The How to Meditate Guide below is presented here with permission (and minor adaptations from my generous 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 2. Thought and Non-Thought
Main idea: I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are not reality.
Meditation changes you. It changes how you perceive things. It opens you up. It invites intuition instead of thought. Meditation makes it easier to touch God or for God to touch you in new ways.
MEDITATION HEALS AND TRANSFORMS
I am a Child of God and so are you. This is the innocent, wonderful, golden part of me and you. In Lesson 1 [above], we saw how the Child of God is our inner self. We saw that there’s a shell around the Child of God— our outer self, our outer identity. Our outer shells aren’t bad. They are a big part of being human. They are how others see us and how we see ourselves. But they block divine energy.
I meditate so that my outer shell can soften and melt until God can flow through me easily. As my outer shell melts, as I heal, my worries and burdens lighten.
Am I my thoughts? Who am I?
From birth, our culture, schools and family—everything in life—teaches us that we are the thoughts and the emotions we feel. If I get angry, I think that’s who I am. If I hate my brother, I think I am a “brother-hater.” If I have been an alcoholic, I think that is a big part of my truest, deepest identity.
Most of us also have some obsessive thought patterns. We run stories through our minds again and again. “I hate her because she said I was stupid.” “What if they find out I’m not really a good teacher?” “He’s not going to make a fool of me again!”
WHEN WE MEDITATE REGULARLY, WE FINALLY UNDERSTAND THAT “I AM NOT MY THOUGHTS.”
The thing we practice is this: I sit in silence; I form an intention such as “May I learn to love better;” and I take slow deep breaths.
Thoughts come up because they always do. That’s what the mind does. It’s called “monkey mind” because it jumps around restlessly, looking for something to do.
Here’s an image: I can watch these thoughts like a train that is passing by. Every thought is a train car. The train cars run past me constantly.
Here’s another image: What if I am lying deep in the peaceful flow of a river, looking up? Above me I see boats floating on the top of the water. Those are my thoughts. They can just float away. I am in a peaceful, good place.
Here’s a third image: The Divine, God, is the sky. It is limitless and eternal. Clouds float in front of the sky and we can’t see it. These clouds are our thoughts. We can choose to pay attention to the sky instead of the clouds. Yes, the thoughts are still there, but we know they are only thoughts. They are not the sky itself.
I CAN RELEASE ANY THOUGHT
Here’s the point: I can say, That’s only a thought. I don’t have to be inside that thought. I am not my thoughts. I am more than just my thoughts.
This is huge learning. Huge!
We can just release our thoughts. Our thoughts don’t have to define us. My deepest identity is a Child of God. My thoughts are not my deepest identity.
Here’s a fourth image: Imagine a fish living in a tank of dirty water. He doesn’t know that the water is dirty because he has lived in this tank all his life. But the tank exists deep in an ocean of perfect, fresh, clear water. How can the fish come to know that the clear water exists? The dirty water is our thoughts, and we have lived in those thoughts all our lives. Meditation opens us to the clean, fresh water.
Using Christian meditation practices, we open to new contact with God. God is the ocean around us.
The clean water is:
- awareness itself before we label it
- a reality more intimate than our senses
- the essence of beauty
- the goose bump moment (before we label it with words)
- the “zing” of existence
- Christ Consciousness
- “Buddha Nature” for Buddhists
- “Rigpa” for followers of Tibetan Dzogchen
- “Brahman” for Hindus
We don’t have to plan or think this out. We do not need to understand or analyze. All we need to do is practice and trust the practice itself.
We sit in silence. We form our intention. We take deep breaths. We gently release our thoughts. We do this every day for a month and we open to God.
A Christian Meditation Practice: Elephant with a Stick
Here is another great image: Imagine an elephant walking through a village street in South India. He’s restless and he swings his trunk back and forth, picking up a pot here and some long stalks of sugarcane there. His trainer is a small man who knows how to solve the problem. He gives the elephant a big stick to carry in his trunk. Now the elephant walks through the village without making any trouble because he has something to do with his trunk.
The mind is like the restless elephant. If we can give it a stick to carry, our trip will be more peaceful. One way to do this is to take a piece of scripture that we love, such as the Beatitudes, and let those words run very slowly through our minds while we meditate. This meditation technique comes from the great meditation teacher and author, Eknath Easwaran. (Look for the book God Makes the Rivers to Flow in the Bookstore.)
