How to do it

Lesson 1. What is meditation anyway?
Lesson 2. Thought and Non-Thought: “Reality is more than just thoughts. I can release any thought.” 
Lesson 3. Christian Meditations with Goals: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Lesson 4. Surrender Meditations: “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” 
Lesson 5. Meditation and Oneness: “We are One.” 
Lesson 6. Trusting the Practice: Stress, Illness and Death. 


Lesson 1. What Is Meditation Anyway?

Main idea: Meditation is a way for God to touch and transform us.

Meditation is a daily practice that changes…

  • How you manage your thoughts;
  • What you experience as real;
  • Your brainwaves;
  • How you experience God.

How you manage your thoughts: All our lives, we think that what is real is what we think. Our constant thoughts—about what’s going on, about who we are, about what we’re feeling —never stop. This is called “monkey mind,” and everyone has it.

Meditation is a daily practice of sitting in silence that takes you to an awareness that is not thought. This is a consciousness or awareness separate or different from thought. Most people don’t even know this reality exists.

Don’t worry!  You won’t stop thinking completely. But your thoughts won’t be in control anymore. Instead of the tyranny of thoughts, a deeper, more peaceful reality will start to grow inside you. In this new place, it’s easier to hear God’s voice.

What you experience as real:  We discover that real does not mean the thoughts that dance through our heads. We discover a reality that is loving, intuitive and peaceful. As we keep practicing, we begin to see both ways—the same old thoughts and also a new, tender, powerful reality.

When we get goosebumps, when we feel awe or radiant joy or beauty, it’s a big deal. Those moments taste the same as the place of non-thought. We all recognize this special quality when we see it, but most of the time, we forget it exists.  Practicing meditation makes it real again. After you have practiced for a while, you will be able to touch this reality.

If you practice every day for one month, you will feel the beginning of change. But you have to do it...not just think about it.

Your brainwaves: Meditation changes brain waves. We become more relaxed and focussed. We experience more alpha waves or theta waves, and this feels wonderful.

Here’s a link about meditation and brainwaves.

How you experience God:  The place of being aware without thinking is where we can touch God easily and God can touch us. Some call this Christ Consciousness. To others, this is the Holy Spirit, and still others say this is God. In other religions, the names are different, but the awareness itself is always the same because God is everywhere and everything.

The Christ Consciousness is where all healing happens. There is no birth and no death because it is beyond body. There is no time and no separation from God. It is infinite, perfect love. There are many Christian meditation techniques that open our hearts to fully receive this love. Learning and practicing Christian meditation techniques opens each of us up to this miracle.

Some people say there is no such thing as a Christian meditation technique—They say that if you meditate you must be a Buddhist or Hindu. They say meditation is a sin. Certainly contemplation is a kind of meditation. Meditation in various forms is exactly how the Catholic saints opened to God—and I think almost everyone accepts that the saints were Christians.

For example,  in about the year 530 AD, in the town of Subiaco in Italy, a man named Benedict sat in silence in a cave for several years and experienced God in a new way. He was touched by God. This man became Saint Benedict.  Sitting silently like that is meditation, and surely we can say Saint Benedict was a Christian. There are many stories like this of the Christian saints, and no one can say that these saints did not accept Jesus as their personal savior. So yes, there are dozens of purely Christian meditation techniques.

I personally am Protestant; I am Presbyterian. So for me the Catholic saints are teachers, but I never pray to them. Yet I certainly respect their experience of God. They touched Christ Consciousness using meditation, and because I yearn to know God in a deeper way, I meditate just as they meditated.

In fact, many Christian scholars teach that Jesus himself meditated. To learn more about this, read the books The Wisdom Jesus by Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault and Immortal Diamond by Rev. Richard Rohr, available in the Bookstore. 

Meditation, like singing or speaking, is not always a religious practice. It can be religious, but many people meditate to reduce stress or to improve health.

Sometimes people say meditation is for Buddhists only. That’s false. Every religion includes some form of meditation.

In history, religious people who meditated were called mystics.  This isn’t as mysterious or fancy as it sounds. A mystic is a person with direct, intuitive knowledge of God. This knowledge almost always comes from some kind of meditation. A religious scholar, priest, minister or theologian studies and thinks about religion, but a mystic eventually learns how to touch Divine Awareness by meditating. Almost all Catholic saints were mystics who received their revelations because they meditated for long periods of time.

If you meditate regularly, you will experience God in a new way….But you have to DO it, not just think about doing it. It takes about one month of daily practice to start noticing differences.

Click here to read about the History of Christian Meditation and Meditation in Other Religions.

Word warning

We start with our experience in meditation and then choose the words to describe it… and this is usually very difficult. First we experience awe or love or beauty, and then we have to figure out how to describe it. But words often fail. Words limit the truth. Words cramp God’s style.

As we learn about meditation, we need to be careful about how we use words.

All words—even good words— have too much baggage. For example, the words “mystic,”  “God,” “faith,” “prayer,” “miracle,” “sin,” “Christian,” and “love” can all be confusing. They mean different things to different people. There is no practical way to fix this confusion.

This is why we don’t want to spend much time on definitions. What matters is the experience itself and how it works in our hearts. Whatever words we choose to describe it are not as important.

There are many people today who prefer foreign words to Christian ones, and that’s okay. For these people, there is just too much painful baggage to words like “righteous” and “sin” and “God” and “Jesus.” I can’t blame them, even if these words are fine for me. Each of us has our own life experience. So for these people, using words like “Om” or “Namaste” or “Buddha” feels safe—because they don’t have the baggage from Christian history.

But here’s a truth: Every religion holds part of God’s heart, and every religion has some confusion, some baggage.

The reason words like “Om”  and “namaste” feel safe to westerners while “Jesus”  and “God” do not is that we don’t know much about the baggage of the Hindu religion—because we are not Indians. If we had grown up in Indian culture, we might reject Hinduism and think that “Our Father who art in heaven” feels safer and more pure than “Om.” Every religion has weak spots and every religion has strengths.

Don’t get lost in words and definitions. God is huge, much more immense and complex than any one word, any one idea or any one religion. If we relax about words, we can start to know the infinite brilliance that is God—all light, all love, all existence, now and forever.

Self Exploration Exercise: Child of God 

Read this exercise to yourself slowly. You can draw pictures and make notes if you want to.

I am a child of God, and so are you. God’s light shines in me and in you.  But sometimes it’s so hard to feel that goodness.

Let’s play with images in our heads. Start with hope or intention: “May I feel more of God’s love.” “May God’s love touch me.”

I wonder about myself. Who am I really? I start by drawing a simple stick figure of myself.

The crazy hair shows it’s me.

This is my inner self, pure me.

This is my child of God, my light.

I write my name on it or just write ME.

