Category Archives: Meditation

Meditations, light and dark

In the darkness, you accept the not knowing, not being able to see. Nothing can be predicted, and that’s ok, that’s the nature of the dark. 

Light makes you feel as if you should know and be able to make sense of things. Light offers meaning, and sense and coherence, and when there is none… that’s harder.

To be in darkness is to be hidden, protected from scrutiny. I fall softly. I fall a long way, I think, and after a while direction makes no sense because falling and floating and flying might be the same things anyway.

Everything matters, in the light. Everything is seen and significant. There is a relief in not mattering, letting go of significance. There is peace in it. 

In the darkness, whether or not you are trying very hard is of no consequence. No one can tell. No one is looking. What grows here is different from what manifests in the light. Seeds and roots begin in darkness, in often irrational hope of warmth, light, sun and rain. From the dead places new life emerges. There must be soil and death and falling apart for there to be life. 

Some of us are meant to be earthworms, deep in the process of breaking down so that new things can come into being. To be dirt is to enable flourishing.

I wrap the darkness around me, comforted by it. Perhaps this year, winter offers the luxury of hibernation. Let me crawl into some secret cave and forget, and be called to do nothing. Let me be held, and lost. There is bounty in not mattering, there is freedom in slipping away. To be the cub held by the body of the mother bear, not yet needing to know or think. To be warm, to be only a breath and a heartbeat.

Let me lie in the soil with the webs of fungi. Let me lie down with the bones of distant ancestors. Fold me into the history of soil and land.

Returning to the labyrinth

My obsession with labyrinths started many years ago, at Gloucester cathedral. I was living on a boat at the time, and mooring in the Gloucester area sometimes. By chance, I visited the cathedral on several occasions when they had big canvas labyrinths out in the main body of the building. I was utterly enchanted.

Building labyrinths wasn’t an option for me until I landed in Stroud. I didn’t have the space on the boat to store suitable materials. Stroud has a number of public spaces where it is feasible to lay out something on this scale, and I’ve done that a number of times now in various locations.

For reasons, I haven’t built a temporary labyrinth in a little over two years. They take a lot of setting up so I’ve got to be in a pretty good place to be able to do it. Being able to just rock up and walk a labyrinth was a really welcome thing for me. On the downside there were children who were being allowed to treat it as a playground, and adults who walked right across it while others were using it – this has always been an issue with labyrinths in the cathedral and it frustrates me encountering people who don’t notice the beauty of what’s there and who undermine that with their carelessness.

I walked the Gloucester labyrinth twice. The first time I was grieving the lack of labyrinths in the last two years, and grieving what happened around the last one I built. I was remembering my first labyrinth experiences in the cathedral, and trying to manage my frustration around how other people were being disrespectful and disruptive.

My second journey was undertaken without disruption from others and allowed me the space to explore gratitude for the labyrinths in my life and for my relationship with Gloucester cathedral. There’s no active Christianity in my Druidry, but nonetheless, Gloucester cathedral is a sacred place for me and has been so my whole adult life. It’s a place of ancestry, of history, and of peace, and has been a place of solace for me during times of extreme difficulty.

A vision

The Earth is always inside you. Every part of your self has lived before in other forms. You are the heat of a distant sun and the dust from long forgotten stars. The waters of the world flow through you and the wind is your breath.

You are six inches of topsoil. You are death feeding soil feeding life. A thousand fungi networks dreamed you into being, and when you die, they will remember you back into the soil.

Do not try to be pristine or separate. You are a colony, a cooperative, a collaboration of many different beings all held together by one skin. You are making and unmaking yourself at every moment. You are more than you could possibly imagine. You are an infinitesimal moment when countless fragments of the universe paused in the same place.

(Image by Dr Abbey, text by me.)

How long should you meditate?

One of the ideas that makes me genuinely angry is the suggestion that if you don’t feel like you can meditate for half an hour a day, you should meditate for an hour. It’s a heartless dismissal of the many different kinds of challenges people face both with meditating and with pressures on their time. I suspect that it doesn’t encourage people to meditate at all and that it might well be driving people away from even trying.

You do not have to meditate every day.

You do not have to meditate in a regular way or at fixed times.

There is no right amount of meditation that you have to do.

