Tag Archives: meditation

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.

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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.

 


Having a physical daily practice

The general wisdom with any spiritual path is that you should have a daily practice. It’s how you make your path part of your life. Most things improve if you keep doing them, and what we do a bit of every day is what defines us – far more than any occasional, dramatic things will.

One of the things that has happened for me with the Druidry is that I’ve embedded it in my life to a degree where I can’t always see it. I live my path. I live it in the everyday green choices I make, in my relationship with my landscape, in how I deploy language, in my relationships with people… It colours everything I do, but at the same time there’s not much I can easily point at and say ‘this is my Druidry’. I’ve had patches of wondering where my Druidry had got to and whether I had slipped out of it. It’s an odd state to be in.

One of the most direct benefits of having a regular spiritual practice is that you get to feel like a spiritual person with a regular practice. The more you embed your beliefs in your life, the less visible they become and in some ways that’s a good thing, but it can also take something away. If your work really is your prayer, if you take a meditative mindset into everything, if there is no hard line any more between what is sacred and what isn’t… you may lose that sense of your own spirituality. 100% Pagan may make it impossible to see the wood for the trees.

In the last few months, I’ve taken up Tai Chi – in no small part because I wanted to add something to my life that I can do every day. Being a specific physical practice, I can’t embed it in my life by any other means. I have to do Tai Chi to do Tai Chi. I spend time moving and standing most days, and I like how this has changed things for me. It’s a good physical discipline and I’m benefiting from that – which is also a way of honouring nature in my body, so, more stealth Druidry! I’ve a long standing interest in Taoism and the Tao Te Ching so this is a body meditation that connects with it. Tai Chi also functions as a martial art, but I’m not especially exploring that side at the moment. I’m studying balance and how I load my joints, slowing myself and seeking a soft, flowing motion.

The more successfully you do the work, the less visible it becomes to you – this is the way of it for most aspects of a spiritual path. Most of us find affirmation in the more self-announcing parts of what we do, and this is one of the great benefits of community ritual. One of the good things about doing something physical in this way is that it remains self announcing. You have to practice it and in doing it every day you get to remind yourself that you are indeed the sort of person who does such things.

I’m aware that such an ‘ego-led’ approach to what we do and why might sound wholly unspiritual. But at the same time, I think being in denial about why we may be motivated to take up spiritual things in the first place just leads to a different kind of self importance. A secretive and dishonest kind of self importance that does no good to anyone. Best to be honest about these things. We take up spiritual work because we want to be spiritual people and we want to feel that way about ourselves. When we do it well, what we do becomes less visible to us, and we may well need things that help us feel the same excitement of a novice.


Meditation for self care

Meditation is generally pitched as being good for us – slowing down, calming our bodies and minds, but there are all kinds of benefits that might be less obvious.

You have to make time for meditation. If you can’t find ten minutes in a day for some quiet and solitary time, there is a major problem in your life. Everyone should have space for some quiet downtime. If there is no space for meditation, this flags up that you need to take a good look at where your time is used and reclaim some of it. You can’t do self-care if you don’t have time for yourself.

You might find that when you sit down to meditate, mostly what you have to do is work through all the noise in your head. This is not meditation-fail, this is self-care. If it turns out that what you need most is some processing time to get to grips with your thoughts and feelings, go for it. Sit quietly and just let it all work through. Focus on giving yourself as much time as you need for this – it is important stuff and will help you. If your head is full of things you need to process, actually sitting with it will do you far more good than trying to suppress it in order to meditate.

When you hold quiet space for yourself, it can give you chance to notice things. It may not be until you stop that you notice how tense your shoulders are, or how weary you feel. If attempting to meditate raises body issues, then again, this is not some kind of meditation fail. It is an opportunity to find out about your own needs and may flag up to you what your body requires. Listen to yourself.

Also, if you know about pain in your body and you don’t want to spend time with it, that’s also fine. Use guided visualisations and pathworkings to take you away from bodily pain and give you some respite – if you can. It doesn’t work for everyone. If trying to meditate only makes you feel worse, then prioritise self care and do something else with your time – draw, journal, listen to music – whatever suits you. Meditation is not for everyone, and making yourself do something that doesn’t work for you is not self care no matter who else says you should experience benefits.

Many meditation guides advise against doing meditation lying down or in bed at night because you might go to sleep and not do the meditation properly. However, if your primary need is for sleep, meditation is a tool you might be able to use to get there. You do not have to do meditations for their own sake, you can do them to help you sleep.

It’s easy to be persuaded that we’re supposed to meditate in certain ways to get specific spiritual effects. However, if your mind is in overdrive and your body in pain, trying to force a meditative state may be of little use to you. If the process of meditation shows you things about what you need, follow up on those needs. It’s what you need most. The key to self-care is to be able to make space for it in the first place – those of us who struggle with it are often struggling to get started more than anything else. Meditation may open a door for you, enabling you to better see what you need. Sometimes meditation is best used not as an end goal itself, but as a means to an end – as a way of making space for yourself, checking in with your needs and working out how to take better care of yourself.


