February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

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Badger Bob
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February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 31 Jan 2010, 20:21

Meditation, a guide to the very basics.

Introduction

This is a guide to some very basic meditation techniques, written mainly for the kind of person who is as bewildered as I was when I began my path into Druidry. I apologise for the fact that it is written primarily from a Buddhist perspective as I learned first from the Tibetan tradition and later on from Zen and traditional Japanese martial arts. Since then meditation has entered the mainstream in a big way and it is possible to find all kinds of traditions, applications and techniques to apply to whatever path you could wish.

Why bother meditating? Well, the mind is a fantastic resource but like the proverbial couch potato it needs a bit of exercise now and then to keep it in trim. The couch potato might want to do some exercise but ends up spending all the allotted time searching for shorts and trainers and when the football match begins on the TV throws them all under the sofa and settles down to a good slouch. The mind is the same, we can’t easily apply it to the problems we face because our minds are untamed, darting here and there, rarely settling upon one thought before another one needs attention. We spend our time in such an unfocussed manner, skating over the surface of the vast ocean of mental experience and rarely seeing the beauty and power of the depths. Meditation allows us to focus, to slow down our thought-turnover and sink slowly but steadily into ever deeper modes of thought, using our whole attention upon the question. When it comes to treading the esoteric paths, the calm mind is one that can grasp far more of the symbolic beauty along the way and this is why the majority of religious and philosophical groups advocate at least a basic familiarity with meditation. Hopefully this introduction will give you the basic techniques that are common to most paths and inspire you to at least give it a go.

How to sit

The image we all have of meditation is the small, ancient and highly flexible monk sitting in the lotus position for hours on end without losing circulation or getting aches and pains. Let’s face it, if you can do that then good luck and watch out for your knee joints but for the rest of us there is a whole spectrum of less stressful positions to try. One of the few positions that is not recommended is lying down for the obvious reason that lying down and relaxing the mind can lead to snoring rather than contemplation. The Bards of old had a remedy for this involving a small irritation to keep the mind alert while in this position – a small pebble under the back or a heavy stone placed on the chest can provide enough of a stimulus to stop you from dropping off.

The western position is the one best adopted by those who lack flexibility in the joints or who prefer not to sit on the floor. It is also the position often used by practitioners of the western esoteric traditions due to the similarity to the depictions of Egyptian gods and goddesses in statuary. Now that I have mentioned Egypt you are probably thinking of one of two positions but I can assure you that you don’t have to “walk like an Egyptian” – we are talking the other position. Sit on a chair, preferably one without arms and with a seat at least as high as your knee. Place the hands on the knees or thighs with elbows slightly away from the sides and keep the back straight, not leaning against the back of the chair.
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Egyptian Posture
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Next in order of difficulty comes the meditation bench, often used in Zen. This is a short (about ten inches at the highest edge) padded bench with a sloping seat to place under the buttocks when meditating in a kneeling position. A zabuton (meditation mat) or a thick folded blanket is placed under the legs to cushion the shins and the big toes are often side by side or even crossed. The bench stops the knees from being over-flexed and allows the blood to circulate in the calves without being constricted by pressure from the backside. The small sloping cushion, the zafu can be used in a similar way by kneeling with a leg either side of the cushion.
Meditation Positions 2.jpg
Meditation bench and cushion
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Sitting cross-legged on a small cushion is the most traditional way in the east but can cause tremendous pain for those unused to it. Tailor style sitting requires the least flexibility but constricts the lower legs quite badly leading to pins and needles in the feet. The half-lotus or Burmese position is the one that I use the most but can take a while to get used to. It involves folding one leg back so that the opposite buttock rests just on the sole of the foot and placing the other foot on the thigh of the first leg so that both knees, one shin, one instep and the buttocks rest on the floor. It is essential that this does not cause the pelvis to tilt to one side or you will get horrible lower back pain. The full lotus for those that have never seen it involves placing each foot on the opposite thigh and while I managed it as a teenager it is beyond me now and since this is a beginner’s guide I would recommend one of the easier positions to start with.
Meditation Positions 3.jpg
Tailor style and the Half Lotus position
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In all these positions the spine should be absolutely erect, no slouching or hunching, as if there were a wire attached to the top of the spinal column, pulling it straight up. It is recommended that the head is tilted slightly downward with the tongue against the roof of the mouth to help prevent drooling (it can happen a lot and it doesn’t look good). The hands are a bit of a grey area, you could just place them on your knees or use one of the Buddhist hand positions such as placing them palm up in your lap, hand-upon-hand with the thumbs touching to make a little triangle.

