Excerpt from new book, Zen Druidry – meditation

In Druidry, meditation is also very important, for by stilling the mind we can learn to reweave the threads that have become loose, that disconnect us from the rest of the world around us. We can examine our nemeton, that space of our edges, both mentally and physically – that area around ourselves that still holds our soul intention. Some people have called it the aura – here is it our own personal sacred space, often the intimate space that we do not usually let strangers in. We can open and close our nemeton, blending them with others or closing them off, feeling edges merging or withdrawing through intimate interactions, whether it is with our lover, the beech tree in the garden, our co-worker. We use our nemeton to create a space where we can simply be ourselves, allowing our true soul expression. By stopping for a while, we can look at how and where we are, where our edges are, and re-establish that connection with life through simple sitting meditation, or walking meditation. The key is in the stopping.

 Many Zen teachers are very strict about what position to sit in. Some believe that the lotus pose (sitting cross-legged, each foot on the opposite thigh) is the only pose for meditation, believing that this is how Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment. Well, I’m not Buddha, and my knees and hips haven’t got that flexibility. Not many people in our Western culture have that flexibility – too many years of sitting in chairs and other activities have changed our bodies from the flexibility we once had as children. Some of that flexibility can be regained, through yoga, pilates, and other techniques, but for now I will only state one thing – be comfortable.

I tried for years to sit “correctly” in a half-lotus pose (one foot on the opposite thigh). All I got from that was my circulation being cut off, pins and needles starting from my foot and then running up my leg, then full loss of feeling in one leg, switching over to the other as I switched my legs halfway through the meditation. I do not believe that cutting off circulation is in any way good for you, and so I have given this up completely. Even sitting in just a regular cross-legged pose, raised on a cushion so my knees are pushed down towards the ground (creating a very stable platform) my circulation is impaired, and so I have taken to sitting in a position that allows me to lean back a little – which requires a back support. I found that with that simple change of position, I could still sit cross-legged, the best position and most stable position if a chair is not possible, and maintain the blood flow through my body as it was intended to be. Whether I’m leaning slightly back on my sofa-bed or on a tree out on the heaths or in the forest, this seems to take the pressure off my legs. You must find a position that works for you, that doesn’t cut off the circulation. You may have to sit in a chair, or even lie down – beware that lying down can easily make you fall asleep. You can even make or purchase meditation benches – I have not tried these, but they do look interesting.

So, now that we are sitting comfortably (ensure that you are warm enough, that you have gone to the loo beforehand, that you aren’t wearing any restrictive clothing) – now what do we do?

We just sit.

Yes, that’s it. Just sitting – it can and is remarkably interesting. Really. When we have stilled our bodies, our minds hopefully will still also. Remember that saying, free your mind and your ass will follow? What I am suggesting is to keep still on your butt, therefore stilling your mind. Starting with ten minutes a day, then in a couple of weeks twenty, then thirty, building up to an hour – we learn to make the time and space that we need to be still.

So how on earth do we keep still? Discipline, discipline, discipline. It’s become a rather “bad” word in our society today, instilling images of rigid conservative behaviour. What we must realise is that though we cannot control others, we can learn to control ourselves, and thereby acting more honorably to the world around us, simply by being aware of ourselves. So we must learn to keep still, in order to attain that stillness within that will then allow us to hear the songs of everything around us fully. Our minds are chattering to us all the time – how on earth are we supposed to hear anything other than ourselves? Here, meditation is the key.

 It helps to begin with a focus. When beginning on the path of mediation, whether with eyes open or closed, breathing is usually the first thing we relearn how to do. We learn to become aware of our breath once again, really feeling our lungs expanding and contracting, the coolness of the air, or the damp, the moisture, the dryness of it. We feel it going through our noses (I prefer to breathe through my nose in meditation – for me it is quieter and I think it is better to use our natural filters in our noses), we feel it tingling past our nostril hairs, down into our throat and lungs, feeling the expansion of our chest, the contraction of our upper backs, our diaphragm pushed down. Equally, we acknowledge the exhalation – the warm air again travelling from our lungs and throat out our noses, our diaphragms moving upwards again, the expansion of the upper back. We may even count our breaths, in sets of three, or nine, or ten – yet again I simply prefer to focus on the breath, for I believe that counting is still engaging our brains into repetitive patterns that we are trying to avoid – we are still hearing that voice in our head counting, which makes it more difficult to hear anything else.

The first few breaths we take in meditation are glorious – we are fully aware of the process, feeling it through our bodies, really engaging with what was once an automatic response to our need for air. But the novelty wears off so very soon, with our minds so accustomed to distraction. Living with televisions and the internet, radio and other media, we are constantly absorbing information, doing multiple things at once, dropping one thing and heading over to the next stimulus. In meditation, we learn to be without the man-made stimulus that we have grown so accustomed to. It’s bloody hard.

And so, our minds instantly wander, reliving what happened in the office today, what our lover said to us this morning, what we are going to have for dinner. Appointments, engagements, things to do – all these suddenly surface and before you know it, we’ve lost our focus on our breath. So we return our focus as soon as we realise we have lost it. This happens, again and again. Trust me. It may happen ten times in one session, it may happen one hundred times, but is usually will happen.

This is where discipline kicks in. We are not, as stated before, trying to empty our minds. For now, we are simply trying to find a focus which will lead towards a path of stillness. We are wanting to open the door to awareness, but first we must focus our intent, grab hold of the doorknob, and turn it before we can enter into the next phase.

From there, we become aware of what is going on around us – shifting the focus slightly from our breath to our external world. We listen to the blackbird singing outside our window – but we listen without judgement, without thought – we simply hear it, without thinking about how beautiful it is, whether it will nest in our hedges, what time it is as he usually sings at dusk, is it nearly dusk, damn, we’re supposed to be going out tonight – you see where I’m going with this! We hear the traffic passing by, the cooing of the doves, the sounds of children playing, the hum of our refrigerator, the central heating coming on. We listen without thought, without judgement. If we are outside, we can also feel the sunlight on our face and shoulders, or the wind in our hair, the raindrop on our skin, without attaching to it.

Like I said before, just sitting can be remarkably interesting.

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