Many modern day pagans incorporate meditation into their spiritual practice. The reasons are varied, from wanting a sense of inner peace, health benefits, to seeking a spirit guide and more. The techniques themselves are as varied as the reasons behind why meditation is becoming so important – from journeying, astral travel, going “under the cloak”, mindfulness and so on.
There is a certain mysticism surrounding meditation, which may be a reason why it is so popular in paganism. It can be a deeply spiritual experience, it can put you in contact with the Otherworld – it can also put you in touch with yourself and the world around you in the present moment (reality). It can be both mystical and mundane. Its uses are boundless, and the benefits too many to count. However, let’s go over a few anyway…
Meditation is said to lower blood pressure, to help with sleeping difficulties, depression, anxiety attacks, deep-seated fears and problems with concentration. The latest meditation fad on the health and science circuit is Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). BBC News Healthstates that “It teaches a way of looking at problems, observing them clearly but not necessarily trying to fix them or solve them.’It suggests to people that they begin to see all their thoughts as just thoughts, whether they are positive, negative or neutral’.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7319043.stm. Now, having been a Zen meditator for years now, this sounds like plain old Soto Zen meditation to me, under a different name. In fact, Mindfulness was first translated from Sanskrit in 1881 by Thomas William Rhys Davids, who further described it as “Right Mindfulness, the active and watchful mind”. Mindfulness in itself is nothing “new” – it’s been a part of Buddhist meditation for thousands of years. Yet, as Harvard Health online states “Mindfulness meditation is getting a lot of attention because it seems to help with so many physical and psychological problems—like high blood pressure, chronic pain, psoriasis, sleep trouble, anxiety, and depression. It’s also been shown to boost immune function and stop binge eating. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-improves-connections-in-the-brain-201104082253”. No matter what it is called, it seems to be working.
Meditation is not for everyone, but for those pagans who are looking to incorporate it into their lifestyle it can be a wonderful way to get in touch with your “inner self” and the world around you. As a Druid, I use meditation for relaxation, for journeying and for connecting with everything around me. As I mentioned earlier, I usually use the method of Soto Zen, literally “sitting meditation” for the most part. This, much as the MBCT above, is about being aware of thoughts, and thought processes, without judgement. It is also being aware and in the present moment, hearing, smelling, seeing everything with complete focus to the art of paying attention. It’s also about the discipline of keeping your butt on a cushion for more than five minutes at a time, which is the hardest part.
Zen meditation is not , as many people (and pagans) believe, about transcending the body, but about being 100% completely in it – awake and aware to everything. It’s about sitting on your cushion and feeling any tension in the body. It’s about feeling your breath moving in and out of your body. It’s about hearing the blackbird singing outside. It’s also about paying attention to the thoughts that arise in your mind – “Oh, I’m thinking about that again” instead of becoming wrapped up in the thought. It’s about being non-judgemental about absolutely everything – not thinking “I’m drifting off again, I must pay attention – I really, really suck at meditating”. It’s about returning to the present moment, again and again and again. It’s really very simply, and very difficult at the same time.
Another form of meditation that I like to use was taught to me by a former teacher, Emma Restall Orr. This is called the Tree Meditation, which is wonderful for grounding. The beginnings can be found here – http://druidnetwork.org/learning/exercises/tree. It is a beautiful, grounding meditation that really focuses on the breath as a an agent to plant your metaphysical roots into the ground, to become rooted like a tree, drawing up nourishment from the very earth, the sacred earth. I try to do this at least once a week along with my Zen meditations, for it brings me back to connection with the earth, my home and the soil in my backyard.
The Ancestor Meditation is another meditation that I learned whilst on the Bobcat’s Living Druidry Course, set in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside. This is a really deep meditation to connect you with your ancestors – I’ve only ever done this with blood ancestors, but I’m sure that it could be performed with spiritual ancestors as well. It’s about connection, and again, the tool for this is the breath – what better way to connect with others than by our breath? It is a shared thing – what we breath in, others have breathed out, from bird to beetle to beastie. This meditation takes us on a journey through the breath to connect with our ancestors in a truly profound way. Not for the faint-hearted!
I also enjoy the occasional Journeying – taking a “trip” to a special place to perform a certain task, to meet with a certain person, spirit, or even deity, to seek out answers or to simply have some fun. I perform a Dark Moon Journeying to meet with other members of the Order of the Yew – the dark heart of the Druid Network. To find out more about the Order of the Yew, and its meditation, you will have to become a member, but it is well worth it in my opinion. I also meditated regularly when studying with OBOD, using their exercises which really helped open my soul to new things, to new experiences. Again, you have to be a member, and it is rather a lot more than the Druid Network.
Then there are simply times when I am outside in the backyard, watching the sunset or the sunrise, or running with the deer on the heath, or sitting in front of the fireplace, honouring the spirits of place with all that I am. Sometimes singing back to the land is a part of the meditation – I have stood at the edge of the North Sea and spiritually sung words that have no meaning and yet are full of emotion to my ancestors across the sea.
The end result to all meditation is, I suppose, connection. It’s all about relationship, whether it is getting to know yourself better, or your world. It is deeply healing and transformative, and, in my opinion, should be performed as often as you can, in as many places as you can. It’s the benefit of taking time out for yourself, with no guilt or judgement, to re-connect to the threads of life that are woven all around you. Go on, if you haven’t already – give it a try.