Dreaming your full time Pagan Life

What we do is informed by what we dream. That’s true of our daydreaming, and or our less intentioned night dreaming. What we absorb resurfaces in our desires to shape our intentions and our actions. Magic is all about will, but will is informed by many things we might not be aware of. Take a step back from your intent to check where it comes from and what’s feeding it.

Make time to dream your Pagan life. This is especially important if you can’t meditate or don’t have time for a daily Pagan practice. Make time – whatever time you can – to just sit down and daydream. I recommend a plant or a good window view or a nice outdoors setting for company if you can. Failing that, some Pagan art, your oracle cards, a crystal – anything that gives you a bit of Pagan-flavoured headspace. Imagine what it would be like to live a totally Pagan life.

What would you eat? What would you wear? What would your sleeping arrangements be like? What would your job be? How would you pay your bills? How would you get around? What would your family life be like? What would you do in your time off? And how would your spiritual practice fit in to all of this?

If you work with guides, gods or any other spiritual forces, you can invite them in on this process. Ask for guidance. Ask for inspiration. Keep doing it in whatever moments you can find and see what emerges. Find out what you really want from a full time Pagan life. Explore it imaginatively. Play with ideas – your first impulse is not necessarily your best one, you may need to dig in a bit.

Now, here’s the fun bit. There’s no direct action stage here. Just keep dreaming. Except that all our ideas are born of dreams and imaginings, and that what we invest energy in shapes us. You may feel moved to run out and make radical changes – feel free, it’s your life. You may not feel able to, you may not be able to see how to get to your dreams from where you are now. But, as you go along, your dream infused life will change, because you will make small, every day choices based on those dreams. The odds are it won’t be the dramatic shifts that really count in the long run – it will be the small, every day things that change everything. It usually is.

Dream who you want to be. Dream the life you want. Dream how best to manifest your Paganism in your life. I don’t particularly believe that like attracts like, or that what we focus on, we get. But I do know that what we think about colours every experience. How we think shapes our perceptions. What we focus on, we invest in. So often, things we are not conscious of get the steering wheel in our minds and lives – it’s the expectation of this that underpins every single advert you encounter. Take back your dreaming. Change everything.


When you can’t meditate

There’s a vile notion out there that goes ‘people who can’t meditate for half an hour every day need to meditate for an hour’. The phrasings vary, but the gist tends to be about the same. It assumes everyone should meditate, and that everyone can.

Pain, exhaustion and massive hormonal events are things I’ve been noticing recently make it impossible to meditate. I can’t do anything body centred if I hurt, it just makes the pain more apparent. While I try to manage my energy so that I have something to spare, I don’t always get a vote where that’s concerned. If I’m exhausted, trying to herd my weary mind in any direction is just a slog and I derive little or no benefit from it.

I say this as someone who has been meditating fairly regularly for more than twenty years. I say this as someone who thinks meditation is a good idea with a lot of benefits. And I also say that sometimes meditation is a bloody useless idea, counter-productive and not worth what it will cost you.

Sometimes, it’s better just to rest, or sleep.

Sometimes it’s better just to contemplate in an unfocused way and let your mind do what it will. Look at the sky, or an oracle card, or a stone or a twig and just be with it and don’t try to structure anything too much.

It’s easy to sell the idea that discipline is good. Meditation is disciplined, so doing it is good. Doing the good thing makes you a better person. Failing to do the good thing makes you a less-good person. It’s all very judgemental. None of this is actually going to grow you as a spiritual being. On the other hand, doing what you can do when you can do it is a much better way of travelling your spiritual path.

There’s not a lot of compassion inherent in telling people what they should be doing with no reference to what’s feasible for them.

If you don’t have time, or scope to meditate for half an hour every day, meditate for the amount of time that works for you, as often as that makes sense.

 


Making headspace for Druidry

Often, the first stage of a spiritual activity is to clear your mind. Get rid of the inner chatter before meditation, change your inner state for ritual, show up and be present in nature. Certainly none of these things work as well if your head is full of noise.

However, rather than just silencing the noise, I find it pays to discover what the noise is, first.

There are days when I can slip easily into a meditative headspace without having to make any effort at all. There are days when I get out amongst the trees and I barely know how to be present. Forcing myself to be more present often doesn’t give me a sense of the sacred any faster, it’s just effort and discipline. If there’s a lot of noise in my head, I tend to find it’s there for a reason.

So, what’s going on? It varies from day to day. There will be things I genuinely need to think about – actions to review, plans to make, important things to keep track of. If I’m trying to do a lot of things, especially if some of them are unfamiliar, I may be overthinking. If I’ve tried to do a lot of thinking, I may feel stressed and anxious. Critically, trying to just turn it off can add to the anxiousness. It really doesn’t help if I start feeling like I’m a bad Druid for being unable to easily still my mind. It isn’t Druid-fail, it’s overload.

It may also be that I’m trying to develop an idea. What happens if I sit with that is that a few grains of thought can be transformed into substantial inspiration. Making space for ideas is a vital part of the creative process. In the early stages, creative ideas don’t always stand out from other head activities. They need finding, noticing and giving permission to continue.

