Tag Archives: meditation

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.

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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.


Quietening the inner chatter

It’s one of the most reliable assumptions in meditation – that inner chat is a bad thing and we must make it shut up in order to do the good and worthwhile spiritual stuff. It’s an approach that I bought into myself, and it is there in my Druidry and Meditation book. (On the whole, I still think it’s a decent book and worth your while, but there’s so much I’ve learned since I wrote it. Perhaps one day, a sequel…)

What is that inner chatter? I’ve started listening to it when I sit or lie down to contemplate. It isn’t empty noise. It is things I’m trying to figure out, worries, things I am keeping track of, stuff I must remember to do. It’s fragments of observation and making sense of things, feelings and memories. The noise in my head is my life. Sometimes there isn’t so much noise – this is the case when I’m on top of things, and have done my processing and got to grips with everything. A long walk will often enable me to achieve such a state.

That noise does get in the way of meditation and spiritual work. However, I’m increasingly convinced that methods for shutting it up aren’t the right way to go. This isn’t irrelevant or nonsense. This is the stuff of day to day existence. Squashing it just leaves it undealt with, festering, bubbling away in the background. Some practices encourage you to notice and let go, but this also treats the thoughts as not so useful or relevant.

What I’ve been doing for some time now is sitting with my thoughts, noticing them, letting them run and finding out what they are. Often it’s just the case that I need time to work a few things through. There are feelings I need to digest, experiences I need to make sense of. Once I’ve got that, the brain noise eases naturally and I can move on to something else if I need to.

Dealing with what’s in my head improves my mental health. Ignoring and suppressing my thoughts increases my overall stress. Taking my thoughts seriously improves my self esteem and listening to my own thinking enables me to take better care of myself. Acknowledging problems and dealing with them is better for my spiritual work as well because it frees up more brain space and energy.

I do have an obsessive mind, and I can run round in anxious circles. I can become focused on worry about the future and grief about the past in all the ways meditation is supposed to free us from. However, my present moment experience is shaped by the past, and informed by where I think I’m going, and to deny either seems ill advised, to me. I have a relationship with time that is not purely linear, and where any moment of experience is held in relation to other moments, past and future. I’ve found it is more useful to recognise this and work within it. I do not calm obsessive thinking by trying to suppress it, I am more able to scale it down by entering it deliberately, making time and space for it, and finding out what I need.

Too often we’re sold the practice of meditation based on the idea that we are not good enough and need fixing or improving. This is in-line with how capitalist advertising frightens us and makes us feel insufficient so that we buy more stuff. We need to get this kind of thought-invasion out of our heads and reclaim our minds and lives. So, if how meditation is pitched to you makes you feel inadequate, the problem isn’t you. Meditation is something to enjoy and to feel relaxed about – it should feel spacious, generous, and uplifting. If you have to beat yourself up a bit to do it, you’ve been miss-sold. What you may well need is more time for self care, rather than more discipline.


Contemplative Walking

The idea of contemplative walking developed out of my time with the contemplative Druid group in Stroud. We tried some silent, meditative walking in that context, and I found it didn’t suit me – especially not when in the company of other people. I began exploring ways of walking and sharing, and came up with a broad set of principles.

If you walk as meditation, you can end up more inside your head and less engaged with what’s around you. An approach to walking that is engaged can actually be helped by the presence of and interaction with other people. Two or more people will likely see more, and the invitation to share can help increase focus rather than diminish it.

Over a longer walk, silent meditation can feel a bit inhuman. Things arise in the rhythm of movement, the experience of being in the land, and practical needs, that require voices. How to talk becomes an interesting question. It is essential not to prioritise human conversation and to be agreed that it isn’t rude to break off in favour of noting something around you.

The default state when walking should be silence. There should be no small talk, no conversation for the sake of hearing your own voice. Avoid trivia, and avoid the kinds of conversations that involve point scoring or showing off. If someone is moved to speak, hold some silence around that where you can – this is a process we used in contemplative Druidry for speaking, and it is a powerful way of being with people. It works just as well when walking.

This approach creates the space to engage with the land. It also makes room for deeper thoughts to emerge. When things arise that need saying, there is a space into which they can be said. There may be exchange or conventional conversation, and that’s fine within the above parameters.

Listening carefully is an essential part of contemplative walking. It is by listing that you may notice or even see much of the wildlife around you. Listening is key to spotting small mammals in the undergrowth. Hearing bird calls will likely lead you to seeing them. You can’t be totally focused on regular human conversation and listen in this way. However, if you speak softly to each other and leave plenty of gaps, you can listen carefully to each other while also listening to what’s in your surroundings. It’s a way of being that enables us to be human with each other while not being totally human-centric.

I’ve tested this approach. I’ve walked with people who mostly just chat and observed how much of the wildlife they don’t see. I’ve also developed it as an idea within my family, and we do this together to excellent effect. When we started, I was the one who tended to spot all the wildlife, but over a few years both my son and husband have caught up to me and are just as alert to what’s around us. It can seem like magic, but it is really a skill set that can be learned, coupled with a willingness to move away from conventional human interactions so as to open out a broader dialogue with your surroundings.