Tag Archives: meditation

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.


Not seeking calm

There are times when being calm is good – most especially when trying to go to sleep! Otherwise, I find it a state of questionable value. It has some value around meditation, but it’s not a very meaningful state to be in.

I find I am generally at my most calm when I’m depressed. It’s a state of disinterest, and unfeeling response to the living world around me. It’s not a state of wanting to move towards anything, nor one of wanting to let anything in. I see a lot of content online preaching about the desirability of calm, and I find I disagree.

There are states of being that I want to cultivate in myself. These are ways of being in the world that enrich my life and that open me to good things. Existing in a state of gentle curiosity is good. That opens me to experiences, to the alternative perspectives of other people and to investing care and attention in whatever is around me. 

I find it helps to cultivate a state of openness-to-joy. That’s not a toxic positivity that denies a whole array of feelings and experiences. It’s about being open to the small joys and beauties that can be overlooked if I’m not careful. Actively seeking that kind of joy definitely helps.

I’m also trying to cultivate compassion and tenderness. This will make me open to pain and distress whenever I encounter suffering. I do not want to ignore the distress and suffering of other beings, and I want to meet that with the best I can bring. A tender state means I will experience pain, but I can respond to it in useful ways.

I think part of the problem here is that we’re being offered a binary – stress or calm. The idea that being calm is the right response to everything only makes sense when that state is set up in opposition to stress. Calm isn’t the only state you can start from. A gentle, open, engaged response to the world can be full of feeling, it can bubble with the potential for excitement, and delight, and at the same time be open to facing the difficult things.


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.


Meditations, Quotes and Affirmations – a review

Author R.D. Cain is someone I’ve known for a very long time, and like most of my book reviews, I don’t feel like objectivity is something I’m especially capable of. R.D. Cain’s new book of Meditations, Quotes and Affirmations is something I very much appreciated – it isn’t perfect, but it is bloody good.

The contents are offered for reflection, contemplation, inspiration, aspiration – you can use this however you want. There are accompanying photographs and pages for writing your own pithy wisdom statements, or journaling.

Philosophically it is a very good body of work. I usually find affirmations stressful, but these aren’t a difficult stretch and are much more about what a person could do rather than what they might claim to already be. It’s wonderful finding a body of wisdom statements that aren’t overloaded with privilege, either. The vast majority of what’s here is usable in crisis, and doesn’t become a mockery in disastrous circumstances. It’s also pleasingly broad to the point of being contradictory – there are Buddhist statements about letting go of dreams to live in the present, and there are much more Druid-aligned statements about the importance of dreams for enriching our lives. As the introduction makes clear, take what works for you at the time and ignore whatever doesn’t.

I read the whole thing cover to cover in a couple of sessions. I found that uplifting. I intend to keep this book around and dip into it at need – it is something I will find helpful for repeat use.

There’s one major way in which I wish this book had been different. It really should have been larger and lush, with a tactile cover and really nice paper, and high resolution full colour photographs. It should have been the sort of book you cuddle, and carry round. But, you only get to make books like that with a publisher who can afford it, and this has been put together by a cooperative of creators, so forgive it for not being the act of extravagant beauty it could have been.

Buy the book from http://www.3mpub.com/cain/meditations.html


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.


Cloak of Happiness Ritual

A Guest Post by Ing Venning

 

GOAL To create a shield that will protect us and remind us of happy memories in times of stress or sorrow.

 

AUDIENCE – Kids often enjoy this meditation, but anyone can participate. Ideally, you will have a speaker (who may or may not act as a quarter caller) and at least a handful of participants. This ritual can be adapted for use with only one or two people, however.

 

PREPARATION [Optional: You may wish to give each of the quarter callers some feathers, a scarf, a handful of soft grass or some other object that is soft and flowing.]

 

RITUAL

 

SPEAKER: Please sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your legs and arms uncrossed.  Begin to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Let the air fill and invigorate your whole body.  As you inhale, feel the air enter your air passages, your lungs, even your stomach.  When you exhale, these areas will contract.  Then inhale again, then exhale.  Rise and fall.  Just like that – slowly and steadily.

Shake your shoulders, your hips, your knees – not forcibly but gently.  Shake off annoyance, anger, and oppression.  Shake yourself outside of the world and into a time made only of one moment looping back upon itself.  A timeless moment in which you are free to breathe gently.  A place where you can relax.

