On this blog I write musings about meditation and mindfulness that are inspired by my personal practice. My goals are to connect with others who have similar experiences and also inspire those who do not have a regular practice. I completely understand, though, that adding one more thing to the growing list of to-do’s might be a daunting task for some. In fact, I felt this exact same way for years! One might feel that if she begins meditating on a regular basis she will need to confront difficult memories or give up certain aspects of her life that she enjoys. Possibly, the reader believes that he is not “cut out” to be a meditator, that it requires a particular personality or he believes that one must naturally have a calm mind. Perhaps there are, like in my community, those who associate meditation with eastern religion and do not see it merging with their own Judeo-Christian belief system.
These, my friends, are falsehoods. I wish desperately to share with you the truth of a regular meditation practice. But first, please let me share a few lines from The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder and Delight (this particular passage translated by Dr. Lorin Roche.) These sutras formed out of ancient Hindu culture, but are at the core simply 112 ways to meditate, structured as a conversation between Shiva and Shakti (divine lovers who represent the balanced union between divine masculine and divine feminine). Regardless of religious belief or spiritual background, the sutras can provide guidance on how to calm and focus the mind in meditation.
Banter Verses 1-11
One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava…
I have been wondering…
I have been listening to the hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet I am still curious.
What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness
Shimmering everywhere within it?
I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.
What are these energies
Undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?
And this “matter” out of which our forms are made –
What are these dancing particles
Of condensed radiance?
What is this power we call Life,
Appearing as the play of flesh and breath?
How may I know this mystery and enter it more deeply?
My attention is enthralled by a myriad of forms,
Innumerable individual entities everywhere,
Flashing into existence and fading away again.
Lead me into the wholeness beyond all these parts.
Do me a favor, my love.
Let me rest in your embrace.
Refresh me with the elixir of your wisdom.
Ravish me with your truth.
Beloved, your questions
Touch the heart of wonder,
The path of intimacy with all life –
Weaving together body and soul.
Sex and spirit, individuality and universality.
This is my Cave of Secrets.
Your inquiry has led you here.
I feel your fingers on my pulse.
Come with me.
Leave behind everything you know.
The teachings about me are
A light show put on by the celestial musicians,
As beautiful and insubstantial as clouds.
Elaborate rituals and garish images
May be useful in meditation when your mind is whirling with thoughts
Of sex, money, and power, wandering like and elephant in heat.
Go ahead and use these tools, yet know,
Beating drums and blaring trumpets
Cannot summon the One who is already present.
If you are familiar with Songs of Songs by Solomon you might see a remarkable similarity between these sutras and the passionate exchange between the lover and beloved in the Jewish text (who represent our spiritual relationship with Divine Wisdom, according to Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault.) For centuries, people have been trying to figure out ways to rise above the anxiety and pain of this world. Many of all faiths, including Christianity (think: Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich, or Jesus, himself), found the answer in quieting the mind through meditation and prayer.
While meditation is at its core a spiritual practice because it taps into a state beyond our active minds, it is not tethered to a particular religious practice or any religion at all. Doctors across the spectrum are seeing real benefits to mindfulness meditation (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR ) and are recommending the practice in lieu of, or in conjunction with, prescription medication.
What I want to offer my readers (after this long introduction) is an opportunity to read the thoughts of other meditation practitioners. You will see how much personal experience can vary. Hopefully learning of their transformations will inspire you to try it out.
SARAH REED: LIFESTYLE and EMPOWERMENT COACH
While leading individuals to discover their best selves, Sarah realized she needed to apply meditation practices in her own life to counter daily stress. A business owner, interior designer, Pilates instructor, wife, creative, and one who is inspired by the world around her, Sarah jumps into life with enthusiasm. She wants to inspire others to do the same. On her website she writes:
Since 2003, I have worked 1:1 with clients to renew their bodies and personal spaces, rejuvenate their lives, and upgrade their lifestyles. In addition to in-person intensives, I’ve created a signature 1:1 coaching program which allows me to take these teachings online, along with a mastermind group for continued support and accountability. I teach concepts gleaned from my multi-passionate background to clients who are ready to take a leap, elevate their goals, and up-level their lifestyles.
How long have you practiced meditation?
About 6 months as meditation in the morning. Approximately 4 months ago I started back at church and also began implementing prayer throughout my day.
How often and for how long do you try to meditate?
Daily 10-20 minutes as part of my morning routine.
What inspired you to begin meditating?
I work way too much and got pretty sick in December 2016. I was looking for ways to reduce/manage stress.
What does meditation mean to you?
Silence, breathing. If I’m not using a guided app like Calm or a Deepak Chopra YouTube video, I use a mantra to repeat during the inhale/exhale cycle.
What does your practice “look like?” What kind of meditation do you like best (e.g. following breath, walking meditation)?
Seated in a quiet area. I don’t have kids, but I do have a dog, so if I get on the floor, I need to shut the door or else he thinks it’s play time. Depending on the whereabouts of my husband, I may be up in our bedroom or down in my basement gym. If weather permits, I’ll go out onto our deck. I do close my eyes to meditate. I count my breath in 4 counts and out 4 counts.
Do you have a special place you go to meditate? Describe it, please. If not, what are the most welcoming spaces for you to practice meditation?
I don’t have a dedicated spot. I like to feel comfortable meditating anywhere I can. I’ve done it at the airport even!
How does meditation impact your life? What are the benefits you see in your life from meditation?
Ask my husband for sure: I am not nearly as angry as I used to be (I’m a Taurus….). I also handle work “fires” with a lot more patience. My up/down mood roller coaster is much more gentle now….I’m just more mindful of other mental/emotional habits that shape my day. I’m much better at noticing self-limiting beliefs, negative thoughts about myself or judgement on others, and what thoughts truly serve me, and which do not. It is immeasurably easier to let shit go now that I know what I NEED to handle, and what just isn’t my problem.
What kind of struggles do you face in maintaining a meditation practice?
Sometimes I feel like I’m not “in” it which can be frustrating. Recently I’ve realized that it’s a practice and not a finite project, so I’ve been able to let go of that frustration. If I’m just too distracted, I’ll come out of the meditation and jot down my to-do list like a brain dump. If I have time to go back to my meditation, I will.
Are there particular teachers or books (or other resources) you found that help you?
What would you say to someone who is interested in meditation but is nervous about starting a regular practice?
Just breathe. Then examine what makes you nervous about breathing. Let’s handle what comes up one by one. Because really, it’s just breathing. The sky isn’t going to fall and the world isn’t going to stop spinning.
Are there any other thoughts you would like to add about how meditation affects your life?
My only regret is that I didn’t truly start meditating much earlier. I could have avoided a whole heap of BS if I had.
You can learn more about Sarah and her work on her website.
Embracing the Diving Feminine: Finding God through the Ecstacy of Physical Love – The Song of Songs Annotated and Explained. Translation & Annotation by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Foreward by Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2014).