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Some Meditation Basics

SOME MEDITATION BASICS

 

Both of us want to comment on this important means of preparing for mediumship. Charlie’s section is included first.

“Meditation” refers to a variety of techniques for centering, relaxing, and quieting the mind (and body). Do yourself a favor and start meditating today and everyday for the rest of your life (if you can). It will probably help you with your general feelings of health and well-being, especially if you have a stressful lifestyle. If it makes you a better spirit medium or intuitive person (and it probably will if you let it), this is just a bonus.

When we teach people to do mediumship and other intuitive work, we always begin by teaching people to meditate as a matter of preconditioning from the beginning of the course on. This is another example of holism: mediumship works better and is more meaningful when it is congruent with the rest of your physical/emotional/spiritual health.

Of course we will give you some specific guidance below for how to meditate, and there are many other books and websites you can consult for help in meditating. You might like to take a class.

But first, let us share with you some general observations from our experiences teaching meditation in classes. A significant minority of people who have never done it before have trouble getting over the first hurdle of anxiety. “I can’t meditate because I’m too anxious/stressed out.” This is a Catch 22. Meditation is a form of relaxation, but some people aren’t relaxed enough to meditate.

One of the main causes of this anxiety is thinking, “I’m not doing it right,” or “Nothing is happening.” Therefore, it is essential to begin with low expectations and a tolerance for variety of method and experience.

Tell yourself, “Whatever I do when I meditate is OK.” Conceivably you could be doing it better, but anything you do is OK. Just sitting still and closing your eyes for two minutes is better than no meditation at all.

We have students journal about their meditation experience every day. What if you miss a day; is it the end of the world?  (No.) Don’t make meditation an inflexible ritual and a chore. Charlie admits that he is a very irregular meditator. However, he likes to meditate spontaneously, e.g. In the doctor’s office waiting room. He also does a sort of walking meditation on five-mile walks. But frankly he is not a dedicated, twice-a-day meditator. If he were, he’d probably be better off, but what he does do is a lot better than nothing.

One thing is certain: by the end of the semester the majority of our students comment (often rave) about how much benefit they are getting out of meditation. Several people over the years have even said that without the meditation we taught them they would have dropped out of school due to stress and other personal problems.

Another thing we’ve noticed is how much variety there is in meditation style preferences. We teach people several different techniques, and by the end people are choosing their favorite methods.

In short: don’t expect too much right away, fake it until you make it, whatever meditation you do is better than none, and tailor your method to suit yourself. If you stick with it, eventually you’ll be able to drop into a meditative state rather easily, and it will be the best free health benefit you ever got.

 

Now for Penelope’s statement.

 

I believe that meditation is essential to the development of mediumship ability. Our minds must be still in order for us to hear “Spirit” think at us. Initially I meditated for the sake of health (clearing the mind and body). I needed to learn to stop the constant mind chatter, learn to witness my mind and body (yet observe that I was more than them), and to use my breath to change my physical state to that of relaxation.

There are many ways to learn to meditate. For now let’s start with some basic exercises that we teach new students, not attempting to cover the topic fully. Techniques for meditating are most commonly taught in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. One need not embrace their spiritual tenets, however, in order to use the process. Some churches, including Quaker, Unity, Unitarian and Spiritualist, include meditation in their services. Sometimes this is guided visualization rather than entering the silence.

Here is a shopping bag full of methods. They are not in a particular order. Try some, then choose one to master through practice. We as a society are unaccustomed to doing nothing. We tend to think, “Don’t just sit there; do something.” To begin a meditation practice it is useful to try on the idea, “What I am going to do for the next 15 minutes is BE.” After meditation you can pick your other habits and beliefs back up again as you wish.

Exercise 1: Diaphragmatic Breathing. Let’s begin with diaphragmatic breathing. When infants breathe, they naturally perform diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm lowers with the inhalation and rises with the exhalation. To practice this: lie on your back and place a lightweight book onto your abdomen. Now breathing through your nose, fill up with air, and your abdomen will rise as if you were filling a balloon with air. Next let go and let the air out, again through your nose. Fill up to the count of four, and exhale to the count of four. In our culture many people suck the gut in when they think, “inhale,” so we are choosing the words “fill up” instead.

This should be done to your easy capacity; vary the length from four seconds in and four seconds out to a pace that fits you (1 and 2 and 3 and 4, now exhale the same amount of time). As we are beginning, try not to pause between the inhalation and exhalation. I imagine a figure eight in my mind and allow the breath to make the loops without a pause in the center. Perhaps you can focus your attention at the base of your nostrils and notice that the air is cool as you fill up and warmer as you exhale. Slowly repeat this diaphragmatic breath, and observe the book on your belly as it rises and falls.

