I’ve noticed a recurring theme at the open AA meetings I’ve attended lately. Nearly every speaker has said that they came late to the practice of daily meditation, even after working their programs for years. But once they started, they’d give up a lot before they’d give it up. It made me realize how much I’d let my own practice slide.
Prayer and meditation are part of step 11, but I began both early in my Al-Anon program. My sponsor explained that the last three steps were maintenance steps, and I could practice them at any time. I was glad. I once had a daily meditation practice and missed it.
In Al-Anon, the idea behind daily meditation is to quiet the mind so it’s possible to hear the voice of a Higher Power. I’ve heard it explained this way: When pebble is dropped into a stormy pond, it’s difficult to tell. But a pebble dropped into a still pond is unmistakable. You hear it “plop” in the water, and the ripples run outward in every direction. The idea is to make the mind like a still pond.
Al-Anon is wide open as far as what constitutes meditation. It can be anything that quiets the mind. For some people, that’s a period of quiet. Exercise works for some. One woman I know uses her time in the garden.
I had always understood prayer as talking to God and meditation as listening. But for my sponsor, that feeling of quiet meditation comes through prayer.
I remember reading once that prayer is a form of meditation, and that all religious faiths practice some form of it. Repeating a prayer over and over works something like a mantra, and so saying a rosary, for example, could be one form of meditation.
The way I learned to meditate is called “mindfulness meditation.” Mostly, it involves paying attention to my breath. I like to begin with a few prayers. I find prayer centers my mind, so it’s more willing to quiet down. Then I focus on my breathing.
There are several variations I’ve been taught, and I find it’s good to mix them up. My mind reacts better when I don’t do the same thing all the time. The simplest method is to focus on the sensation of my breath where it enters my body through my nose.
A variation on the same idea is to follow my breath as it travels into my lungs and back out, noticing even that the air is dry and cool on the way in, but returns warmed and moist. Or to I say to myself “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.”
Another method is to focus on an idea, say, “serenity” and to imagine that I am breathing in serenity with every breath. Or I might imagine that I am breathing in serenity and breathing out stress and anxiety.
Of course, thoughts come. But I try to take note of them and release them without attaching. When I realize my mind has grabbed onto an idea and run off down the road with it, I simply remind myself to return to my breathing, without judgment.
When my mind is particularly unruly, I like to imagine myself as a cartoon character sitting serenely at the bottom of a glass of soda. The bubbles rising all around me are my thoughts, and I picture myself simply watching them rise to the surface and break.
Lately, I’ve been trying to spend extra time in prayer and meditation. It’s been so long that my mind is like an unruly child. Even in long periods of meditation, it refuses to quiet down.
Then, one day, it happened. My mind went smooth as glass. I did a body check. Completely relaxed. It was a moment of pure bliss. Ahhhh, I thought. This is it. This is what I’ve been missing. Then it was gone.
It really only qualified as a moment of silence. But what a moment. And I know the more I practice, the more often I will have them and the longer they will be.
So we are off to the land, where I hope to observe several moments of silence in the next few days. There is no internet, so I will not be posting. But I will keep you, my blogging friends, in my thoughts and prayers.
Blessed Titus Brandsma – July 27
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