The last position I am going to talk about is the walking position which can be interesting. Most often used in Japanese and Korean traditions this involves taking small steps (half a foot-length at a time) while walking in a large circle of a garden or hall. If your meditation sessions are punctuated by aches from sitting then walking meditation (kinhin) may be a good idea to try.

Once the posture has been adopted the important thing to do is to relax. This can be achieved by starting at the feet and tensing then relaxing each part of the body moving upwards to the scalp. Finally to the eyes which are a matter of personal choice, you can meditate with the eyes open, half-open or closed. Personally I like to meditate with my eyes open facing a plain white wall, eyes closed in the sunlight outdoors or eyes half open and without my glasses (I am as blind as a bat without my bins) as the fancy takes me.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 31 Jan 2010, 20:23

How to think

In many respects the posture is the least important part of meditation, the outer signature yet it is often this outer form that becomes the entirely of the practice by those who do not know what to do with the mind. This is the hardest bit of meditation, calming the mind, and we shall start off with the traditional counting the breath.

There are many times that I have sat on my cushion for half an hour and composed a shopping list. This might get me round the supermarket in record time but it won’t get me anywhere along my spiritual path. To get around this I find that no matter what I am planning for the meditation session it never hurts to start with counting the breath. This deceptively simple technique does exactly what it ways on the tin – you count your breath.

There are several methods of counting the breath but they are all aimed at the same goal, regaining some control over the mind. The first method I shall talk about is the standard eastern practice used in all forms of Buddhism and taught by many Yoga teachers as a preparation. There really is no trick, you just settle down into a suitable posture and draw the whole of your attention into counting your breath. You can count in any way you like, the two that I use are:

1. breathe in (one), breathe out (two), breathe in (one), breathe out (two),…keep going as long as possible.
2. breathe in, out (one), breathe in, out (two), breathe in, out (three)…up to ten then start again, go back to one if your mind wanders.

For this technique it is important to keep breathing normally, don’t try to force the breath or you will undo all that lovely relaxation we just did. The mind should start to let go after a couple of rounds and that is where we start the real work, don’t sit there thinking “woo-hoo! I’m meditating!” just try to keep concentrating on the count of the breath.

You will be plagued by three things external distractions, internal distractions and itching (this last one is so serious it gets its own category). External distractions are a problem but at this moment in time they are not your problem (as long as the room is not on fire or full of rabid squirrels) so it is good if you can learn to ignore them. A visualisation can help – imagine that you are floating in a bubble high above the ground, gradually fading into a clear blue sky, as you fade then so does the reality of the sounds around you until they become nothing to you – just something happening somewhere else. When you have visualised this, begin the counting again.

Internal distractions are things like the shopping list, annoying but self-important little thoughts that pop into your head and demand attention like hungry children. Unlike children these thoughts have no importance for us right now and so we seek to observe them and let them run their course then get back to counting. One thing we really need to avoid is “chain thinking” where one thought sparks off another and you get into an internal narrative like this:

(I wonder what to make for tea?)
(I fancy chicken pie)
(does Helen like chicken pie?)
(what was Helen wearing this morning?)
(that Italian jacket, I think)
(I wish I had thought to get a Lasagne out of the freezer)
(That ginger cat next door looks just like the one from the cartoon)
(what is the name of that cartoon?)

And so on, one thought churning into another in the endless mill of our mind. We need to see this chain for what it is and let it grind to a halt at the earliest opportunity. One Lama said we should see our thoughts as written on paper and as they occur roll them up into little balls and thrown them in the bin (don’t have a basketball hoop on your imaginary bin otherwise you could end up searching for the perfect slam-dunk!). Our aim is to change the script to something like this:

(I wonder what to make for tea?)
(I fancy chicken pie)
(sorted! One, two, three…)

Worry about the other links in the chain afterwards.

The nemesis of the meditator is the infernal itch, one itch can take over your entire mind and soon you feel like you are crawling with ants. This is because itches are rarely anything important - they are often just lazy nerves working against you, trying to stop you from achieving anything. Treat them with the contempt they deserve and only scratch if you absolutely have to, if you just observe them and let them run they usually peter out after a couple of aeons (well it can seem like aeons). Scratching can set off itches else where and it causes you to tense up again so it is best avoided. People with skin or nerve conditions just do the best you can, with a bit of fortitude you will be amazed at how you can accommodate such problems without breaking meditative equipoise.

