Silence is the essence of meditation.
Deep within every human soul is silence, like deep sleep, like a deep ocean. Yet within this silence live things that create the human being, body and soul. Meditation, like sleep but in a different way, strengthens the health of mind, body and spirit as well as empowering one’s life towards one’s deepest aims.
There are four stages of meditation that flow one into another creating a whole. The first is to come to the calm centre that touches the deep silence within. The second is an active building of the meditation through word image or sound. The third is holding the space that this act creates, and the last is to return from that space back to the ordinary awareness that supports our life as healthy part of our daily context. Each part is equally important. Two to five minutes for each part is a healthy period until you become very familiar with it.
To begin a meditation it is helpful to find a space where one will not be observed or interrupted. A way of sitting or standing that does not lead to aches is also helpful. Many people find that an upright spine assists the deepening of consciousness without slipping into dream states.
Once you are comfortable begin the letting go of daily awareness by admitting that all the tasks and worries of your life are beyond your power to do anything about at his very moment, in these next few minutes you cannot change anything by thinking about it. You may assure yourself (the self is always hungry for re-assurance) that after these few minutes you will resume normal awareness and those things that need thinking about will get some attention; but for now put them down and let them all go.
In one sense you are now in a similar position to a teacher with a class: some teachers can get their charges to be quiet by holding themselves still and saying “shush now children” others end up yelling “QUIET!!!” and speaking sharply to those how do not manage this. One’s own inner voices are the children and I have tried both ways. A really good teacher can make subject so interesting that children will be quiet in their attentiveness, but even these need, occasionally to turn to one child or another and just raise an eyebrow or a finger to remind them that silence is part of the lesson. On days when they really can’t manage to be quiet I have taken to telling them a story (that is to say replacing the attempts at meditation with some spiritual reading, or even letting them out to play. Be gentle, forgiving, always remember that Love is better than force.
A technique that I have found helpful to go deeper into the silence is by noticing first outer sensations that reach you: sound, smells, light through the eyelids. Having acknowledged each of these and let them go focus on inner senses, the touch of the chair or anything that speaks to the body from within. Notice the voice of the muscles. Begin at the crown of your head, is there any tension in your scalp? Relax these fine muscles as well as you can. Come down over the brow and face, around your eyes, nose, mouth jaw, and so on seeking habitual or unconscious tensions and releasing them. Go down through your neck and shoulders, and right down every bit of the body, slowly seeking and releasing tensions. This can be a source of interest that allows the children to pay attention rather than chatter. Valuable as the mind is, if it remains untrained it is not more use than a Chihuahua at a sheepdog trial. Regular periods of a gentle refusal to respond to it’s chatter allows it to come to rest. Do not expect immediate success with this but do persevere, it does work.
By the time your muscle awareness program reaches your feet your mind and body are likely to be as still as today will allow. Into this stillness introduce the meditation. There are some words below as introductory examples but the same technique can be used around images, mandalas, sounds or repeated questions like koans or “who is aware of this moment” or “who is asking this question”. In each case the words may be repeated inwardly whilst your imagination builds pictures from them. It may take several days of once or twice daily to become familiar enough with the words that you can hold the silence around them as well as remember them, until then have them written clear on a paper with no other words on it close enough that you can refer to it with a simple glance. If you are using a sound pluck the string, ring the bell or whatevr as required with longer spaces between until your focus on that sound and the places it takes you remains alive.
Allow your whole awareness now to grow within the words/sounds/images so that you walk in this space as you would in a cathedral or other beautiful and sacred space. This or that line or word may draw your attention repeatedly like a particular arch or window in such a cathedral would. You may feel the meanings of the words or the harmonies within the sounds/colours within the images echo around you like music coming from an unseen choir; rhythms, repeated sounds, meanings stretched between words and lines form the beauty of such a space like the beauty of a cathedral hangs between the elements of the architecture. Wonder at the depth of beauty and meaning held within. Time by time you may become more familiar with ~ and find new meanings hidden in the words/spaces within the sounds as you might learn more about a piece of music you hear again and again or become familiar with a favourite place.
This is your space, live within it.
Slowly the words fade away and the space you built and found in them remain, this sacred space so full of beauty and hidden depths is still around you. Listen quietly to this space. Allow your soul to soak up all of it, to feel into the shadows and lights, the colours and sounds, maybe even the smell of the space. It is possible at this stage that you feel something arise here that you had not expected, even though you built this space with the meanings in the words of the meditation it could be that you become aware of a gentle presence arising within you or within the space. Many times gifts from Creator aspects of the world are given in this time of quiet following the active element of a meditation. Yet these gifts may be deep in the unconscious. Emphasise the silence. It is the silence in this great space of beauty that really allows the new to form, that feeds and transforms you.
Allow yourself now to come out of this deep space: pay attention to your breath, perhaps even your heartbeat in the silence. Think again of your muscles and watch the coursing of awareness returning to your limbs. Move this muscle or that, perhaps from your feet and then your hands up the limbs and up through the body into your neck and head, then maybe down again into your centre. The presence of this body with it’s pains, with the joys that it enables for you through the senses, sound from outside, the scent in the room, light coming through your eyelids. Some people like to pat their legs and arms from the feet and hands in towards the heart to encourage the return of inflowing awareness that serves our being present in everyday reality, present to and for the people around us, present to the world of the senses. The senses whose richness is the joy that can compensate for many of the sorrows of life.
If you find that you are sitting there miles away in a dream of thoughts, having lost and left the meditation a while back, as I often have, do not attack yourself for it. Allow that learning is a gentle process and that some days are better than others. Then choose either to return to the theme of the meditation and re-enter the process or simply go through the coming back procedure, even if you think you are back, and try again next time.
Steady and full return from a meditation is as important a part as any other. Leaving a meditation without proper return to every day consciousness is a soul equivalent to going out in the weather with no clothes on – Exposure robs one of the warmth one needs to maintain health.
Here are some word-image meditations that lead to the Core and strengthen our Presence. You might also choose a piece of great art work, simple is good, icons are traditional but more modern works lead into more personal spaces, or words from the Gospel of St John such as the prologue of 5 or 17 verses.
Psalm 46 v 10
I gaze into the darkness
In it there arises light,
Who is this light in the darkness?
It is I myself in my reality
This reality of the I
Doesn’t enter into my Earthly life
I am but a picture of it.
But I shall find it again
When with goodwill for the spirit
I pass through the gate of death.
Quiet I bear within me
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong
Now will I be imbued
With their glowing warmth
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being
When by my steadfast striving I become strong
To find within myself
The source of strength
The strength of inner quiet.