Follow this simple guide to get started…
Once you have made the decision, the first thing is to find a place to meditate and then to commit yourself to give the time to it. Often this is the hardest part. The place can be anywhere that is quiet and where you will not be disturbed, either by other people, noise or by your mobile phone. I sometimes just sit in my bedroom or in the kitchen when the rest of the family are out.
Our bodies are important in meditation – the way we sit and the sense of awareness we have of our physical being is crucial. We pray with our bodies just as we do with our minds and hearts. You will find that meditation will make you more aware of the beauty of your body and help you realise what a special gift it is from the Lord. We should try to take good care of our body; after all we are ‘the temples of the Holy Spirit’. Meditation not only promotes spiritual well-being but also addresses emotional and physical issues as well. If you are living an unhealthy lifestyle and you persevere in meditation, you will be challenged at some point to take better care of yourself.
The main point is to sit upright, in a comfortable and relaxed position, with a sense of dignity and body awareness, but without any tension or strain. It helps to keep your knees lower than your hips, as this will protect your back. Place your feet flat on the ground, wiggle your toes, and begin to work up through your body, relaxing each part. Place both hands lightly on your lap; this will help loosen the tightness in your shoulders, neck and forehead. A short piece of gentle background music may help you at this stage.
You will find it a great help to focus on your breath. The breath is a kind of anchor on which to rest your attention and focus your awareness. After all, meditation is all about being present, first of all to ourselves, and then to the Lord who is present to us. Close your eyes lightly, breathe easily and gently, aware of your breath coming in and going out. Breathe out your tensions and let a spirit of peace and stillness fill your body and your heart.
The core of meditation is awareness and attentiveness. Learn to be in the ‘present moment’. Focus all your attention on just being present, without any set agenda or expectation. Listening, being still and being present will bring its own peace and sense of wholeness.
It is important at this stage to open your heart in prayer; nothing heavy or elaborate, just a thought or a simple awareness of who you are, the wonder of your own being and great dignity and joy of being in the Lord’s presence. A prayer to the Holy Spirit might be appropriate, even one that is silent and wordless. My own favourite payer is: Jesus, I love you, I need you, open my heart to your love.
Prayer can take any form; what matters is the response in the heart: the looking, the listening and the openness to the Lord’s presence and to the gift of his love. Let the Lord look at you and love you, allow your own heart to reach out to him in a response of love. No need to ‘think’ about anything in particular, not what you are, but simply that you are. Do not try to analyse or to think about what is happening, just ‘BE’ before the Lord.
If your mind starts to wander – and it will – do not worry. The best thing to do is to fall back on a simple prayer word, a love word or phrase from scripture. A time-honoured word is the Hebrew phrase, maranatha: Come, Lord Jesus. If you like, you can say it to the rhythm of your breathing: ma – ra – na – tha, as you breathe in and out. Gently repeat this word without giving it too much attention; it will bring its own stillness. Then allow the sacred word to fade away into the silence. I encourage people to ask the Lord for their own sacred word.
Do not be over anxious or concerned about time. Start with a few minutes each day and let the time increase and grow naturally. Eventually you will able to spend anything from 10 minutes to 20 minutes in prayer. Martin Laird refers to meditation as the ‘art of stealing time’, a lovely way of encouraging us to persevere and not lose heart.
The most important thing in meditation is to keep going and not to give up. Sometimes, in the stillness, anxious thoughts and memories come up. Do not give them time or energy; let them float by, like leaves on a stream. They will come and go and the more you ignore them the less troublesome they become.
Meditation in itself is healing; it brings its own peace and harmony. The power of attentiveness and awareness gathered into a simple prayer can in itself quieten and soothe the heart.
At the end of each meditation you will generally have a sense of gratitude and appreciation, just for the simple fact of having had some quiet time and for the experience of peace and calmness it has brought. It is good to express this in a short prayer of thanksgiving. I often say a prayer I was taught by my one of my first teachers in prayer, Fr Matthew McGetrick:
May the Grace I have received, Lord, sink deep into my heart,
bear fruit in my life and keep me always in thanksgiving, in praise of your name.
- Each day find a comfortable quiet place. Close your eyes, spend a few minutes relaxing and becoming aware of the Lord’s presence within you and around you, Say a short prayer to the Holy Spirit.
- Be open to the Lord; do not hide from Him, let Him look at you and love you. Begin with just a few minutes each day. Gradually try to increase this prayer time, but do it slowly and gently; do not try to rush things. When distractions come, as they will, do not be anxious, let them come and go. Focus gently on your breath and repeat your prayer word quietly and attentively.
- Do not worry if you sometimes fall asleep, your body may need this rest. When you become aware of ‘waking up’ gently rest again on the Lord’s loving gaze or repeat your prayer word.
- Finish each meditation with a short prayer of thanksgiving for the way you have been blessed.
During the day
- If possible spend at least five minutes reading/reflecting on the gospels. In order to know Jesus and imitate Him we must reflect on His life and teaching. Sometimes you may prefer to reflect on the writings of one of the saints or great spiritual teachers. Chapter three will introduce you to a few of these.
- As you engage in your daily tasks and during your quiet moments, you could pray your prayer word or phrase, and this will help to nurture your relationship with the Lord.
I’ll finish this section with a reminder that the most important thing is to keep on trying and to not be discouraged. The Lord knows the intent of your heart and appreciates every effort. There have been days when I have not been faithful to my regular meditation times; sometimes I’ve been too busy, too tired or just too distracted. But I always come back to it and, when I do, I realise just how much I need it and how I have missed it. There is something special about meditation; it keeps calling you back. It becomes part of you, like the way you think and the way you feel, and it gives an ever increasing awareness of how much you are loved and of the Lord’s gentle presence in your heart.