First you memorize a piece of scripture such as the Beatitudes. Then, you sit in silence and slowly–very slowly, like one step, stop, then another step, stop—you let the same words run through your mind.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:3-12.]
As you practice this technique, the words become automatic and take over the thought part of your mind. This frees your non-thought consciousness to relax, open and deepen. I used this practice daily for several years, using the “Prayer of Saint Francis.” I memorized the prayer and then, as I sat in silence, I let the words very very slowly run through my mind:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
You might use this prayer as an intention, as a way to aim your energy toward God. This prayer was the stick you give to your elephant. Jean did this practice every day for about one year, partly because it is an easy way to meditate. Practicing like this helped me open to God.
Using “Thy will be done” as an intention
“Thy will be done” is a perfect intention for meditation. We can also let these words run through our minds slowly, as a stick for the elephant.
What do thought and non-thought mean here? “Thy will be done” does not mean “God, please do what I think should be done.” We don’t want to tell God what to do. We’re surrendering to something we do not understand and cannot understand. Our thoughts try to limit God. Our plans try to force the infinite into a little cup that makes sense to us.
Meditation means relaxing into God’s flow, even though we don’t know what that flow is. It means we trust God so much that we finally stop trying to name what should happen. This is beyond “Let go and let God.” This is not saying “Okay God, here’s what needs to happen and you do it however you like.” It means really saying “I do not have a clue what should happen. I trust God so completely that whatever comes will be perfect—no matter what comes.” This is the moment where we see a real difference between prayer and meditation. Meditation is complete surrender. Complete trust, even though we don’t know. There is no sense of asking for any result—and in the beginning, this is very tough indeed.
Guided Meditation: My Garden
Here’s a guided meditation on thought and non-thought. Read it slowly to yourself or to a friend or listen to the recording by clicking here: My Garden Meditation
May I allow God’s light to grow in me in surprising ways. [pause]
May I relax into unplanned growth. [pause]
May my will join God’s easily. [pause]
May God’s will be done. [pause]
Take slow deep breaths. In and out. In and out.
Feel your body relaxing from top to bottom. Starting at your head, let relaxation pour through every cell like kind, warm water.
Breath deeply. Take very slow, very deep breaths. In and out. In and out.
We are together on a perfect day in summer. It’s not too hot, but the sun is bright. Feel the sun warming your skin gently.
Here is your garden. It’s on a hillside near the sea. The gentle wind smells of the ocean. The light here is perfect.
No one else is here. You are alone, except for Divine Spirit. You are completely safe and protected here.
This is the garden you’ve been tending all your life. It’s just the right size for you. Only you tend it.
First look at the flowers and vegetables you planted in neat rows. You love them so much. You made plans and you bought seeds and you planted them just the way you wanted, and now they are all growing. [pause]
Now pull your attention away from the flowers and vegetables you planted. Don’t pull anything out—just stop focussing on them. You planted them but it turns out they’re not what really matters today. Just notice the rows of good plants and see that you stop noticing all your plans, all your special plants. You can just let them go. [pause]
Now look at the weeds that have sprouted between the rows. They really irritate you but don’t pull them up. Where do they all come from? Some are invasive weeds. Others are just common ugly weeds. [pause]
Let your attention relax about the weeds. Don’t think about getting rid of them. Just notice them and see that you can let the thought of weeds go. [pause]
What’s left is the dark, rich soil. Let your attention rest lightly on the perfect black soil. This is not what you planted and it is not irritating weeds.
The soil is something else. This is the source of everything. It is fertile and deep. It is potential. It is what’s possible, but not your plans. You don’t know what is truly possible. Planned flowers and unplanned weeds come from the soil too, but they also come out of your ego and beliefs. [pause]
The soil is the Source. It is deeper and stronger and more fertile than anything you can imagine. It surprises you. You can’t really understand it and that’s okay. [pause]
Let yourself be that dark rich soil. Just relax into the darkness and the unknown. The possibilities are far beyond your thoughts. The potential of black rich soil is mysterious and powerful. It feels good and easy. You plan nothing. When thoughts pass by, just let them go without judgment.
You accept All. You surrender to Divine Love. Relax in the dark, loving, perfect richness of the Source until you feel finished. [pause]
Thank you God for helping me let go of my little plans and little thoughts. Thank you God for helping me grow towards you.