise this, a lot of life’s so called problems no longer seem important. The more we focus on eternity, the more peaceful – and a force for good – we become.
On the other hand, being practical is an essential part of being spiritual. If money is an issue, consider making a sacrifice; can you forgo a coffee a day or the new shoes you have your eye on if it means you can afford a spiritual book you feel drawn to, for example? I know for myself that the more I put my spiritual life first, the stronger I feel inside.
The second point is almost counterintuitive. The blessing of meditation is that it’s totally free. As long as you’re awake, you can find a spot to sit still, close your eyes, and meditate. The ideal as I see it is that, once you’ve learned to sit in silence and stillness – whether that be with an app or a physical teacher – you then remove the stabilizers they represent and go it alone. For no-one can tread the path of your destiny for you.
If a person is destined to go into deep meditation – a ‘place’ in which blessings can be bestowed by The Divine – then meditating unaided is essential. One’s relationship with one’s inner world and The Divine is very private and very precious. My hope is that more and more of us enjoy this sacred, timeless practice. We deserve it!
CWL: Can you speak to the role that meditation can play in creating unity in a family or for a couple?
In 2010 I dropped my London life and moved to a small meditation centre in rural Denmark where we meditated as a community three times a day. There was something inexplicably healing and wondrous about resting in deep peace with others who were in love with inner silence as much as I was.
Meditation was not something we ever talked about growing up in rural Wales, much less practice. So I was almost disappointed when my Teacher, when she first came into my life that year, said I was now to meditate alone most of the time.
I understand better now why. Because meditation involves opening up to other realms, it makes us vulnerable to unwelcome non-physical entities and energies. Just like leaving your home and walking into the street makes you open to being attacked by someone. This phenomenon is known as psychic attack, and they can vary from mild to terrifying! (I go into more detail about them in my book. There’s even more about them in Hollywood-worthy The Hidden Secrets of a Modern Seer by Cher Chevalier, the first of her autobiographical trilogy. Book 2 is The Hidden Truths of a Modern Seer).
Whether meditating alone or with others it’s vital to protect yourself. Imagine yourself surrounded by a gentle white light and humbly ask The Divine to keep you safe. I wished I’d known this when I first began meditating. And be very careful about who you choose to meditate with. Ideally, meditate only with those who have the purest intentions for leading a good and pure life.
There’s something very special about families meditating together. I was recently told this touching story by an Indian lady who now runs a women’s center in London. As a girl, whenever she visited her grandmother, the two of them would sit in stillness and silence for ten minutes. She never said it, but the elder had been teaching her granddaughter to meditate – a gift that will keep on giving in eternity! There’s something ineffably intimate about resting in peace and silence with others. It reaches innermost parts of us talking cannot reach.
CWL: How can meditation help someone with anger issues?
When the mind is silent and the body still, we can begin to tune into the quiet messages of the heart, the vulnerability, for example, that can often lie beneath anger. Many times in inner silence I’ve seen scenes of sexual abuse from my past play in my mind as strong waves of emotions flow through me now that I was strong enough to feel them. The more I processed my emotions and let them pass through me, the less anger I felt.
Peace, love and laughter are all powerful antidotes to anger – meditation ‘grows’ our capacity for all three by silently cleansing us of the darkness of our lower self – negative emotions, false beliefs, unconscious behaviors, vices, fears, etc. There have been times in meditation when I’ve burst out laughing just at the sheer joy of being alive! We cannot laugh and be angry at the same time; the two vibrations are polar opposites.
Though it’s not strictly mediation, I wish to mention forgiveness here because it’s for me (and others trying their best to lead as good a life as possible) a powerful tool in overcoming my anger. Anger keeps us fixed tight to the past, while forgiveness sets us free and makes us open to the blessings life wishes to bestow on us. I recommend practicing a forgiveness meditation for any situation that’s causing you pain or unrest in any way. I can also guide you through one in a 1-2-1 session in person or over Skype.
CWL: How can meditation help deal with grief?
On a basic level, meditation will help you process your emotions in a safe, contained way, and at your body-being’s own safest pace. The deepest feelings of the heart tend to need an almost reverent space in which to be honored; the loving peace of meditation offers such a space. No analyzing or explaining. Just feeling your emotions fully in all their bright and subtle colors so that they naturally can pass through you to leave you feeling lighter, stronger and lifted.
It’s when we don’t face our feelings that they tend to grow in the unconscious and, unbeknown to us, start shaping our worldview e.g. “Why bother dating again, I’ll just be hurt.” By stilling our mind that stuff tends not to stick to our psyche, so we stay open to new possibilities for growth, wisdom and love.
Beyond that, in deep meditation, it is possible to be gifted with gateways into the hidden realms of Spirit, where your loved one now ‘lives’. In the inner realms, accessed through a peaceful mind, you may sense them; you may hear them pass you a message clairaudiently (my dad sang to me a quite a few times in the months after he passed. How I sobbed!), or even see them in your mind’s eye. This connection naturally soothes the heart as you realize the eternal bonds of love are not broken.
My dad passed suddenly the day after his 79th birthday in 2014. We were extremely close and I always thought his passing would devastate me. But as a student of The Spiritual Path to Self-Mastery who meditated daily I’d been blessed with being forewarned of his death years before, and had used the time to mend all broken bridges between us and become all the closer.
So when he did go, I felt acceptance all along, and soon passed through shock and began focusing on being practical, most of all, organizing a funeral that he would have loved. Plus, I had huge gratitude for the way he’d passed so peacefully in nature – a gift for his Stoic goodness in this life. In that first year of his passing I was blessed with several beautiful, healing messages from The Divine that help me understand that the standard view of physical death as handed down to me by society isn’t the whole picture. The bigger picture is, in fact, uplifting.