Beginner's Meditation

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by Alisa

“If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or into the deep, deep, woods, and I’d look up into the sky–up–up–up–into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just FEEL a prayer.”  – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

My brain was born to multi-task, born for stimulation. My college roommates would ask how I could cram for a test with the TV blaring. My writing students throw puzzled looks when I tell them I sometimes like to listen to the radio, public radio interviews or news programs, while I write (I tell them it’s more about finding one’s personal writing groove).

My prayers are those of the distracted. In an effort to get through them, I cling to the simple formula I was taught in primary: address, thank, ask, and close. But often I think of things I’m thankful for during the asking part, and even more often I want to ask for things before I feel satisfied with my thankfulness. In a child-like way, I am constantly worried that my efforts to connect to God will end up giving offense instead if I break from the prescription.

Not unrelatedly, I’ve been seeking out ways to quiet my mind so I can better connect to God. Recently I attended a Deeksha (Diksha) blessing. Over the course of an hour and a half, I sat with group of 30 people, breathing in and out to music (some Indi, some popular). During that time, five Deeksha blessers, two women and three men, individually laid their hands on my head in silence, each a conduit for the peaceful transfer of energy. I didn’t have an extreme spiritual epiphany during these moments, but I felt lighter with a focus on the better things in my life. Like the darker things were melting away.

Mostly, I sat quietly and listened to the music. I tried to sit up straight in my chair, but after an hour I began to get tired. I opened my eyes and tried to remain focused. At the end of the 90 minutes, I found my energy was spent for sitting still, and I was grateful to shift position when the music ended. I looked at the calm, peaceful meditative people around me and concluded that I must be a meditative lightweight. On the way out, I picked up a meditation help sheet with a mantra to think of when I meditate. The first syllable was, predictably, Om. That night I went to bed early and slept a deep sleep, only the second night in a year I’ve been able to fall asleep and stay that way for eight hours.

It occurs to me that meditation is perhaps the other side of prayer that I’ve been missing, through all my effort to make the correct prayer, in the correct form, with the correct pronouns and verb conjugations. In meditation is the formless, nebulous desire to be more, to connect, to do better, to feel better. To work my connection to God in a present sort of way, rather than in the linear one-way direction my prayers tend to go. I may not even use the mantra for this reason, to keep my meditation personal and to preserve myself from self-critique during the process.

I know many people who associate with Mormonism believe in meditation, but what is said about it is scarce, and instructions from the Church on how to do it are nearly non-existent. So, as a beginner, I want to ask you: How do you do it? How (and where) did you learn it? What has the impact in your life been?

Alisa

Alisa is a professional adult educator and corporate manager who enjoys spending time with her husband and son.

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12 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    “It occurs to me that meditation is perhaps the other side of prayer that I’ve been missing, through all my effort to make the correct prayer, in the correct form, with the correct pronouns
    and verb conjugations. In meditation is the formless, nebulous desire to be more, to connect, to do better, to feel better.”

    Alisa, I think that is beautiful. I love these ideas about how meditation can lead a person to God. I myself am a meditative failure. It’s not something that comes easily to me at all. But I’m hoping to work on that someday. I do love the sound of that Diksha blessing you went to.

  2. mb says:

    I meditate, but it’s not anything I was coached on so I don’t know if it’s what you are looking for.

    I go outside, (or, if its below freezing outside, I face a window) sit in a comfortable position, and focus on where I am and what I see and hear and physically (feel the seat I’m sitting on, the breeze on my skin, the way light plays on things, anything that is lovely or visually interesting, embracing the sounds) using that focus and appreciation to prevent my mind from wandering off into any of my to-do lists or worries. I just be in the now and appreciate what’s there.

    10 or 15 minutes seems to be enough though longer is fine too. It seems to open my soul to peace, which in turn, opens it to revelation and perspective on what’s going on in my life.

    It works for me.

  3. G says:

    very interesting post… I tried to meditate with a group of buddhists once and discovered that my mind is a very messy distracted place. I think that is something I really should work on.

    anecdotal note about mormonism and meditation: I was pretty sincere about doing all the things I should be doing to receive personal revelation and “pondering” was always there on the list… but I never NEVER was able to extricate myself from the more easily attainable busy-work to do anything more than give lip-service to the idea of quietly sitting and thinking.