Meditation shouldn’t be intrinsically stressful nor should it be something that adds to your burden. If it’s just another duty on the list of things you have to get done today, it’s probably not doing you much good at all. First and foremost, meditation is something to do because you get some kind of benefit from it and not because the meditation police have made you feel uncomfortable.

Slowing down is good. Resting is good. Taking time just to breathe, to think, to stop and look around, is good. Contemplation is good. Taking a meditative approach to the thing you had to do anyway, can also be good. 

Meditation can mean spending five minutes trying to consciously unclench your jaw muscles. It can mean gazing peacefully out of the window as you contemplate the changing sky. You can get a lot done with a few minutes of deliberately calm breathing. 

I can heartily recommend just stopping for a few minutes to check in with yourself every so often. How are you feeling? How is your body doing? Is there anything that you need? Take some slow breaths, drink something, let your muscles relax a bit. Give yourself time to process what’s going on. Be kind to yourself. Making small spaces to draw breath and be present to your own experiences can open up room for more involved meditation. But it might not. Your life might not allow you an hour of pathworking at the moment. 

Making the best of things while being kind to yourself and not beating yourself up for what’s beyond you, is of itself, a very good approach to bringing meditation into your life. If you don’t have time to meditate for half an hour every day, then meditate for ten minutes, or whatever you’ve got. Make it part of your shower, or take a moment in your lunch break to just stand outside and breathe. It’s ok to do less. In fact, learning to do less will probably help you far more than making unreasonable demands of yourself ever could.

At the red spring

We went to Glastonbury!

I hadn’t been to Glastonbury in more than ten years, even though I’m in the southwest of the UK. It’s not an easy place to reach without a car, and I really don’t travel well on buses. It was lovely to see the town. I’d never been to Chalice Well Gardens before, either. While visiting the gardens it became obvious that there was no way my beleaguered body was going up the tor, and so I stayed and contemplated and engaged with the water and wondered about the reputed healing properties of the red spring.

I was struck by the differences and similarities between tourists and pilgrims. Some people were clearly there for spiritual purposes, quietly doing their own thing. Some were clearly tourists, there to look and take photos – and in some cases allowing their children to undertake noisy and inappropriate rampages. Sometimes the people who appeared to be there as tourists were clearly moved by the place. Sometimes the people who looked like pilgrims turned out to be much more interested in taking photos.

Sitting beside the waterfall for an extended period, I had the opportunity to contemplate a lot of things, including how people engage with places and how easily spirituality becomes performance art. I compared the more elaborate and costumed actions undertaken for a camera, with the quiet reverence of people who looked like tourists but chose to bodily engage with the water. 

I’m very much in favour of sharing beauty. Taking photos for the internet is a reliable way of doing that. But at some point, the photoshoot starts to be more important than the ritual, if you aren’t careful. Trying to look good for the camera can really get in the way of doing anything substantial. There’s a huge temptation around going to special places and wanting to come back with a dramatic story, a revelation and some really attractive photos.

So I sat in the gardens for a few hours, and thought about iron and water, ideas of femininity, how people relate to places and what I might need on my own personal journey. I’m not good at big revelations, but I am good at being present to what’s happening around me.

So here’s a photo of me when I wasn’t in a deep state of contemplation and was still doing a lousy job of looking glamorous!

Making friends with your monkey brain

One oft-touted piece of meditation advice is to notice your thoughts as they arise and then let them go. Don’t become attached to them. What happens if we go the other way and deliberately dig in with whatever comes up?

Sometimes our thoughts may seem to be trivial. Our brains generate a fair amount of apparently random noise and chatter, and trying to silence that can be difficult and may seem futile. I’ve found over the years that if I let the random thoughts run their course, my brain will settle down. The more time I’ve spent on this, the less random the chatter is, and the more pertinent, useful and interesting it becomes.

Making time to think results in those thoughts becoming more interesting. It means going deeper with whatever is pinging about. Seeing what’s important, or has possible implications. It’s also taught me not to treat the quiet, day to day details of my life as trivial and of no consequence. These details are our lives, and it’s how we handle the small things that will often have most impact on us. Our relationships are made of these details. Our days comprise largely of the small, mundane things that we do.