The western tradition adopted much from the east and one thing that crops up in a lot of cases is the Fourfold Breath. This is a variation of the technique described above where the rhythm of the breath is altered. Obviously altering the breath is going to alter the uptake of fresh air and so people with problems such as high blood pressure or asthma might want to be careful with this, consult your GP if in any doubt. The technique is yet again deceptively simple, think of a steady rhythm in your head, you inhale over a count of four, hold the breath in for a count of four, exhale over a count of four and hold the breath out for a count of four. This can really make you sweat if you are not used to it and it will take you a few sessions to get the depth and count right for your own body so no more than four or five minutes to start with, adding five-ten minutes when you are comfortable with the technique and more when you are really flying with it. As with the eastern technique you are trying to concentrate on the breath and nothing else so all the previous ways of dealing with distractions still apply.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 31 Jan 2010, 20:35

How to carry on

And that is it, if you follow the steps above you will be meditating in a basic fashion. This basic set of techniques is the basis of all the advanced techniques that come afterwards such as visualisation. The mind has to be calmed and cleared before you can begin to visualise; after all you don’t begin to paint a picture over a print of a Jackson Pollock, you choose a blank canvas. Cultivating this blank canvas can take time and maintenance, most teachers would recommend about five minutes twice a day to begin with gradually increasing the length of time and the quality of the sessions to at least two twenty minute sessions twice a day. Twenty minutes, twice a day of pure meditative equipoise is far better than an eight hour session of stop-start meditation once a week.

A little and very often is the way to go, traditionally early morning and late evening are the times to sit but I find that a session when I get in from work makes a clean break between my work life and my home life. I am a morning person so I can easily get up half an hour early to jump in the shower and then sit and meditate before everyone else gets up, but for some people this can be a very onerous chore. Night people can benefit from a lunchtime session if their work patterns allow or maybe a session when you get back from work and another late at night when you would normally be going to bed, fortunately you can meditate without waking the neighbours so it is suitable for any time of day.

Once you have practiced in this way for a while you might think about going on to more advanced forms of meditation. The meditation on calming the mind is often called placement meditation and is the counterpart to analytical meditation or sometimes visualisation. I shall cover these two forms briefly with some Druid-friendly exercises for you to try.

Analytical meditation

Analytical meditation is using this bright shiny laser-beam-focussed mind and applying it to an question internally. The techniques of calming allow the mind to stay on topic and not to wander off into side streets and backwaters. You have all head of the Zen riddle (Koan) “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “if a tree falls in the forest and no-one is there to observe it, does it make a sound?”, well those are a highly specialised form of analytical meditation designed to shock the analytical mind into a higher state. You will be glad to know that this is not what we are going to do, you really need a good teacher for that and preferably in face-to-face teaching. There is much that you can do on your own though and a few of these are listed below:

Always start off with a short session of placement meditation in order to settle down and get into a receptive frame of mind. Then imagine an acorn or a tiny nut that lies in the earth with the potential to grow into a mighty tree. Where is that potential stored? Where does all that complexity come from to design every leaf and bark-gnarl? Use your new-found ability to concentrate your mind to question this over and over, never straying from the topic. Allow yourself to become absorbed into the question to the point where you might become the acorn and approach the question from the inside out. Don’t strain for absolute answers, just become immersed in the conundrum and see where your mind takes you. You mind knows all the answers to everything but you need to train yourself to listen properly to what it says, you can’t hear the answers directly and you might catch glimpses here and there as you become familiar with the object of analysis. Like a badly tuned radio there is a lot of noise that distorts and obscures the signal you desire.

The example above is one of the ultimate questions about life, the universe and everything (hah! you just thought “forty-two” didn’t you!), but there are other questions that can be analysed. If you are given ambiguous signs during your Pathworkings or other inner work then analytical meditation can help you to sort out what those signs mean to you. Ethical questions are particularly good for this approach, the way we treat other people, our attitudes to our fellow human beings, animals or the plant kingdom can all be scrutinised in this way. Then there are the abstract meditations used to train the mind to work in a different way to the normal rational mind. The Golden Dawn tradition uses a series of meditations upon symbols starting from the contemplation of a mathematical point and working up through the symbols of the elements and on to the tree of life itself and the qabalistic symbolism contained therein.

