A guide for beginning meditation
My therapist is a wonderful woman based in Los Angeles and a specialist in Jungian therapy. Remote therapy sessions don’t seem to detract much from what would otherwise have been a face to face experience. And the commute from Hawaii to L.A. is a bit shorter than it would be otherwise.
One of the key “homework items” that my therapist gave me early on in our sessions was to meditate more. I’ve dabbled in meditation over the years but never stayed with a regular practice. For almost six months now I’ve been meditating most days. I began at just 10–15 minutes a day and am now up to 25 minutes.
Meditation can teach you a lot about how your mind works. But that’s not really the point. The point, at least as far as I am concerned at this point in my practice, is to just sit, breathe, and observe. Just sit, breathe, and observe for each session until the timer goes off.
I do also try, occasionally, to calm or direct my mind a little. But mostly I just observe what comes up naturally. There are some noticeable trends.
First, there is often an “airing of grievances” by either my body or my mind. If my body is in pain from running or tennis injuries, or because I’m sitting incorrectly, it will remind me loudly and clearly. If my soul is in pain it will remind me loudly and clearly. Whatever emotional hurts I’ve suffered, real or perceived, from others in the last day or two will quickly come to the fore and stew around in my thoughts and emotions.
Second, there is the “calendar” function where all the to dos and obligations and people I should respond to come up in my mind. The difficulty with this tendency of our minds while meditating is that we need to, if we are true to our practice, ignore all of these mental calendar reminders until later. But that risks forgetting them again…
Third, there is the creativity function where whatever problems or writings I’m working on will percolate around my mind. As a writer and thinker I’m always working on a number of different writing or creative projects and a trick I learned long ago is to put difficult problems in the front of my mind, let them roll around a little, and then push them gently downward in my psyche and forget about them. That lets my subconscious work away diligently on those problems. And lo and behold 9 out of 10 times solutions or at least steps toward solutions pop up magically in my conscious mind before too long. And this happens pretty frequently during meditation.
Fourth, flights of imagination or sexuality will often crop up once all the other thoughts have had their turn. Sexual fantasy or just fun escapism will sometimes take over. And mostly I just let this happen and enjoy the ride.
If I’m less willing to just observe what pops up I’ll try a mantra. Mantras are meant to quiet or direct the mind through specific words and intentions. One I’ve developed myself that seems pretty beneficial is to breathe in deeply and vocalize internally “Life as art,” (for me, viewing life as a continual process of artistic creation and re-creation is perhaps the highest way of viewing ourselves and our world). Then I exhale slowly and vocalize internally “Life as practice,” as in all of my life is my meditation and spiritual practice. Everything I do should be viewed as part of that spiritual practice. There is no separation. Third, I inhale and vocalize internally “Life as love.” Right alongside viewing all life as practice it can be viewed as a way of expressing love in the world, of embodying love as best we can through our actions and our thoughts.
Then I go back to “Life as art,” but keep it interesting by changing the middle to “Life as meditation,” then back to “Life as love.” This three-part mantra, with a changing middle, allows for a different inhale and exhale pattern on each cycle, and with the middle changing each time it keeps one focused on the mantra and thus calms the monkey mind — which is one of the key points of a mantra.
Other days I might just use a visualization mantra without words. One I really like is just to inhale and imagine that I am breathing in love with each deep breath. I am blessed with clean warm fragrant air here in Hawaii so it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that I’m breathing in pure love! Then I exhale little transformed wavelets of love back into the world, allowing others to continue the ever-present cycle of the transformation of love. I feel pretty good after doing this exercise for a couple of minutes.
I am still a baby in my meditation practice. But perhaps I’m on the verge of toddlerhood and can get my legs under me soon.
For now, I’m appreciating this new set of tools for generating love within, and helping to turn that love loose on the world, if with nothing other than my little exhaled wavelets.
One book I’ve found valuable on this journey is Pema Chodron’s short book How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends With Your Mind.