One of my 2020 goals this year is meditation. I don’t share much about this practice because it’s pretty personal and when you really dissect meditation, it can seem really…well… weird. But in the past two weeks, I have had three different people ask me about it, so maybe that’s the nudge I needed to share.
I have had a passion for meditation for almost five years now. It started when I used to listen to Buddhist monks chants in order to fall asleep. Weird, I know, but I was desperate during a particularly long bout of insomnia and lo’ and behold, it worked!
I started with a fairly popular chant, “Om mani padme hum.” I found a recording on Spotify and the monks would chant this over and over again until I fell asleep. One morning, I had this thought that maybe I had been listening to a pledge to follow something that I didn’t actually believe in and so I spent some time researching that particular chant. Turns out that chanting is all about the syllables. In Buddhist culture, each syllable represents a different “paramitas” (in my head, I think of these as character traits). “Om mani padme hum” focuses on eight key character traits: generosity, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation (of possessions or greed), and wisdom – and who doesn’t need those elements in their life?
(A warning: Some of the buddhist chants start to sound pretty dour and can even sound scary at times. If you’re interested in learning more about Buddhist chants or are just starting out, try looking for morning chants. These tend to be more energetic and upbeat because they are starting the day.)
For several months, I used recordings of chanting on Spotify as my meditation guide. I didn’t even learn the words. I just liked listening to the repetitiveness and I liked knowing that I was focusing on positive, spiritually sound character traits and elements. It helped me focus my mind, which is hard to do when you first start meditating. Gradually, though, I didn’t need the chants anymore. I was learning to meditate all on my own. It took me less time to quiet my mind and I found that I could meditate in more places than just the dead quiet of my office (which is where I usually was when I meditated). With this clear progression, I started researching meditation in general, not just chanting. And I started looking at Christian meditation, which I didn’t even know was a thing.
What I like about meditation is that there is no clear definition or practice. It can be whatever you want it to be. This actually confused me at first when I started researching it because everywhere I read I got a different description of what it should be. But then I realized that it can be all of those things. The method of meditating doesn’t really matter. It’s just your personal preference (which is why some of you are going to look up Buddhist chanting and think I am INSANE but others will find it as soothing as I do). What’s more important is that you are using it to quiet your mind, still your body, and connect with your own higher power. For me, that’s God.
There are lots of ways to start learning to meditate. I found a guiding word to be what worked best for me. This is a great practice for those beginning meditation because it’s a technique for dealing with wandering minds. When you start meditating, you will find your mind wanders all over the place. Mostly, mine wanders to all the minutia of the day that I haven’t had a chance to think through because everything else has been so dominant. Things like grocery lists and where I left my gray jacket, all the way to suddenly realizing I’m cold or hot or itchy or have to go to the bathroom. All these things wander around while you try to meditate and using a guiding word is a great technique to focus again. I have used the same guiding word for years. I’ll lend it to you! My word is “stay.” When my mind starts to wander, I let that happen, but I repeat the word stay slowly over and over in my mind as a way to bring me back to what I’m doing. As in “stay here, Katie.” Once I’ve centered myself back on the word stay, I start to try and let even that word go.
So, what do you do when your mind is actually, finally, really clear? It doesn’t happen every time for me. Sometimes, my meditations end up just being a quiet time for me to take a mental break from my work or my day. But a few times a week, I actually am able to clear my mind and truly LISTEN.
I had that experience a few weeks ago and I thought I’d share what that meditation was like because the conversation I had was really important to me. Maybe it’s important to some of you, too.
My morning meeting had been cancelled and so I found myself with an extra hour. Chris was at the doctors office and the kids were at school and rather than dive into some other work task I could do instead of my meeting, I decided to use the time to meditate since I hadn’t had a chance to much that week. I pulled out my yoga mat that I keep in my office, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes.
First, my mind wandered, as it almost always does, and I slowly chanted “stay” to help me refocus. I have no idea how long it took, but eventually my thoughts stopped and I could just focus on my breathing – in and out; rising and falling. It wasn’t long before my mind pictured Jesus sitting on my mat with me. This happens sometimes. I think it’s because I’m a relational person and so I like thinking of God sitting there with me.
“Good morning,” he said.
“Good morning,” I responded. And then, “My life is full of things that don’t make me happy.”
This in and of itself is odd because I don’t normally think that. I’m a pretty happy person, even under stress. I didn’t even know I had been feeling that way.
“Like what?” Jesus said.
“Like my work. I’m tired of it. I don’t want to travel. And I’m tired of my whole job – both of them – being about fixing other people’s issues. It isn’t what I thought it would be. And I really hate being the PTA president. And I’m tired of leading Girl Scouts. I don’t like being in charge and I feel like I’m in charge everywhere I go.”
“And those are the things your life is “full of”?” Jesus asked.
I sat in silence for a minute thinking about that.
“Those are the things that take up my time,” I said.
“What makes you full?” he asked.
“You,” I said, though mostly out of duty and politeness… I mean, he’s sitting right in front of me… “My kids. Chris. My family. My relationships.”
“Then you should fill your life with those things.”
“But I don’t know how,” I said.
“But I do,” he replied with a smile.
And then I opened my eyes. I sat for a minute with that. I can’t remember the last time I told someone that I don’t know how to do something (and I mean something big, not, like, how to work the TV. Everyone knows I don’t know how to work the TV.). I can’t remember the last time someone offered to help carry my load. Mostly because I can’t remember the last time I asked someone to.
I have continued to think about that phrase, “But I do,” for the last few weeks. I even put it on a post-it note on my computer as a reminder. I may not be able to re-prioritize my life. I may feel the pressure of worldly commitments and responsibilities. I can’t get out of those. But I was reminded that morning that I don’t have to do that all myself.
That’s what meditation does for me. It opens my mind to think thoughts that I didn’t even know were in there and then it connects me to God as I work through them. Sometimes that’s in a conversation with him, but sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a worship song that gets stuck in my head as I sit there. Sometimes it’s in a sense of peace that passes all understanding and stays with me all day. Whatever form the relationship comes in, meditation helps me form it.
So, there you have it. What meditation can be, why it is important, and what it can look like. I’m no Dalai Lama, but I can tell you from my regular person perspective that it’s a powerful tool.