The How to Meditate Guide below is presented here with permission (and minor adaptation) from my friend, Jean Gendreau. You can find the original on her website Christian Meditation: Opening to God in a New Way. Jean teaches Christian meditation in northern Minnesota. She is a beautiful writer and has quite a library of blogs. I encourage you to take a look.
Six Lessons on How To Meditate
Lesson 1. What is Meditation?
Lesson 2. Thought and Non-Thought – Are thoughts reality?
Lesson 3. Christian Meditations – Love one another as I have loved you.
Lesson 4. Surrender Meditations – Life happens when you’re making plans.
Lesson 5. Meditation and Oneness
Lesson 6. Trusting the Practice: Stress, Illness and Death
Lesson 1. What Is Meditation Anyway?
Main idea: Meditation is a way for God to touch and transform us
Meditation is a daily practice that changes …
- How you manage your thoughts
- What you experience as real;
- Your brainwaves;
- How you experience God.
How you manage your thoughts: All our lives, we think that what is real is what we think. Our constant thoughts—about what’s going on, about who we are, about what we’re feeling —never stop. This is called “monkey mind,” and everyone has it.
Meditation is a daily practice of sitting in silence that takes you to an awareness that is not thought. This is a consciousness or awareness separate or different from thought. Most people don’t even know this reality exists.
Don’t worry! You won’t stop thinking completely. But your thoughts won’t be in control anymore. Instead of the tyranny of thoughts, a deeper, more peaceful reality will start to grow inside you. In this new place, it’s easier to hear God’s voice.
What you experience as real: We discover that real does not mean the thoughts that dance through our heads. We discover a reality that is loving, intuitive and peaceful. As we keep practicing, we begin to see both ways—the same old thoughts and also a new, tender, powerful reality.
When we get goosebumps, when we feel awe or radiant joy or beauty, it’s a big deal. Those moments taste the same as the place of non-thought. We all recognize this special quality when we see it, but most of the time, we forget it exists. Practicing meditation makes it real again. After you have practiced for a while, you will be able to touch this reality.
If you practice every day for one month, you will feel the beginning of change. But you have to do it ... not just think about it.
Your brainwaves: Meditation changes brain waves. We become more relaxed and focused. We experience more alpha waves or theta waves, which can leave you feeling relaxed and alert. Here’s a link about meditation and brainwaves.
How you experience God: The place of being aware without thinking is where we can touch God easily and God can touch us. Some call this Christ Consciousness. To others, this is the Holy Spirit, and still others say this is God. In other religions, the names are different, but the awareness itself is always the same because God is everywhere and everything.
The Christ Consciousness is where all healing happens. There is no birth and no death because it is beyond body. There is no time and no separation from God. It is infinite, perfect love. There are many Christian meditation techniques that open our hearts to fully receive this love. Learning and practicing Christian meditation techniques opens each of us up to this miracle.
Some people say there is no such thing as a Christian meditation technique—They say that if you meditate you must be a Buddhist or Hindu. They say meditation is a sin. Certainly contemplation is a kind of meditation. Meditation in various forms is exactly how the Catholic saints opened to God—and I think almost everyone accepts that the saints were Christians.
For example, in about the year 530 AD, in the town of Subiaco in Italy, a man named Benedict sat in silence in a cave for several years and experienced God in a new way. He was touched by God. This man became Saint Benedict. Sitting silently like that is meditation, and surely we can say Saint Benedict was a Christian. There are many stories like this of the Christian saints, and no one can say that these saints did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. So yes, there are dozens of purely Christian meditation techniques.
I personally am Protestant; I am Presbyterian. So for me the Catholic saints are teachers, but I never pray to them. Yet I certainly respect their experience of God. They touched Christ Consciousness using meditation, and because I yearn to know God in a deeper way, I meditate just as they meditated.
In fact, many Christian scholars teach that Jesus himself meditated. To learn more about this, read the books The Wisdom Jesus by Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault and Immortal Diamond by Rev. Richard Rohr, available in the Bookstore.
Meditation, like singing or speaking, is not always a religious practice. It can be religious, but many people meditate to reduce stress or to improve health.
Sometimes people say meditation is for Buddhists only. That’s false. Every religion includes some form of meditation.
