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 6. Trusting the Practice: Stress, Illness and Dying
- 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)
- We can use “free-floating” meditations to ask God to transform us as God wills. “Thy will be done” means letting God create. We do this by opening to or floating in God’s endless love without preconceived ideas of what should happen. (Lesson 4)
- We are one with God and one with each other. We are the ocean. We think we are the waves, and we ask “where is God?” Instead we realize that we are the ocean itself. We are a perfect part of God’s immensity. Being an individual little wave that lives and dies is less important because we see that every wave—every living being—is also part of God. (Lesson 5)
How Does Meditation Help When Life is Hard?
First, if possible, try to get ahead of the game by leaning how to meditate when things are relatively easy. This is like putting money in the bank for an emergency. The pay off is huge.
As we open to Divine Love, we become more patient and aware of other people’s feelings. We get stronger, so we’re not as worried about our own egos. We become less defensive and feel less afraid.
We become less judgmental. We realize all judgments are just thoughts. As we open to self love and self compassion, it’s easier to forgive others. We open to many kinds of love—both from God and from the people around us—that used to be impossible for us.
We finally see that our thoughts are just thoughts. They do not define who we are. All of us are children of God, regardless of any thoughts we might have. There are no exceptions to this because God’s love is universal. There are absolutely no exceptions to God’s love.
Our thoughts are small next to this concept. Thoughts do not give us identity. We start to relax about common thought patterns. “Oh, that’s just my worry about being smart enough again. Same old, same old.” If we have really difficult thoughts—such as obsessive thoughts about hurting ourselves or about harmful sexual practices—we can look for a therapist. What matters is that even when we have difficult thoughts, they do not make us “bad.”
Finally, as we learn to release our thoughts, we hear God better. As we get used to sitting in silence, we become able to sense new things. We sense God in the space between thoughts. Most people are able to sense divine love and support. Some people experience a larger version of God. Others sense unity with all life. We see the Kingdom of God in a new way.
It is easiest to learn basic meditation practices during the quiet times of our lives. It’s harder to suddenly start a meditation practice during a bad time. But it can be done.
When Stress Hits…
A close friend began meditating when he was put in prison. He sat alone on his bunk amidst the shouting and violence and made himself meditate. Now, years later he refers to prison as his “monastery.”
When stress hits, here’s what to do:
Drop back to the simplest meditation you know.
Simple breath counting is the usually the best choice. Focus on your breath. Release thoughts as they arise. Breathe in on one, breathe out on two. Or breathe in love, breathe out love.
During stress, negative thoughts overwhelm us. Just meditating relaxes us just a little. And any relaxing also eases pain. That’s a big step.
Do not try difficult meditations right now. For example, if you are in the hospital, what you need first is relaxation and relief from pain and worry. You can do healing meditations later. If your husband wants a divorce, don’t choose today to start a forgiveness meditation. You can do it later. If you might get fired, don’t use your meditation time to visualize new jobs. Use your meditation to ease pain and negativity first.
Try not to judge yourself for being freaked out. It’s okay to be scared or angry or upset, even if you’ve been meditating for years. Meditation is just a tool. It’s good, but it doesn’t make us super-human.
Your first priority is caring for yourself and getting the negative thoughts under control, if possible. Meditating makes it easier to feel God’s love and hope.
Meditation eases both emotional and physical pain. It makes our thoughts less crazy. On life’s worst days, meditating really pays off.
Meditate More Often
Take your breath counting and do it two or three times a day. Do it for longer periods of time, if you can. For me, in times of great stress, I have done 30 or 40 minutes, both morning and evening. Catch any little block of time and try to do breath counting for a few minutes.
Consciously Open to Divine Help in Your Intention
Begin your meditation by opening to God’s help. For example, start with intentions like these: “May I receive Divine love and strength.” “May I feel hope.” “May I open to God’s help and love.” “May I let God help me in the best possible way.”
Make sure you haven’t fallen into the “God’s plan” trap. Often when bad things happen, people assume that a terrible outcome must be God’s plan. They assume that it’s time to surrender all hope—Time to be a martyr. They think this means they have faith.
BUT no one knows what God’s plan is! Not even the Pope. It’s way above our pay grade. I don’t know what anything means. I don’t know what is hopeful. If God’s will is perfect love, what does that mean in this situation? I have no clue, and neither do you.
Surrendering to God means surrendering to miracles, to surprise and wonder, to things you have never imagined. Maybe life means something totally different than you ever knew. Maybe death does too.
What I know for sure is that God is good and blessing always comes—but it often takes a surprising form.
Get Help with Your Meditation.
Find a class or group. Ask a friend, minister or chaplain to sit with you and meditate. It’s easier when you’re not alone. Ask friends to send prayers. Maybe a group of your friends can sit with you and meditate or friends can meditate on your behalf from far away.
Find a chapel or church close by. Most hospitals have chapels, and it’s easier to feel God’s caring when you’re in a place where many people have prayed and meditated.
Ask someone to find you some calming meditation music and earphones. There are thousands available, and they make meditation easier. Many are sold under labels such as “Calming Music” or “Relaxation Music.” Steven Halpern has made some wonderful music for meditation and healing, and several of these links are available on Jean’s The Wayside Stand webpage.
Try Not to Dwell on Any Specific Outcome
Good luck, right? I know this seems impossible. But remember we have no idea what’s possible. We don’t know what might work. We don’t know what’s good and what’s bad.
Try to let God direct what happens. If that is too hard—and it’s probably too hard—try to ask for the end result to be something huge and non-specific like love, hope, ease, joy or peace.
I have sat in the ER hoping that my child will survive. I know how bad it is. I know controlling your fear is almost impossible.
Visualize yourself or your loved one lying in the arms of a beloved holy being. For example, feel yourself or your loved one cradled in Jesus’s arms. Or see yourself carried like a small child in the arms of a powerful bright angel. Hold these images as long as you need to. Give your attention to making these images detailed, easy and loving.
Death can be a form of healing. After all, we live in God after our bodies fail. That means we become all love, all joy. We become eternity.
Here’s a profound, comforting hymn about God and fear and death. A woman wrote this for her husband while he was in hospice: Click here for video
You are a child of God. All stress, fear and illness belong to your outer self, not to the child of God.
When we heal fully and whe we die, the outer self falls away like a butterfly’s chrysalis. We become our truest beauty as we melt into God.
MEDITATION SHOWS US THE SPACE BETWEEN THOUGHTS. THIS IS THE CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS. ETERNITY. ALL LOVE. THAT IS WHY WE MEDITATE.