Meditation Instructions: Who’s Guiding Whom?

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Guided meditations have never been my thing. I’ve generally found them cringey, annoying, or simply superfluous to requirements — the very antithesis of the experience I was having, or wanted to have.

Along with my subtle philosophical disagreements with guided meditations, I also just have a deep seated horror of being told what to do. I was particularly convinced that this was not something I would ever, ever, inflict on anyone.

This started to cause some problems with clients who wanted to learn to meditate, or for whom breathing exercises, say for panic attacks, turned out to be particularly helpful. Like a classic person centred counsellor holding back instructions which the client is craving (crucially about a topic the client doesn’t know about and the counsellor does), I was unnecessarily impeding the process, at the end of the day due to my own resistance and/or embarrassment.

I decided to get over it and give people what they needed, not out of arrogance but in simple response to more or less explicit requests for guidance. I still felt uncomfortable, and this was still to do with my own ego and my own projections — there was actually no reason to assume that others would have the same reactions to guided meditation as I did when on the receiving end. Despite myself though, people were helped. This should not have come as a surprise; it’s easier to learn something through immersion than through abstract, distanced instructions. When doing guided meditations there was more of a sense of immersion.

It was only relatively recently though, in running Creative Regeneration workshops in Glasgow at the Southside Therapy and Counselling Centre and at terrealuma, the healing refuge I am setting up, that the switch was flipped and I actually became immersed in the meditative state myself while doing the guided meditation.

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It really was a flip: all my problems with guiding disappeared — naturally enough, since all of a sudden I was the one being guided. All the problems disappeared as my ego (temporarily!) did. All I had to do was to say the words that came.

So now, that’s what ‘Guided Meditation’ means to me. It is not that I have to guide people in a place which is in essence pathless, but that I’m guided in what to do and say in order that barriers and made-up problems simply disintegrate, because we are all meditating, together. Indeed we are all meditation — the state of meditation. The state feels palpably stronger than the individuals in it. Words come and people hear what they need to hear and don’t hear the rest. That includes me: I can’t remember half of what I say, and other things remain crystal clear to me.

I always ask for feedback on return to the everyday state, convinced that someone must have been driven mad by my instructions. That of course is bound to happen sooner or later, but I’ve been reassured to learn that it isn’t the rule. People find it helpful. Who knew?

I think it’s not so much about learning technique, but about experiential immersion and not being alone there in the meditative place. Those of course are just my thoughts, coming from my own anti-technique, anti-didactic, anti-authority position. Each participant is probably getting closer to meditation by their own route, which is intersecting in a totally individual way with what it is that we’re doing. For example, I say feel free to ignore my instructions if you want to, if you don’t need my suggestions, and this experience of exercising internal freedom in itself might be quite a new one. The experience of surrender can also be a huge relief and a beautiful feeling. Meditation indeed is all about surrender, a poised and alert kind of surrender of control and the ego, the voice telling us what to do.

It’s all paradoxical. We create things in order to let go of them again.

I enjoy leading guided meditations now. I hope the trust and surrender, relaxation, alertness, enjoyment, compassion and sense of a power far beyond anything I could call me or mine, is catching. Because the more people live, even for a short while, from that place, the better.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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