In history, religious people who meditated were called mystics. This isn’t as mysterious or fancy as it sounds. A mystic is a person with direct, intuitive knowledge of God. This knowledge almost always comes from some kind of meditation. A religious scholar, priest, minister or theologian studies and thinks about religion, but a mystic eventually learns how to touch Divine Awareness by meditating. Almost all Catholic saints were mystics who received their revelations because they meditated for long periods of time.
If you meditate regularly, you will experience God in a new way …. But you have to DO it, not just think about doing it. It takes about one month of daily practice to start noticing differences.
We start with our experience in meditation and then choose the words to describe it… and this is usually very difficult. First we experience awe or love or beauty, and then we have to figure out how to describe it. But words often fail. Words limit the truth. Words cramp God’s style.
As we learn about meditation, we need to be careful about how we use words. All words—even good words— have too much baggage. For example, the words mystic, God, faith, prayer, miracle, sin, Christian and love can all mean different things to different people. There is no practical way to fix this confusion.
This is why we don’t want to spend too much time on definitions. What matters is the experience itself and how it works in our hearts. Whatever words we choose to describe it are not as important.
There are many people today who prefer foreign words to Christian ones, and that’s okay. For these people, there is just too much painful baggage to words like righteous and sin and God and Jesus. I can’t blame them, even if these words are fine for me. Each of us has our own life experience. So for these people, using words like Om or Namaste or Buddha feels safe—because they don’t have the baggage from their personal experience of Christianity.
But here’s a truth: Every religion holds part of God’s heart, and every religion has some confusion, some baggage.
The reason words like Om and namaste feel safe to westerners while Jesus and God do not is that we don’t know much about the baggage of the Hindu religion—because we are not Indians. If we had grown up in Indian culture, we might reject Hinduism and think that Our Father who art in heaven feels safer and more pure than Om. Every religion has weak spots and every religion has strengths.
Don’t get lost in words and definitions. God is huge, much more immense and complex than any one word, any one idea or any one religion. If we relax about words, we can start to know the infinite brilliance that is God—all light, all love, all existence, now and forever.
Self Exploration Exercise: Child of God
Read this exercise to yourself slowly. You can draw pictures and make notes if you want to.
I am a child of God, and so are you. God’s light shines in me and in you. But sometimes it’s so hard to feel that goodness.
Let’s play with images in our heads. Start with hope or intention: May I feel more of God’s love. May God’s love touch me.
I wonder about myself. Who am I really? I start by drawing a simple stick figure of myself.
The crazy hair shows it’s me.
This is my inner self, pure me.
This is my child of God, my light.
I write my name on it or just write ME.
Now get a piece of paper and draw yourself. Add something so I know it’s you—like a mustache or tired eyes or a cup of coffee.
Write your name or ME on your picture.
Now around ME, I draw a shell.
This shell is my outer self.
It’s my identity.
That’s how other people know me. Like this:
Here’s what makes up my outer self.
- Plays violin
- College degree
- Speaks English
- Dislikes shopping malls and modern music
- Drinks lots of tea
- In love
- Feels bad about….Feels good about….
What makes up your outer self, the identity that others see? Who do others think you are?
Make a list on a piece of paper.
Outer shells get pretty heavy. I usually forget my inner self completely. My outer self needs constant maintenance. It’s more than just how the world sees me. It’s how I see myself. I try to feel better by making my outer shell fancier and more expensive. But in my thoughts, there are things about me that I feel bad about.
Which parts of your identity do you like best? Which parts do you dislike?
Our shells are made up of our thoughts, beliefs, and life stories. All our lives, people tell us that our outer shells are what really matters about us.
This is important: I think if I have bad thoughts, I’m a bad person. I think bad thoughts are part of my identity, part of my shell.
But all of us have bad thoughts sometimes. That means every one of us thinks she or he is a bad person. In fact, we might even believe that God is happiest with us when we feel really bad and ashamed of ourselves—but that’s not true.
I think the embarrassing things in my life story make me bad somehow. But all of us have embarrassing things in our life stories. This is why our shells are heavy.
But outer shells are…SHELLS. It’s not me at all. Not my softest, secret part. Not my heart. Not my core. Not my truest identity.
