There are three types of experiences you can have during meditation. There may be several variations or combinations of these experiences, but they all fall into three basic categories:
1. Falling asleep. If you fall asleep during meditation, it simply means you’re tired. Rest assured, this is a normal experience. If you’re not sure whether you’ve been asleep, notice how you feel. If you may are slumped over or feeling heavy and dull, you’ve probably been asleep. When you wake up, finish off whatever meditation time is remaining. If you’ve slept right through your scheduled meditation, meditate for at least 5 minutes before getting up. Sleep is restful dullness, whereas meditation is restful alertness. If you have time, it is always best to finish with the alertness of meditation.
Falling asleep once in a while just means that you are a little over tired at that time. However, if you find yourself falling asleep nearly every time you meditate, this means you have too much fatigue in your life and should see what changes you can make to reduce this. Are you getting enough sleep at night? Are you working too hard? Are you under too much stress? If you are sick or pregnant, your body will require more rest, so there may be a greater tendency to sleep during meditation, and this is OK. However, under normal circumstances, it is better to sleep at bedtime and remain alert during meditation so you can gain the maximum value from both.
2. Having lots of thoughts. Thoughts are a normal part of the meditation experience. Don’t struggle against them or try to shut them out. The harder you try to stop thinking, the more the thoughts will crowd in. Lots of thoughts, emotions, restlessness, boredom, frustration, a feeling that “this isn’t working” or “I want to quit” are common when there is a lot of turbulence in your life. This is one of the reasons we meditate, so periods of difficulty are absolutely not the time to quit.
I’ll be devoting an entire post to thoughts, or as I like to call it “the racing mind effect” that often occurs during meditation. For now, just know that your mind is engaged in a continuous internal dialogue, where the meaning of one thought automatically leads you to the next. It’s normal to have thoughts running through your mind as you meditate. The more experienced you become, the quieter you will find your mind, but even the most experienced of meditators experience the racing mind effect from time to time.
3. Slipping into “the gap.” You will have the experience in which your mental activity quiets. You become aware that you’ve had no thoughts for a period of time. You weren’t asleep, and yet a little time has passed. This is called “slipping into the gap.” If you’re spiritually inclined, think of it as contacting the soul. This state is one of pure awareness, not awareness of anything in particular.
If you think you are in the gap, you are not (because you are thinking!), but you may have just been there. Experiencing the gap is often very brief, so you may hardly notice it. It is subtle, so even though it may be happening frequently, you may miss it. Sometimes slipping into the gap may be followed by a feeling of expansion, peace, or bliss.
While many meditators yearn to “bump into themselves” in this state of expanded awareness, it is important not to go looking for the gap. If you spend your meditation wondering if you are near the gap, if you’ve slipped in there yet or if you’ll ever slip in, then you’ll keep your mind active and will prevent yourself from having the very experience you’re looking for.
Keep in mind that, as long as you are meditating easily and effortlessly, the experiences you have during meditation are always the correct ones for you at that time. If you are tired, you may fall asleep. If you have a lot of stress ready to be released, you may have lots of thoughts and feel restless. If you are alert and settled, you may experience slipping into the gap.
Remember: there is no such thing as a good meditation and a bad meditation. Every meditation is a good meditation because it gives you what your body needs at that time.
If you’ve had other experiences during meditation, I would love to hear about them. I’ll be discussing thoughts in meditation in my next post, and you may see that many of the more unusual experiences you’ve had while meditating are actually different types of thoughts.