 

 

Now get a piece of paper and draw yourself. Add something so I know it’s you—like a mustache or tired eyes or a cup of coffee.

 

 

 

Write your name or ME on your picture.

 

 

Now around ME, I draw a shell.

This shell is my outer self.

It’s my identity.

That’s how other people know me. Like this:

Here’s what makes up my outer self.

  1. Mother
  2. plays violin
  3. college degree
  4. speaks English
  5. dislikes shopping malls and modern music
  6. drinks lots of tea
  7. Divorced
  8. In love
  9. Remembers….
  10. Feels bad about….Feels good about….

 

What makes up your outer self, the identity that others see? Who do others think you are?

 

Make a list on a piece of paper.

Outer shells get pretty heavy. I usually forget my inner self completely. My outer self needs constant maintenance. It’s more than just how the world sees me. It’s how I see myself. I try to feel better by making my outer shell fancier and more expensive. But in my thoughts, there are things about me that I feel bad about.

Which parts of your identity do you like best?

Which parts do you dislike?

Our shells are made up of our thoughts, beliefs, and life stories. All our lives, people tell us that our outer shells are what really matters about us.

This is important: I think if I have bad thoughts, I’m a bad person. I think bad thoughts are part of my identity, part of my shell.

But all of us have bad thoughts sometimes. That means every one of us thinks she or he is a bad person. In fact, we might even believe that God is happiest with us when we feel really bad and ashamed of ourselves—but that’s not true.

I think the embarrassing things in my life story make me bad somehow. But all of us have embarrassing things in our life stories. This is why our shells are heavy.

But outer shells are…SHELLS. It’s not me at all. Not my softest, secret part. Not my heart. Not my core. Not my truest identity.

My deep self, my true self is beautiful, and so is yours because this is God’s child. 

Around our outer shells, there is water.  It’s living water, and it is always there.

Here’s mine—like this: 

 

 

 

Now you draw yours on a piece of paper.

When I meditate, I think “That’s just a thought. I can let it go.” I learn that I am not my thoughts.

I am not my outer shell. It’s just a shell. My identity, the things I have done, my thoughts are the outer shell, not the inner me. Letting go of thoughts—meditating in silence—makes my outer shell start to dissolve a little bit.

God is the living water. When my outer shell softens a little, the living water, the Divine, can touch me. I feel hope and love. Life seems easier.

Look at what happens to my outer shell when I meditate.

How great is that?

On your drawing, draw some soft spots and openings in your outer shell.  This is you opening to God.

When I meditate, I can hear God more easily because my inner self and God can touch each other. My outer shell changes because I see that it’s just made of thoughts. I am not my thoughts.

I am a child of God, and so are you. We are not our outer shells.

We are God’s light as it shines in the world.

At death, my outer shell melts completely, and the living water touches and cradles me in love. No matter how I died, no matter what I did, God always wants me back. I am part of God, just as every wave is part of the ocean. 

There is no more heaviness or regret or pain. There is no judgment at all—only love. Only joy.

Everything is light. The child of God is home.

…Thanks be to God.

 

To learn more about the idea of inner self and outer self and how it fits into Christian faith, read Rev. Richard Rohr’s book Immortal Diamond, available in the Bookstore.


 

Basics of all meditation

(And after these instructions, there’s a note on how to sit.)

  • Silence: In beginning meditation we always sit in silence. Find a place where you can be quiet and not interrupted. Turn off your phone.
  • Timer: Set a timer for 5 minutes. In the beginning, 5 minutes is plenty. You should work up to longer times gradually. There are hundreds of free meditation timers for your phone or you can use a kitchen timer or the clock on your phone. Here’s the link to a free online meditation timer with a chime: Click here
  • Intention: Intention is our wish or hope for the meditation. Intention means aiming your energy towards something good.

“May I love better.”
“May I open to God.”
“May I become like Jesus.”  
“May Thy will be done.” 
“May God’s will be done.”
“May I heal.”
“May there be peace.”

  • Sit straight with eyes closed: Try to sit straight with your feet on the floor. But you can also meditate lying down. Close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths.
  • Breathe in and out very slowly. Put your attention on your breathing.
  • When thoughts distract you, try to watch them and release them. This will take practice. You can imagine that your thoughts are boats floating above you in a river. Or imagine your thoughts are cars in a train that is running past without stopping.
  • When your timer rings, say thank you to God and go on with your day.
Experienced meditators know that the easiest way to start meditating is with someone else. What seems difficult alone is much easier with a few others. Forming a small group just to practice together is a great way to get started.
Meditation takes regular practice. You can’t do it by thinking. No excuses. But within one month of regular practice, you will start to experience changes. The changes will be surprising and perfect for you.
Blessings on your meditation journey!

 

How to Sit…or Lie…or Kneel… to Meditate

There are lots of comfy ways to meditate. It’s NOT correct that there is only ONE correct way to sit. In Christian meditation, the most important thing is to relax and be comfortable and quiet.

 

You can sit in a comfortable chair.

You can lie on the ground or in bed. If you’re in the hospital, ask the nurse to arrange the pillows so you can really relax.

You can kneel on a seiza meditation bench. It’s very comfortable. This is how I meditate every morning.

Many people love wearing a soft shawl or soft sweater when they meditate, and many meditation teachers recommend it.

Here is someone meditating on a seiza bench wearing a shawl.  You can choose whatever position feels best to you. To buy a bench or cushion, go to the Bookstore.

The ONLY way to experience the benefits of meditation, the only way to open to God in this way is to DO IT. If you just try it for about one month, you will notice changes….But you cannot think your way there. You have to actually practice meditation regularly, day after day—Maybe only a few minutes a day in the beginning. But you MUST ACTUALLY DO IT to experience the changes.

 


 

Lesson 2. Thought and Non-Thought

Main idea: Reality is much more than just thoughts.

Meditation changes you. It changes how you perceive things. It opens you up. It invites intuition instead of thought.  Meditation makes it easier to touch God or for God to touch you in new ways.

Meditation heals and transforms.

I am a Child of God and so are you. This is the innocent, wonderful, golden part of me and you. In Lesson 1 [above], we saw how the Child of God is our inner self. We saw that there’s a shell around the Child of God— our outer self, our outer identity. Our outer shells aren’t bad. They are a big part of being human. They are how others see us and how we see ourselves. But they block divine energy.

I meditate so that my outer shell can soften and melt until God can flow through me easily. As my outer shell melts, as I heal, my worries and burdens lighten.

Am I my thoughts? Who am I?

From birth, our culture, schools and family—everything in life—teaches us that we are the thoughts and the emotions we feel. If I get angry, I think that’s who I am. If I hate my brother, I think I am a “brother-hater.” If I have been an alcoholic, I think that is a big part of my truest, deepest identity.