When you sit in meditation, try giving yourself permission to take your inner chatter seriously. See what comes up, and what it tells you about yourself and your life. Try questioning it – why are these things important to you right now? What could you change? What do you need? Sometimes simply making the space to process your own thoughts, feelings and reactions can be really helpful.

If you find that your brain is full of vacuous trivia, it might mean that your intellectual diet isn’t rich enough. If your thoughts are full of frustration and annoyance there could be big underlying issues that need your attention. If you’re obsessively overthinking it could be that you’re dealing with anxiety. What happens at the surface isn’t separate from the rest of who we are and how we live, and it can guide us towards things we need to examine.

Our ‘monkey brain chatter’ can be treated dismissively in spiritual circles. But, this is part of us. We are animals, these are our brains, these are our thoughts. Silencing them isn’t the answer. Treat them kindly, and these thoughts can open you up to yourself. Your spiritual life isn’t separate from the other things going on in your brain. Spend time with your own mind, get to know who you are and you may find that the chatter softens into a slower, calmer voice that means you can hear yourself think. Respect your chatter and you can find out how you think and feel about things.

If you don’t like what you find in your own head, ask how you can change your life to change your thinking. You may need less intensive stimulation or more good quality brain food. You may need more rest, or more that soothes you, more time outside, more chance to burn off stress through activity. Spending time with the chatter can be illuminating.

Our chatter is also how we talk to ourselves, and it often includes what we’ve absorbed from other people. Listen to yourself, and see what kinds of things you habitually tell yourself and call yourself. This too can be a basis for making radical change.

Meditation and the Pandemic

I’m seeing plenty of advice online to use meditation as a way to cope with the pandemic. This may or may not work for you. If it does – all power to you.

The fears caused by covid, the isolation of lockdown, the exhausting nature of ever-changing rules, the financial insecurities, the uncertainty – these all take a toll. These are things that take a lot of processing and that doesn’t leave a person with much concentration. You may be exhausted. You may be emotionally overwhelmed, or numb, and you may not be able to hold together a meditative practice.

Be gentle with yourself if this is the case. If you are using meditation, the whole point is to improve your quality of life, not to come up with another stick you can beat yourself with. Here are some things that might help.

Don’t worry about how long you meditate for – whatever your practice looked like before, let that go. Do what you can. If that’s just a few minutes, fine, and well done. If you can’t focus every day, that’s fine too.

Switch over to contemplation and use your meditation time for processing. Let your thoughts work themselves through and don’t try to shut down the ‘chatter’ in your mind because you may well need to give it more space, not less.

If being in your head isn’t working for you, pick meditation strategies that don’t rely entirely on personal mental discipline. Try moving meditations, contemplating cards, objects or other images. Use guided visualisation and pathworking material where you have someone else’s voice or written words providing the structure and keeping you on track.

If trying to meditate makes you feel miserable and frustrated right now, let it go. It’s not the tool for every situation. It’s not a magic cure-all. If it doesn’t work for you right now, invest your time in something else. It’s not a failing to need different tools.

Tips for visualising

Visualising is a really useful technique with a number of applications. You can do it for entirely spiritual purposes. You can do it as part of making magic, and you can also do it to direct your own mind in a specific direction. I also find that visualisation and divination can be connected if you are inclined to more of the oracle work. Testing visions of the future to see what looks plausible and where that goes can be interesting work.

I’m going to take a non-magical approach in offering some tools here – they would work magically, whereas magically orientated approaches won’t do it for people working more psychologically. The key thing about visualisation is that you build belief. You imagine yourself in a situation, doing a thing, and so when you get there you can handle it better. Or when the opportunities come by, you see them and grab them. Or you do better because you know what you want so the path that heads the right way is more obvious. Visualisation can be a great tool for self knowledge, and also for building courage and helping you take action.

However, some things are really hard to visualise. The bigger and more life-changing your intentions are then the harder it is to picture the outcome of that. If you can’t believe it, feel it and invest in it you won’t make it work for you.

My advice is to aim small. Rather than focusing on the big event you want to manifest, visualise something you can easily imagine. Maybe about how you go for coffee with a dear friend and tell them about how it all worked out for you. Pick a scenario where you can dig in with the familiar details and weave the intended content into it – picture phoning someone to say that the thing has happened. Pick the part of the process that you know most about and envisage that, and frame it with your understanding that the whole thing is in place.