Exercise 2: Breath Meditation. In 1980 I learned a simple meditation technique from Swami Rama at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA. It has served me well for over twenty years. It can be used sitting, walking or slowly jogging.

Find a comfortable position in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or on one or more pillows or blankets, where you can keep your spine straight and relieve any pressure on your legs by adding some height. If no one is around, take a moment and use a yoga technique: lift/pull each buttock to the side so you are sitting evenly and centered on your sitting bones. This will relieve pressure on the lower back and keep the back muscles comfortable. Become aware of your spine and straighten it. It may be helpful to imagine a vertical string running from your tailbone up through the top of your head. Become aware of your breathing; just observe it for a minute or two. Now notice your body and see if you are holding tension. Take some time to visualize the tightness or stress falling away, and allow each part of your body to relax and become comfortable. Imagine breathing to each place of blocked energy, and the air going through it as tension arises and passes away.

Keep your belly soft and breathe through your nose; fill up (inhale slowly) to the count of four and exhale to the count of four. Instead of counting with numbers, Swami Rama taught us to utilize the sound “So” as you inhale and “Hum” as you exhale. Sounds used in this fashion are called “mantras”. The Sanskrit words So-Hum mean: “I am – that I am.” I sing them in my mind (“so—, hum—, so—, hum—”). When your mind begins to think (our minds do that!), simply say “oops”, or snap your finger and bring your attention back to “so—, hum—”.

At the base of your nose notice the coolness as you bring air in and the warmth as you exhale. Imagine that you are filling up your torso like a balloon as you inhale, and observe your stomach/abdomen collapse as the breath flows out. Keep your belly soft and be conscious of the fact that some people raise their shoulders as they inhale, and this sets up the body system for a fight-or-flight response instead of a relaxation response. Allow the shoulders to relax and drop. Create a smooth transition between the in-breath and the out-breath; do not pause.

Occasionally our students are so wound up or energetic that sitting still for 10 to 20 minutes feels like torture, rather than pleasant or relaxing. Therefore, at least to begin with, a good alternative procedure is to walk or jog to the sounds/count of “so—, hum—”. As you breathe in and out through your nostrils, pace your steps to the count. Four steps to “so”, then four steps to “hum”. Again feel free to adapt this count to your comfortable lung capacity. Over time the practice will expand your ability. If/when you need more oxygen and begin to breathe through your mouth or lift your shoulders to take in more air, slow your pace and perhaps shorten the length of each inhalation and exhalation. When your mind begins to think about the sights around you or wanders in another direction, simply stop and begin the mantra. No thought is the goal.

The intention of the sitting or walking meditation is conscious awareness of your body and breath, and learning to breathe in a form that relaxes and calms your physiology instead of revving you up. Most people are surprised to observe how busy their minds are even when they are not speaking or listening to others!  With these intentions you will be able to learn to discipline the mind naturally, so that you can be still and hear the still small voice inside of you. You may discover that you also sense or hear communication with other spirits.

Perhaps you are old enough to remember the original “Karate Kid” movies. The teacher had the student perform the movements of waxing the floor in a circular motion and painting the fence with an up-and-down motion. The student thought that he was being exploited for his labor, not to learn karate. However, after many hours of repeating the movements, he could automatically do the karate moves.

 

This is similar to these meditation techniques. The techniques are not an end in themselves. This breath meditation practice is useful for people with asthma and anxiety or depression disorders. For myself, my intentions are to still the mind, to experience serenity and joy, to know my soul and the one mind, and to be a receptive vessel for communication with Spirit. In my experience you will have “arrived” (a Western concept, because this is about the process instead of a destination) when you have a moment of no thought, no awareness of your body or the external world. I consider that holy instant to be a spiritual paradox of “nothing” where I am one with “everything”.

Exercise 3: A Mantra Meditation. While the above exercise used a mantra, the focus of the technique was on the breath. The following meditation exercise will be in the form taught by TM (Transcendental Meditation[i]) and by Hubert Benson in The Relaxation Response[ii]. With this meditation you will first relax your body. Then observe your breath and allow it to flow deeper and lower as you breathe diaphragmatically. After awareness of your breath let that awareness go and just breathe. We will start the process with a visual metaphor.

Make a mental picture of a lake where the weather of the outer world is creating wind and waves and noise. Then imagine you are floating down near the bottom of the lake and sensing how quiet and still it is. The turmoil above still rages, but you are in the peace and quiet. At the lake bottom there is fine sand, but you are floating a few feet above it, and the water is crystal clear. If you touched the bottom of the lake, the sand would be stirred up, and the water would no longer be clear.