Most of us also have some obsessive thought patterns. We run stories through our minds again and again. “I hate her because she said I was stupid.”  “What if they find out I’m not really a good teacher?” “He’s not going to make a fool of me again!”

When we meditate regularly, we finally understand that “I am not my thoughts.”  

The thing we practice is this: I sit in silence; I form an intention such as “May I learn to love better;” and I take slow deep breaths.

Thoughts come up because they always do. That’s what the mind does. It’s called “monkey mind” because it jumps around restlessly, looking for something to do.

Here’s an image: I can watch these thoughts like a train that is passing me by.  Every thought is a train car. The train cars run past me constantly.

Here’s another image: What if I am lying deep in the peaceful flow of a river, looking up? Above me I see boats floating on the top of the water. Those are my thoughts. They can just float away. I am in a peaceful, good place.

Here’s a third image: The Divine, God, is the sky. It is limitless and eternal. Clouds float in front of the sky and we can’t see it. These clouds are our thoughts. We can choose to pay attention to the sky instead of the clouds. Yes, the thoughts are still there, but we know they are only thoughts. They are not the sky itself.

I can release any thought.

Here’s the point:  I can say, “That’s only a thought. I don’t have to be inside that thought. I am not my thoughts. I am more than just my thoughts.”

This is huge learning. Huge. 

We can just release our thoughts. Our thoughts don’t have to stick to us. My deepest identity is a Child of God. My thoughts are not my deepest identity.

Here’s a fourth image: Imagine a fish living in a tank of dirty water.  He doesn’t know that the water is dirty because he has lived in this tank all his life.  But the tank exists deep in an ocean of perfect, fresh, clear water. How can the fish come to know that the clear water exists?  The dirty water is our thoughts, and we have lived in those thoughts all our lives.

Meditation opens us to the clean, fresh water.

Using Christian meditation techniques, we open to new contact with God. God is the ocean around us.

The clean water is

  • non-thought,
  • intuition,
  • awareness itself before we label it,
  • a reality more intimate than our senses,
  • the essence of beauty,
  • the goose bump moment (before we label it with words),
  • the “zing” of existence,
  • Christ Consciousness,
  • “Buddha Nature” for Buddhists
  • “Rigpa” for followers of Tibetan Dzogchen,
  • “Brahman” for Hindus,
  • God,
  • Love.
We don’t have to plan or think this out. We do not need to understand or analyze.
All we need to do is practice and trust the practice itself.
We sit in silence. We form our intention. We take deep breaths. We gently release our thoughts. We do this every day for a month, and we open to God.

A Christian Meditation Technique: Elephant with a Stick

Here is another great image:  Imagine an elephant walking through a village street in South India. He’s restless and he swings his trunk back and forth, picking up a pot here and some long stalks of sugarcane there. His trainer is a small man who knows how to solve the problem. He gives the elephant a big stick to carry in his trunk. Now the elephant walks through the village without making any trouble because he has something to do with his trunk.

The mind is like the restless elephant. If we can give it a stick to carry, our trip will be more peaceful. One way to do this is to take a piece of scripture that we love, such as the Beatitudes, and let those words run very slowly through our minds while we meditate.  This meditation technique comes from the great meditation teacher and author, Eknath Easwaran.  (Look for the book God Makes the Rivers to Flow in the Bookstore.)

First you memorize a piece of scripture such as the Beatitudes. Then, you sit in silence and slowly–very slowly, like one step, stop, then another step, stop—you let the same words run through your mind.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:3-12.]

As you practice this technique, the words become automatic and take over the thought part of your mind. This frees your non-thought consciousness to relax, open and deepen.  I used this practice daily for several years, using the “Prayer of Saint Francis.” I memorized the prayer and then, as I sat in silence, I let the words very very slowly run through my mind:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Even though I am not a Catholic, I used this prayer as an intention, as a way to aim my energy towards God. This prayer was the stick I gave to my elephant. I did this practice every day for about one year, partly because it is an easy way to meditate. Practicing like this helped me open to God.

Using “Thy will be done” as an intention

“Thy will be done” is a perfect intention for meditation. We can also let these words run through our minds slowly, as a stick for the elephant.

What do thought and non-thought mean here? “Thy will be done” does not mean “God, please do what I think should be done.”  We don’t want to tell God what to do. We’re surrendering to something we do not understand and cannot understand. Our thoughts try to limit God. Our plans try to force the infinite into a little cup that makes sense to us.  

Meditation means relaxing into God’s flow, even though we don’t know what that flow is. It means we trust God so much that we finally stop trying to name what should happen.  This is beyond “Let go and let God.”  This is not saying “Okay God, here’s what needs to happen and you do it however you like.” It means really saying “I do not have a clue what should happen. I trust God so completely that whatever comes will be perfect—no matter what comes.” This is the moment where we see a real difference between prayer and meditation.  Meditation is complete surrender. Complete trust, even though we don’t know. There is no sense of asking for any result—and in the beginning, this is very tough indeed.

[Lesson 4 below continues this discussion of letting God transform us.]

Here’s a guided meditation on thought and non-thought. Read it slowly to yourself or to a friend or listen to the recording by clicking here: My Garden Meditation

Guided Meditation: My Garden

Intention

May I allow God’s light to grow in me in surprising ways. [pause]

May I relax into unplanned growth. [pause]

May my will join God’s easily. [pause]

May God’s will be done. [pause]

Relaxation

Take slow deep breaths. In and out.  In and out.

Feel your body relaxing from top to bottom. Starting at your head, let relaxation pour through every cell like kind, warm water.

Breath deeply. Take very slow, very deep breaths. In and out.  In and out.

Safe Place

We are together on a perfect day in summer. It’s not too hot, but the sun is bright.  Feel the sun warming your skin gently.

Here is your garden. It’s on a hillside near the sea.  The gentle wind smells of the ocean. The light here is perfect.

No one else is here. You are alone, except for Divine Spirit. You are completely safe and protected here.

Visualization

This is the garden you’ve been tending all your life. It’s just the right size for you. Only you tend it.

First look at the flowers and vegetables you planted in neat rows. You love them so much. You made plans and you bought seeds and you planted them just the way you wanted, and now they are all growing. [pause]

Now pull your attention away from the flowers and vegetables you planted. Don’t pull anything out—just stop focussing on them. You planted them but it turns out they’re not what really matters today. Just notice the rows of good plants and see that you stop noticing all your plans, all your special plants. You can just let them go. [pause]

Now look at the weeds that have sprouted between the rows. They really irritate you but don’t pull them up. Where do they all come from? Some are invasive weeds. Others are just common ugly weeds. [pause]

Let your attention relax about the weeds. Don’t think about getting rid of them. Just notice them and see that you can let the thought of weeds go. [pause]

What’s left is the dark, rich soil. Let your attention rest lightly on the perfect black soil. This is not what you planted and it is not irritating weeds.  

