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 3. Christian Meditations – Love one another
Lesson 1 Review: Meditation changes what I experience as real. Most people think their thoughts are what’s real. But when we start practicing meditation, we become able to sense a reality that is not thought. One name for this non-thought reality is “awareness.” Other names are God, the universe, Love, or Christ Consciousness.
Lesson 2 Review: Non-thought is a different reality from thought, and it’s okay to just release all thoughts without letting them stick to me. Reality is like the sky, and thoughts are like clouds. This is very potent healing. It’s okay to just release thoughts. It’s good not to get attached to thoughts. I am not my thoughts. Bad thoughts do not make me a bad person.
Lesson 3 main idea: There are many ways to meditate and I can choose what’s right for me every day
Some ways of Christian meditation have a specific intention (Lesson 3), and other ways focus on letting go or surrender (Lesson 4).
Counting your breaths involves learning how to sit in silence, set an intention and focus your attention on breathing in and out. It needs daily practice. If you practice for one month, you will start to see results.
Breath counting is a simple but profound practice. You will use it all your life—Even now, after 40 years of practice, I often use it. When I am having a bad day, I always go to breath counting.
- Find a quiet place. Either sit or lie down with your eyes closed.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes to start.
- Start by thinking of an intention. This wish or hope is how you aim your energy. For example, May I heal. May I open to God. May I love better. May I find more joy. May I understand Jesus better.
- Put your attention on your breath wherever you feel it most prominently — as it enters your nostrils, at the back of your throat as it inflates your diaphragm.
- Breathe slowly but comfortably, counting to four on the in-breath and 6 on the out-breath. Breathing slowly slows down your brain and your heart. It lowers your adrenaline response and calms you.
- When thoughts come up, notice and accept them then let them go. You might visualize watching your thoughts float away on a cloud and bring your attention back to the breath. The goal here is learning not to focus on your inevitable thoughts; rather to notice them and bring your attention back to your breath.
- You can also do this meditation with words instead of counting. Try visualizing breathing in patience and breathing out love.
- When the timer goes off, take one more deep breath and start your day.
I can choose how I will meditate from day to day, even moment to moment depending on what feels right. When life is relatively easy, you might want to try out some of the meditations below that help you put Jesus’s words into daily practice.
Two Practices That May Help Your Meditation
Affirmations. An affirmation is a positive statement about ourselves or something that is happening. Examples are statements like the following: I am loved. My purpose is love. Jesus is always with me. I am worthy of God’s love. Things are getting better. God is with me and understands everything.
Affirmations replace negative thoughts about ourselves or situations. Everyone needs affirmations sometimes because so many of our usual thoughts are negative, such as I can never win, I don’t deserve God’s love, God has forgotten about me, or No one really cares. It’s healing to create affirmations that help us with our private weak spots and to use them in meditation to replace negative thoughts.
Visualization. Creating a mind picture or image is a powerful way to grow spiritually. For example, if I create a picture of holding someone in my arms, the image speaks to my intuitive or non-thought mind more easily than words do. Many traditional meditations use visualizations as tools for growth.
Three Christian Meditations
Focusing your meditation on something you want to develop can strengthen your Christian faith. As Christians we want to love others without judgment and we want to relieve the suffering of others. Each of the three meditations below helps us grow stronger in our ability to love more and judge less.
These meditations use visualization as a way to grow stronger. We start easy and then move to more difficult images. It’s like lifting weights, where we can start lifting a one-pound weight and eventually be able to lift fifteen pounds.
ILOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU
Your intention is May I love better. May I love everyone.
This is a basic, ancient loving kindness meditation. The longer you practice it, the stronger you become in your ability to love.
This love meditation involves sending love to five people:
- Someone you love
- Someone you are neutral towards
- Someone you have difficulty with
- All people
Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.
Visualize yourself and say your intention.
May I feel love.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be happy.
May I be at peace.
Breathe in love and breathe out love, sending it first to yourself. Visualize warm, easy love washing over you, filling you, soaking into every part of your body. Visualize yourself absorbing every drop. Visualize your heart soaking up love.
Second, visualize someone you love and send them the same warm, happy love. Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body. Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.
Breathe in love, and breathe out love. Repeat until you feel done.
Third, do this for someone you don’t know well, someone you feel neutral about. This might be someone like a grocery store checker or a bus driver—someone you don’t know and don’t have any good or bad feeling about. Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body. Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.
Breathe in love, and breathe out love, sending it that person.
Fourth, do this for someone you have trouble with. If you just can’t do it, change and choose someone easier for you. You can go back to the other person later. In the beginning it’s often hard to visualize sending anything good at all to certain people or groups of people.
Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body. Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.
Breathe in love, and breathe out love, sending it that person.
Lastly, visualize the whole world. Wrap your arms around it, hold it gently and send it love. You can use words too. “May the world feel love. May the world be happy. May the world feel peace.”
RELIEVING THE SUFFERING OF OTHERS
Lord, Make me an instrument of Thy peace….Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”
This is another old, well-known meditation that people practice for years. Their intention is to lift or ease the suffering of others, even for someone they hate.
This meditation has three parts, and it is similar to the meditation above on loving others. The difference is that in this meditation, you are actively trying to lift someone else’s suffering.
