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 4. Surrender Meditations
Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.
Review: Previous Lessons
- Meditation changes how we view reality and how we experience God. Our deepest truth is that each of us is a child of God. Meditation helps each of us open to this wonderful truth. (Lesson 1)
- We can just release thoughts. “I am not my thoughts.” Practicing releasing thoughts helps people heal emotionally. Thought and non-thought are very different realities. (Lesson 2)
- We can use specific meditations to grow stronger in love and in forgiveness. It’s like lifting weights. We start easy and then try harder tasks. This is how we grow towards Christian values such as “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Lesson 3)
Main idea: We surrender to the Divine, even when we don’t know what lies ahead.
As we meditate, we hope that instead of telling God what is needed, we can surrender to the Divine creative force. “Surrender” in this case does not mean someone kneeling in obedient submission to a powerful lord. It’s more like relaxing into the moment with someone you trust and love deeply. Think of losing yourself in an exquisite melody or seeing a sunrise so brilliant that you forget where you are.
In Lesson 3, we worked on specific Christian goals such as loving our neighbors and forgiving our enemies. We used the ancient technique of visualization to help ourselves open to new possibilities.
In today’s lesson, we’ll look at three techniques: 1) a visualization of God’s creative energy, 2) a simple breath counting technique, and 3) Centering Prayer, the best-known Christian meditation technique.
As always, we start by setting our intention. Today we hope to trust God fully, even though we have no idea what is coming. Our only goal is allow God’s creation to transform us. We have no idea what should happen in our individual lives. Instead we trust the Divine to transform our consciousness and transform this moment in ways we don’t expect.
Here are some intentions for these meditations:
“May I fully accept transformation.”
“May I receive God’s love fully.”
“May I heal into God.”
“May I trust what comes.”
“May I trust the Divine.”
“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans” is a quote that makes us smile. But it’s true. As young people, we think we know pretty much how our lives will go and we make plans.
But then things just happen. Dad has a heart attack and we end up leaving college and taking over the family business. Our spouse becomes crippled. We become alcoholics. Our spouse has an affair. We end up living in a city far from our own culture. Our child struggles with depression. We win the lottery.
The life we end up with is nothing like the life we planned. As believers, we wonder constantly “how can this be God’s plan?” “What does God want from me?”
The meditation below helps us see that God’s creativity is different from the plans we make. This is the same Garden meditation from Lesson 2, where we open to a reality beyond our own thoughts and plans. Read it to yourself slowly or listen to the recording by clicking here: My Garden Meditation
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. [pause]
- Feel your body relaxing from top to bottom. Starting at your head, let relaxation pour through every cell like warm, kind water.
- Breathe deeply. Take very slow, very deep breaths. In and out. In and out. [pause]
- 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. [pause]
- No one else is here. You are alone, except for Divine Spirit. You are completely safe and protected here. [pause]
- 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 chose the exact flowers and vegetables that you love most. You made plans and bought seeds. You planted them just the way you wanted. You did everything right. Now all your plants are all growing in neat rows. [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. Some are choking your good plants. 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. It’s not the good thoughts and it’s not the bad thoughts.
- The soil is something else. This soil is the Source of everything. It is fertile and deep. It is potential. It has no limits at all. It is what’s possible, but it’s neither your planned flowers nor the weeds attacking your flowers. You don’t know what’s really possible. You only know what you think is possible. Planned flowers and unplanned weeds come from the soil, but they also come out of your ego and beliefs. [pause]
- The soil is the ultimate Source of all that exists. It is deeper and stronger and more fertile than anything you can imagine. It surprises you. You have no idea what else might grow. You just don’t know. You can’t really understand it and that’s okay. You don’t need to understand the soil.
- The soil is the creative force itself. Good things can come from the pure creative source, but they’re not the things you know about.
- This is the real magic of creation now. This is God’s love. This is endless hope. This is how God is fertile in your life. This is the reality of now. [pause]
- Let yourself be the dark rich soil. Let yourself be pure possibility. Relax beyond all limits. Be the mystery itself. Relax into the darkness and the unknown. It feels so good and easy. If other thoughts pass by, just let them go without judgment.
- Relax in the dark, loving, perfect richness of the Source. Be the black soil. [Relax until the gong sounds or until you feel finished.]
This meditation helps us open into unlimited possibility. If we use the Christian phrase “Thy will be done” as our intention, we open to God’s astonishing possibilities instead of our own limited ideas.
We reach the place of “don’t know” mind. All of us have had the experience of praying for something to happen and then, when it does happen, it is a disaster. Or the opposite, when we dread something and it turns out to be our greatest joy.
That’s why I don’t know what should happen. I don’t even know what is possible. I cannot ask God for any specific outcome—including life and death— because all I know are my small thoughts, like the plants I planted in my garden.
I trust God to transform my heart, to transform my consciousness, to create things in amazing ways that are new to me. That’s why I love the phrase “don’t-know mind.”
One way to get used to the idea of ”don’t-know mind” is to use it as your intention with your usual breath counting meditation.
Remember that your conscious intention is very important. It’s where you aim your heart. For Christians, the intention “Thy will be done” is a wonderful starting point. You can add your own words, such as “May I trust God’s plan” or “May I fully accept transformation.” Make it your own true intention.
Then simply start your in-breath and out-breath. When plans or worries interrupt you as thoughts, just pull your attention away from them and release them. As you relax more and more, you’ll relax into the creative force of the Divine.
Centering Prayer is among the best known and most widely used forms of Christian meditation. Many people use Centering Prayer as their only Christian meditation. It is a surrender method of meditation. Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, the Episcopalian priest who has taught this method for many years, says the following: “Centering Prayer doesn’t work with the mind at all; it goes straight for the heart….I think of it… as a way of patterning into our being that continuously repeated gesture of ‘let go, let go, let go’ at the core of the path that Jesus himself walked.” (page 142, The Wisdom Jesus).
There are three steps to Centering Prayer:
- Intention: You offer your intention with an open heart by asking to be deeply available to God.
- Let thoughts go: You make a deal with yourself. “If you catch yourself thinking, you let the thought go. Promptly, quietly, without self-recrimination, you simply release the thought and start over.” (page 144, The Wisdom Jesus)
- Use your sacred word: You choose a word that reminds you to release the thought and open again to God. This word can be a holy word such as “Jesus” or a reminder word such as “return” or “yes.”
Rev. Bourgeault suggests doing this meditation for 20 minutes at a time. Here’s how she describes the process: “The word drops out on its own; you don’t have to decide to drop it. Very much like falling asleep at night, you can’t see the moment when it happens.” (page 146, The Wisdom Jesus)
The unseen moment when your sacred word quietly slips away has been pre-programmed into your consciousness as part and parcel of your intention to let yourself be deeply open to God. Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault
Websites with full instructions for Centering Prayer include:
Cynthia Bourgeault: Click here to read Rev. Bourgeault’s explanation of Centering Prayer.
Two other well-respected teachers of Centering Prayer are Father Richard Rohr and Father Thomas Keating. Here are links to their websites:
Richard Rohr: Click here to go to Father Rohr’s website.
Thomas Keating: Click here to go to Father Keating’s website.