Meditation. The term means different things to different people, ranging from a "guided meditation" where one pops a cassette into the machine and follows along making images, to the still-mind state sought by eastern practitioners. For me, the basic idea is that just as praying is talking to Deity, meditation is listening.
One can try to still the mind and receive in an open state...or one can visualise going to various inner temples, sanctuaries, altars, or sacred spots and listening for guidance there. But the underlying theme is that when we meditate we are asking for information: whether that be from an external or internal Deity; from one's own subconscious, Higher Self, higher mind, or other aspects of the self; or from nature spirits, Devas, totem animals, angels, spirit guides, or ascended masters. Sometimes we explore our inner landscape and meet beings who are aspects of ourselves there. Sometimes we go to previously constructed inner temples. Sometimes we simply sit in a quiet spot and try to keep our mind open.
The concept of going within the self to explore is a different thing from taking spirit journeys to places outside the self...places with objective or spiritual reality for others. Tripping in the astral is something different that I may get around to covering later.
One could debate extensively about whether the entities one receives guidance from in meditation are truly external or are aspects of the self. If the Goddess answers us when we pray and open for answers...is the answer from something outside us or from the God/dess within? Or both? And does it matter?
In either case, the answer will be received through a filter--sometimes thick and obstructive, sometimes minimal--of our own expectations, fears, and understandings. In either case, it is up to us to discern if we have received some advice that is Divine or is unduly influenced or distorted by the above-mentioned filters.
I think this is the single most important point one can make to spiritual seekers. Anything one receives could come from the Highest levels or from one's own fears. In the end, the responsibility lies with each of us to determine the value of the information received...and whether we will choose to act upon it. If an entity calling itself the Archangel Michael told you to shoot someone it would be up to you to decide if your faith that it really was an archangel and your belief that it was acting for the highest good both warrant taking on responsibility for ending a life.
In my experience, those entities that are closest to the Divine work though love rather than intimidation. They offer messages of comfort, love, and choice rather than punishment, destruction, and command. But someone who works with the Morrigan or Kali might tell you different.
I did a lot of internal energy work and a lot of internal exploration using imagery for many years before I started trying to meditate in a way that kept my mind quiet rather than busy constructing pictures. I truly felt like I was missing something until I took that step...and found myself making considerable progress once I did. This is probably because I had a mind that was afraid that if it didn't stay in control, something would go terribly wrong. Once I was able to persuade it to take a rest once in a while and let other voices talk to me, I made great headway in learning to trust both myself and the world around me.
There are many books that offer comprehensive programs for exploring the self through imagery in meditation. Some that I have found useful at various points are:
-"Working Inside Out," by Margo Adair (self improvement through deeper self-knowledge and self hypnosis)
-"The Arthurian Tarot Course," by Caitlin Matthews (self exploration and guidance through meditation with the cards of the specified tarot deck)
-"Motherwit," by Diane Mariechilde (this one is *extremely* feminist in outlook)
I know there are many others, all of which probably have something useful to offer. A great deal of self-knowledge and healing can come from this sort of work, and this type of exercise is useful to improve one's focus, imaging skills and ability to use the mind to make positive change. This last, of course, is what magic is about, and I will be writing about exercises to improve visualisation skills in another essay.
But for now I want to focus more on meditation styles that try to quiet the mind rather than those that engage it. Most of us live with our minds chattering constantly. In fact, I think many of us live in ways that keep our minds engaged expressly *so* we don't have to listen to our deeper knowing.
Perhaps millennia of Christian teachings that guidance from any source other than the Bible or a priest is the work of the Devil and those who listen to it will be punished, has drummed into all of us a fear of engaging our inner wisdom. Perhaps we have learned that the fear, anger, and sensuality which often bubble up when we take the lid off our emotions is scary stuff we'd rather not deal with. Perhaps we're afraid that if we start, we won't be able to control the flow.
I believe that all this stuff is inside us whether we choose to acknowledge it or not; if we choose to ignore it, it will bubble away until *somehow* the pressure needs to blow off ...often in ways that reinforce our fear of it. Better to start exploring it and defusing it in small, regular doses.
There are several classical exercises that can help one start meditating.