The soil is something else. This is the source of everything. It is fertile and deep. It is potential. It is what’s possible, but not your plans. You don’t know what is truly possible. Planned flowers and unplanned weeds come from the soil too, but they also come out of your ego and beliefs. [pause]

The soil is the Source. It is deeper and stronger and more fertile than anything you can imagine. It surprises you. You can’t really understand it and that’s okay. [pause]

Let yourself be that dark rich soil. Just relax into the darkness and the unknown. The possibilities are far beyond your thoughts. The potential of black rich soil is mysterious and powerful. It feels good and easy. You plan nothing. When thoughts pass by, just let them go without judgment.

You accept All. You surrender to Divine Love. Relax in the dark, loving, perfect richness of the Source until you feel finished. [pause]

Giving thanks

Thank you God for helping me let go of my little plans and little thoughts. Thank you God for helping me grow towards you.

 


Lesson 3.  Christian Meditations with Goals

Lesson 1 Review: Meditation changes what I experience as real. Most people think their thoughts are what’s real. But when we start practicing meditation, we become able to sense a reality that is not thought. One name for this non-thought reality is “awareness.” Other names are God, the universe, Love, or Christ Consciousness.

Lesson 2 Review: Non-thought is a different reality from thought, and it’s okay to just release all thoughts without letting them stick to me. Reality is like the sky, and thoughts are like clouds. This is very potent healing. It’s okay to just release thoughts. It’s good not to get attached to thoughts. I am not my thoughts. Bad thoughts do not make me a bad person.


Lesson 3 main idea: There are many ways to meditate and I can choose what’s right for me every day.

Some Christian meditation techniques work towards specific goals (Lesson 3), and other techniques do not aim at a specific goal (Lesson 4).

Basic Breath Counting:  Most people begin meditating by learning Basic Breath Counting. This means learning how to sit in silence, set an intention and focus your attention on breathing in and out. It needs daily practice. If you practice for one month, you will start to see results.

Breath counting is a simple but profound practice. You will use it all your life—Even now, after 40 years of practice, I often use it. When I am having a bad day, I always go to breath counting.

  1. Find a quiet place. Either sit or lie down with your eyes closed.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes to start.
  3. Start by thinking of an intention.  This wish or hope is how you aim your energy. For example, “May I heal.”  “May I open to God.” “May I love better.” “May I find more joy.” “May I understand Jesus better.”
  4. Put your attention on your breath, like a little soldier standing at your nostrils.
  5. Breathe very slowly, counting in 1, then breathe out 2. Doing this very slowly helps slow down your brain and your heart.  But don’t breathe so slowly you start gasping.  Be comfortable.
  6. When thoughts come up, try to release or ignore them and bring your attention back to the breath. This is like watching the sky itself instead of the clouds that pass by. The goal here is learning not to focus on thoughts and getting used to managing what you pay attention to.
  7. Another way to do this meditation is with words instead of counting. Try visualizing breathing in patience and breathing out love.
  8. When the timer goes off, take one more deep breath and start your day.

As I get skilled at meditating, I can choose which meditation technique feels right for me day by day, according to how things are going.

Goal-oriented vs free-floating meditation techniques

Some meditation techniques work towards a specific goal, while others do not. The techniques below are goal oriented.  In Lesson 4, we will look at several Christian meditation techniques that are not goal oriented.

You can choose which techniques feel right for you. During your lifetime you will use different techniques at different times. When life is relatively easy, you might want to try out some of the meditations below that help you put Jesus’s words into daily practice.

Here are two practices that can make your meditation better: 

  • Affirmations.  An affirmation is a positive statement about ourselves or something that is happening. Examples are statements like the following: “I am loved.” “My purpose is love.” “Jesus is always with me.” “I am worthy of God’s love.”  “Things are getting better.”  “God is with me and understands everything.”

Affirmations replace negative thoughts about ourselves or situations. Everyone needs affirmations sometimes because so many of our usual thoughts are negative, such as “I can never win,”  “I don’t deserve God’s love,” “God has forgotten about me,” or “No one really cares.”  It’s healing to create affirmations that help us with our private weak spots and to use them in meditation to replace negative thoughts.

  • Visualizations. Creating a mind picture or image is a powerful way to grow spiritually. For example, if I create a picture of holding someone in my arms, the image speaks to my intuitive or non-thought mind more easily than words do. Many traditional meditations use visualizations as tools for growth.

Three Christian Meditations

Working towards specific goals fits well with many people’s Christian faith. As Christians we want to love others without judgment and we want to relieve the suffering of others. Each of the three meditation techniques below helps us grow stronger in our ability to love more and judge less.

These meditations use visualization as a way to grow stronger. We start easy and then move to more difficult images. It’s like lifting weights, where we can start lifting a one-pound weight and eventually be able to lift fifteen pounds.

I. “Love One Another as I Have Loved You.”

Your intention is “May I love better.” “May I love everyone.”

This is a basic, very old love meditation. The longer you practice it, the stronger you become in your ability to love.

This love meditation involves sending love to four people:

  • Yourself;
  • Someone you love;
  • Someone you are neutral towards;
  • Someone you have difficulty with. 

Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.

Visualize yourself and say your intention.

  • “May I feel love.”
  • “May I be free from suffering.”
  • “May I be happy.”
  • “May I be at peace.”

Breathe in love and breathe out love, sending it first to yourself. Visualize warm, easy love washing over you, filling you, soaking into every part of your body.  Visualize yourself absorbing every drop. Visualize your heart soaking up love.

Second, visualize someone you love and send them the same warm, happy love. Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body.  Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.

Breathe in love, and breathe out love. Repeat until you feel done.

Third, do this for someone you don’t know well, someone you feel neutral about. This might be someone like a grocery store checker or a bus driver—someone you don’t know and don’t have any good or bad feeling about. Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body.  Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.

Breathe in love, and breathe out love, sending it that person.

Fourth, do this for someone you have trouble with. If you just can’t do it, change and choose someone easier for you. You can go back to the other person later. In the beginning it’s often hard to visualize sending anything good at all to certain people or groups of people.

Visualize warm, easy love washing over that person, filling him/her, soaking into every part of his/her body.  Visualize him/her absorbing every drop. Visualize his/her heart soaking up love.

Breathe in love, and breathe out love, sending it that person.

Lastly, visualize the whole world. Wrap your arms around it, hold it gently and send it love. You can use words too. “May the world feel love. May the world be happy. May the world feel peace.”

 

II. Relieving the Suffering of Others

“Lord, Make me an instrument of Thy peace….Where there is darkness, let me sow light.”