  4. Betty Guthrie says:

    I have been interested in meditation for years, although I have not been good about keeping up a practice. The most helpful introduction I found was Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.” There is nothing opaque about it, and it doesn’t require any leaps of faith or acts of devotion. If this rather thick tome intimidates you (although it is an easy read), especially if you have already experimented with meditation, you could try “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” also by Kabat-Zinn.
    Even though my practice has been sporadic at best, meditation — and the philosophy that surrounds it — have had a much greater impact on me than I can easily summarize in a couple of sentences. Suffice it to say that knowing what it is to meditate has helped me overcome depression and cope with difficult moments, increased my compassion and ability to deal with other people, and strengthened my commitment to Quakerism.

  5. Keri Brooks says:

    I love meditation, although I’ve gotten out of the habit of it lately. When I was an undergraduate, I had to take religion classes as part of the curriculum. One of the classes I signed up for was meditation. The class was taught by a Jesuit priest, and it was extremely useful to me. I don’t remember anything specific of what he taught, but part of the class was to meet together for half an hour each morning before the school day started to just sit and meditate.

    I ended up sitting and pondering. I would let my mind race (I also have a multi-tasking, cluttered mind) and just go with it. I found that by giving myself a set time of the day where I could just think, I was able to be more focused throughout the day. I was more open to personal revelation, and I also slept better. I want to get back into it, but it’s so hard to make the time to do it. Thanks for the extra nudge.

  6. mraynes says:

    This is a great post, Alisa. I too find the Mormon prescription for prayer a little bit constraining. It seems to me that our formula lends itself to rote prayers and makes it difficult to get anything meaningful out of the practice, at least for me. I was listening to a RadioWest podcast this morning where they talked to a man who studied the brains of Bhuddist monks who were long time practitioners of meditation. It was fascinating to listen to how the brain changes because of meditation; they were able to prove a marked increase in compassion, health and happiness…it made me want to start the practice. Thanks for the extra push to start meditation.

  7. Kelly Ann says:

    Yoga changed my life. I don’t do it enough but really it has been more than just a source of exercise. The big classes at the gym were great but the best experience I ever had was at a small studio. Learning to breath and relax and hold positions helped me ponder.

    Also, I was impressed with the Quaker silent service I went to. To sit in a room of people and just feel the spirit. To not have to assign words to God.

    As a Mormon, my greatest continual source of meditation has been the temple. I use to try to cast out all the thoughts of the world but as I’d sometimes drift to sleep (my excuse being the spirit is relaxing), I started to let my thoughts wander during sessions. They were of course proded by what I was hearing and seeing – but I started to have the most random epiphanies that had nothing what so ever to do with the temple. Sitting in the celestial room also often accomplished the same. However, it seemed the odd combination of the ceremony and my questions about it and life triggered the most pronounced pondering.

  8. Tam says:

    At this point in my life, Mormonism doesn’t meet all of my needs for deep spiritual connection and one of the “supplemental” routes I’ve chosen is involvement in a shamanic woman’s group. Meditation in a variety of forms is an integral part of the group’s spiritual practice and I find it to be a potent avenue for connecting with God. I think the key to getting the most out of meditation is to recognize that there are diverse ways to meditate (clearing the mind, color meditation, breathing meditation, tonglen, body awareness, etc.) and finding the method(s) that work best for you, which can be explored via books, local groups in the community, etc.

  9. D'Arcy says:

    Alisa, as you know, I attended the same Deeksha as you. I felt lighter after the breathing and the meditation. I also realized that my mind is a hard place to calm. I’ve been having greater trouble sleeping lately and I wonder if it is from a lack of meditation prayer. I haven’t knelt in prayer in over eight months. It’s like i have to redefine it for myself. I have to try and figure out if prayer needs to be sent to some outside source that remains undefined for me, or if a meditation on myself, seeking for the answers within my own wisdom and knowledge, going with my gut even if the “sprit” of the church would tell me that my gut is wrong. This is the phase where I am at.

    As you well know.

    but I have hopes that my future of prayer/meditation will come to some kind of amazing fruition that I finally feel satisfied with….and then I’ll go through another crisis of faith and start all over again 🙂

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  10. Debra Gordy says:

    HI Alisa:

    I was so excited to see your post! I have been meditating regularly for about three years, and I LOVE it. Meditating has changed my life!

