I have long considered myself a very committed student of personal and spiritual development, placing my spiritual growth as the number one priority in my life. At the beginning of my spiritual journey, it didn’t take long to realize that everyone I spoke to and everything I read said you cannot grow spiritually unless you meditate. You have to meditate.
So of course, I didn’t meditate.
It was too hard. I didn’t have enough time. It just wasn’t my style. Really, do Ihave to meditate? The truth is, I don’t want to do anything that someone tells me I have to do.
I spent a fair amount of time beating myself up for not being the most accomplished meditator on the planet. You know, the one who faithfully sits twice a day for at least 30 minutes, and revels in ten day silent meditation retreats?
Then one day one of my teachers told me she considered herself “meditationally challenged.” I laughed out loud in relief. Maybe there was hope for me yet???
Now, I’m not knocking meditation. The classic sitting meditation is an excellent tool for spiritual development, but after years of battling perfectionism and stubborn rebellion, I’ve realized its not the only tool in the box. Some people take to sitting meditation like a duck takes to water, while others struggle for years with the practice, and in my humble opinion, it doesn’t mean the former is necessarily the more spiritually developed.
The goal of meditation (as I understand it) is to quiet the mind, become more present in the moment, more grounded in the body, and to connect with the mystery of our spiritual essence. Not just for the time you spend on the cushion, but throughout the day.
In my struggle with sitting meditation, I have learned that if you have difficulty committing to a regular meditation practice, you can try committing to a regular spiritual practice. One that incorporates various other contemplative activities, which in some cases achieve the same results and in other cases act as stepping stones that eventually prepare and support us in adopting a more successful sitting meditation practice. Here are some of my favorite practices:
1. Write. Writing offers so many gifts. Many times I begin journalling about anything that is on my mind, and mid-way through I find I am writing things I didn’t even know I was thinking! Guidance comes through unexpectedly when you give yourself to your writing. Committing to write from the heart in this blog every two weeks has taught me to pay attention and explore just what it is that matters to me, what is stirring in my soul, what I am struggling with, and what makes my heart sing. There are many ways to use writing as a spiritual practice — find the one that works best for you. The Pathwork teaches a spiritual journaling practice called “Daily Review,” which is a wonderful way to discover unconscious patterns, misconceptions, and defenses. If you haven’t signed up to receive my newsletter, I invite you to sign up today, and receive a free gift that will explain the practice of Daily Review as you search for patterns that may be limiting your fulfillment.
2. Read. Carving out space in your day to read your favorite spiritual literature or poetry can be a gateway into a contemplative space, if you read slowly and take time to pause and allow the words to sink deeply into your inner being. Choose something that opens your heart and expands your consciousness. There are any number of great spiritual teachers that have authored books, and the Pathwork Lectures are an excellent source of transformative wisdom. They are available for free online here.
3. Walk. Locate the nearest Labyrinth in your community and engage in this ancient walking meditation practice that is an out-picturing of the inner spiritual journey you walk in your everyday life. Or, take a walk in the woods at a local park, consciously bringing your presence and attention to the sights, the sounds, and the smells. Slow down. Unwind. Breathe.
4. Float. Floatation tanks are specially designed tanks that are filled with about a foot of salt water warmed to body temperature so that you float effortlessly in a quiet, dark space, and with the lack of sensory stimulation your brain naturally becomes quiet. You can experience states of presence that generally takes weeks or months of dedicated meditation to achieve. It’s the most relaxing, restful hour and a half I’ve ever experienced, and it offers a taste of a deep meditative state that can encourage and support a sitting meditation practice. My favorite center is AquaFloat in Charlottesville, Va. See if your area has a floatation center, and give yourself this precious gift of serenity.
5. Dance. Put your favorite music on in your home when no one is watching and it doesn’t matter what you look like. Instead of dancing as usual, allow the music to dance you. Tune into your body, and see how it wants to move. Allow any emotions that arise and put them into the dance. When you finish, take a few moments to be still and bring your attention to the sensations in your body.
6. Create. Express your inner artist. Try your hand at painting, spend some time with a musical instrument, try contemplative photography. How about coloring? Adult coloring books are the latest fad, as they induce relaxation while invoking creativity and invite the inner child to come out and play. Whatever your favorite medium, indulge yourself. And remember, its the process, not the product that counts.
7. Exercise. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, swimming, and even running can bring you into the “zone.” The conscious attention you bring to the practice is important. How many calories you burn, how you look in your workout clothes, or how toned your body is isn’t the point. Becoming present to your body and your breath, the life force energy moving through you, and releasing tension and blocks in the body IS the point.
8. Get Outside. I don’t know anything that brings me more into the present moment than participating in an enjoyable activity in Nature. What’s your favorite? Whether its hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, sailing, or surfing, choose an activity that allows the concerns of everyday life to just melt away. Take in the grounding, healing energy that Nature so generously offers.
I am sure you can think of many more activities that when practiced consciously and intentionally quiet the mind, enliven the body, and spark the spirit. If you are “meditationally challenged” like myself, consider dedicating a certain amount of time each day or each week to engage in any number of these practices. One day you may read, another day you may write. Or you may combine several of these activities on any given day. You may find that eventually, you might actually WANT to include sitting meditation. When it is not the only form of spiritual practice you HAVE to engage in, but rather one of many options you CHOOSE to enjoy, you might find yourself with less resistance and more ability to sit quietly than you ever dreamed!
Do you have a unique way of entering a contemplative state of mind? Share your favorite spiritual practices in the comments, and help us all expand our possibilities!