One series involves focussing on the breath...at different points of the respiratory system, such as at the nose or at the diaphragm...just focussing on the flow of air and the expansion and relaxation as we receive and release the air.
Some suggest simply settling into a relaxed breathing pattern and counting breaths. Up to twenty and start again...
Some suggest focussing on the breathing and settling into a pattern of counting during the different phases of breathing...for example in to a count of 8, hold for 4, out for 8, and empty for 4.
All of these techniques try to focus the mind on a task that is happening naturally anyway, that is body centred, and that allows the greater part of one's awareness to stay uninvolved...
Some other techniques offered to beginners include focussing on a candle flame, focussing on an unmoving object in the distance, and focussing on the repetition of a mantra.
Mantras are typically phrases with some spiritual significance intoned on each breath while meditating. Classically, they are Sanskrit phrases. One oft-used mantra is "Om Mane Padme Hum," meaning "Jewel in the heart of the Lotus;" this is sacred to Quan Yin. But you can use phrases of significance to your own faith as well: God/dess names, spiritual qualities, lines of prayer, etc.
I have found a technique which involves both breath and mantra that works very well for me. At some point, I'm sure I'll want to challenge myself by finding something simpler...but this has been helpful while I was learning. At the point at the end of my breath when I am empty, I say, "Mother of all beings...." As I breathe in, I say, "Fill me with your Light." As I pause with my being filled, I say, "Let it heal me..." And as I breathe out, I say, "And manifest in all I do." Give it a try.
So, you start out focussing on your breath or the candle flame or a mantra, and everything goes well for the first half a minute or so...then your mind finds ways to start going through a grocery list even while part of it is still counting breaths. This is where the process gets interesting.
If the books or teachers mention this at all, they simply say that you should gently redirect your attention away from whatever is distracting you and back upon the object of your focus. However, if you keep it up, you start to notice patterns that can be interesting. Like how you get mad at yourself, or worried that you aren't doing it right, or how it's easy to pull yourself back from stuff you're enjoying as a distraction but less so with stuff you're worried about.
And every once in a while, you get very intense emotions coming up; how well do you stay focussed on your exercise and detached from these emotions? This is one of the gifts of meditation: learning that just because you have an intense emotion, you don't have to jump into it and let it take over your awareness...you have a choice to observe it and learn from it while staying detached.
I can't tell you all the things one can discover...they will be different for everyone, and I'm fairly new at this. But one of the benefits of this sort of meditation is this different quality of focus: a detached focus rather than an intensely involved one. It allows one to think clearly in situations where others are becoming caught in emotion. It allows one to sift through alternatives rather than acting on reflex; in short, it allows far more choice in your reactions to any situation.
And it allows you to listen to the voice of God/dess with fewer of those filters I was talking about. It trains you to keep yourself open for answers and to receive those answers with less emotional overlay. In this you become better able to trust that you know what S/He has in mind for you. I feel this is a gift well worth the time, effort, and initial frustration involved in learning to meditate.
Some people meet Goddess when they meditate. Some feel their oneness with all. Some are filled with Light. In the Buddhist teachings, these are distractions from the search for stillness as much as the grocery lists and ruminations. Probably one of the reasons I'm Wiccan instead of Buddhist.
Like any new discipline, especially a discipline where you are likely to feel some resistance to continuing with it, it is best to find a time when you can make meditation part of your daily routine. It is also best, at first, to set the time and place to allow for a minimum of distraction during your sessions. Basically, any time at all that you can set aside consistently is the minimum requirement. Ideally, most meditators try for twenty minutes morning and night.
Most people recommend meditating sitting up; you are less likely to fall asleep. Choose a position that you can maintain for the desired period without undue discomfort. Some people suggest dim light, some suggest a slightly cool room. Traditional Buddhist practice is to meditate with eyes open but unfocused.
The bottom line is that if you keep it up, through the times when it seems incredibly frustrating, you do get to some very useful insights and a new level of discipline of the mind that can only help you on your spiritual path and in your practice of magic. If the frustration gets to the point where you give up on it for a while, stay open to the idea that you can try again with a different technique at another time. The rewards are subtle but powerful.
Why not see how it works for you?