This is another old, well-known meditation that people practice for years. Their intention is to lift or ease the suffering of others, even for someone they hate.

This meditation has three parts, and it is similar to the meditation above on loving others. The difference is that in this meditation, you are actively trying to lift someone’s else’s suffering. First, you start by visualizing someone you love. Then you visualize someone you are neutral towards or barely know, like a grocery store checker. Finally you do it for someone you have trouble with or dislike, such as someone who gossips.

Usually people need to work up to doing this practice for someone they hate.  And it is a wonderful practice for people who are actively suffering. You can do this for one person or for whole groups of people, such as the homeless, addicts, starving children, lonely people or people in prison.

For each of the three people you visualize, try to find an intention of caring or being concerned about this person. Your intention is to help lighten their suffering. This does not mean that you approve of their actions. It means that you see their actions as the result of some kind of internal pain or confusion.

You visualize caring and concern, not correcting them. You are not trying to fix them or change them. To form the image in your mind, visualize smoke or darkness to represent anything causing them difficulty or suffering. You are saying that, whatever the darkness inside them, may it change into light. This might be a simple intention such as “May he feel more joy” or “May she feel better.”

This is an in-out breathing meditation.  Take several deep breaths.

Think of your first person, someone you love, facing illness, pain or difficulty.  This can be one person or a group of people.

Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart.

Your heart is light, caring and love. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source of all existence. Nothing is impossible for God. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.

Then move on to your second person, someone you feel neutral towards. You don’t need to know exactly what this person’s problems are. Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty—whatever it might be—as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart. Again, as you did above, visualize your own heart as light, caring and love. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source of all existence. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is  your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.

Finally, repeat this process, visualizing someone you have difficulty with. Again, you do not need to know what their difficulty is. You simply know there is some difficulty. Breathing in, you visualize this person’s difficulty as dark smoke or darkness coming out of them. As you breathe in, you take this smoke, this darkness into your own golden, loving heart. Remember that God is the source of the healing here. Again, as you did above, visualize your own heart as light, caring and love. Your loving heart then transmutes their darkness into light. You are able to do this because your heart is a part of God, and God is the Source. Breathing out, you imagine showering them with bright light, which is  your love and compassion. Repeat this for as long as feels right.

If you are doing this practice for someone who is being victimized or hurt, you can also extend the same practice to the oppressor.  For example, you might do this practice for animals being slaughtered cruelly, but you would also do the same practice for the people who are being cruel to the animals. So, for example, you can do this for a victim and also for the criminal or perpetrator. This means you can meditate for both the rape victim and the rapist, for example. The Dalai Lama did meditations like this for the Tibetan monks being tortured by the Chinese, and he also did the same practice for the Chinese soldiers doing the torture. The point is lifting all darkness from every person.

If you do not want to take any darkness into your own body,  visualize your heart as a golden ball outside your chest and bring the darkness into that golden ball.

Eventually you may even feel ready to send this practice out for the pain of the whole world. This meditation helps you practice caring about strangers and people you have trouble with.  Many people do this practice for years. Start easy and build your ability to love.

III. Forgiving Others

How can a mother forgive the terrorists who shot her child?  Can a rapist or torturer ever be forgiven? Is it even possible in real life?

For ordinary people, it seems impossible—but Jesus said all of us should forgive. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” (Luke 17:3) How on earth do we do this?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu worked in South Africa to help people heal from genocide, racism and unspeakable violence. In 1984 he won the Nobel Peace prize. He says, “I would like to share with you two simple truths: there is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.” (page 3)

Easier said than done, right? We shake our heads in disbelief.

Archbishop Tutu wrote a book that changed my life. In The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and the World, Tutu gently leads us through the steps we need:

  1. Telling the story;
  2. Naming the hurt;
  3. Granting forgiveness;
  4. Renewing or releasing the relationship.

This does NOT mean saying that bad behavior is okay. It involves coming to accept that all humans do terrible things at one time or another. Tutu sorts through the worst, most hateful injuries. At the end of each chapter he offers meditations, prayers and journal writing to help people forgive.

He says, “When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion,  when we are unforgiving, we will always pay the price for it…. We are brothers and sisters, whether we like it or not.” (page 19)

Forgiveness Meditation

  • Close your eyes. Imagine an emotion that makes you feel good. It can be love or kindness or compassion or all of these emotions.
  • Allow this emotion or combination of emotions to radiate out from inside you. This is what it feels like to be free of fear, anger, hatred and resentment. This place of peace lives within you always and belongs to you. You can step into this place whenever you wish. It is yours and no one can take it from you.
  • Now imagine the person or people you are trying to forgive.  Imagine that you are their mother and they are like a tiny baby in your arms, before they hurt you, before they hurt anyone.  See their goodness and humanity.
  • Can you bless them and wish them well?  Can you send them compassion and kindness?  Can you let them go? 

    –from Book of Forgiving, page 141

It’s important to see that we do not need to actually love this person. “Love” is a tricky word—but we certainly want to feel something good here. It’s enough to feel compassion for or kindness towards them. This is why we don’t want to get bogged down in vocabulary. What we want is positive feeling towards someone whom we hope to forgive.

Tutu says, “Peace is built with small and large acts of forgiveness.” (page 59)  The Christian meditation techniques in his book help us grow closer to God by forgiving ourselves and others.

God forgives unconditionally

So  can we

The thief on the cross still dies on his cross

But forgiveness will set his spirit free

And what of you and me standing on the ground with our piles of hurts mounting so high?

Will we die a thousand deaths before we die?

Yearning for revenge, will we die of that thirst?

Will the rage that fills us be the stake on which we burn?

Will we stumble over every resistance placed in our way?

And stay stuck in the misery of it all?

Or will we take the chance that we might break free by following this path where it leads

Past the whys and the lies about how it cannot be

Here is our chance

Take this chance

Break free

 –page 39, Book of Forgiving [Bookstore]

 

 

 


Lesson 4. Surrender Meditations

“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”

Review:

  1. Meditation changes how we view reality and how we experience God. Our deepest truth is that each of us is a child of God. Meditation helps each of us open to this wonderful truth. (Lesson 1)
  2. We can just release thoughts. “I am not my thoughts.” Practicing releasing thoughts helps people heal emotionally. Thought and non-thought are very different realities. (Lesson 2)
  3. We can use specific meditations to grow stronger in love and in forgiveness. It’s like lifting weights. We start easy and then try harder tasks. This is how we grow towards Christian values such as “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Lesson 3)

Main idea: We surrender to the Divine, even when we don’t know what lies ahead.