Feel your aura expanding, moving outward so that it radiates in spokes around you.  It will grow until it is quite expansive but not so that it overlaps with the auras of others unless they wish it.  Each one of our aura spokes grabs hold of the very molecules around us and grounds us in their polar charges.  Feel yourself drifting along in a current of particles, at peace and connected to everything around you.

[Deosil movement]

NORTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt safe and supported as you welcome the spirits of the earth into this sacred space.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

EAST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt inspired and awed.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SOUTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt energetic and powerful.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

WEST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, bring your happiness and your peace and be welcome in our circle.  Let us share our joy.

Slowly, in your trance, move your hand back and forth.  Back and forth as you breathe in and out.  Back and forth as one weaves a tapestry or sews a cloak.  Back and forth as one strokes a lover or massages a newborn.  Let each thread harness and harbor a cherished memory.  We are building up a pattern, weaving a cloak of happiness.

Our memories protect us without overprotecting us.  Our cloak is very light, yet its effect is profound.  It can warm us when we’re cold and cool us when we’re stifling.  It can ease the pain of depression, of anxiety, of anger.  It brings more joy and contentment into our lives by connecting us to the upper world or overworld; it can also redistribute emotions so they flow in balance.  Our cloaks will never block us from suffering that can make our lives better, but it has the power to keep any challenge from becoming overwhelming; its magic moderates our feelings.

Now that your cloak is woven, try it on.  [At this point, quarter callers or the speaker may wish to brush participants’ backs or necks with their soft, flowing material.]  It fits snugly and comfortably.  It even sings – you have to strain to hear the song, for it’s very soft, but it’s also filled with joy.  Look at the fabric you’ve woven.  You’ve skillfully woven happy scenes that make you smile, even when all around you seems lost or hopeless.  Revel in these good memories and the cloak they’ve produced.

Now that the cloak is woven and has been placed about your body, feel it sink into your aura and adjust its energy.  The cloak will stay with you – a gentle, benign influence – even when you remove your physical clothing.  It will stay to help you feel good, to help you smile, to help you relax even in stressful conditions.  This is your Cloak of Happiness.

[Widdershins movement]

WEST CALLER: Farewell to the west, but not to its happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved will remain with you.

SOUTH CALLER: Farewell to the south, but not to its happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt energetic and powerful will remain with you.

EAST CALLER: Farewell to the east, but not to its happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt inspired and awed will remain with you.

NORTH CALLER: Farewell to the north, but not to its happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt safe and supported will remain with you.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, thanks for the energy you’ve given.  May it stay within the cloaks you’ve blessed us with.  The circle opens, but it never breaks.

Slowly return to your mundane body, but you need not let go of the good feelings we’ve evoked here in our circle.  Those will go with us, insulating us from harm but never blocking us from the emotions we need to feel and the energy we need to understand and grow.

If it helps you to return, tap a solid object, snap your fingers, give a shout, or do something else that affirms your presence in the mundane world again.  Welcome back.

May each and every one of you be blessed.  Thanks for being part of our circle.  Go from here in peace and great contentment.

+++

Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. He has published three novels featuring pagan protagonists, a sampler of his work, and several short stories. He will be publishing two more novels, a collection of (mostly) retellings, and a volume of poetry in 2020. You can read the sampler of his work and his first novel for free; just visit https://ingvenning.com/


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.


Twilight Meditations

Here’s a very simple approach to meditation I’ve been taking during the summer. It’s a good in-body sort of approach, good for making direct engagement with the natural world. It does however involve things that might not work for everyone, so don’t hesitate to adapt it if you need to!

I lie out on the grass at twilight. I have a fairly safe place I can do this, and people who will sit out with me. During the summer my body will tolerate some lying out on chilly evening grass, but if you need something to lie on, or to sit, go for it. This is worth doing for as long as it is comfortable. Don’t push beyond that, there is no merit in suffering.

I look at the sky and I listen to what’s around me. That includes all the human sounds in my environment as well as the rest of the world. What matters here is presence, not which senses you focus on, so, again, adapt as required. I tend to be very aware of the cool grass and the sensations of grass, breeze and more on my skin.

As I watch the sky, I see gulls going back to their roost on The Severn. I see bats coming out. Jackdaws head off to their big roost in a local park. There might be swifts, moths and other insects. I’ve finally figured out that the wingless speedy things I see at twilight must be dragonflies, and it’s just that their wings don’t show up in that light. If I’m out late enough I may hear the first owls emerging.

I make no effort to control or direct my thoughts, beyond being present to what’s around me. I don’t look for meaning. I try and keep some balance between being aware of my own body and being aware of what’s around it, not getting so drawn into either that I lose track of the other.