When you meditate, do you ever wonder whether or not it’s working? Often, meditation can feel like you’re just sitting there going over your to-do list, or thinking about the process of meditation itself, which can cause the time to drag on.
But what do deep meditation experiences feel like?
First, we need to understand that going deep is not an off-and-on phenomenon. It’s more of a gradual loss of awareness. Like falling asleep, going deep in meditation is so subtle that you won’t know you’re going deep until you're not even there any more. So it’s best not to try to figure out if you’re deep in meditation while you’re meditating, or you may ruin the experience of it.
Once you come out of your meditation and reflect back on your experiences, you can diagnose whether or not you were deep by seeing if you had any of these common signs:
1. You forgot that you were meditating.
If you were thinking about the fact that you were meditating the entire time that you were meditating, then you weren’t really that deep in your meditation. A deep meditation implies a slight to heavy loss of awareness, which includes losing awareness of the fact that you’re meditating.
Admittedly, this is where the practice gets tricky. Anyone who’s tried to make themselves go to sleep at night by thinking about how they can’t sleep usually ended up keeping themselves awake for longer. Instead, sleep experts recommend keeping your mind preoccupied on other things, like picturing sheep, counting backwards, or reading. And this is why, historically, some meditation styles have employed the use of a mantra, yantra or breath awareness, to gently lure the mind away from surface awareness, so you forget about the fact that you’re meditating at all.
2. You got lost in thought.
Going deep means your mind is de-exciting from surface awareness to subtle awareness, and ultimately to no awareness. As your mind travels through the various degrees of awareness, you’ll be thinking various thoughts, many of which won’t have anything to do with meditation. If you resist your thoughts, you may re-excite your mind. As you embrace the thoughts, your mind will continue to de-excite and ultimately you may lose all awareness, which is symptomatic of the deepest states of meditation.
3. You experience time lapses.
Another key indicator that you dove deep in meditation is when you noticed that more time was passing than what you could account for. In other words, you meditated for twenty minutes, but it only felt like 10 minutes — and for those unaccounted for 10 minutes, you don’t remember thinking much of anything.
4. Your entire body relaxed.
Sometimes meditating is associated with sitting upright with an erect spine and lifted chin. However, going deep in meditation can be so relaxing to your body that oftentimes your chin will dip forward and your back may slightly round. If this is happened in your meditation, not to worry, you were just having an extremely blissful experience that you most likely didn’t remember after you came out.
From the outside, it looked like you could’ve been sleeping, but on the inside, it weirdly felt like you were still sitting upright. It’s also not unusual for meditators in these extremely deep states to drool on themselves from time to time — if that happened, congratulations, you went super deep.
5. You had shallow breathing.
Every so often, you had to take in a deep gulp of air during meditation. This is a common side-effect of the deep levels of rest reached during the practice. The body’s breathing rate is linked to the amount of rest being acquired during a given experience.
While jogging, your breathing rate will be heavy. While sitting and reading a book, your breathing rate is significantly lower. While sleeping, your breathing rate slows even more. And while meditating, your breathing rate can reach levels that are even deeper than sleep, where you’re barely breathing at all. During these pockets of extremely deep rest, you may stop breathing altogether. This is usually followed by a deep gulp of air — after which, everything will quickly even out and you can continue breathing normally.
So even if you didn’t experience any of these symptoms, it didn’t mean your meditation was ineffective. Every meditator has experiences that feel more surface from time-to-time. The difference in novice meditators and seasoned meditators is that novices judge their deep experiences as "good" meditations and the surface experiences as "bad" ones. Seasoned meditators, on the other hand, remain judgement-free about their experiences, which actually keeps them positioned to enjoy more deep meditations, simply because they have fewer expectations about what it should feel like.
The trick is to adopt this attitude of indifference about all meditation experiences. Also, understand that consistency plays a huge role in the quality of your experiences. Don’t look for major changes in your first few days or weeks, or even months of meditation. They will eventually occur, but usually when you least expect them to happen.
The important thing to remember is that all meditations are useful, and each one makes it easier for you to have more effortless experiences in your next meditation.