As we meditate, we hope that instead of telling God what is needed, we can surrender to the Divine creative force. “Surrender” in this case does not mean someone kneeling in obedient submission to a powerful lord. It’s more like relaxing into the moment with someone you trust and love deeply. Think of losing yourself in an exquisite melody or seeing a sunrise so brilliant that you forget where you are.

In Lesson 3, we worked on specific Christian goals such as loving our neighbors and forgiving our enemies. We used the ancient technique of visualization to help ourselves open to new possibilities. 

In today’s lesson, we’ll look at three techniques:  1) a visualization of God’s creative energy, 2) a simple breath counting technique, and 3) Centering Prayer, the best-known Christian meditation technique.

As always, we start by setting our intention. Today we hope to trust God fully, even though we have no idea what is coming. Our only goal is allow God’s creation to transform us. We have no idea what should happen in our individual lives. Instead we trust the Divine to transform our consciousness and transform this moment in ways we don’t expect.

Here are some intentions for these meditations:
May I fully accept transformation.”
“May I receive God’s love fully.”
“May I heal into God.”
“May I trust what comes.”
“May I trust the Divine.”

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans” is a quote that makes us smile. But it’s true. As young people, we think we know pretty much how our lives will go and we make plans.

But then things just happen. Dad has a heart attack and we end up leaving college and taking over the family business. Our spouse becomes crippled. We become alcoholics. Our spouse has an affair. We end up living in a city far from our own culture. Our child struggles with depression. We win the lottery.

The life we end up with is nothing like the life we planned. As believers, we wonder constantly “how can this be God’s plan?” “What does God want from me?”

The meditation below helps us see that God’s creativity is different from the plans we make. This is the same Garden meditation from Lesson 2, where we open to a reality beyond our own thoughts and plans. Read it to yourself slowly or listen to the recording by clicking here: My Garden Meditation 

I. My Garden Meditation

Intention

May I allow God’s light to grow in me in surprising ways. [pause]

May I relax into unplanned growth. [pause]

May my will join God’s easily. [pause]

May God’s will be done. [pause]

Relaxation

Take slow deep breaths. In and out.  In and out. [pause]

Feel your body relaxing from top to bottom. Starting at your head, let relaxation pour through every cell like warm, kind water.

Breathe deeply. Take very slow, very deep breaths. In and out.  In and out. [pause]

Safe Place

We are together on a perfect day in summer. It’s not too hot, but the sun is bright.  Feel the sun warming your skin gently.

Here is your garden. It’s on a hillside near the sea.  The gentle wind smells of the ocean. The light here is perfect. [pause]

No one else is here. You are alone, except for Divine Spirit. You are completely safe and protected here. [pause]

Visualization

This is the garden you’ve been tending all your life. It’s just the right size for you. Only you tend it.

First look at the flowers and vegetables you planted in neat rows. You chose the exact flowers and vegetables that you love most. You made plans and bought seeds. You planted them just the way you wanted. You did everything right.  Now all your plants are all growing in neat rows. [pause]

Now pull your attention away from the flowers and vegetables you planted. Don’t pull anything out—just stop focussing on them. You planted them but it turns out they’re not what really matters today. Just notice the rows of good plants and see that you stop noticing all your plans, all your special plants. You can just let them go. [pause]

Now look at the weeds that have sprouted between the rows. They really irritate you, but don’t pull them up. Where do they all come from? Some are invasive weeds. Some are choking your good plants. Others are just common ugly weeds. [pause]

Let your attention relax about the weeds. Don’t think about getting rid of them. Just notice them and see that you can let the thought of weeds go. [pause]

What’s left is the dark, rich soil. Let your attention rest lightly on the perfect black soil. This is not what you planted and it is not irritating weeds.  It’s not the good thoughts and it’s not the bad thoughts.

The soil is something else. This soil is the Source of everything. It is fertile and deep. It is potential. It has no limits at all. It is what’s possible, but it’s neither your planned flowers nor the weeds attacking your flowers. You don’t know what’s really possible. You only know what you think is possible. Planned flowers and unplanned weeds come from the soil, but they also come out of your ego and beliefs. [pause]

The soil is the ultimate Source of all that exists. It is deeper and stronger and more fertile than anything you can imagine. It surprises you.  You have no idea what else might grow. You just don’t know. You can’t really understand it and that’s okay. You don’t need to understand the soil.  

The soil is the creative force itself. Good things can come from the pure creative source, but they’re not the things you know about.

This is the real magic of creation now. This is God’s love. This is endless hope. This is how God is fertile in your life. This is the reality of now. [pause]

Let yourself be the dark rich soil. Let yourself be pure possibility. Relax beyond all limits. Be the mystery itself. Relax into the darkness and the unknown. It feels so good and easy. If other thoughts pass by, just let them go without judgment.

Relax in the dark, loving, perfect richness of the Source. Be the black soil. [Relax until the gong sounds or until you feel finished.]


 

This meditation helps us open into unlimited possibility.  If we use the Christian phrase “Thy will be done” as our intention, we open to God’s astonishing possibilities instead of our own limited ideas.

We reach the place of “don’t know” mind. All of us have had the experience of praying for something to happen and then, when it does happen, it is a disaster. Or the opposite, when we dread something and it turns out to be our greatest joy.

That’s why I don’t know what should happen. I don’t even know what is possible.  I cannot ask God for any specific outcome—including life and death— because all I know are my small thoughts, like the plants I planted in my garden.

I trust God to transform my heart, to transform my consciousness, to create things in amazing ways that are new to me. That’s why I love the phrase “don’t-know mind.”

II. Going Deeper with Breath Counting

One way to get used to the idea of ”don’t-know mind” is to use it as your intention with your usual breath counting meditation.

Remember that your conscious intention is very important. It’s where you aim your heart.  For Christians, the intention “Thy will be done” is a wonderful starting point. You can add your own words, such as “May I trust God’s plan” or “May I fully accept transformation.” Make it your own true intention.

Then simply start your in-breath and out-breath. When plans or worries interrupt you as thoughts, just pull your attention away from them and release them. As you relax more and more, you’ll relax into the creative force of the Divine.

III. Centering Prayer 

Centering Prayer is the best known and most widely used Christian meditation technique. Many people use Centering Prayer as their only Christian meditation technique—It’s that good. It is a surrender method of meditation. Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, the Episcopalian priest who has taught this method for many years, says the following:  “Centering Prayer doesn’t work with the mind at all; it goes straight for the heart….I think of it… as a way of patterning into our being that continuously repeated gesture of ‘let go, let go, let go’ at the core of the path that Jesus himself walked.” (page 142, The Wisdom Jesus).

