The meditation teacher and author brings meditation back to the fundamentals in his latest book, “Bliss More.”
Light Watkins has been practicing and teaching meditation for two decades, and even spent time in India studying the practice at the source. He travels the globe leading meditation trainings, his TEDx Talk has more than 200,000 views and he’s a regular contributor to sites like mindbodygreen. And while his knowledge in meditation is vast, to say the least, his most recent book, “Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation without Really Trying” (Penguin Random House, 2018), is a return to the basics of meditation, because, as Watkins says, “there’s a power in learning the fundamentals.”
24Life caught up with the meditation teacher and author to ask him about “Bliss More”—why he wrote it, for whom he wrote it and why all of us should make a little time for meditation in our daily routine.
24Life: Why did you write “Bliss More”?
Light Watkins (LW): I’ve been in the meditation space for 20 years. Now that meditation has gotten very popular, there tends to be a lot of confusion about what it takes to meditate with success. Basically, if you asked 100 meditation teachers, “How do you meditate?” you’re going to get 100 different answers. And it’s not that one person is right and somebody else is wrong. But in meditation, like any other practice or art, there are best practices, meaning there are fundamentals, mechanics. And if you were to employ those mechanics while engaged in the activity, it’s going to help to make the activity more efficient.
One of the analogies that I like to use, as you’ll read in the book, is swimming. There are many ways to swim, but there’s one way that’s really efficient if your goal is to get to the other side of the pool without exhausting yourself completely. I wanted to do that for meditation. I wanted to present some best practices to help people. At the end of the day, there are so many people out there struggling, battling with anxiety and depression. They can’t sleep at night. And there’s no real tangible answers aside from medication. And I felt almost guilty, knowing what I know about the benefits of meditation and how to achieve those benefits, and not being able to share it with more people.
24Life: Who is this book best for?
LW: The person who has been trying to get a meditation practice started. They’re already interested in meditating, they’re trying to get a practice started and they’ve been hitting their head against the wall. And they’re probably very insecure about their ability to meditate, and they think that they are not that good at meditation, or that their mind is too busy or that their body is too antsy to be able to really benefit from meditation.
It’s not necessarily written for people who have no interest in meditation, or people who have a practice that they already enjoy. I get some flak from practitioners of other approaches to meditation saying, “That’s not the right way to do it,” or, ”You shouldn’t tell people this or that.” This book is not written for those people. This is for people who sincerely have been trying to meditate, and they can’t seem to find any rhythm or consistency in it. If you stand on your head and that’s your meditation, and you enjoy that every day, then great. This book is not written for you—although you still might benefit from experiencing some of the mechanics that I’m presenting.
24Life: What was your first meditation experience like?
LW: Horrible! It was horrible. Sitting on a floor with my yoga teacher, I think, in his apartment. Legs crossed, pretty much what you’d think meditation is supposed to look like. Just sitting there biding my time, battling my mind, thinking that was the practice, trying to quiet the mind. That’s an exercise in futility because, “Don’t think,” is a thought. “Why am I still thinking?” is another thought.
24Life: You cover four key points to succeeding in meditation: embrace, accept, surrender and yield—or EASY. Why are they hard for most people to grasp (despite the name)?
LW: Because we don’t realize how conditioned we are to not allow things to just be. Everything in our society is geared toward working as hard as you can, trying to control the situation, trying to maintain as much awareness as possible, trying to remember everything. This is our conditioning. This is what we’ve been taught since we were toddlers. What is interesting is we’re not born into that kind of conditioning. We were very much taught that.
Meditation allows us to come back to our factory settings. But in the process of getting back there, we’ve got to overcome the conditioning. And that’s what makes meditation hard. It’s not that the practice is hard. It’s overcoming the conditioning of not meditating for 20 or 30 years that makes the practice feel challenging. Of course, meditation gets all the blame.
24Life: What are some common myths or misunderstandings surrounding meditation?
LW: The biggest is the notion that you have to control your mind. You have to control your thoughts, you have to quiet the mind, you have to let go of this, you have to surrender to that, you have to observe this, you have to notice that. It’s all different ways of saying control, instead of just being in the experience and treating the thoughts as though they are not obstacles to the experience, but treating them as though they are legitimate components—they are features of the experience. It’s like clouds in the sky. We don’t look up and get shocked that there are clouds in the sky. We expect a few clouds in the sky. We’re not necessarily looking for a cloudless sky.
