“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks in his cavern.”
I have been going through some tough times of late, and I have decided that I really need to make a discipline out of meditation (or centering prayer, if you prefer). I awoke this morning with the feeling that my battered soul had washed ashore on some splintered timber after a tempestuous shipwreck. So today I resolved to dig in for nearly a full hour on my lunch break and really make some progress with my practice. The results were well worth it! I thought that perhaps a description of my experience might help someone else.
After gulping down my Jersey Mike’s Mini #9 on wheat with pickles and pepper-relish while doing my best to ignore my begging Boston’s Gorgon stare, I landed my phone on airplane mode and plugged in my headphones. I sat surrounded by my new variety of little potted plants, straight-backed and flat-footed at my kitchen table with generous amounts of sunshine pouring in through the open windows. I set my Brainwaves App to theta meditation, closed my eyes, and let the relaxing sounds wash over me. I said a short prayer for those I care about – releasing my concerns into the hands of God, and a short prayer of thanksgiving asking God to guide me, take this sadness from me, and replace it with Himself. Then I took a deep breath and began working on my meditation.
Meditation, or centering prayer, is like balancing an up-ended broom by the handle in the palm of your hand. It requires constant concentration and effort. The mind is always wandering off like Martha – full of cares and concerns. It requires training to be like Mary, sitting quietly, listening for the Word of God. As with the broom handle, it takes constant gentle effort to bring the mind back into balance at the stillness of the center.
As I sat there, a thousand different thoughts boiled up out of the silence in attempt to assail my balancing broom-stick brain: “My nose itches. Now I’m thinking about my nose itching… now I’m thinking about thinking about my nose itching… okay, shut-up…. <inhale> <exhale> Peace……. Why did she say that? Let it go. Did I set my alarm? Yes, I did. This is what I said. I was right. Or was I? Did I really set my alarm? … Okay I’m thinking again. Peace… ……….Did I fix that error in my spreadsheet at work? I did. But not that other one. Did Sadie just fart? Oh God, that smells like rotten eggs. That’s toxic enough to make these poor little plants wilt. My hanging plant outside the window looks a little burnt, or dead. Maybe it needs more shade. …….Caught myself thinking again… get back to the silence… deep breath…… there’s a sharp pain behind my left shoulder blade…. I need to work on my posture…quit leaning on that left elbow while using the mouse… Peace…………. …….this experience would make a good blog post…..shut-up…. Peace……. I left my left-overs in the fridge at work. Don’t forget about them. Do I want to eat them for dinner tonight? Or lunch tomorrow. It’s alfredo pasta. That’s a lot of fat and carbs. I need to eat that on a day that I work out. When do I want to work out next? ….I’m thinking again… figure that out later. ……. Peace….
And on and on it goes… you get the picture. After about 15 to 20 minutes of this, the silences grew longer and the bursts of monkey-minded thought waned. I used a few techniques below to bring my mind back to the silent center of the present moment.
Music: The Brainwaves App I have has a program of music and sounds designed to assist meditation. I found I could return to silence by focusing on the sounds.
Breathing: Focusing on the breath is very useful to bring the mind back to center. When inhaling I imagine fresh clean energy filling my body to the top of my head. Then when exhaling I imagine all the negative energy leaving my body in the dirty air. I listen to the sound of my breathing and feel the sensations in my body to give my mind something to focus on so that it does not wander off back into words.
A sacred word: The centering prayer method advocates choosing a single word that symbolizes your intention or need – such as: Peace, Joy, Healing, Freedom, etc. When thoughts begin to come into your mind, inhale, then say the word as you exhale and use the word to push away the other thoughts.
After 20 – 30 minutes, I finally broke through a barrier and was able to somewhat stabilize the focus of my mind in a peaceful quiet center. When I finally landed my meditation, it was as if I were seeing/hearing/smelling the world all fresh. I had bad eyesight and finally received some prescription glasses. Without a constant stream of thoughts using up my brainpower, I had an enormous peace and clarity of mind. Textures and objects popped out at me in intricate beautiful detail. As I drove back to work, a flag waving in the breeze struck me as especially beautiful. I’d never paid attention to it before. I was hyper-aware of everything going on around me. When people came in to my office to talk to me, I saw them as people rather than obstructions to getting my work done. I was able to be a better listener. The struggles and worries that seemed so awful in the morning had faded to irrelevance by afternoon. This wonderful experience has motivated me to continue to stay committed to working on this practice. 🙂