What is meditation and do I have to do it?
If I had a pound for every person who said 'I can't meditate' I would be rich! And if this is your thought, I say yes it is hard to meditate to a method that doesn't suit you.
I remember keenly my first buddhist retreat when I was 22, sitting for hours counting my breaths to 10 and having to start again when my attention wandered. I really felt like I was in a penitentiary kindergarten for meditators. I hated it and felt a miserable failure.
What I feel now 30 years later having practised and taught meditation (irregularly I should add - no perfect student me) is that this way of teaching meditation belongs to the old school patriarchal way of spirituality. It had it's time but it's time is served and we need to refresh the way we understand the how, and purpose, of meditation.
Firstly the purpose of meditation is to achieve a felt experience of wholeness: an absence of inner conflict that characterises most normal human beings minds. 'What should I have for dinner?' I'd like egg and chips but shouldn't I make something healthier? I'm so lazy, I'll regret it tomorrow...'and so on. We all do that right? So the purpose of meditation is to give us a holiday from this constant inner discourse. When we adopt a meditative practise, after a time we begin to experience a feeling of space and quiet that is deeply nourishing and restful.
Before I go on to the question of 'how to meditate' I'd like to ask you, have you ever had this feeling before? When you felt good inside and your thoughts were peaceful? What were you doing? Perhaps you were watching a robin in your garden, perhaps you were singing with your choir, perhaps you were folding laundry or looking at a perfect sunset? The chances are you have experienced that state because it a natural state of being.
Old school patriarchal spiritual teaching is pathologising and consequently prescriptive. It has been suggested to us many times in both Eastern and Western traditions that we have a fault in our nature, we are born 'sinful' or have an enemy within called the ego. Therefore in this rationale something we need 'curing' or 'fixing' with prescribed practises (confession, penitence, meditation). But like all old textbooks it needs updating. This old way of thinking underestimates all of our capacities to connect with stillness that is ever present in our reality. In my view something vital about our human nature has been overlooked. That we are born with the capacity for stillness and we are all unique in our ways of accessing it.
My point is here is that the capacity for stillness and 'at one-man' is build into our factory settings. It is in our DNA. Both capacity for thinking and the capacity for stillness is instinctual. Watch a baby, every now and then it's attention will be completely absorded in something that has fascinated it. It's face is a picture of absorption and stillness - a meditative state we might say. It is not something that we have to learn from a spiritual master (although this can be helpful) but a capacity that we decide to cultivate in ourselves.
I encourage anyone to reflect on what circumstances or activities help you come into that state even if just a little. In there is a clue as to which practise of meditation (and there are many) will work for you as you are already naturally inclined that way.
Many people feel whole and present when they are sitting or moving in nature. That makes so much sense. What more accessible embodiment of spirit is there? If you want to encounter the living embodiment of the beauty and complexity of God, spirit, the Transcendent however you call it, what more present and simple practise than to be in nature?
For others making music, singing or dancing or drawing or painting might be their means of accessing this part of themselves.
Oh but is that really kosher? I mean is that the real thing you might say? I really understand that. Again I believe this is vestige of an old hierarchical way of seeing things, 'my religion is better than yours' 'there is a right way and wrong way to pray/meditate/worship'. A one size fits all approach.
What if the state of presence is one you already know how to cultivate in you life you just didn't realise it because you were so busy thinking it was something you had to go to school to do?
For example, I love to wild swim. That is swim outdoors in natural bodies of water. As soon as I enter the water (and get over the cold shock) I feel a sense of ecstasy. A delighted, happy, gratefulness to the earth, to nature, to life for this experience. This is a spiritual practise. So realising this my discipline is to make sure I organised my diary so I can go. It is not a luxury activity, it brings me joy and that joy I bring home to the people in my life.
I also make time to fill my dream diary (maybe 20 minutes in a day). I draw my dreams sometimes then carry the images through the day or days that follow letting their significance speak to me when it will. When I do that I have the sense of being connected to something greater than myself, a wise and intelligent source that is alongside me.
These are just examples. The trick is to find a clue, a seed in your experience and cultivate it. Make it a priority alongside everything else you do, even if it's not to pick up your phone between tasks and just stare out the window. Notice what you can hear, what you see, feel, smell and taste.
The guiding principle is that whatever it is it makes you feel good.
The challenge for us survivors of the patriarchal age (and some would say ushers of the new more inclusive and respectful era of spirituality )is to find the courageous conscious attitude. One that is prepared to be sovereign of herself: one that is prepared to trust her own perceptions, thoughts and feelings enough to discover that within herself is all the guidance she needs.