There are so many books on meditation. I have read them and glimpsed the promised spiritual oasis. So why hasn't it stuck? Wonderful books, especially those by Sharon Salzberg. But although my mind is more peaceful, I haven't made a prayer space, burnt candles or hummed. I am a meditation wannabe – or was.
Then I downloaded Jenny Chase's simple book for beginners. Admittedly, I cherry picked her tips, but what really helped was her suggestion trying just three minutes. This is supposed to be en route to 20 minute periods twice a day, but three minutes is doable.
I had tried longer periods, concentrating on breathing and saying a variety of mantras. But it never really gelled. She simply suggested starting by listening to a sound – never thought tinnitus would be so useful – always available. Then while tuned to my tinnitus, just observe my thoughts. Much easier than trying to concentrate on a word. I think what worked was not trying. Counting breaths or saying mantras involves concentrating; this was allowing. Having had a good Protestant upbringing, I tend to drive myself and it was too easy to use meditation as a further whip.
This will be peanuts to regular meditators, but I have evolved a simple three minute prayer-meditation that really works for me. I do it three times a day. What suits me may well not do anything for you but if, like me, you have had a New Year's resolution affair with meditation, then you may be able to tailor something for yourself.
First, I set the scene with a simple trick called “Owl Eyes,” which I found in a book by William Wittmann. Very simply, you fix your gaze on a distant point and then let your eyes, with peripheral vision, see all round you. Take in as much of the room as you can. This widening of attention is incredibly relaxing. It is very similar to Open Focus, which I blogged about earlier – and found very helpful for pain.
I set my iTouch for three minutes and start:
First, I use a version of the Loving Kindness meditation: “May I be safe.” Most versions start with “happy”; perhaps it my Protestant upbringing again, but “safe” sits better with me. I found this version in a taped meditation.
“May I be healthy and happy; may I live easily.” This doesn't mean a sybaritic life of ease, but not sweating the small stuff. It resonated – I tend not to do things the easy way, but often chivvying myself, certainly not “at ease”. Then I add “may I dwell in the beloved,” which to me is in sunlit kindness with benevolence towards others and myself.
This simple meditation has a very centering effect. I used it constantly during Bill's heart failure and it dragged me back from an abyss of panic. I could feel myself struggling as if through mud back to equilibrium.
Next I use a simple prayer, thanking for everything good this day, from sun instead of blizzard to a kind word in the supermarket. There's so much research on the positive effects of cultivating gratitude. This is simple and reframes my day as joyful.
Followed by asking for blessings, not for a dutiful list, but a friend here or there – whoever I feel is down. Following the advice of Larry Dossey, I just ask for the best for them, never specifying an outcome. After all, who am I to understand life's complexities? I imagine a warmth bestowed – all the time breathing peacefully.
I ask for help for anything that is worrying me – not overtalking it, but just stating simply. I don't ask for outcomes, just help to understand, cope better or accept.
Finally, I listen (bathed in tinnitus!), saying simply, “I am listening” and wait. Sometimes there is peace, sometimes a word or phrase. It is seldom what I expect, but always to the point. While waiting for Telehelp to answer during Bill's heart failure, I didn't get reassurance, just two words: “Be brave.”
Just three minutes, three times a day. It is very steadying, makes my life more purposeful, more peaceful and accepting. As I said, one size won't fit all, but you may be able to tailor something that works for you and that can fit into a multi-tasking life. Creating a mini-meditation that suits the way my mind works, doesn't frustrate or me or open me to wide to outside energy has made a great difference day to day.
More info: Meditation for Beginners by Jenny Chase. (Amazon e-book)
Simply Serene: How to Calm Down, Reduce Stress, Deal with Stress, and Be Instantly Alert by William Wittmann. (Amazon e-book)
Open Focus: for more info and references see my blog entry
Loving Kindness Meditation: there are many variations. Jack Kornfield has a good description and script.
Mindfulness: an Eight-Week
How Gratitude can Change Your Life – the Change Blog
Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer by Larry Dossey. I was most struck by the experiments showing that it is more effective to pray for the best outcome (“Thy will be done”) than for a specific. This is how I prayed while they tested Bill in Emergency.