A Druid might choose to contemplate the symbols of Druidry, the symbols given to each grade within the order or the outer symbols such as the awen or the individual ogham. In the case of the ogham there is really no question to be asked as such, other than a general “what does this mean to me?” The associations can be distilled down from the mass of memories that you possess, creating a truly unique and personal symbol that has a very real kind of magic for you alone.

One further technique that is peculiar to Christian and some Eastern schools is known in the west as Lectio Divina or divine reading. This usually involves a sacred text which is read in a meditative state, a sentence at a time and thoroughly internalised and analysed. For Druidic purposes this is an ideal technique to apply to reading a particularly emotive poem or maybe a triad or riddle. Use counting the breath to calm the mind and then read the text, one line or sentence at a time concentrating on the point of the piece, whether that is the imagery, the emotional content or the moral behind the story. As you digest each chunk, drift off into analytical meditation for a short while making associations and relating it to your own experiences. As you reach a conclusion to each meditation, take a short time to calm your mind again and then have a go at the next sentence. It might take an hour to read a short poem but in that time you have truly read it, not just listened to the words in your head, you have entered into the poem at a symbolic level and taken it into your heart.


Visualisation

Finally let me say a few words about visualisation, building a stable mental picture. This is familiar to most people as the mind is good at making pictures of faces, cars, the pattern in our bathroom wallpaper, these are all the ways we recognise the familiar. This is the value of visualisation; it allows us to build a mental picture of something that has value to us and to allow our minds to become familiar with it. The object of visualisation depends on the tradition; Buddhists create elaborate images of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas whereas a Druid might find it useful to create an image relating to a seasonal festival or a sacred place.

I have encountered two forms of practice when it comes to visualisation and both are aimed at getting over that first hurdle, creating the visualisation. The first and most commonly encountered technique is that of creating the scene piece by piece, building up the world in your visual imagination from easily imagined building blocks. For instance if you were wanting to visualise a woodland scene you might start with a basic ground and sky, when you have those firmly imagined add some grass, fallen leaves, twigs and maybe the odd mushroom. With these embedded in the scene you can then add the trees, starting with the ones at the back and gradually adding them one by one until you reach the most prominent tree in the foreground. Hold this picture for as long as you can, keeping every detail pin-sharp. When you can create a scene like this then you can begin to add other details, flora fauna and maybe supernatural elements, limited only by the amount of complexity you have trained yourself to cope with. This can be a good way of exploring the god and goddess forms, by building them up one attribute at a time and then holding that image while your mind familiarises itself with that form. It is also a good way of awakening your visual creative faculties if you think you might want to paint what you imagine.

The other school of visualisation starts with the scene already built but with the details obscured as if behind a sheet of tracing paper or through a fog. Gradually you add in detail as the fog disperses until you have a pin-sharp image of your meditation object. I have to admit that I am not very good at this method, possibly because of my mathematical/engineering background which means I like to take things apart and put them back together again. I have it on good authority that the fog method is a useful technique for exploring a subject of which you have only a very fuzzy concept. For instance, if you wanted to meditate on a stone circle but not one you have visited, an inner stone circle if you like, you could imagine the ground and sky with some blurry grey patches in between and as you reveal the scene let your unconscious mind fill in the details for you. Using the building blocks method requires you to know the shapes of the stones before you get that far.

Conclusion

Well I hope that I have given enough detail to allow you to get a firm footing on the road to becoming a seasoned meditator. Learning from words on a page is a poor substitute for learning under a true meditation master and learning from my words on a page is poor fare indeed. Having said that, not everyone can take years out of their lives to sit in draughty halls at five in the morning and a little common sense can work wonders. The most important advice I can give is to urge you to sit every day if possible and give it time, the basics might seem boring or easy but it is easy to delude yourself into thinking you are meditating when you are actually thinking about yourself meditating. Along the way you will hopefully gain a new appreciation of the fantastic nature of the mind that is indefinable yet contains the very core of our being, our thoughts.

Good luck and enjoy your journey.

Further Reading

Eastern

Thich Nhat Hanh (1991) The Miracle of Mindfulness, London: Rider. This is short, easy to read and low on Buddhist religious stuff, a gem of a book and no intro to meditation could fail to acknowledge the usefulness of this work.