Sometimes there are clouds, sometimes there aren’t, depending on where you live. And in some people’s minds, sometimes there are thoughts, sometimes there are not thoughts, but it has nothing to do with you. There’s nothing you can do to move the clouds, and the same passivity needs to be applied to the meditation. There’s nothing you can do to move your mind or move your thoughts. But what’s ironic is that when you stop trying to control the process, that’s when the thing happens that you wanted to have happen. Your mind will naturally start to settle on its own because it’s really the first time all day that you haven’t been trying to control things or direct things. And that’s the practice. That’s really how simple it can be: You sitting there with your eyes closed, not trying to control the experience.
We also have an expectation that it’s supposed to happen in two days. We’ve been controlling things for 30, 40 years, and we want it to self-correct in two days. It’s not going to work like that. But, you know, with a little bit of practice over a little bit of time, it starts to get a lot better.
24Life: What are some tangible ways you’ve seen meditation change your day-to-day life?
LW: Sleeping better, number one. Number two, a louder intuitive voice. It’s the one that you can’t ignore, which is very important because we’re really good at ignoring intuition in favor of whatever the ego wants to do. And number three, you don’t get sick as often. You have more energy, more rest during the day, so you can do more things without expending as much energy.
24Life: I’m meditating but I don’t feel like it’s doing anything—what should I do?
LW: I had been a swimmer for 30 years before I took lessons in swimming. I could never swim across the pool until I took those lessons. There’s a power in learning the fundamentals. If you feel like it’s not doing anything, that sounds like you don’t understand the fundamentals. And once you learn them, you’re going to have to retrain yourself and practice some more using the fundamentals. That’s what “Bliss More” was written to do for people, to provide them with those fundamentals.
24Life: What am I missing by not meditating?
LW: Well, there’s a level of creativity that cannot be experienced without meditation. David Lynch did a good job of describing the metaphor of catching the big fish in a book of his, where he talks about how, when you only have access to the surface awareness, which is what most people have, then everybody gets the same ideas almost at the same time. But when you have access to the deeper parts of the ocean or the pool, that’s where the big fish live, the big, bright colorful fish. It’s a metaphor for ideas and creativity. The most luminescent thought forms and creativity are happening near the more settled aspects of the mind. Meditation takes you to that place. And it’s not unusual for people to go there and come out with the most elegant solutions to their problems.
It’s like what Einstein said: “You can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created a problem.” So, if the problem was created at the surface, and you’re looking for solutions at the surface, then the solutions are going to be some form of whack-a-mole, where you’re putting out one fire and then another one erupts. We need to get above the problem. We need to expand our consciousness, so that we can better see the connections between what caused the problem and what we can do to solve the problem or, better yet, to avoid the problem the next time. I think that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why people should meditate and what they’re missing out on.
It’s not that you can’t have an amazing, prolific life, and career, and family without meditation. You absolutely can. But at what cost are you able to do the things you’re doing now? If you don’t have an outlet for the daily stresses of life, usually that will lead you down a rabbit hole of some sort of addictive behavior, whether you’re addicted to television, technology, alcohol, sex. There’s usually some sort of addiction that occurs as an outlet for living the high-pressure lives that we live. And what meditation can do is open up a valve in your mind and body, where you can release a lot of those stresses and the tension and anxiety that we encounter on a daily basis, to maintain a better sense of balance.
24Life: I don’t have time to meditate. What should I do?
LW: Then I would say, “You’re probably living a very unsustainable life right now,” and that’s my real answer! You may want to look at that. If you don’t have 10 minutes to meditate, look at how long are you spending on Instagram and other things that are not really adding to an expansion of consciousness, and just do it.
Start with taking inventory of where you’re spending your time, and find where you’re wasting it, if you’re being honest with yourself. See if you can re-prioritize. One of the signs of having too much stress in your life is you don’t know how to prioritize. Stress diminishes your ability to be able to say what’s important, what’s second-most important, and what’s important after that. And that’s because the part of our brain that gives us access to being able to discriminate and prioritize gets disabled by stress. So to me, saying you don’t have time to meditate is an indication that you probably need to meditate more than most people.
24Life: Do you recommend any other tools (besides your book) for new or first-time meditators?
LW: At the end of the day, people need to sit down and do it. And I don’t want to put it out there that my book is the only way. Any way you could make it happen, if it’s an app, if it’s a course, if it’s going to India or whatever you’ve got to do, I recommend doing whatever you can. If you want to find out the easiest way and get the best practices from someone who’s been out on the front lines, teaching people on a weekly basis from all walks of life how to do it, then I would highly recommend my book, because it’s going to clear up a lot the confusion.
24Life: What do you hope people will gain or learn from this book?
LW: I think they will gain relief from understanding that mediation is not hard as they thought.
Photo credit: Olivia Katz; Megan McAllister