For example, if you’re trying to attract a lover, and you don’t have anyone specific in mind, you can’t visualise them or anything that happens with them. But you could visualise yourself lying alone in bed, afterwards, feeling warm and contented and happy. You don’t have to know exactly how you got there to hold that image, and in holding it you will start to find out things  about how that would work for you.

Equally, if you want a life changing job, you may have no way of picturing how that would work or what you would be doing. But you could far more easily visualise yourself on a day off from that fantastic job, feeling good about yourself and happy in the direction your life has taken.

You won’t know what the new house should look like, but you can visualise lying in the garden listening to the bird song, perhaps.

It’s not always possible to picture the outcome we most need. If you’re feeling a lack and trying to work towards an answer, you may not know what that answer looks like. If you’re too specific, you may shut down opportunities and miss out on the good stuff. Sometimes, focusing on a small, believable detail is a really powerful way of opening up the entire future that you want to create.

Touch and Health

Physical contact has a large impact on people. Mammals are tactile. There are all kinds of benefits to touch, if you can do it comfortably. Not being touched can add a lot of stressors. How we are touched by other people affects our sense of self, and our self esteem. My own experience is that being touched by people I feel close to helps to ease pain and tension in my body.

One of my first responses to social distancing was the realisation that there are people who matter to me a lot who I will not be able to hug for some time. There’s the heartbreaking possibility that there may be people I never get to hug again. I cannot use my body to comfort people who are fearful or otherwise distressed. There are people I would very much like to be able to hug close right now, and reassure in the way that only a hug can. But, they are safer if I don’t see them.

I have a lot of issues around touch. I don’t do it lightly or casually. For me, any kind of physical contact represents a fair amount of considered trust.

I am dealing with this by doing small visualisations. In the visualisation, it is a gentle, sunny day and I am meeting a friend. It is safe to meet them, and safe to hug them. Both of us are well. I hug them. I’m finding that running these little visualisations is helping me deal with my own fear, and with the pre-emptive grief I’m feeling because of that fear.

Just relax

Try to relax. I’ve heard it a lot of course. Maybe meditation would help. Try mindfulness. If you could relax, you wouldn’t hurt as much. This has come round fairly regularly over the last twenty years or so. As though I haven’t tried. As though I am so stupid that I let my body run away from me into a state of pain and misery that would disappear if only I made a bit of effort to relax. Sometimes, I’ve internalised this and added feelings of intense uselessness alongside the body pain. Oddly, that’s never helped me.

I’ve been meditating as best I can for the last twenty years. Pain makes it difficult to concentrate. Pain means that any body-focused meditation can turn into a very special sort of hell and mostly I don’t go there because it doesn’t actually help. The soreness and stiffness in my body is more complicated than can be fixed by just thoughtfully relaxing all those muscles. Also, when it’s pretty much all of the muscles, deliberately relaxing them isn’t that easy anyway. I know, because I’ve tried…  Repeatedly.

Yes, I have been told about the thing where you clench a muscle hard and then relax it. I have tried this. The odds are decent that the result of the deliberate tensing will be a rush of pain, maybe with a side-order of cramp. I am seldom persuaded that it’s worth the risk.

So here’s a radical notion. What if I, and people like me aren’t hurting because we’re doing it wrong. What if we have bodies that hurt, and cannot magically be fixed with that really easy thing you think we should be trying. What if that really easy thing, when tried, inflicts more pain? What if, living in our bodies as we do, we might be considered to have some tiny notion about what helps and what doesn’t? What if we are allowed to say no to quick fixes that don’t fix anything?

That would have scary implications, wouldn’t it? Because it might mean that your wellness is not entirely because of your reiki mindfulness yoga paleo-diet. It might be that you have been lucky so far. You might not always be lucky. Things might go wrong in your body that you can’t deal with by relaxing and being positive. Pain might be real after all and not all in my mind. Aging is out there as a possibility for all of us, with all the complicated gifts it brings. Bodies go wrong.

If the last twenty years have taught me anything, it’s that kindness is a good deal more helpful than ‘cures’. Accepting me as I am does far more to help me than yet another round of being told the one simple thing I should do to sort it all out. Being patient with my limitations helps me more than telling me why this is all my fault.