Batchelor, Martine (2001) Meditation for Life, London: Frances Lincoln Ltd. A fantastic easy to read introduction by a western nun in the Korean Buddhist tradition.

Levey, Joel & Michelle (2003) The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation, Boston: Wisdom Publications. This is crammed with exercises and techniques to try, written from a less traditional viewpoint and with an emphasis on modern life.

Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola (2002) Mindfulness in Plain English, Boston: Wisdom Publications. This is THE best introduction to Buddhist meditation I have ever read, widely acknowledged as a modern classic. There is hardly any Buddhist doctrine so don’t let it put you off.

McDonald, Kathleen (2005) How to Meditate, Boston: Wisdom Publications. This is a good solid introduction but does rather focus on the religious side of Tibetan Buddhism (but she is one of my teachers so I feel I ought to plug her book!)

Sekida, Katsuki (1985) Zen Training, New York: Weatherhill. A masterful book full of the real nuts and bolts of Zen meditation. Not for the faint hearted but for the curious it is a real compendium of eastern ideas about mind training.

Western

Farrell, Nick (2004) Magical Pathworking - Techniques of Active Imagination, St. Paul MN: Llewellyn. I know, it's from that publisher but this really is very good. Pages 24-31 give intstructions on meditation in the western magical tradition and some exercises to try. The rest of the book is concerned with pathworking which is very much of relevance to Druidry.

Greer, John Michael (2007) The Druid Magic Handbook, San Francisco: Weiser. Pages 87-93 contain the basics of meditation applied to the Druid path and how the AODA apply it in their training.

Carr-Gomm, Philip (2002) Druidcraft – The Magic of Wicca and Druidry, London: Thorsons. Not a how-to manual but this does contain many ideas for meditations on the more magical side of Druidry.

White, Julie & Talboys, Graeme (2005) The Path Through the Forest – A Druid Handbook, Girvan: Grey House in the Woods. Again this has a few ideas for meditations rather than instructions on how to meditate.

Greer, John Michael (2007) Paths of Wisdom – a Guide to the Magical Cabala, Loughborough: Thoth. This is a wonderful book on the rather involved subject of qabalistic meditation, self-transformation through meditating on the tree of life – the foundation of mystical Judaism.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Frog » 01 Feb 2010, 13:55

Badger Bob,
Thank you ever so much for putting this seminar together, it was very illuminating. If I could add the following; this has come from my own experiences of meditation.


For anyone that really wants to get into meditation, but finds that their world continually presents them with a confused mind, they may find making use of guided meditations are a nice beginners starter (Meditainment is one company that makes these). My only comment with this is that you may find that the voice of the person leading the meditation grates on your mind (for example, I have one meditation that I can only listen to every now and again because their accent comes across a little harsh every now and again - and I know it's just how I'm feeling).

Whilst silence is a definite plus for meditation, as with ritual scene setting can help prepare the mind. Very gentle music can also provide the oasis of calm to allow the practitioner to enter the calm state.

Length of time to meditate is possibly the current worlds biggest issue to successful meditation. Many of us lead busy lives - as an example I can rarely meditate in the morning as there's a list of jobs that has to be done. Investing or making a set of meditation beads - whether it's the full 108 mala set, or smaller (I have a set that are 44 beads in length and a smaller 22 bead mala) means that I know how long my meditation will take and I can lay that thought to one side. I bought mine from Nelly Moon (http://www.nellymoon.co.uk) but there are some OBOD colleagues who also sell similar.

I have also found some excellent 1-minute guided meditations (http://www.just-a-minute.org). I would also recommend Martin Boronson's book One Moment Meditation (http://www.martinboroson.info/meditatio ... ation-zone). These are quick meditations that allow you to take a quick break from the world (like a power nap!).
Last edited by Frog on 01 Feb 2010, 15:12, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Creirwy » 01 Feb 2010, 14:58

What an indepth and wonderfully presented Seminar!

I will need time to digest all the info here.

Well done Badger Bob on a job well done :D

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby DaRC » 01 Feb 2010, 15:29

Thanks Badger Bob, that's a great intro' to meditation succintly covering all the basics |-)
It all a bit like the saying "Sometime I sits and thinks, sometimes I just sits..." which I was taught as Yorkshire Meditation :grin:

What do you think about where you should meditate?

