Visit Pathways with me each day to begin your journey into meditation. You will find links to learn something of the background to the history and techniques of the practice.
There are many meditational techniques, exhibiting characteristics which have been drawn from diverse religious and cultural contexts. It seems to me, however, that what all meditational practices have in common is the goal of peaceful encounter with our deepest self and, through that, the expansion of our capacity for compassion and connection with all created things.
Today, I want to introduce you to one of the fundamentals: the miracle of breath. Imagine that our breathing is the primary sign of our life’s pilgrimage, begun when we left the womb and ending at the point of death. In meditation, our attention is focused on the breath as a way of stilling both our mind and our body. Think of each inhalation as in-spiration and imagine your breath as the pathway to the creative spirit that abounds in the world.
Let’s begin with a technique which is called squared breathing. Find a peaceful place where you will be able to sit undisturbed for a while. The manner of your sitting is important. Have your feet on a cushion and keep your back straight but relaxed. Imagine that you are ‘rooted’, like a tree that is able to draw goodness from the earth. Relax your neck. I like to close my eyes, but many people prefer to concentrate their gaze on something: the flame of a candle, or the stillness of a Chinese vase (thankyou T.S. Eliot).
Now, attend to your breath. Inhale for the count of 4; hold for the count of 4; breathe out for the count of 4 and hold for the count of 4. Repeat. For me, the ticking of a clock is a soothing accompaniment to squared breathing. That sound takes me back to my childhood, and the silence of my grandmother’s house. I can see that room so clearly in my mind. I can even recall the box bed in which I was born.
And do you see what has happened here? My thoughts have wandered and so will yours. That brings us to one of the most important questions that people ask about meditation. How do we still our thoughts? How do we stop the chatter in our heads? How do we reach a place of calmness?
The answer, of course, is through practice. I want to reassure you of something. It is impossible to empty your head of thoughts. The most important thing is to learn how to deal with your thoughts. As you practise a daily routine of disciplined breathing, you will find that your mind slows down, but it will never stop.
When a random thought enters your head (as my grandmother’s room entered mine), think of it as a child of your imagination that has come to sit beside you for a while. Watch as the child moves away. Focus on your breath again.
Above all, have compassion for yourself, for your vulnerability, for the well-spring of goodness that is in you. For that is the place that meditation will lead you, and it is from that place that you will be able to give back to the world something of the miracle of your one, unique life.
Each day, I will join you on the Pathway.
from time to time, I will be posting articles, poetry and book reviews which will broaden our understanding of the meaning and purpose of meditation.
You will always find these articles in the drop down menu under Resources. Today, I have posted a talk I gave in 2017, on the topic of compassion. The idea of compassion is central to the meditational attitude. In the weeks ahead, I will also write about ways that we can engender compassion in young children. That has always been an important aim, but it is set to take an even more crucial role as we move through the shared crisis of the current pandemic.