How to Meditate

Meditation-present-or-not-Pema-Chodron

Quick Instructions for Meditating:

  • Set a timer for 20 minutes (choose your length)
  • Sit still
  • Ding!
  • Get up

It’s really not complicated, right?

So why do we resist it? Why are there so many books about it? Why do we have so many questions? Eyes opened or closed? Sitting on a cushion or chair? Music or silence? Mantra or word? Long or short? Together or alone?

Perhaps we resist it because we intuitively question its value.

After all, it feels like we’re doing nothing.

If we’re going to give our time to something, we want it to count. We want to get it right. We want it to do something.

When I first began doing centering prayer (a Christian form of meditation), I joined a group; I read books; I asked questions.

The group was invaluable. The books provided motivation. My questions were answered. (I’m currently reading The Path of Centering Prayer by David Frenette, a book I highly recommend if you’re interested in learning more.)

But this problem remained: actually doing it.

Because when I did do it, I often felt like I had failed.

Why? Because I thought my mind had to shut down. And I could never succeed in stopping my thoughts.

Now I know that it’s okay that my thoughts never stop. The mind never will shut off. The goal isn’t to stop all thoughts. It’s just not to linger with them.

Instead, the objective of meditation through centering prayer is this:

Redirect thoughts to an intentional awareness of the love and presence of God, right here, right now.

That’s it.

Perhaps it really is simple after all.

~ * ~ * ~

QUOTES ON MEDITATION

David Frenette, On letting go

“Learning to let go of thoughts in centering prayer by consenting to God teaches you how to let go of attachment to things in life by consenting to God.”

~ * ~ * ~

Pema Chödrön, On staying put and dog training

“The steadfastness we develop in meditation is a willingness to stay. It may seem silly, but meditation actually isn’t too unlike training a dog! We learn to stay.

When you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch, you ‘stay.’ When you’re worried about what’s going to happen on Monday, you ‘stay.’ It’s a very lighthearted, compassionate instruction.

It is like training the dog in the sense that you can train the dog with harshness and the dog will learn to stay, but if you train it by beating it and yelling at it, it will stay and it will be able to follow that command, but it will be extremely neurotic and scared.”

On attitude

Not struggling against what arises in your life is an act of friendliness.”

On staying present

“With meditation practice, slowly over time we find that we are more and more able to stay present in everything we do. We can even do it when we’re having a conversation: we stay mindful and present to the person speaking to us, rather than wandering off to what we need to add to our shopping list.”

~ * ~ * ~

Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, On passing thoughts

The towns and countryside that the traveler sees through a train window do not slow down the train, nor does the train affect them. Neither disturbs the other. This is how you should see the thoughts that pass through your mind when you meditate.”

~ * ~ * ~

Father Thomas Keating, On detachment from thoughts

Centering prayer is not so much the absence of thoughts as detachment from them.  It is the opening of mind and heart, body and emotions—our whole being—to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions—beyond, in other words, the psychological content of the present moment.

In centering prayer we do not deny or repress what is in our (conscious thinking process).  We simply accept the fact of whatever is there and go beyond it, not by effort, but by letting go of whatever is there.

On gentleness

“In centering prayer we withdraw our attention from the ordinary flow of thoughts.  We tend to identify ourselves with that flow.  But there is a deeper part of ourselves, the spiritual level.

Centering prayer opens our awareness to this deep level of our being…Practicing this prayer is not doing nothing.

It is a very gentle kind of activity.”

* * *

Have you ever tried to meditate? Was it hard or easy for you? Please share in the comments.

27 thoughts on “How to Meditate

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    In ‘focused’ meditation, I’ve used some of the steps outlined by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa in his book “Meditation As Medicine”. It was effective in lowering my blood pressure from borderline hypertension to below-normal…and it’s stayed there.

    But there is more; meditation is not time nor setting nor intent. It’s really a connection with the eternal, and it’s always accessible…if we choose to drop the barriers that impede us.

    I’ve had a more profound meditative experience in the middle of a gunfight (in a supermarket parking lot, in a country that you would not expect) than I ever had sitting on a cushion in a quiet room.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…What’s In A Name – A Story of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve not heard of that book, Andrew…thanks for bringing it to my attention. I agree with you that meditation is much more than it appears to be. I suppose that’s one reason that it scares some people; it’s mysterious and can’t be pinned down—exactly as God intends to be. He refuses to be put in a box (or on a cushion), and wants to go with us everywhere, even in gunfights in supermarket parking lots (although not all of us are called to be there, thankfully! ha). Thanks for sharing this.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ha. Yes, Floyd, it is a relief to know we don’t have to squash all our thoughts, just try to redirect them. That’s hard enough. 🙂

  2. David

    Dear Lisa

    Another problem with “meditation” (especially for Brits perhaps) is that it is such a pretentious word. I would be a lot more comfortable with something like “sitting quietly”.

    I “sit quietly” mostly: (a) for 5 mins when I arrive at work (I cycle in & arrive very early, shower, then have this very quiet spot before piling into code); (b) after (or instead of) my bedtime prayer (so that’s “lie quietly”); (c) if (when) I feel a lump of tension, bitteness, etc. welling up I’ll try and drop into the state.