There are three steps to Centering Prayer:

  1. Intention: You offer your intention with an open heart by asking to be deeply available to God.
  2. Let thoughts go:  You make a deal with yourself. “If you catch yourself thinking, you let the thought go. Promptly, quietly, without self-recrimination, you simply release the thought and start over.” (page 144, The Wisdom Jesus)
  3. Use your sacred word: You choose a word that reminds you to release the thought and open again to God. This word can be a holy word such as “Jesus” or a reminder word such as “return” or “yes.”

Rev. Bourgeault suggests doing this meditation for 20 minutes at a time. Here’s how she describes the process:  The word drops out on its own; you don’t have to decide to drop it. Very much like falling asleep at night, you can’t see the moment when it happens.” (page 146, The Wisdom Jesus) 

“The unseen moment when your sacred word quietly slips away has been pre-programmed into your consciousness as part and parcel of your intention to let yourself be deeply open to God.”

—Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault

Websites with full instructions for Centering Prayer…

Cynthia Bourgeault: Click here to read Rev. Bourgeault’s explanation of Centering Prayer.

Two other well-known, eminent teachers of Centering Prayer are Father Richard Rohr and Father Thomas Keating.  Here are links to their websites:

Richard Rohr: Click here to go to Father Rohr’s website.

Thomas Keating: Click here to go to Father Keating’s website.

For books about Centering Prayer…

Click here for Centering Prayer books in the Bookstore


 


Lesson 5. Meditation and Oneness: “We are One”

 

Review:

  1. Meditation changes how we view reality and how we experience God. Our deepest truth is that each of us is a child of God. Meditation helps each of us open to this wonderful truth. (Lesson 1)
  2. We can just release thoughts. “I am not my thoughts.” Practicing releasing thoughts helps people heal emotionally. Thought and non-thought are very different realities. (Lesson 2)
  3. We can use specific meditations to grow stronger in love and in forgiveness. It’s like lifting weights. We start easy and then try harder tasks. This is how we grow towards Christian values such as “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Lesson 3)
  4. We can use “free-floating” meditations to ask God to transform us as God wills. “Thy will be done” means letting God create. We do this by opening to or floating in God’s endless love without preconceived ideas of what should happen. (Lesson 4)

“We are One in the spirit.”  “Love one another as I have loved you.” “God is love, and everyone who has love is in God, and God is in him.”

But aren’t we talking about two kinds of “oneness”? Sounds funny, right?

First, we want to open to God so completely, to know God so fully that we experience being part of the Divine. Second, we want to love all other people as Jesus loved us. This means all of us are the body of Christ.

Here’s an image that makes this less confusing. Each of us is a wave in the ocean, and each of us thinks we are separate from other waves. We even wonder where the ocean is! That’s our foolish humanity, thinking our individual self is that important.

Instead, the ocean itself is God, the living water of the Divine. We can also call it the Awareness or the Christ Consciousness. All That Is. 

Every wave is an intrinsic part of the ocean. A wave doesn’t leave the ocean and come back. All waves are the ocean. Water rises into a wave, falls and seems to disappear. But that water is always the ocean itself.

Being a wave doesn’t really matter, even though we think it does. Being the ocean—even though we think we are waves—is what matters. 

Since all of us are the ocean, we are all One. This is how we love one another as Jesus loved us—by seeing all others as the ocean too.

The kingdom of Heaven is now, in God, in the Oneness. In this way, time doesn’t matter because eternity is what is real. In this way, life and death don’t matter because being one with God has nothing to do with time or bodies or life or death.

I am not saying there is no afterlife. I’m saying that our real existence is as a manifestation of God. That is eternity, beyond time and body… and beyond the common idea of an afterlife. If our essence is eternal, then an “afterlife” is after what? After eternity?

We think we are waves, but we are the ocean itself. “What you do to others you do to me.” There is no separation between us because we are all the ocean. There is no “other.” No “other” is possible. Every wave is the ocean itself.

This is the deeper reality that we know in our guts once we have been meditating for a while. We begin to see that the deepest reality is Oneness. Our thoughts are not important and we can release them. Instead we trust the deeper reality, God. Eternity. The Source. All that is. The Ocean.

We are the One, and there is nothing else. Only the One. We are the living water, rising and falling. No beginning, no end. Forever.


Here is a wonderful 12-minute video about Oneness and meditation:

PEACE, BE STILL with Rudi Harst – May 28, 2017 from Celebration Circle on Vimeo.


Guided meditation: The Ocean

Here is a guided meditation on Oneness. You can read it slowly to yourself or listen to an audio by clicking here: We are One meditation. (The words start about 35 seconds into the recording, so you have time to get quiet.)

“God is love, and everyone who has love is in God, and God is in him.”

Intention: “May I be one with God.” “May I open to God completely.” “May I join the one spirit.”

I relax and close my eyes.  I take several deep, slow breaths until I feel safety and warmth. [pause]

I am floating on an endless ocean of exquisite, beautiful water. It smells fresh. I taste a little salt on my lips.  

Kind light is everywhere. The ocean holds me perfectly. I can trust its kindness. [pause]

Looking down at myself, I see that I am a wave. I am a shape that the ocean makes.  A shape, a wave—sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes confused and angry.

Waves are the ocean, no matter what shape they take. A wave is the ocean happening.

I come and go, rise and fall. Rising and falling feels wonderful. It’s easy because I am always—always—the water itself. I never stop being the water.

This is living water. The ocean knows me because I am part of the ocean itself. I am always the holy water, the living water. It doesn’t matter what the wave does because I am made of the water itself. [pause]

A wave forms from the water. It rises and falls into the whole. The wave feels wonderful as it falls into the whole. Relaxing into forever is who I am. I am eternity. I am the ocean.

The ocean is all. There are millions of waves just like me. Some waves gather force and crash onto the rocks—They are still the ocean itself.  Some waves barely move. Some waves are just a few breaths from start to finish—Even in their tiny seconds, they are the ocean itself.

I think my own wave is not the ocean. I think other waves are not the ocean.

The ocean laughs with love. “Right here, right now, this moment—You are always in me and I am in you.” [pause]

Every wave, all of us—We laugh when we remember it. “Right here, right now—We are forever. We are the ocean. We are One.” [pause]

I rest in the now. I rise and fall. We all rise and fall. We are the beauty of the ocean. We are the ocean’s love. We are Caring. We are Kindness. We are One. [pause]

Waves gleam, water gleams, light gleams..

Put out your hand. I am the living water and so are you. Here, now, in me, in you. Right here. [pause]

We are the One, and there is nothing else. Only the One. We are the living water, rising and falling. No beginning, no end. Forever. Love… Love… Love. [Rest in the silence until you feel finished.]

