Meditation and me have a long history. This is mainly about me not being very good at it. Meditation has always seemed like a great idea – but for other people. Someone like me, who can’t sit down for more than a few seconds without getting up to put an ornament straight or finding something else to do with my hands, was always doomed to failure.
Then, I discovered Anthony de Mello. More to the point, I discovered Anthony de Mello’s wonderful book Sadhana – A Way to God. The subtitle of this book is ‘Christian Exercises in Eastern Form’. The exercises themselves range from contemplation to guided fantasies through to devotion. The one that always sticks in my mind is ‘Fantasy on the Corpse’. I have a fascination with the process of death and how we handle this as human beings, and this ‘reality mediation’ from the Buddhist tradition feels incredibly powerful.
Anthony de Mello’s exercises really helped me to learn to meditate. The simple and traditional awareness and breathing techniques grounded me and helped me to settle my body as well as my mind. One of my favourite meditations, and also one of the most simple, is using the breath to draw in God and then to breathe out impurities and negative feelings. As a result of discovering this book I became a bit of a zealous meditator for a while – even managing a mammoth four hour session once when I was on a retreat in Wales – but I still failed to build a simple daily meditation ritual into my life.
I’m not sure what my difficulty is in building a routine. When I write I am good at disciplining myself to get up and dressed and down to work – every day, early, without fail. Yet when it comes to meditating I prevaricate. I’ll do it later I tell myself, or I’ll have space at lunchtime, or I’ll just finish doing this or that first.
Over the years I’ve tried various sneaky techniques to encourage me. Once I created a ‘meditation corner’ complete with a Buddha statue next to my olive wood cross from the Holy Land. It was a beautiful place to sit, but I didn’t meditate more. I set a regular alarm on my phone to prompt me, but mostly it fails. I light candles and have a meditation app/timer that rings a mournful bell to begin and end my meditation but, even so, I sometimes get up unnecessarily in the middle to respond to the phone or the needs of the cat.
I’m more successful at short sharp immersions into meditation, often at retreats or weekends away. The most memorable was a Buddhist-Christian silent retreat at the Abbey in Oxfordshire. The Abbey is a very special place – a spiritual community living in an ancient building complete with medieval great hall where we sat chanting in the mornings (not completely silent!) and a beautiful solar (dating from about 1280) where we could relax in peace. The Abbey has wonderful grounds – green and wild and soft – and we did walking meditations in the cool damp air. Taking communal meals together whilst still maintaining our silence helped us to appreciate the nourishment of our bodies as well as our spirits. It was a very special time that stays with me still.
Moving on, I now have some new motivation to bring regular meditation back into my life. A Quaker friend is running some Centering Prayer groups and I have joined one that meets fortnightly near to where I live. We share a twenty-minute meditation based on the Christian practice of centering prayer, and then have time for discussion and reflection – perhaps listening to some spiritual teaching from Laurence Freeman or Thomas Keating. We support each other in our attempts to develop a regular meditation practice in our lives.
I find I am getting better at this meditation lark. There are less days when I miss it out altogether and, when I do meditate, it feels natural and instantly rewarding. I am now able to sink quickly and deeply into a quiet place where I truly feel connected with God. When I finally open my eyes the world has shifted slightly and the pattern of my day is changed.
I have yet to make a true routine or manage the regular two slots a day that I am aiming for, but when my day begins to go out of kilter I often stop for a short meditation to re-centre myself. At last I feel that meditation and me are merging nicely and heading in the same direction.
Adding black streaks to fading purple hair with some grey bits too! I look like a goth throwback now.
Having a lovely, lovely friend who was willing to come over and upgrade my computer software for me. I am PHOBIC about downloading new software – mainly because it goes wrong so often!!!
© Anne de Gruchy