I have certain spots to meditate - for example I quite often meditate in the bedroom but can't when it is untidy, I'd have to tidy it first and then I wouldn't have time to meditate!
I prefer it in the summer when I can meditate outside.
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Bracken » 01 Feb 2010, 17:45

DaRC! It took me absolutely years to learn how to meditate in a mess. I simply had to have my space perfect before I could sit, and then one day a visitor to my house helped me to realise that I hadn't meditated for ages. I had only cleaned up - in a whirlwind of stress. When you've got kids the house is never tidy. Sit with it for a bit. See how you feel. The way I approach my meditation now (and a lot of other things in my life) is that there are no shoulds about it.

Badger Bob, I've been dying to put this seminar up. I know it will generate loads of discussion, and it really is great. Thanks a lot, and please keep coming back.
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 01 Feb 2010, 22:21

Right, I've got time to talk now...
Very gentle music can also provide the oasis of calm to allow the practitioner to enter the calm state.
Yes, I have never really tried it as I like my peace and quiet but Thich Nhat Hanh mentions music as an aid to relaxation and meditation in The Miracle of Mindfulness. He points out that the main thing is to remain aware of the mind and not to drift off into just an unconscious appreciation of the music. I'm not so good at this as I can put on a Bach CD and regain awareness 60 minutes later if I don't watch my mind intently just as I find it difficult to work with a radio on, it is important to work out how your own mind works and work with it rather than against it.
Length of time to meditate is possibly the current worlds biggest issue to successful meditation.
Not half! That is often the beginners first disapointment, many people give up when they find they can only manage a couple of minutes at a time. One of the main things to remember is that we are not monks, we have to live in the real world with real problems and minds that have to adapt to stressful situations many times a day. This means that we need to have a realistic expectation of ourselves. Even a single minute of mental calm is a minute that you would not have had otherwise and in time one minute will become two and two will become three. I rarely sit for more than half an hour at a time without a break and during that half hour there are times when there is less than fifteen minutes or so of real concentration. Conversely there are times when I can keep my awareness on the object of meditation for quite a while and progress is made. You just have to accept the experience, good or bad and try to identify and work around the causes of the bad days.
Investing or making a set of meditation beads - whether it's the full 108 mala set, or smaller (I have a set that are 44 beads in length and a smaller 22 bead mala) means that I know how long my meditation will take and I can lay that thought to one side.
I left mantrayana to one side as it is really a Buddhist/Hindu practice, when you use your mala are you chanting a mantra or do you use the beads some other way? For those who don't know what a mala is, it is very similar to the use of a rosary, you pass the beads through the fingers chanting a mantra for each one, a mantra being a short (usually sanskrit) prayer or aphorism. The most famous mantras are "Om mani padme hum" (ohm mah-nee pey-mey hung - the jewel is in the lotus, a reference to the clear mind of enlightenment) or "Namu Ami Tuofo" (homage to Amida Buddha) although there are many mantras associated with various Buddhist and Hindu practices. These would have limited interest to someone purely practicing Druidry but a similar practice could be constructed by chanting ogham names, the Druids Prayer for Peace or even just paying homage to the four directions or three realms. The words are not as important as the intention.
What do you think about where you should meditate?
Wherever works for you! Some people like to meditate indoors in a nice quiet corner and there is a good tradition of meditating in the same place each day in order for the routine to help the mind to settle quickly. Once you have seen the view from your meditation cushion a hundred times the brain no longer bugs you to look at it again. Conversely if you have a home full of kids and televisions and you can't find that oasis of calm in the house you could try meditating outside. I often meditate sat on a park bench for half an hour at lunchtimes, it is important to keep your eyes open in this case not only to watch out for danger but because if you close your eyes the police are likely to give you a prod with a baton just to see if you are alive. If you can find a quiet space in the wilds then that can be a spectacular place to contemplate nature or the interconnectedness of life but it is important that you are actually meditating and not just enjoying the sensations. Whatever you do make sure that you are not exposing yourself to danger from the elements or other people. When you have the fundamentals under your belt it can be benificial to meditate even if there is a racket going on in the background, a mind that is being tamed should be able to stay on the object and not follow distractions.

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Are losing theirs..."

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Dathi » 02 Feb 2010, 00:17

Great stuff Badger Bob, thanks very much.
"Chain Thinking" and itches, well, you certainly identified the big challenges for me!

