This year I am doing a meditation every day between samhain and the winter solstice. People use the word meditation to mean different things, but I’m using it to mean a method for quieting the mind and getting in touch with deeper levels. There are many different meditation practices around and usually they are not complicated or difficult to take up, but they do need regular practice for maximum effect.
I think meditation is particularly appropriate for this time of year, as the winter solstice is all about stillness and silence – the quiet turning point of the year. I remember a few years ago spending the winter solstice evening with friends outside by an old yew tree. It was a very cold, frosty night but the stars shone clear above us. We sat in silence in the dark as the world turned under us. I’m hoping that meditating will help prepare me to enter more completely into the silence of the solstice.
The meditation that I am starting with is quite simple, but I am describing it here in detail so that you can try it if you like. If you decide to meditate regularly then I think it would be a good idea to find an experienced meditator to talk to about your practice.
This is what I do:
Step 1: Sit in a way that is comfortable and balanced. For me this means sitting in a chair with my feet flat on the ground and my hands flat on my thighs. My back is straight so that the weight of my upper body is balanced. Sitting properly allows the body to relax during the meditation. I sometimes start the process off by stretching my neck and back as if a string was pulling the back of my head up into the air, then letting it all settle back into a balanced posture. During the rest of the meditation, I might sometimes notice a tension in the body, and I try and let it go. Before I start the meditation I close my eyes, but you can just lower them if you prefer, and gaze gently at the floor in front of you.
Step 2: Place the attention on each of the five senses in turn. In this part of the meditation, spend a few minutes with each sense, paying attention to what you are sensing and trying to extend the sense as much as you can.
Start with touch: you can feel the chair under you, the clothes on your skin, and perhaps the air moving against your face. Just pay attention to touch. If your mind wanders off into thoughts or daydreams, just come back to awareness of touch. Try to extend your sense of touch to the lightest and most subtle of touches.
After touch, put your attention on hearing. Sounds may come from a long way off, or you may hear sounds from within your own body. Try to extend your hearing to the quietest, most distant sounds. If you find yourself being distracted – for example, thinking about what might be making a sound – then just return to awareness of the sounds themselves.
After hearing, put your attention on the sense of taste. Just be aware of any sensation in your mouth, perhaps faint. Then move on to the sense of smell. As with taste, the sensations are often subtle and faint, but persevere.
Finally, put your attention on sight. I usually do this with my eyes still closed, and I just watch the patterns of colours seen by my closed eyes. You can also do it with your eyes open, but be careful to just gaze without getting drawn in to what you see. As before, if your mind moves away into thoughts and dreams, feelings and images then just remember what you are doing and settle back into what your eyes are seeing.
Step 3: After spending maybe five to ten minutes on the senses, put your attention on to your breathing. Just be aware of the breath rising and falling as you breathe in and out. Don’t interfere with your breathing or try to control it, but just remain aware of it. As before, you mind will wander, but every time you find it has, go back to watching the breath. Try to do this for maybe ten to twenty minutes.
Step 4: When you are ready, stop the meditation. Open your eyes and re-connect with your surroundings. Pay attention to where you are.
Meditating is a long term project. You might find that a single period of meditation is enjoyable, calming and relaxing, or you might find it frustrating and difficult. In the end, this doesn’t matter – the real fruits of meditation come in the long term.