    Your description and your quotes ring very true. The times I choose are times when I know a pause will have a beneficial effect (e.g., I can spend /hours/ trying to get to sleep).

    Rather than dog/stay my metaphor is a kitten or a lamb. If it wanders off, I pick it up, give it a little kiss, and put it back down somewhere safe. A “Christian” version might be: when you notice you are thinking about something you pick up that thought and hand it over to God.

    As for centering, I tend to start with local noises then come into my body (breathing, parts relaxing). A next step for me might be to notice the presence of God inside me, and then, everywhere. Specifically Christian medit^D^D^D^D^D sitting quietly would be v interesting.

    Good to be back reading your blog again 🙂

    David
    David recently posted…Psalm verses: a bedtime prayerMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It sounds like you have developed quite a good practice of “sitting quietly” (I agree that “meditation” does carry baggage with it, in America too). Being able to “drop into the state” as needed is something I’d like to get better at. I see signs of improvement, but not a lot. ha. I appreciate you sharing these details, David; they are helpful to me and I’m sure they will be to others as well.

  3. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! Well, I am a fellow meditator as you know. I was watching a video on youtube from Richard Rohr, and he talked about having times of transcendence, and then 20 minutes of peeking at the clock. I LOVED that! It really made me feel like I wasn’t the only one.

    I do try to redirect my thoughts to Christ, or just let all those ideas float by in the background. But you know, there will still be those days of watching the clock…
    Blessings,
    Ceil
    Ceil recently posted…There’s Always SomethingMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, I love hearing that about Richard Rohr. Sometimes I count my 20 minutes as a win if I don’t peek at the clock at all. ha. I had to look this morning because I thought maybe my timer app had malfunctioned, only to discover there was only 15 seconds left. Almost made it. 🙂 I’m glad you understand, Ceil.

  4. Ashley Davis

    I like how you said that you don’t necessarily have to shut your mind off to mediate. The times I’ve tried it, my mind always wondered as well. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Our brains can be so pesty, yes? 🙂 Father Thomas Keating says we need to be gentle with our thoughts, which is good advice for me because I tend to get frustrated with mine instead. Hope you’re doing well, Ashley!

      1. Ashley

        Yes, I agree. I tend to get frustrated as well. It’s amazing how many thing are brains can think of! I’m doing well! Preparing to go back to the Philippines in April. Glad you are healing well from your surgery!

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Glad you’re getting ready to go back to the Philippines! That’s exciting! I’ll be praying for you and the lives you will touch there. You’re awesome.

          1. Ashley Davis

            Thank you so much for your prayers! We purchased tickets this weekend so it’s official. We will leave April 19!

  5. Jean Wise

    I know having the one word does help me refocus and the longer i practice it, the better I get. Then I forget or go on vacation and it feels like I am starting over again. Always a beginner, right?

    This is a great overview post, Lisa. Thanks

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      One word does help me refocus too, Jean. Although not as much as I’d like. ha. I’ve also allowed myself to branch out into a sacred image from time to time; sometimes that helps me more than a word. Yes, always a beginner. That concept is really freeing to me!

  6. Julie Joiner

    Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing this; it is encouraging. I cannot tell you how many books I have read or have in my “to be read” pile on this subject. The desire to sit and be present has increased greatly over the last few years. I am going to try it as you suggested without making it so complicated.
    Bless you, Julie Joiner

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do hope you will do it, Julie, and let me know how it goes! I often make things too complicated by reading so much about them first. But some things are meant to be experienced more than understood; this seems to be one of them. (Maybe that’s why it’s been so difficult for me? It’s hard to let go of wanting more knowledge, knowledge, knowledge…)

  7. Dolly@Soulstops

    Lisa,
    Great thoughts and quotes…and yes, practice “staying”…hard yet simple…and I love how you reminded us to simply do it…however imperfectly 🙂 I find it so hard sometimes to do but yet whenever I do, I’m always grateful I did. Blessings to you as you center in and on Jesus 🙂
    Dolly@Soulstops recently posted…Who is Joy’s secret friend? – 6My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Dolly. Yes, I’m always glad after the fact that I did put in the 20 minutes. Before the fact? I can too easily talk myself out of it. 🙂 But remembering that if I can just ‘stay’, it’s a win, helps me to go ahead and do it.

  8. Laura Thomas

    Oh Lisa, you always manage to give me much to chew on! For me, listening to worship music focusses my mind on Jesus, and helps my mind not to wander aimlessly in a hundred other directions. I guess that’s a start? Love this quote: “Redirect thoughts to an intentional awareness of the love and presence of God, right here, right now.” Thanks for sharing… stopping by from Coffee for the Heart 🙂
    Laura Thomas recently posted…WALK IN LOVEMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I agree with you, Laura: listening to music is a great start (and also a great ending point too!). I have been away from my church family for the past couple of weeks due to various things going on, and it was so renewing today to be back among them to sing the songs that help me focus my mind on Jesus.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hope you benefit from the book as much as I am, Debbie. I’m trying not to read through it super fast, but just letting it marinate, alternating between reading and doing (I can easily fall into the “reading only” mode). 🙂


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