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Eilthireach » 02 Feb 2010, 09:02

Hello Badger Bob,

a very good job done around a very important topic! :tiphat:

I am eternally grateful towards the OBOD course because it has helped me to install a daily meditation routine that has become an element of stability, of reason, of sense in my life. I believe in the truth of the old saying from the Eleusinian Mysteries: In silence is the seed of wisdom gained. It is also in the silence, in the peace of the soul, that the Divine can enter.

I'm doing this for almost ten years now and I had expected that my meditation would automatically get deeper and deeper and more 'professional' through practice. While this may be true in some ways, I find that I still have to watch out for those thought chains, and that I still experience sessions where I seem to be just unable to sit. I slowly come to accept the thought that meditation is a lifelong practice, and that there are no laurels to rest upon.

I like to sit crosslegged and have found out that I can eliminate most latent knee problems by using what is called a zabuton, a kind of square mat filled with soft natural materials that prevents pressing your knees into the hard floor.
I always wanted to try the seat with the little bench or the cushion between the legs and will now proceed with it because of this article.

Thank you for this seminar and keep up the good work!

Eilthireach /|\.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 02 Feb 2010, 10:13

Hi Eilthireach

I have never really separated out my Buddhist meditation from my Druidic meditation, the ultimate goals may be different but the techniques are the same, to see the world with greater clarity and awareness. I know what you mean about not being able to rest on one's laurels, if I objectively compared my actual progress against what I thought would happen when I first took up the practice I think I would be very depressed. It isn't like climbing a maountain path where you can stand still and just enjoy the view from time to time, it is more like running up the down escalator - if you stand still you will eventually be right back where you started.

I use a traditional buckwheat zafu and a cotton wadding filled zabuton at the moment but I am thinking of making a small seiza (kneeling) bench with piano hinges on the legs for portability. I always used to think that benches were for wimps who couldn't sit in seiza for half an hour but now my knee is beginning to play up I am starting to see the attractions of pain-free sitting :D . A folded blanket is usually recommended in place of the zabuton for beginners and for years I used a fleece bedspread folded 4-ply and a couple of living-room cushions to sit on.

Some really easy instructions on making a seiza bench can be found here.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Frog » 02 Feb 2010, 14:29

Hi Bob

Some excellent comments here. You asked about my mala set - I don't chant as I personally find it distracting - as well as the "personal embarassment" factor of talking our loud.

From Martin Boronson's book, he discusses how to measure the Meditation Minute; once your breathing is at a slow, calm rate (in-two-three, pause, out-two-three or whatever) measure how many breaths you take in a measured minute. As you become happier with a regulated breathing flow, you just count the breaths. I use the mala for each in and out breath; knowing that (for me anyway) I take 13 breaths in a minute the beads offer a measure of time for my meditation - allowing me to focus on the breath and not the count.
I always used to think that benches were for wimps who couldn't sit in seiza for half an hour but now my knee is beginning to play up I am starting to see the attractions of pain-free sitting :D .
One point that I have learned through Tai Chi practice is the importance of not "trapping" the nerves. Some practitioners discuss "holding a duck egg" under the arms or in the crook of the arm (not a real one, but holding one's position as if you were) - allowing the Chi energy to flow round the body more easily.
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby D'Arzhur » 02 Feb 2010, 18:53

Thank you Badger Bob for this very informative (& funny) seminary on meditation :shake:

I like to meditate lying down or standing up...both methods not very practical :grin: ... but do love to use my kneeling bench during my Yoga lesson (it is -for me- much more comfortable than any form of sitting)...so (thanks to you :idea: ) maybe it is indeed time to try the sitting bench for home meditation...

A thought : based on the idea that routine : same place, same position, same method create an activating process... I was wondering if scent can also be used to stimulate the process by association... I used to clear my energy room with a specific scent (in a burner) prior and during Reiki session and after a while I noticed that that precise scent would automatically allow me to relax and feel the flow of ki.
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Cosmic Ash » 02 Feb 2010, 23:26

Thank you for this lovely seminar!

I just wanted to add my technique for dealing with of thoughts. As they arise in my mind I acknowledge their presence then let go of them and letting them float upwards in bubbles, like air rising towads the surface of a pond.