First, you start by visualizing someone you love. Then you visualize someone you are neutral towards or barely know, like a grocery store checker. Finally you do it for someone you have trouble with or dislike, such as someone who gossips.
Usually people need to work up to doing this practice for someone they hate. And it is a wonderful practice for people who are actively suffering. You can do this for one person or for whole groups of people, such as the homeless, addicts, starving children, lonely people or people in prison.
For each of the three people you visualize, try to find an intention of caring or being concerned about this person. Your intention is to help lighten their suffering. This does not mean that you approve of their actions. It means that you see their actions as the result of some kind of internal pain or confusion.
You visualize caring and concern, not correcting them. You are not trying to fix them or change them. To form the image in your mind, visualize smoke or darkness to represent anything causing them difficulty or suffering. You are saying that, whatever the darkness inside them, may it change into light. This might be a simple intention such as “May he feel more joy” or “May she feel better.”
This is an in-out breathing meditation. Take several deep breaths.
Think of your first person, someone you love, facing illness, pain or difficulty. This can be one person or a group of people.
Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart.
Your heart is light, caring and loving. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source of all existence. Nothing is impossible for God. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.
Then move on to your second person, someone you feel neutral towards. You don’t need to know exactly what this person’s problems are. Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty—whatever it might be—as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart. Again, as you did above, visualize your own heart as light, caring and love. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source of all existence. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.
Finally, repeat this process, visualizing someone you have difficulty with. Again, you do not need to know what their difficulty is. You simply know there is some difficulty. Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart. Remember that God is the source of the healing here. Again, as you did above, visualize your own heart as light, caring and love. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.
If you are doing this practice for someone who is being victimized or hurt, you can also extend the same practice to the oppressor. For example, you might do this practice for animals being slaughtered cruelly, but you would also do the same practice for the people who are being cruel to the animals. So, for example, you can do this for a victim and also for the criminal or perpetrator. This means you can meditate for both the rape victim and the rapist, for example. The Dalai Lama did meditations like this for the Tibetan monks being tortured by the Chinese, and he also did the same practice for the Chinese soldiers doing the torture. The point is lifting all darkness from every person.
If you do not want to take any darkness into your own body, visualize your heart as a golden ball outside your chest and bring the darkness into that golden ball.
Eventually you may even feel ready to send this practice out for the pain of the whole world. This meditation helps you practice caring about strangers and people you have trouble with. Many people do this practice for years. Start easy and build your ability to love.
How can a mother forgive the terrorists who shot her child? Can a rapist or torturer ever be forgiven? Is it even possible in real life?
For ordinary people, it seems impossible—but Jesus said all of us should forgive. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” (Luke 17:3) How on earth do we do this?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu worked in South Africa to help people heal from genocide, racism and unspeakable violence. In 1984 he won the Nobel Peace prize. He says, “I would like to share with you two simple truths: there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.” (page 3)
Easier said than done, right? We shake our heads in disbelief.
Archbishop Tutu wrote a book that changed my life. In The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and the World, Tutu gently leads us through the steps we need:
- Telling the story
- Naming the hurt
- Granting forgiveness
- Renewing or releasing the relationship
This does NOT mean saying that bad behavior is okay. It involves coming to accept that all humans do terrible things at one time or another. Tutu sorts through the worst, most hateful injuries. At the end of each chapter he offers meditations, prayers and journal writing to help people forgive.
He says, “When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we will always pay the price for it…. We are brothers and sisters, whether we like it or not.” (page 19)
- Close your eyes. Imagine an emotion that makes you feel good. It can be love or kindness or compassion or all of these emotions.
- Allow this emotion or combination of emotions to radiate out from inside you. This is what it feels like to be free of fear, anger, hatred and resentment. This place of peace lives within you always and belongs to you. You can step into this place whenever you wish. It is yours and no one can take it from you.
- Now imagine the person or people you are trying to forgive. Imagine that you are their mother and they are like a tiny baby in your arms, before they hurt you, before they hurt anyone. See their goodness and humanity.
- Can you bless them and wish them well? Can you send them compassion and kindness? Can you let them go? –from Book of Forgiving, page 141
It’s important to see that we do not need to actually love this person. “Love” is a tricky word—but we certainly want to feel something good here. It’s enough to feel compassion for or kindness towards them. This is why we don’t want to get bogged down in vocabulary. What we want is positive feeling towards someone whom we hope to forgive.
Tutu says, Peace is built with small and large acts of forgiveness. (page 59) The Christian meditation practices in his book help us grow closer to God by forgiving ourselves and others.
God forgives unconditionally
So can we
The thief on the cross still dies on his crossBut forgiveness will set his spirit free
And what of you and me standing on the ground with our piles of hurts mounting so high?
Will we die a thousand deaths before we die?
Yearning for revenge, will we die of that thirst?
Will the rage that fills us be the stake on which we burn?
Will we stumble over every resistance placed in our way?
And stay stuck in the misery of it all?
Or will we take the chance that we might break free by following this path where it leads
Past the whys and the lies about how it cannot be
Here is our chance
Take this chance
–page 39, Book of Forgiving [Bookstore]