Some Small Thoughts on Meditation

A lovely woman I know wants to learn more about meditation, and that has me thinking about my own practice. I thought I'd share some of the bits and pieces that I've cobbled together over the years. It doesn't make up a totally orthodox whole of any kind, but it's valuable to me. Some parts I've gotten from books, others from classes and teachers, and still others simply through the practice itself.
  • Meditation (or "quiet time" as I call mine, given that it's a generally a blend of meditation and prayer) is hard. It looks like doing nothing, but it's unfamiliar. Most of us are unaccustomed to silence. Some of us (most? all?) are afraid of what might arise in us when we sit down without distractions. If only in this one area, this is the place to be gentle and patient with ourselves.
  • It helps to start small. Whether starting for the first time, or picking back up after a long hiatus, it's nice to start with about 5 minutes. One can always add more time. This is exactly the kind of thing where being respectful of where I really am in my life, instead of where I wish I was is important.
  • I learned very early on that it can be very difficult for me to take quiet time for myself when there are other people home. This tends to be true for women, for caretakers, and for extroverts. I also learned that a parked car by a lake or stream can be a great alternative.
  • I like to set a timer. I'm pretty compulsive about time, and this helps me to let go of the need to check up on myself. If it's the kind that ticks, I put it in a drawer or cupboard so that I only hear the "Ding!"
  • I sit either in a comfortable chair, with both feet on the ground, or else on the floor, with my legs crossed in front of me. I like to hold my hands palms-up, as I discovered in yoga that it's a more open position than hands-down. (A little secret: I do this when I'm listening to people, too. It helps me remember to be open to them, and to let myself be open.)
  • Breathing is so simple that, like much of what happens during quiet time, it's easy to underestimate. Just noticing breath, paying attention to it, helps us to be present (which is what we hope for-- present to ourselves, present to the divine).
  • I store up emotions in all kinds of places. When I'm angry but feel powerless, my arms tingle. When I'm scared, I often tuck my thumbs into my fists. When I feel very peaceful, my hips feel heavy, like they're rooted in the floor. When I sit down for quiet time, I like to mentally scan my body, looking for tension and relaxing where I find it. I start at the top of my head, and work down slowly to my feet. Clenched places for me tend to be my forehead, my shoulders, my arms, my tongue. This varies for everyone.
  • Once I've done a body scan and am paying attention to my breathing, other thoughts will come to mind. That's OK, of course that happens! But it's good to be able to let those thoughts drift by, floating past like a cloud, or a leaf in a stream. If they're worries, we can address them later (provided the house isn't on fire!). This time is a special gift where there's no need to "fix" anything. (I know I'm guilty of thinking that by investing the energy of worry, I'm "fixing" things. It's not true, but it's taking me a long time to unlearn.)
  • Sometimes thoughts of clarity or insight come during quiet time, but it's good to let those drift by, too. If I need them, I remember them. I don't need to scurry like a squirrel, hoarding wisdom for winter.
  • In addition to focusing on breath, sometimes I sit with a word, a small phrase, or an image. I often think of God's love as a particular color of light, and I'll sit for my time, picturing myself surrounded by that light. Other times, if someone has been on my mind, I'll picture them in that light. Any word can be used-- "peace" or "love" are often suggested, but I've found that the word I'm led to sit with can be surprising. It's good to trust God and myself enough to sit with an unexpected word. There have been times I use one word on my inhale, and another on my exhale-- "worry" out and "trust" in is a pair I often return to.
  • In the beginning, I needed solitude and NO DISTRACTIONS for quiet time. Now, I find myself taking it in odd places-- in the doctor's waiting room, in a long line at the grocery store. I've found so much joy in being present in those common places.
  • One last point-- it's not always going to "work." I have to respect where I am, and not try to wrestle myself to get quiet. For me, it's best to let go before frustration takes over, and return to try again later.
I'm sure I've left things out--these are just some initial thoughts.


  1. wonderful advice and how do I know, it makes me desire some quiet time.

  2. Such good words about meditation. (And here I have not yet sat this morning. . . .) What helps me is to remember it is not how the prayer time "seems"--it's just showing up. I set the timer on my microwave, because it's far enough away not to jar me. When I was in NM on my trip with friend Nancy, she set the alarm on her i-phone, which sounded like a harp. That was lovely, but I don't have an i-phone.

  3. I'm late to your post, but I had to let you know how much I loved it. I'm going to remember that tip about holding my hands palms up when listening to others. I'm going to keep working on being respectful of where I am, rather than focusing on where I wish I could be (that one, I fear, will be my lifelong struggle).

  4. Thanks, friends, for your perspectives.


"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins