To meditate, begin with your physical posture. Sit down (chair, cushion on the floor, or meditation bench). Keep your back straight. Relaxed and alert, sit still. Let go of any points of tension in your shoulders and face especially. Close your eyes lightly.
Then silently, interiorly and without moving your lips or tongue, begin to repeat a single word or phrase, sacred in your own faith tradition. Recommended for the Christian meditator is the Aramaic prayer phrase found in Scripture: maranatha. Repeat it faithfully. Say it gently without force or impatience.
Four equal syllables: ma-ra-na-tha. Say it throughout the meditation period.
When you are distracted by thoughts, words or images drop the distraction and return to your mantra, from beginning to end. Let go of all your thoughts. Meditation is not what you think. Aim at first to meditate for twenty minutes, twice a day—morning and evening, as far as possible. Gradually you can increase to thirty minutes. Time the session with a watch or timer.
Do the best you can. Failure teaches us wisdom. Let go of perfectionism and evaluation and instead be as faithful to the practice as you can be. Meditating with others on a regular basis will help you develop your daily practice.
Like everything new, meditation can seem strange at first. Allow time in your day to meditate and allow time to feel familiar with the experience. One day you will see how important meditation is to the quality of the meaning of your life—each day. For now, and the next six weeks, just do it. Do the best you can (not less than your best), to meditate twice a day for twenty minutes. If you can only do it for five or ten minutes, start there. If you can only do it once a day, start there. But begin.
And remember you are in solitude when you meditate—only you can do it—but you are never less alone. Try the best place to do it—bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom. Try the best time of the morning and evening. Begin.
Engaging Our Senses
The English poet George Herbert has been called the poet of the inner weather. Being English, he could talk a lot about the weather and was finely attuned to its lesser and greater variations: “After so many deaths I live and write / I once more smell the dew and rain / And relish versing.”
Our five senses and physical life are intricately woven into our spiritual seasons. When our spiritual life is clouded by negative states of mind or recurrent patterns that keep us self-absorbed, our senses too lose their edge. We feel dull, depressed and unengaged with the world and all its relationships, in which we live and breathe. But when we are spiritually awake, our senses pick up the vitality of life and we can smell, see, touch, hear and taste—whether it is ravishing or disgusting, at least we will sense it fully for what it is. The sensual part of our consciousness needs the spiritual and the spiritual needs the sensual.
When they are balanced they merge and form a single, perfect language and we experience wholeness.
So, during Lent, consider the two practices in the light of what you are sensing. Don’t become too conceptual, too idealized about them. Each day you can evaluate how you have been doing but with detachment and humor rather than a judgmental attitude.
The morning and evening meditations calibrate all this in a way that is natural and spontaneous. Through them, you lose yourself wholly and find yourself in your wholeness. You don’t have to keep looking under the hood of the car to examine the engine. You will feel that the car (rather like the ego) is running properly and getting you where you are going.
Laurence Freeman, OSB, is a Benedictine monk and the spiritual guide and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, a contemporary, ecumenical, contemplative community. Before entering monastic life, Laurence had experience with the United Nations, in banking and in journalism. He is the author of Sensing God: Learning to Meditate During Lent (Franciscan Media).