The idea of beginning a practice of meditation can be overwhelming for someone newly embarking on the journey. And though it’s an ancient practice it has only recently re-emerged into modern Western thought, making it’s way back into mainstream awareness along with the New Age movement circa 1970. That makes most of us Westerners childlike in our learning and understanding of an ancient philosophy and practice. Being childlike is a wonderful thing, but it also means that we must be gentle and patient with ourselves as we get acquainted with a new way of being, and a relatively new way of experiencing ourselves and the world.
The New Age movement marked a time when the Western World began to accept and explore spirituality beyond the confines of Christian philosophy. A time when we, in the West, awakened to the wisdom of the East, the richness of it’s insight, and it’s deep understanding of the human condition. Now, the 1970’s wasn’t the Wests first encounter with Eastern Philosophy, there were many waves of wonderful teachers and emissary’s who came before this time to lay the foundations and share the good news of these ancient teachings. But none the less, the late 1960’s with its freedom movement going into the 1970’s with it’s free love movement witnessed the biggest wave of spirituality in recent times. One that pushed meditation and alternative spiritual practices out of the closet and into the mainstream; out of the whisper of closed circles and into everyday parlance.
At it’s most basic, meditation is a way to stay grounded and connected to the present moment, it is a way of connecting to the inner/higher self, to the collective conscious, to nature and the natural world, to Great Spirit (by what ever name you call it), and to the hidden, mysterious spiritual world. Learning to sit still and silent opens us up, like a portal, to a subtle world that exists within us. Learning to tune into our inner selves, and tune out of the constant chatter of the mind allows us to hear in new ways. This quieting of the mind acts as a threshold to a rich understanding and appreciation of our true nature. In the quiet of our sacred meditation space, we can come to great revelations, peace, calm, and clarity of thought. The added beauty of meditation is that along with getting to know ourselves comes acceptance and self love. Followed by mastery over our emotions, thought processes, and eventually our circumstances.
Meditation to our ancestors was really about communing with the spirits of the land and sky, in ancient times the human race was much more connected to the spirit world, they did not have the challenges we face in modern times in tapping into the web of life. This is due, at least in part, to the way humanity evolved, moving along a path of agriculture, industry, technology, and urban living. This choice, made as a collective, to embrace a materialistic experience of existence severed our ties with our organic selves and our direct connection to nature, the spirit world, and the divine.
We began dividing our lives into artificial time slots; 9 to 5, 8 hours days, weekends, summer vacations, alarm clocks. We created elaborate systems of education, governments, taxes, and other social and economic infrastructures. And though these systems serve a purpose to modern living, they are very foreign ways of being and operating in the world to that known by our ancient souls. Our ancestors’ practices of connecting to life and the divine, their processes of developing self awareness, spiritual wholeness, and connection to the all in nature, in the self, and in each other were mostly abandoned or lost in the passage of time. The modern rituals that replaced them generally don’t co-exist well with the natural world and rhythms of life, as a result this friction has created a point of dis-ease and discomfort in our daily human experience.
Meditation is a way of coming back to basics, of getting through the thick layers of culture and down into our hearts. In this stillness we come to a place of clarity, stripping away our own mental chatter, and also the many chattering voices of society that like to take up residence in our mind. We can begin to distinguish between the expectations imposed on us by customs and norms, by family, our friends, employers, and even by ourselves. By creating a meditation ritual and making the time to be with ourselves daily, we can begin to develop the foresight needed to distinguish between the many voices that do follow and influence us. Knowing which voice belongs to who, the difference between truth and opinion, and how to switch it all off can bring us great freedom, relief, and balance.
For those of us who have a tendency to intellectualize, meditation can take a while to get into. There are so many disciplines and so much great advice around how to tap into this stillness that one can get stuck in the study of meditation, rather then diving into the practice of it and experimenting with what works. Rather then overwhelming our minds with knowledge and intimidating ourselves before we even start, its a good idea to just create a sacred space in our home that’s all our own, a place where we can come to anytime and instantly feel good once there.
Creating this space for ourselves is an important part of establishing a meditation practice, connecting with this space through the senses can help us slip straight into the subconscious, taking us directly to the state of calm and quiet necessary to tap into our inner world. The senses (touch, taste, smell, vision, hearing) are our connection to the outer world, they filter our experience of the world around us, helping us learn and understand life and our environment, we can learn to influence them and use them to direct our attention from the outer world into the inner. So be mindful of your senses, make sure each of them are honored and represented in your meditation ritual.
The human being is a complex machine, we are all motivated by different drives. Some people may be more tactile while others cerebral, some more emotional, and others intuitive. One thing we do all have in common is that we are creatures of habit. Creating rituals is innate to humans, repetition is how we learn; routines bring us comfort. Consistency not only creates familiarity but also sets a rhythm which, with patience and practice will eventually inspire automatic behaviors.
Approaching our meditative practice in an informed way will help our meditative life flourish. These daily meditation rituals, once memorized and ingrained in our behavior, will signal the subconscious and ego, letting them know that we are taking a break from the outside world. If we create an inner culture of slowing down, and set ourselves the intention to do so regularly, the many aspects of ourselves will eventually comply – especially when we realize how good it feels to take time out.
We can train our sense of sight by decorating our sacred space with soothing colors, using images of mandalas or nature, or by what ever visual means inspires peace in us. We can honor our hearing by avoiding noisy environments, training ourselves to tune them out, or playing soft meditation music in the background. We can train our sense of smell by using incense, aromatic oils, or fresh flowers to create the mood we desire. We can honor our sense of touch by using soft fabrics, holding sacred objects, or wearing comfortable clothes when we practice. And finally, we can train our sense of taste by having a ritualistic cup of tea before or after our meditation. These are just a few suggestions taken from ancient practices that can support our efforts, but if none of them sit right with you, create your own. One important thing to note is that if we feed and nourish our senses with love and kindness, with rituals and ceremony that feel good, it becomes much easier to fall into a routine that helps us slip right into the good vibes. With just a few symbolic gestures we can transition smoothly into a daily meditation practice.
One thing that I’d like to add is that it is important to recognize that when we come to our sacred space, we come to honor ourselves; so come in gratitude and reverence. Bless yourself for taking the time out for yourself, even if your intention for the day is as simple as wanting to clear your mind, or as complex of wanting to reach a new level of enlightenment. Be gentle on yourself always and know that just by showing up you are progressing. Even when you feel you are plateauing, know that the spirit world is in constant motion, ever evolving. The effects of your growth may sometimes be too subtle for you to observe in the short term.
Finally, take a moment to remember the beauty of all that is, to thank yourself for your achievements of the day. To remind yourself you are a creator. From this place of self love you can open yourself more readily to your inner world and create the trust needed to delve into the deepest part of your awareness. Being in your sacred space will always signal the coming of a moments peace, so make your sacred space your own little sanctuary, your slice of paradise. With a few simple rituals you can turn meditation into a most pleasant experience, a blessed relief from the struggles of the day rather then another chore on a never ending list of chores. Make it fun, approach it with a childlike mind, most importantly make it your own.
With Love & Light,