I’ve just started reading the book Awakening the Mind by Anna Wise, which is about understanding and working with the different brain waves we experience when in different levels of consciousness. The first chapter is on relaxing the body and stilling the mind, which as we all know is the foundation of a meaningful meditation.

Like a lot of people, I have trouble setting aside the day’s worries when meditating. Wise talks about what she calls subjective landmarks that indicate you’re in a particular brain wave state. These involve paying attention to your body and mind. I’ve found that focusing on these is actually a great way to set everyday worries aside while meditating. You focus instead on what’s happening within you.

Woman meditating in Saxon Switzerland National Park

Meditating in Saxon Switzerland National Park. Photo by Romuald Bokej, courtesy of Wikimedia’s Creative Commons

The chart she gives shows the following subjective landmarks while meditating:

Phase 0: You’re just settling down to relax. Your thoughts are running around and it’s difficult to calm them down. Your body is difficult to calm down as well. There’s an underlying feeling of restlessness.

Phase 1: Consciousness is starting to get foggy. You might even feel kind of dizzy and a little nauseous. Your body sensations are starting to lose acuteness. Everyday concerns still invade your thoughts. You feel like you could drift off to sleep but then it’s like you’re pulled back from the fully sleeping state. Your energy feels like it’s going all over the place.

Phase 2: Now your energy is starting to gain a little more focus. Finally some calmness starts setting in. You might experience some vivid images flashing through your mind that you can’t control, maybe even from childhood or the recent past. You can’t focus on one thing for long. You kind of feel like you could go either way, move to a higher level of consciousness or come to full awakening.

Phase 3: You might feel like you’re floating. Your body may even feel like it’s swaying or rocking to some internal rhythm. You can concentrate a little better now. You’re getting more images and they’re clearer. If you were listening to someone reciting guided imagery, you’d be able to visualize it better.

Phase 4: You become very aware of your breathing, heartbeat, blood flow, or other internal body functions. You might feel like your body is even disappearing. It’s like your entire body is numb. It might sometimes feel like your body is growing to the size of a giant or shrinking to the size of an ant. Or you might feel like your body is incredibly heavy or incredibly light. Your awareness may keep shifting from what’s going on internally to what’s going on externally.

Phase 5: Your mind is clear as a bell. You feel very calm and satisfied but at the same time alert and detached. You might feel bodiless or like you’ve melted into the air. You can call up very vivid images. You know you’re in an altered state of consciousness.

Phase 6: This is a new feeling. You have incredible insight into something that’s been plaguing you. Things that appeared in conflict are now resolved, as if opposites have been united. You sense you’re surrounded by light and you’re one with Spirit. You understand that just existing is a great thing. You experience a greater awareness and understanding of the Universe and our place in it. This is what Wise calls awakened mind.

As I sit and meditate, I pay attention to my body and mind and look for the subjective landmarks. This actually helps me appreciate how I’m passing from one phase of consciousness to another and calmly let myself go there.

Wise recommends assigning some symbol or image or word to certain meditative experiences that have personal meaning for you. When you next meditate, you’ll be able to call them up, and that can help you get to those experiences more easily.

For instance, when trying to calm my body in Phase 1, I imagine a white light with rainbow sparkles slowly washing over me, and as it does, the part of the body it’s washing over relaxes. It’s like a signal to my body from my mind that the time has come to set aside all everyday worries and just chill into meditation. When moving from Phase 3 to Phase 4, I imagine myself floating among clouds in a clear blue sky and that helps bring on that floating feeling.

Next time you meditate, try to pay attention to how your body and mind are shifting from one phase of consciousness to another. There’s something very satisfying in understanding that this is happening. Also pay attention to any images or symbols that seem to fit some experience you’re having while meditating, and then next time you meditate, try to visualize them to get back to that experience. All of this tells your mind and body that you’re cooperating with meditation, and that might help them cooperate with your intentions.