In anticipation of 40 days of meditation beginning on May 15th, here are a few guidelines for developing your own practice:
(1) Follow your own inner rhythms. Your meditation practice should be as unique as you are, as personal as your connection with the Divine. Trust what calls to you. Trust what feels right to you. If you feel peaceful, expansive, open, then you’re doing it right, whether you’re sitting, lying down or dancing.
(2) Allow change. No two days are quite the same; no two meditations are quite the same. Some days you may feel blissful, other days it will be a struggle to sit still. Embrace the changes. Experience it all. If something doesn’t feel right, try something else.
(3) Be open. To where you are, who you are and all that is. Give yourself to the moment you are in, including how you feel, the noises around you, even the so-called interruptions. They are all part of the practice. Don’t expect to silence your thoughts, just let them be. When you find yourself dwelling on your thoughts (and you will), just let them float away and return to your practice, again and again.
(4) Go slowly. Meditation is a practice, not a race. Take your time building a practice. As you begin your 40-day practice, if you are new to meditation, commit only to spending at least 30 seconds in meditation. That is enough. Over time, 30 seconds may become 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 20. There is no reward for more time spent, and it is far more important that you focus on connecting with yourself than it is that you check off how many minutes you spent each day. Two minutes in true stillness are far more valuable to peace and happiness than an hour spent watching the clock and worrying over tasks waiting to be done. Remember, the path of stillness is a journey, not a destination.
(5) Explore. There is a kaleidoscope of different meditation techniques available to you. Try many; use whatever sounds the most appealing, the most delightful. A few suggestions:
Focus on your breath as it flows in and out of your body.
Focus on the feel of your heartbeat–feel the pulse of your life.
Use a mantra. This can be a sacred Sanskrit word, such as Om (the sound of the universe), Sat Nam (“truth is my name”) or So Hum (“That I am”). It could also be an affirmation that inspires you, such as “Love,” “I am peaceful,” or “I am at ease with myself and others.” Use one that resonates with you. Experiment.
Use music or guided meditations, especially when you are beginning, to lead you into meditation. I sometimes meditate to Aine Minogue’s Celtic Meditation Music; I also like Gabrielle Bernstein Meditations and Spirit Junkie Guided Meditations. (Gabrielle Bernstein also has free meditations available on iTunes–they don’t have the beautiful music of her cds, but are still a lovely guide into stillness.) The yoga teacher, Janet Stone, recently released a new iPhone App (Yoga with Janet Stone) which includes some beautiful, guided meditations in addition to yoga practices. The iChakra App is another good resource if you’re interested in Kundalini mantra meditation.
Sometimes the path to stillness involves movement. Try a walking meditation, or do an activity you love, such as knitting or baking, with gentleness and presence. Or lie down if that feels best to you. Don’t worry about falling asleep–if you do, it only means you needed that more than anything else. And meditation is all about supporting the parts of you that need support and finding your own manner of peace.
(6) Bring all of yourself into your meditation–your fears, your anxieties, your sadness. This is your chance to be whole, to embrace everything you are, the beautiful, the brave, the fragile, the rebellious. Your feelings will not hurt you. Explore them.
(7) Just listen. Tune into what your body is whispering, to what your heart is telling you. When you listen closely enough, you may find yourself awakened to Truth, able to translate the voice of Love. Write it down. Share your discoveries.
(8) Watch for magic. Time spent in meditation always finds its way back to you. When you open to the magic of the moment, it grows around you. You have more energy, more patience, more love to give. You find the right action arising naturally; you flow with your life rather than against it.
If you have questions or suggestions of your own, I would love to hear them. What ways have you found to cultivate peace? When are you called to silence, and what have you found there?
However you choose to journey into stillness, may it bring you home to yourself.