Best wishes
CA

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Frog » 03 Feb 2010, 00:01

A thought : based on the idea that routine : same place, same position, same method create an activating process... I was wondering if scent can also be used to stimulate the process by association... I used to clear my energy room with a specific scent (in a burner) prior and during Reiki session and after a while I noticed that that precise scent would automatically allow me to relax and feel the flow of ki.
Hi D'Arzhur, I actually agree with this, in the same way that music can help scene setting. In the room that I most use for meditation, I share the space with a large-ish collection of sports equipment (well used kit :???: ) and, well, being a boy :oops: :whistle: does tend to offer it's own "special" aroma to the room; so I find using incense will change the ambience of the room to a sanctuary from a locker room.
Our noses and brains are really complex, and it seems to be commonly recognised that smells can trigger memories and emotional thoughts. If you associate a specific smell with a calm feeling, then it can only be good.
"Don't look to the end of the rainbow for the pot of gold; it's already under your feet"
Enjoy this life. It would be a shame if we looked forward to the next, only to find we forgot the one before.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Donata » 03 Feb 2010, 01:10

Excellent seminar Bob!

BB
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 03 Feb 2010, 10:09

Thanks for the kind words everybody.

D'Arzhur/Frog: If I recall my psychology lectures correctly the sense of smell is the one most associated with memory and so it would make sense to use a familiar smell to help the brain settle down to meditation. I have to admit to having a thing about the smell of Nag Champa incense. Back in the eighties it was available just about everywhere (Oxfam shops seemed to hold massive stocks in student towns) and so I always associate the smell with relaxation just as I associate pine needle scent, peat or heather with energy (from my days racing in mountain marathons) and the smell of cow muck with home (I grew up by a dairy farm). With all these things; place, smell, music, the idea is to use subconscious associations to tell the brain that you are about to relax and use your mind rather than your body for a change. If you already have some associations you can use then use them, just don't get lost in them, keep your awareness on what your mind is doing.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby D'Arzhur » 03 Feb 2010, 20:20

I meant of course "seminar"and not seminary :oops: (don't seem to be able to edit anymore).

Hello Frog, nice to see you can relate to that "scent" option !

Badger Bob : I would like to hear what you think of walking meditation ? for example : walking a labyrinth, or a pentagram or circle inside or outside, dancing ( like the "wave" of Gabrielle Roth), Tai Chi etc ...In that form we use our body as well as our mind and we do have to pay attention to our breathing and stay focus.

Visualisation being a form of meditation, I wonder if trance journeys can also be seen as a form of (active) meditation ?
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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Badger Bob » 04 Feb 2010, 10:08

Hi D'Arzhur

Walking meditation is a long-established practice in the east as well as the west. Zen in particular encourages the use of walking meditation to break up long sessions of sitting, especially during retreat when the days can entail a long time sat still. In fact Zen encourages the meditative mindset that is cultivated on the cushion to be brought into everything; work, eating social interaction, the lot. In the west we have labyrinths and things such as the penitents last stretch of the pilgrimage to Canterbury which is often done on hands and knees while engaged in prayer. Dancing is one form of moving meditation that is hard to find outside the "Whirling Dervishes" of Sufi. A friend who belongs to a family of whirling dervishes once tried to explain the theological background, its basis is fascinatingly mystical but I am afraid that I know far too little to make a decent explanation.

Trance journeys, spirit journeys and other altered states are not quite the same as meditation although they are often referred to in similar terms by western writers. The aim of meditation is to still the mind in order to allow our true self to break through, a process of refining the clarity of our thought. Pathworking in this sense is a technique of active imagination, the detail comes from within. Trance work as far as I see it involves reducing or bypassing conscious thought and allowing external influences to shape our thinking, psychotropic substances, physical endurance, drumming, wilderness places or maybe even supernatural influences, spirits, ancestors etc. To me they work in different directions, meditation from the outside inwards and trance work from the inside outwards although I have very little direct experience of trance work. I'm sure there are some people around here who practice shamanic techniques who could say more about this area.

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Re: February Seminar - Meditation, A guide to the very basics

Postby Binky » 04 Feb 2010, 11:28

Hi Badger Bob,

The practice of meditation is something that I have tried on and off for some years, without a great deal of success. I did some looking around the internet for guides and help, but never found anything explained in a simple and yet profound way like it is here. I think that this should help to set me right. Small, easy sessions to start with! Now I just need to find some space again. :wink:

@D'Arzhur: The scent idea is a very good suggestion, one I hadn't really thought of; I have lots of incense already, so maybe it's time to use some.
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