 


Lesson 6. Trusting the Practice: Stress, Illness and Dying

 

Review

  1. Meditation changes how we view reality and how we experience God. Our deepest truth is that each of us is a child of God. Meditation helps each of us open to this wonderful truth. (Lesson 1)
  2. We can just release thoughts. “I am not my thoughts.” Practicing releasing thoughts helps people heal emotionally. Thought and non-thought are very different realities. (Lesson 2)
  3. We can use specific meditations to grow stronger in love and in forgiveness. It’s like lifting weights. We start easy and then try harder tasks. This is how we grow towards Christian values such as “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Lesson 3)
  4. We can use “free-floating” meditations to ask God to transform us as God wills. “Thy will be done” means letting God create. We do this by opening to or floating in God’s endless love without preconceived ideas of what should happen. (Lesson 4)
  5. We are one with God and one with each other. We are the ocean. We think we are the waves, and we ask “where is God?” Instead we realize that we are the ocean itself. We are a perfect part of God’s immensity. Being an individual little wave that lives and dies is less important because we see that every wave—every living being—is also part of God. (Lesson 5)

 


How does meditation help when things are bad?

First, If possible, try to get ahead of the game by learning how to meditate when things are easy. This Is like putting money in the bank for an emergency. The payoff is huge.

As we open to Divine Love, we become more patient and aware of other people’s feelings. We get stronger, so we’re not as worried about our own egos. We become less defensive and feel less afraid.

We become less judgmental. We realize all judgments are just thoughts. As we open to self love and self compassion, it’s easier to forgive others. We open to many kinds of love—both from God and from the people around us—that used to be impossible for us.

We finally see that our thoughts are just thoughts. They do not define who we are. All of us are children of God, regardless of any thoughts we might have. There are no exceptions to this because God’s love is universal. There are absolutely no exceptions to God’s love.  

Our thoughts are small next to this concept. Thoughts do not give us identity. We start to relax about common thought patterns. “Oh, that’s just my worry about being smart enough again. Same old, same old.” If we have really difficult thoughts—such as obsessive thoughts about hurting ourselves or about harmful sexual practices—we can look for a therapist. What matters is that even when we have difficult thoughts, they do not make us “bad.”

Finally, as we learn to release our thoughts, we hear God better. As we get used to sitting in silence, we become able to sense new things. We sense God in the space between thoughts. Most people are able to sense divine love and support. Some people experience a larger version of God. Others sense unity with all life. We see the Kingdom of God in a new way.

It is easiest to learn basic meditation practices during the quiet times of our lives. It’s harder to suddenly start a meditation practice during a bad time. But it can be done.

When Stress Hits…

A close friend began meditating when he was put in prison. He sat alone on his bunk amidst the shouting and violence and made himself meditate. Now, years later he refers to prison as his “monastery.”

When stress hits, here’s what to do:

Drop back to the simplest meditation you know.

Simple breath counting is the usually the best choice. Focus on your breath. Release thoughts as they arise. Breathe in on one, breathe out on two.  Or breathe in love, breathe out love.

During stress, negative thoughts overwhelm us. Just meditating relaxes us just a little. And any relaxing also eases pain. That’s a big step.

Do not try difficult meditations right now. For example, if you are in the hospital, what you need first is relaxation and relief from pain and worry. You can do healing meditations later. If your husband wants a divorce, don’t choose today to start a forgiveness meditation. You can do it later. If you might get fired, don’t use your meditation time to visualize new jobs. Use your meditation to ease pain and negativity first.

Try not to judge yourself for being freaked out. It’s okay to be scared or angry or upset, even if you’ve been meditating for years. Meditation is just a tool. It’s good, but it doesn’t make us super-human.

Your first priority is caring for yourself and getting the negative thoughts under control, if possible.  Meditating makes it easier to feel God’s love and hope.

Meditation eases both emotional and physical pain. It makes our thoughts less crazy. On life’s worst days, meditating really pays off.

Meditate more often.

Take your breath counting and do it two or three times a day. Do it for longer periods of time, if you can. For me, in times of great stress, I have done 30 or 40 minutes, both morning and evening. Catch any little block of time and try to do breath counting for a few minutes.

Consciously open to Divine Help in your intention.

Begin your meditation by opening to God’s help. For example, start with intentions like these:  “May I receive Divine love and strength.”  “May I feel hope.” “May I open to God’s help and love.” “May I let God help me in the best possible way.”

Make sure you haven’t fallen into the “God’s plan” trap. Often when bad things happen, people assume that a terrible outcome must be God’s plan. They assume that it’s time to surrender all hope—Time to be a martyr. They think this means they have faith.

BUT no one knows what God’s plan is! Not even the Pope. It’s way above our pay grade. I don’t know what anything means. I don’t know what is hopeful. If God’s will is perfect love, what does that mean in this situation? I have no clue, and neither do you.

Surrendering to God means surrendering to miracles, to surprise and wonder, to things you have never imagined. Maybe life means something totally different than you ever knew. Maybe death does too.

What I know for sure is that God is good and blessing always comes—but it often takes a surprising form.

Get help with your meditation.

Ask a friend, minister or chaplain to sit with you and meditate. It’s easier when you’re not alone. Ask friends to send prayers. Maybe a group of your friends can sit with you and meditate or friends can meditate on your behalf from far away.

Find a chapel or church close by. Most hospitals have chapels, and it’s easier to feel God’s caring when you’re in a place where many people have prayed and meditated.

Ask someone to find you some calming meditation music and earphones. There are thousands available, and they make meditation easier. Many are sold under labels such as “Calming Music” or “Relaxation Music.” Steven Halpern has made some wonderful music for meditation and healing, and several of these links are available on The Wayside Stand page.

Try not to dwell on any specific outcome.

Good luck, right? I know this seems impossible. But remember we have no idea what’s possible. We don’t know what might work. We don’t know what’s good and what’s bad. 

Try to let God direct what happens. If that is too hard—and it’s probably too hard—try to ask for the end result to be something huge and non-specific like love, hope, ease, joy or peace.

I have sat in the ER hoping that my child will survive. I know how bad it is. I know controlling your fear is almost impossible.

Visualize yourself or your loved one lying in the arms of a beloved holy being. For example, feel yourself or your loved one cradled in Jesus’s arms. Or see yourself carried like a small child in the arms of a powerful bright angel. Hold these images as long as you need to. Give your attention to making these images detailed, easy and loving.

And…

Death can be a form of healing. After all, we live in God after our bodies fail. That means we become all love, all joy. We become eternity.

Here’s a profound, comforting hymn about God and fear and death. A woman wrote this for her husband while he was in hospice: Click here for video

You are a Child of God. All stress, fear and illness belong to your outer self, not to the Child of God.

When we heal fully and when we die, that outer self falls away like a butterfly’s chrysalis. We become our truest beauty as we melt into God.

Meditation shows us the space between thoughts. This is the Christ Consciousness. Eternity. All love. That is why we meditate.