“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
- Thich Nhat Hahn
By Unity author, Martha Guidici.
Welcome to the world of meditation—a fascinating world as varied as the people who meditate.
Charles Fillmore, cofounder of the Unity movement, emphasized that finding points of agreement between people was more important than concentrating on their differences.
From the formal prayer of the Catholic and Protestant to the disciplines of the yoga and Hindu, we find that people everywhere are meditating. The processes they use are different, the words are different, the sounds, of course, are very different, but they all have one goal—oneness with God. In the sense that prayer is the activity of aligning the mind with the mind of God and meditation is a way of bringing the mind into oneness with God, we could say that prayer and meditation are the same.
Meditation’s essential purpose is union or oneness with God. The word meditation has the same root as medeli or medical, which means to heal. From this we can see that the word meditation contains the essential idea of healing or wholeness, the act of becoming whole in mind and body and expressing wholeness in our lives.
It is this aspect of becoming a whole person mentally and physically that draws so many people into meditation. We achieve wholeness by changing the direction of our thinking from the without to the within and thereby return to an awareness of our oneness or union with God.
For a very long time we have been outer directed, so involved with the world that we have come to believe that we should only respond to things that occur in the outward side of life. It’s easy to believe that they are the reality. We seem to have lost sight of the true source, the true reality, which lies within ourselves in the place where we become one with Spirit.
Relaxing the mind and body, going within, finding our spiritual center, achieving a sense of oneness, and bringing that sense of oneness into the outer world—this is the process of meditation. This is the process that can put us back in touch with Spirit.
Guided and Non-guided Meditation
There are basically two primary ways of meditating guided and non-guided. The most familiar form to many is guided meditation. In guided meditation, the leader speaks positive, uplifting words or intones sound. As meditators, we let our minds flow with the sound or word in quiet repose to the one source, God.
The other type of general meditative process is the non-guided meditation. In non-guided meditation, we allow our thoughts to flow freely with one particular idea to reach new levels of awareness. This contemplation is a state where we receive new input about the word or idea without any sense of direction.
Another type of non-guided meditation is allowing our minds to flow freely without a thought or an idea being first introduced. After relaxing, we let all thoughts, ideas, impressions, colors, sounds—whatever emerges—flow freely without interruption. We are not concerned about what is flowing; we are observing the flow and letting it carry us to the silent place at the center of our beings, The Secret Place of the Most High. As we meditate more and more, we find that it is the natural action of our minds to flow to the center of our beings when they are not specifically directed.
In non-guided types of meditation, we often use symbols—words, ideas, pictures, or phrases—as starting points for directing our minds. When we flow with such symbols, our minds reveal new input from sources deep within us.
Steps of Meditation
Everyone who meditates uses some essential steps in preparing for the meditative process. The methods may vary, but they are the same in essential thought.
The first step is relaxation, then concentration, meditation, realization, and finally thanksgiving.
There are various forms of relaxation—breathing, exercise, imagery, and relaxation for meditation exercises. Concentration is focusing the mind. To concentrate, we can use words or we can use mental imagery or pictured imagery. During meditation, when we let our minds flow free, we can let them flow free on different ideas, symbols, colors, or spoken words. We can even sing affirmative thoughts. The next step is realization, or oneness in the quiet—the silence. This is the time of oneness with the Spirit within us. In Unity, we call this time the silence, but we have also named the process that achieves the silence, the silence.
At one time, I wanted to know how I could tell that I had reached the silence, and my prayer teacher told me that when there was just you and God and the mosquitoes, you had made a start. When there is just you and God, you have then become quiet. But when there is only God, you have entered the silence.
Finally, after every meditative experience, there is a time of thanksgiving or acceptance of that which has occurred in the silence. At the close of each experience, we take time to give thanks for that which has come to us in renewal, in healing, in guidance, and in a new awareness.
In all meditation, we do not strain; we do things which are easy and natural. We allow thoughts to come, feelings to come.
Do not be anxious or concerned about anything that comes to you in your meditation. If imagery comes, do not repress it. Observe and release it. If you have a hard time concentrating, don't strain or criticize yourself, but bring your wandering thoughts back to your spiritual center.
It is good to spend at least twenty minutes each day in meditation. You may want to begin your day with a short meditation and then take more time in the silence later on.
Do not try to meditate close to mealtimes or after eating, because the meditation process and the digestion process interfere with one another.
When you meditate, find a quiet place to sit in a comfortable position. Your spine should be erect but not stiff.
If you are sitting in a chair, place both of your feet flat on the floor. It is best not to cross your legs, for if you cross your legs, you may find after a time you become uncomfortable.
Where you place your hands is a matter of personal preference. For instance, there are people who like to sit with their hands in an upturned position so that it feels as if they are in a state of receptivity. However, there are those who like to sit with their hands turned down on their knees. Others place their hands on the arms of the chair. Others like to sit with the left hand in the right hand with the thumbs touching.
Close your eyes. It is easier to concentrate when you have quieted your mind, and this is most easily done by closing your eyes. After you have become a practiced meditator, you can have your eyes open or closed and it will make no difference.
Now that you are seated with your spine erect but not stiff, your feet on the floor, your hands in the most comfortable position, and your eyes closed, take a deep breath, and then let it out slowly.
Feel all tension flowing out with your breath, then resume normal breathing. Let your breathing go in and out very naturally, very slowly. Become aware of your breathing, and feel relaxed with it.
Take another deep breath. With this breath, relax even more as you exhale. Let all tension, all care flow out and away from you, then resume normal breathing as you continue relaxing your whole body. Use the process that is most helpful to you to further relax and begin your meditative experience.
Your meditation should be a creative experience. What works for one person may not work for another, and you alone will find that which is best for you.
There is much to be gained and much to be learned in the world of meditation including inner peace, freedom from stress, and a renewed joy for living. Be prepared now for a journey into a world that may be entirely new but a world that is creative and fruitful in many ways.