    As you say, I too, have found it to be the missing connection with prayer, and have found one of the first benefits of meditation to be re-experiencing the quiet within – what is called in yoga, the “neutral mind”. The result for me has been an amazing deepening and broadening of my spiritual gifts, most notably intuition, and an increasing ability to access and recieve personal revelation.

    I first learned to meditate through yoga, with a breathing meditation. I still practice a silent breathing meditation, tied to a mantra, (which is sacred sound), as well as other meditation styles.

    There are numerous styles of meditation, and my best advice is to listen to your body and your heart, and follow your guidance.

    You can meditate anywhere, almost anytime, (except when you are driving!), and all you need is YOU. Many people find that 20 – 30 minutes, especially at the beginning of their day, to bring awesome results, plus it takes most people that long to settle into the practice, and begin to experience the silence in between thought – “the gap” as Deepak Chopra says. This is where the magic of meditation happens.

    We have a room in our home where we meditate, pray, read, and it is filled with the spirit and energy of these sacred places. Everyone loves this room, and I believe this is why.

    In meditation, I feel the presence of God, and love being in this place.

    If you want to read about it, I love Meditation Secrets for Women by Loren Roche. I also love Kundalini meditation practices, which are very different than a simple breathing meditation practice.

    Have fun! Experiment and keep doing it!. Meditation can change your life!

    Blessings,
    Debra

  11. wendy says:

    In September I stopped sleeping (for a number of reasons). I have always struggled with insomnia, but this was completely different. I had a hard time sleeping EVERY night for weeks on end. I can remember praying, fasting, and eventually just crying to God that I would just be able to sleep. I can remember thinking that I was not asking for a miracle. Sleep was something that I was [usually] able to do, and something that most people can do. Surely I was not asking for too much.

    The situation became so desperate that I sought medical help. In addition to the usual recommendations to go to bed at the same time, awake at the same time, etc., he advised that I may be the kind of person to benefit from meditation. My first impulse was to reject this as I never liked yoga and didn’t think I was the “granola” type that would get into meditation. But then, meditation seemed to all of a sudden be every where. I was reading about it in magazines and family members were talking about it. When I still wasn’t sleeping very well, I conceded that I would at least look into meditation.

    I now realize that God was answering my prayers in a different way than I wanted back in September, but in a way that has blessed me so much more than sleeping well would have. Because I was forced into a situation so desperate that I would even try something like meditation, I have been so blessed. Despite my life getting significantly more stressful in terms of events (moving, husband losing job), I am more calm and joyful than ever (and I am sleeping well). And I feel like I have earned a powerful ability that will help me in future trials in my life. I don’t think mediation is the answer to everything or even a commandment per se. However, I do think that some personalities (minds) have a hard time turning off; it is these types that have the most to gain from learning how to meditate.
    I am a mother of young children, so I don’t have a lot of time to meditate. I try to sneak in a few minutes here and there, or just practice mindfulness during everyday tasks (washing hands, unloading dishwasher) to get out of my head. It’s rare that I meditate for more than 10 minutes at a time, but I have still seen significant results. I have found meditating for 5 minutes in the shower to be a great way to start the day.
    I, too, wanted to incorporate prayer as part of my meditation (perhaps because I’m such an obsessive multi-tasker). I do think that being still is essential to both prayer and meditation. I also think that waiting for an answer to a prayer or trying to “hold on” to the sweet feelings of the Spirit are a form of meditation. However, putting too many expectations (or functions) on meditation is not helpful. In my reading on meditation, there is a repeated caution to not expect too much from meditation or to wait for a certain experience. And while I do try to listen for a moment after praying more than I used to, I think I was creating high expectations by trying to add a spiritual element to my meditation. It felt like a “to do” item on my list (the way reading my scriptures can), rather than a relaxing space all to myself.
    The benefits I have noticed from meditation occur outside of the formal meditation practice. It’s as if the mindfulness of a few minutes allows me to be more peaceful and happy and present in my other minutes. I don’t know fully why it works, but that it does. So, my advice is to start small and not expect anything in particular. I have found Calming Your Anxious Mind and Five Good Minutes great books. They have no spiritual component, which I actually prefer because then I can add my own ideas of God and stillness to my practice without considering or arguing with the author’s ideas on these topics. I hope meditation brings joy to you the way it has for me.

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