What works best for me, is to make time for those thoughts I’m having and give them my full attention. If there are things I need to track, a careful process of going through them in turn will help me feel more on top of things. If there are problems to solve, it’s better to solve them. If I am worried, I need to asses those worries and see if they are realistic and in need of attention, or just a reaction to overload. If my brain is full of noise, rather than doing anything structured, I’ll deal with the noise – meet it, unravel it. Then if there’s time left, I can look at meditating.

The business of everyday life is not the enemy of your spiritual path. It isn’t something to push away to get to the good stuff. The everyday life is your life, and it may well need more attention than you’ve been able to give it. Giving attention to your thoughts and feelings is key to developing self awareness and making good and conscious choices. Take it seriously. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the noise in your head – what’s wrong is that you haven’t felt able to give it the time it needs. Sit with it, listen to it, ask it questions, and find answers. Contemplate whatever’s on your mind, and the stilling and slowing comes naturally, and does something much more enduring.

The discipline to turn off your thoughts at will has its uses. The daily practice of working through your thoughts and dealing with them offers a lot more benefits.


Magic, illness and discipline

Most forms of magical and spiritual practice depend to some degree on concentration. It is feasible to do contemplative meditation when you can’t concentrate – by having an object that you return your thoughts to, for example. It is feasible to undertake prayer or ritual with an unfocused mind, but it is probably less effective.

Spell based magic is all about your will. There’s nothing like pain or illness to reduce the power of your will, and to make that kind of focused intensity difficult to maintain. All of us will go through times when we don’t have what it takes to act magically. Some of us will be like that most of the time. So, what do you do if you want magic in your life, but can’t rely on having the attention span, the concentration, the focus or the willpower to work it?

Aim small. Ignore the useless advice that if you can’t meditate for half an hour you should meditate for an hour. Better to have five minutes of quality engagement than a longer stretch full of frustration and misery. Look for acts of magic and spirituality that operate on a scale you can handle. Look for ways of working that allow you to come back regularly and do a small thing. Don’t tie yourself to fixed times because you might not have the clarity at those times. Work when you can.

People who are hale and hearty can be very comfortable telling people who aren’t to try harder. If you are ill, the limits of what you can do are often a simple fact. Trying to push for more can often result in a backlash that lets you do even less. Only you can judge this. Experiment on your own terms and don’t feel pressured into doing things the way other people think you should.

Look for opportunities for magical experience and transformation rather than acts of deliberate change. Being in a ritual can be transformative. So can sitting out with access to trees and birds or water or sky. Having an altar and spending some time with it can make room for things to come in. So can creativity.

Pain and illness can make it hard to think that good things of any shape can happen. The longer it goes on, the more it can lock you down and make you feel limited. Looking for small moments of beauty and wonder can be a way to offset this a little. Sometimes there are blessing amongst the miseries. There don’t have to be, and it isn’t your job to be relentlessly cheerful or to find shiny blessings in a shit storm. But at the same time, there’s much to be said for making the best of what you’ve got in whatever way you can.


Pain and meditation

Most meditation practices seem to start by centring you in your body. Breathe deeply. Be mindful of your physical presence. Gently relax your muscles. You know the routine. The trouble with pain is that being aware of it is the last thing you want. I’ve yet to experience a pain that I can’t suffer from more by paying it close attention.

Some pains I can soothe with the awesome power of my mind, but the truth is that the awesome power of my mind is fairly limited, and sometimes of no use at all. It’s especially useless if the pain is in my head or face to begin with. It’s also a lost cause if I don’t have the concentration to meditate, and there’s nothing like pain for wrecking my concentration.

(As an aside, this is not a request for pain management advice of any sort, there’s a lot of specific detail missing here, as there often is when people talk about pain. This is not a thinly veiled request for guidance about how to deal with pain. I am dealing with my pain, these are observations arising from what I’ve been doing. Onwards…)

Unfortunately, sleeping calls for a period of just being alone in my head with whatever pain I’m feeling. So, while often the solution to meditation not helping with pain is not to meditate, on the edge of sleep, I really need all the help I can get. A meditation practice that can take me away from the pain and into some other head space can really help.

I visualise the pain itself as being like a big door surrounded by flames. My challenge is to get through the door and into the headspace where I don’t feel the pain. Now, normal meditations encourage us to be calm, to feel gentle, peaceful emotions. I have found that doesn’t help me deal with pain. However, if I set up a visualisation or a pathworking that evokes really strong emotions, I can become sufficiently involved with it to take me out of my bodily awareness. This creates the weird situation that being in pain may be the best time for me to try and work on difficult emotional things. I stay away from things that cause too much fear, because panic is not conducive to sleep.

I can’t say how or if this would work for anyone else, but it might. You need to plan what you’re going to work with and pick things that you personally will find emotive in intense and powerful ways. You can’t use any of the normal settling in techniques because they’re all too body centred. I tend to picture the fiery door, gather my wits and dive headlong into the most intense meditation I can think of. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does work it allows me, eventually, to go to sleep, and that’s quite some blessing.