In a similar way imagine that the crown of your head is the surface of the lake. You can drop a mantra into it from above and allow the sound to float down through your consciousness like a leaf sinking through clear water. When it touches the bottom it is analogous to thoughts from your other-than-conscious mind arising to your consciousness. The mind is no longer clear. At this point drop the sound of the mantra into your mind again.

There are many mantras; each contains a characteristic that you will be developing as you use it. I would suggest the sound OM (sounds like home, shalom) or AH (sounds like God, Jehovah, Allah). Some meditators also use the sound of creation, AHHH, in the morning to create the state of being they choose; and then at night use the sound of gratitude, OM, to give thanks for all of the good received. (To gain further insight and instruction about these two mantras look to Wayne Dyer’s The Secrets to Manifesting Your Destiny[iii] cassette tape set.)

Mentally say a mantra at a rate that is comfortable to you; this can be repeating it every few seconds or at longer intervals of a few minutes. Imagine it floating deeper into your mind. When you become aware of thought or sensation, let it arise and pass away, then again drop in the sound or the mantra. Your mind can hold only one thought at a time. If I suggest that you do not think of black panthers, you will certainly think of them! Minds think, and any mantra will interrupt the mind’s incessant chatter because you can only hold the one thought at a time.

The important point is a commitment to doing it consistently. I recommend twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes before dinner. Start with the amount of time you are comfortable sitting and work up to the twenty minutes. When possible create a time and a space where when you go there, you meditate. This will create a habitual response. Simply notice how your mind and body are ready to eat when you sit down at the table, or sleep when you close your eyes in bed. For that reason I suggest you sit instead of lie down to meditate!  Some people like to create “sacred space” with devotional items and beautiful, colorful things: candles, crystals, flowers, an altar, etc. That’s great if it makes you want to sit there! I have a dedicated meditation place for myself; yet it is also very important to me that I can now meditate anywhere and anytime, for all space is holy ground.

Exercise 4: Vipassana Meditation. Unlike the above, this approach to meditating I am unable to describe in a form that could lead you through it. I have appreciated the opportunity to practice this form during ten days of silence and meditation at the Vipassana Center in Massachusetts. Centers are also available in other parts of the country. Here in Lily Dale I know of three mediums besides myself who use this method to clear the mind and to restore equanimity and harmony in their lives. Vipassana can be taught without the full ten days, though that is a wonderful gift to give yourself in your spiritual quest.

In the Buddhist tradition you go the first time as their guest and give a donation according to your ability. This is significant because while some systems such as TM have student rates and lowered rates for the unemployed, their cost is still prohibitive to many.

        A thumbnail sketch of my first experience is that for the first three days we sat in silence, and I observed my breath. I did not attempt to change or control it. The process brings forth heightened awareness. Then I scanned my body head to toe, front to back in cubic centimeters all day for the next seven days. I was told that when my attention wandered I could simply let the thought arise and pass away. For about twelve hours a day in sitting and walking meditations I watched my thought, followed my breath, paid attention to the sensations on my body and noticed the meanings I had attached to them.

I gained great freedom within only my first ten-day session! (Of course I continue this practice; it is not a “one-shot cure.”) In the mid-eighties I had been working with a psychotherapist dealing with post-traumatic stress. There were intense emotions tied to past events that kept surfacing and tossing me off center. I went to Vipassana meditation to learn to remain equanimous. It works.

Until then I would other-than-consciously replay events or emotions in my mind’s eye and create fear, loss or anger all over again. I did not know a method to create a freedom of choice. At the training we were told to simply let the thought, feeling, discomfort or sensation arise and pass away. Then go back to scanning the body. (This is very similar to the “touching into the sand at the bottom of the lake” metaphor; our nervous system responds to our stored unconscious coming to awareness; just let it go, and allow it to be healed.) I had the impression that the Buddha became a being of light and ascended by scanning the body, releasing all cellular memory where attachment to the past, to outcomes, to judging was stored.

It must be obvious that I consider some form of meditation, or a natural capacity to have a quiet mind and to be present only to the now moment, necessary to effective use of the psychic senses, intuition and mediumship. Especially with mediumship there often appear to be discarnate spirits trying to impress my mind with concepts and feelings. In my experience I am a better “receiver” or medium without the static of my personal body and mind (feeling and thinking) creating interference. And I marvel and rejoice at the gift Vipassana gives of the capacity to remain equanimous no matter what!

I hasten to add that I can do mediumship without meditating before I begin. Meditation is not a requirement; it is my choice. I have even met mediums who do not meditate at all; in fact they relax by drinking, and they smoke cigarettes when giving messages! A large percentage of mediums smoke, it appears. I think it may be because it helps the person to stay grounded, and it filters out some psychic impressions so they are not overstimulated. I have that impression, but no real evidence. Suffice it to say that I believe that meditation is the most important tool for developing mediumship.

 
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