1. Don’t Put a Bunch of Labels on it
One of the most common mistakes people make when they are first starting out with mediation is to put all kinds of labels on it. They have an idea of what meditation should look like, and it may very well be a beautiful idea. Maybe they think they will cross their legs and put their hands together and then become one with the universe. Or maybe they imagine that when they hit the mat they will be able to turn off their mind instantly and their inner voice will become as still and clear as a crystal lake shining in the sun.
But, of course, when they sit down to start what they find is very different. Their mind will not willing turn itself off and they are not any more aware of their oneness with the universe than when they started. In fact, quite the opposite is usually true. Many people, when they first start out, find that instead of crystal clarity and One Love they find they are only reliving petty arguments from work or planning their quilt or wondering how long they’ve been sitting there. They felt pretty good about themselves when they started but after a few minutes they are frustrated and disappointed. Sound familiar?
All of that is perfectly fine. Don’t put a bunch of labels on it and expect too much. Just show up and sit quietly and thank God for the moment in which you are.
2. Learn How to Read
Often, when people find that their first attempts at meditation are not turning out the way they hoped, they will do a very reasonable thing and try to find an instruction book that can explain to them what went wrong. Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this post right now. Let me say that it is actually a good thing to do some reading if your mind isn’t letting you get a moment in edge wise. I often turn to Thomas Merton when I find myself getting frustrated with my ever chattering mind. But, this kind of reading is only a stepping stone. It can help to give your mind something to chew on, especially if that something is of a contemplative nature.
But do not study the book. If you find your mind wandering for the love of God let it! Let your eyes wander off the page and stare into nothingness, because staring into nothingness is what you’re trying to do in the first place.
3. Break the Rules
Many people, after diligently studying books on mediation from a variety of sources will decide to take up a regimented practice to keep them on the right track. They will cling rigidly to a set of spiritual practices and not waiver from them at all. Do not get me wrong, spiritual practices and regimented schedules can be very helpful. That’s why monastics in both the east and the west have lived by contemplative monastic rules. But they can also lead to a sort of legalism that takes one away from contemplation all together. Take some advice from the Dalai Lama when he said:
“Learn and obey the rules very well so you will know how to break them properly.”
If you’re looking for some rules to break check out our spiritual practices page.
4. Don’t have too much concern with how you position your body.
While we are embodied creatures, who are in some sense completely inseparable from our physical and temporal locations, the inner work must be just that – inner. Care for your body, and love it, but contemplation happens outside what is temporal or physical. So, sit on a chair if the floor is uncomfortable. Cross your legs if you want to. Or use a pillow. Give your body what it needs so that it is not calling you away from the work at hand.
5. Don’t Take Any Shortcuts
Contemplative prayer, or meditation, is a resting in that which is beyond the self. It is very tempting to try and go straight for the heights and depths of contemplation without first having come to understand the false self and the true self. But know, dear friend, that striving up to God without first dissecting and understanding the ego will not work. Because until you have come to understand yourself you cannot know what it is that you are to leave behind. So, see a counselor, a spiritual director, or an Anam Cara and learn yourself before you abandon yourself. Do not expect instant results. Instant results are what we get from Google searches. finding inner stillness takes time and patience.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it on your favourite social media or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more about Celtic Christianity and Contemplation, check out some of the free videos from our virtual retreat: Sacred Spaces: Contemplation and the Celtic Spirit.