Learning to Meditate: Notes from a Novice, Part 2

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The second day of the meditation workshop started with a review of the points we learned last week and everyone was given a chance to speak about their meditation practice during the week. I explained that I had made a meditation space of found objects in my home: a tea light in a cobalt blue glass container, placed on a mat in the middle of my coffee table. I also explained that I used a bead bracelet as a breath-counting device. I managed several 10 minute meditations during the week.

Then instructor then gave a brief overview of the tenets and practices of Buddhism: The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path with emphasis on the practice of meditation. She explained that Buddhist meditation is used to cultivate mindfulness; that is, an awareness of the body, the emotions, and our thoughts, and to discover the relationship between what we think and what we experience. A couple of examples of Buddhist meditation practices include Vipassana, from India, a technique that watches and categorizes thoughts, and Zen, from China and Japan, which incorporates ritual acts into the meditation practice.

Our first exercise of the day involved both a moving meditation in the center’s garden followed by a sitting meditation in the chapel where we would employ the Buddhist Vipassana technique of categorizing thoughts.

The instructor demonstrated how to do a walking meditation which requires a slow and exaggerated heel-ball-toe stepping motion. We formed a line and followed her out the door into the terraced meditation garden. It took me a moment to get the foot movement established and I realized it was not that much different from the movements I had been taught by my tai chi master. It proved to be a little more difficult to walk when we stepped off the path onto gravel. I focused my attention on exhaling with each downward step and visualizing my energy going down through each foot to connect with the center of the earth. In that way, I was able to feel balanced and stable on the shifting gravel.

I want to note that in the center of the garden is a statue of the nine muses of Greek mythology. As we walked we circled around this statue. This is personally significant to me because I am part of an online writing group that frequently utilizes the motif of the muses to inform our conversations about writing and creativity. I felt that my undergoing studies in meditation practices was being validated by the creative force of the universe.

After about 10 minutes of walking, the instructor lead us into the chapel where we did a sitting meditation. As I sat there looking at the stained glass window, I noticed my thoughts being directed forward into the future. I started asking myself questions. What will I do with this meditation practice? Which technique will work for me? Can I adhere to a disciplined life of meditation? What should I have for lunch?   This is an example of categorizing thoughts.  Some people dwell on the past or the present.

The exercise ended when the instructor rang some chimes and we broke for a short break. I spent the break journaling about my experience and reviewing some of the texts she had brought for us to look at. When we reconvened she began the section on Christian meditation.

The first item she covered was the text, “The Way of the Pilgrim,” written by an unknown Russian man in the mid 19th century. In brief, the text explains the use of the Jesus Prayer as a mantra coordinated with the breath during meditation. The Jesus Prayer has several variations from the complex: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,” to the most minimalist version, “Jesus, Mercy.” The instructor started us on a 10 minute meditation using this prayer in silent recitation. I have to admit that I found it very hard to use this prayer as a mantra as my mind wanted to dwell on the meaning of the words in the prayer.

Next the instructor gave us a brief overview of the practices of Lectio Divina, which means “Divine Reading.” Basically, this is a rumination on the bit of text with the goal of the reader becoming absorbed into the text and experiencing the divine presence. The instructor provided us with the text of the St. Francis prayer. I chose to meditate on the first line, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” We were instructed to use any of the techniques taught to us. Most of the workshop participants chose to sit in the chapel, some in the garden, and a couple, including myself, chose a moving meditation. I started by walking through the garden and then doing a standing meditation in a manner that I had learned from my tai chi master. I began by silently reciting the first line of the prayer over and over. After a few minutes, my mind was directed to a situation in my life where I was not being an instrument of peace. This lead me to make a resolution concerning my actions in this situation.

After the instructor ended the exercise, we had an opportunity to discuss the experience. I can’t say that during this particular exercise that I achieved a sense of the Divine Presence but I can see the potential of this happening after some practice.

We wrapped up our time together by discussing what we wanted to do with the techniques we had learned. The instructor suggested that we find a trusted person who can act as a “spiritual director” to guide us as we practice our meditation.

I left the workshop with a lot of questions to research and a new desire to re-tool my spiritual practice to include a quiet time for meditation.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

 

Text and images:  Lori G. (c) 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 responses »

  1. Really, really interesting, Lori. I think the walking meditation might be a very useful one. And I have tried the Lectio Divina. It was something that would require practice on my part! My mind does dart around here and there. That was a really cool way to spend a Saturday morning, though.

  2. Thanks for posting your experience in this class, Lori. It has me thinking about my own experiences with meditation (and how about I should really try to do it more often…).

  3. Lori, I’m envious! I’d give anything to find a great meditation class or group here in the St. Louis area. This is something I deeply miss about living on the West Coast.

  4. Did you ever read Cave in the Snow by Tenzin Palmo? It’s a fascinating book about an English girl’s determination to became a Buddhist nun and her 12 years in a cave in the Himalayas doing her “practice” of sitting meditation.

    I’m so happy you were able to take this course–it must have been a wonderful experience! Wish I could have been with you. Perhaps your minister could become your spiritual director or suggest one.

  5. Its been interesting reading this Lori – it sounds a comprehensive course and it must have been good to experience different ways of meditating. I practice yoga and have been including sitting meditation as part of that practice. I certainly have found it very valuable. It also sounds good to have a trusted spiritual director.

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