I’ve already blogged about Grounding/Centering and Shielding, and while those are prerequisites to journeywork, they are not required for the following short meditation exercises. These are also a prerequisite for more complicated forms of meditation, but they are designed to be done basically anywhere with anything, though I’ll be using two specific examples.
Open Attention: A Cup of Tea
I call this a tea meditation because I like tea, but you can do it with any flavored beverage (or soup, or water if you can tell what water tastes like, but it works better with flavor).
First, prepare your beverage to your taste, and an appropriate drinking temperature, and find a mostly quiet and calm place to sit. It doesn’t need to be perfectly silent and it’s probably better for your later progress if it isn’t, but a too-distracting environment isn’t great, either.
Once you’re ready, what you’re going to do is hold your beverage, and begin to notice EVERYTHING. Drop your attention out of your head and really notice everything in your body, first. What can you feel? Do you have aches and pains, discomfort? Allow yourself to move slowly if a change of posture might relieve those, and really feel the sensations of movement, each muscle tensing and relaxing. Can you feel your clothing? Your hair? Any jewelry or other adornments? Can you feel the ground, or what you’re sitting on? What about sunlight, or air currents? What do you see? Without moving your head around too much, what is nearby? You’ve probably already noticed large objects, but what about the tiny details? Imperfections in paint or tile if you’re inside? Slightly wilted leaves outside? Really try to take in all the details, as though you’re trying to memorize the scene. But don’t feel pressured, there’s no quiz. The goal is simple awareness. Can you take in visual detail and still remain aware of the tactile sensations we went over earlier? On top of that, can you add smells? Humans have a pretty good sense of smell, on average, we just don’t pay as much attention to it as our canine friends do. But now that you are paying attention, what can you smell? Your beverage, probably. But what else? Can you smell yourself? Are there other ambient odors? Once you think you’ve become aware of the smells near you, take a moment to really focus on your beverage. Notice how the smell changes, gets stronger, as you lift it up to your face. Take a drink, and see how much you can taste. What ingredients are in your beverage? What sort of notes can you detect? Can you catalog them while not losing awareness of your other senses? Swallow and then return to trying to integrate all sensory input, and just letting it flow in and through you. Catalog it, but don’t judge what you notice, and don’t judge yourself for noticing or for losing focus. If you lose focus, just take another sip and calmly return to cataloging, until you’ve hit your time goal.
Then slowly return to normal awareness. I recommend finishing the beverage if you have not, and then perhaps having a little snack or doing a little physical movement – shaking yourself out, or a couple of stretches, maybe – to bring yourself back into mundane consciousness.
Focused Attention: A Single Candle
First, find a candle and a flat and safe place to set it down to burn. A jar candles on a wood table would be perfect. Taper candles and candle holders might work if there’s nothing that may knock it over and if there’s nothing flammable it can fall on. It will work best if the area you’re using has a calm and mostly quiet. It doesn’t need to be perfectly silent and it’s probably better for your later progress if it isn’t, but a too-distracting environment isn’t great, either. If there’s too much intermittent noise, try headphones and some kind of white noise. (Check out these generators.)
Once you’re set up, light the candle, and focus on the flame. As you do so, begin to count your breaths. Count slowly as you inhale, and then as you hold briefly, and then as you exhale, and briefly hold again. It may take you a little bit of trial and error to figure out what counts work best for you, but many people suggest square breathing, where each portion is a count of four. 1, 2, 3, 4, in; 1, 2, 3, 4, hold in; 1, 2, 3, 4, out; 1, 2, 3, 4, hold out. I personally find that a count of 7 in, 3 hold, 7 out, 3 hold works better for me to shift my state of consciousness, so feel free to experiment. Just keep focusing on the candle as you breathe.
If your mind starts to wander or you lose count in your breaths, just gently come back into the pattern. If you find that the candle flame is not enough to occupy your mind, consider adding a short phrase that you repeat either quietly in your head, or with every exhale. Try to maintain this focus, but do not be hard on yourself for losing focus. Just keep practicing.
If it becomes too difficult to continue focusing, or if you have reached the end of your target meditation length, thank the candle for its help and put it out. Slowly return to normal breathing and normal awareness. You may need to get up and stretch and have a snack to accomplish that.
Practice makes Perfect!
These are short, and doing them just once isn’t really going to help you. Instead, it’s best to build a practice around both. Doing both of them (at different times of day, not back-to-back) every day for three weeks would be ideal, and you’d notice a lot of progress in that time. However, that’s not something I’d probably manage without dropping some of the other balls I’m juggling, and I know that’s not realistic for some of you, either. So instead, I suggest doing either of them 5 times a week for four weeks, instead. Some days you can do two to make up for a missed day, but don’t do more than two in a day, and don’t go more than three days in a row without doing one exercise, if you can help it. If you can’t avoid that, you may want to continue for an extra week at the end of your month.
If you find as you go along that you can sit for longer than the 5 minutes, by all means do so! Ideally as you get more comfortable with these and the mental state begins to come naturally, you will be able to sit in it for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. That may take another few weeks, though after you feel more solid in your practice you can back off to doing it just a couple times a week without losing progress. More practice still means faster progress, however!
I also suggest journaling the experience, even if it’s just a couple of brief words in a note on your phone: “7/11/19. Candle meditation. Went well.” Or “7/12/19. Coffee meditation. Couldn’t keep focus.” It will be clearer to you that you’re making progress, and you won’t have try to count how many times you managed already this week.