07/25/2010 11:45 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Meditation: What It's Really Like Inside

For people who have never meditated before, the experience of mindfulness meditation can be a mystery. Last night, a friend who had just returned from his first stay at Tassajara asked, "I still don't get it. What exactly am I supposed to do when I meditate? I get the impression I will get scolded if I move my body even just a little. Can I keep my eyes closed? Am I supposed to not think?" Not exactly a good start, given that meditation is largely about maintaining a posture of relaxed alertness, along with an attitude of all inclusivity about the present moment. I tried to explain in words what meditation is really about. I also suggested that he find a good teacher . . .

Because meditation is not a conceptual experience, efforts to describe it in words are bound to fall short. Instead, images can do a better job. Here is a visual essay I put together to relate my own experience of being in a sitting meditation. I hope you will find it helpful.

Often, I get lost in a cloud,
not seeing beyond the cotton whiteness.


Eventually, I find my way back into the blue sky,
where I can watch a whole bunch of clouds go by:

bright clouds,


dark clouds,


fuzzy clouds.


And once in a while, if I am lucky,
I get a glimpse of just pure sky.


(This visual essay initially appeared on Mind Deep blog)