My deep self, my true self is beautiful and so is yours because this is God’s child.
Around our outer shells, there is water, it’s living water and it’s always there.
Here’s mine—like this:
Now you draw yours on a piece of paper.
When I meditate, I think That’s just a thought. I can let it go. I learn that I am not my thoughts.
I am not my outer shell. It’s just a shell. My identity, the things I have done, my thoughts are the outer shell, not the inner me. Letting go of thoughts—meditating in silence—makes my outer shell start to dissolve a little bit.
God is the living water. When my outer shell softens a little, the living water, the Divine, can touch me. I feel hope and love. Life seems easier.
Look at what happens to my outer shell when I meditate.
HOW GREAT IS THAT?
On your drawing, draw some soft spots and openings in your outer shell. This is you opening to God.
When I meditate, I can hear God more easily because my inner self and God can touch each other. My outer shell changes because I see that it’s just made of thoughts. I am not my thoughts.
I am a child of God, and so are you. We are not our outer shells.
We are God’s light as it shines in the world.
At death, my outer shell melts completely, and the living water touches and cradles me in love. No matter how I died, no matter what I did, God always wants me back. I am part of God, just as every wave is part of the ocean.
There is no more heaviness or regret or pain. There is no judgment at all—only love. Only joy.
EVERYTHING IS LIGHT. THE CHILD OF GOD IS HOME. Thanks be to God.
To learn more about the idea of inner self and outer self and how it fits into Christian faith, read Rev. Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond, available in the Bookstore.
Basics of All Meditation
Silence: In beginning meditation we always sit in silence. Find a place where you can be quiet and not interrupted. Turn off your phone.
Timer: Set a timer for 5 minutes. In the beginning, 5 minutes is plenty. You should work up to longer times gradually. There are hundreds of free meditation timers for your phone or you can use a kitchen timer or the clock on your phone. Here’s the link to a free online meditation timer with a chime: Click here
Intention: Intention is our wish or hope for the meditation. Intention means aiming your energy towards something good.
May I love better.
May I open to God.
May I become like Jesus.
May Thy will be done.
May God’s will be done.
May I heal.
May there be peace.
- Sit comfortably straight with eyes closed or open (with your gaze focused about two feet in front of you): Place your feet flat on the floor. If you prefer, you can also meditate lying down. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.
- Breathe in and out slowly. Put your attention on your breathing.
- When thoughts distract you, try to notice them and release them. This will take practice. You can imagine that your thoughts are boats floating above you in a river. Or imagine your thoughts are cars in a train that is running past without stopping.
- No matter how many times your thoughts wander, just notice them release them and bring your attention back to your breath. Meditation is a practice of bringing your attention back to the moment, not a practice of focus.
- When your timer rings, say thank you to God and go on with your day.
Experienced meditators know that the easiest way to start meditating is with someone else. What seems difficult alone is much easier with a few others. Forming a small group just to practice together is a great way to get started.
Meditation takes regular practice. You can’t do it by thinking. No excuses. But within one month of regular practice, you will start to experience changes. The changes will be surprising and perfect for you.
Blessings on your meditation journey!
How to Sit…or Lie…or Kneel… to Meditate
There are lots of comfy ways to meditate. It’s NOT correct that there is only ONE correct way to sit. In Christian meditation, the most important thing is to relax and be comfortable and quiet.
You can sit in a comfortable chair.
You can lie on the ground or in bed. If you’re in the hospital, ask the nurse to arrange the pillows so you can really relax.
You can kneel on a seiza meditation bench. It’s very comfortable. This is how I meditate every morning.
Many people love wearing a soft shawl or soft sweater when they meditate, and many meditation teachers recommend it.
Here is someone meditating on a seiza bench wearing a shawl. You can choose whatever position feels best to you. To buy a bench or cushion, go to the Bookstore.
The ONLY way to experience the benefits of meditation, the only way to open to God in this way is to DO IT. If you just try it for about one month, you will notice changes….But you cannot think your way there. You have to actually practice meditation regularly, day after day—Maybe only a few minutes a day in the beginning. But you MUST ACTUALLY DO IT to experience the changes.