A friend of mine told me recently that she wanted to start meditating, but didn’t know how. She laughingly said that I could teach her. It got me started thinking about my own meditation, what it is and how it’s changed over the years.
My earliest exposure to meditation was in a Christian context. The concept I was taught was to focus my attention on a few phrases from the Bible, and think deeply about their meaning. The idea is that you’re trying to let the truth of the words sink into you. I did this kind of meditating for many years, and had moments that were very significant to me, as a tidbit of truth would finally penetrate my mental defenses and go deep into my soul. One very effective thing was to sing. I knew hundreds of songs whose words were taken directly from Bible verses, and sometimes I would sing one phrase over and over to myself. A favorite song of mine was a simple one that says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
But the difficulty that I had with this approach to meditation was that I often couldn’t be still. If I was feeling anxious, I would try to block it out and focus on the truths I was supposedly meditating on, but in one corner of my mind (or sometimes right in the middle of it), I’d be feeling anxious. When my thoughts wandered to something I was worrying about, I’d force them back to the Bible verses, but I could still feel the pressure of those worries. My mind would be busy trying to have all its internal dialogues and monologues, and I couldn’t keep it on track for long. There’s nothing harder to do inside your mind than to try NOT to think about something. Telling yourself NOT to think about something is about the best way possible to give it more weight.
Then, in 2005, I went through a course called The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, and I learned an effective way for acknowledging all that mind clutter, instead of trying to suppress it. She requires students to do something she calls the Morning Pages. Every morning, first thing, you write three longhand pages of whatever is in your head. You aren’t allowed to stop writing. If you can’t think of anything to write, you write, “I can’t think of anything to write, and these Morning Pages are pissing me off.” If you’re worrying that you’re going to forget something you have to do that day, you write, “I’m worried I’m going to forget to do such-and-such.” If you’re angry, sad, joyful, expectant – whatever emotion – you write about that. It’s three pages of stream of consciousness, every day, first thing in the morning. I’ve been doing it consistently for nine years now, and it’s changed my life…for real. Sometimes what I write is utterly mundane. Sometimes I have wonderful insights. But always, it validates my thoughts, my emotions, my desires, my preferences, or my physical state. The Pages have helped me create a container where I can hold the reality of my experience, and allow it to be real. I couldn’t force myself to NOT think about all that junk, but by allowing it to be part of my authentic self, at least it wasn’t building up pressure like a beach ball held underwater.
Then I learned two amazing things: how to dissolve those thoughts that were causing me suffering, and how to START by becoming still inside. When I’m not constantly spending energy on difficult internal dialogue, and when I start thinking in images instead of words – in other words, when I become still – then the part about knowing the divine happens without any effort on my part. In fact, it feels ridiculous to think I would ever NOT sense and feel connected to the divine. I intended to write more about how I learned to dissolve painful thoughts, and how I learned to think in images instead of words, but this has gotten WAY too long, so it’ll have to wait until next time. Sorry for the cliff-hanger, but I promise I’ll give you the next installment soon. Leaving Christianity, finding my truth in all kinds of unexpected places, and learning to have a quiet mind…yep, you gotta wait until next post. 😉 But I promise I’ll share some things that changed my life, and can change yours too.