A Meditation Workshop as it was first presented to a group of 6 women in Nashville.
In creating this workshop I used material and inspiration from a number of books, websites and meditation apps which are either directly or indirectly referenced through this post and at the end of it as well.
Recently I was asked to lead a meditation workshop. I questioned my competence to lead a workshop about meditation. I thought about my years practising Buddhism, chanting daily over a number of years. I considered my more recent commitment to meditation and decided, okay, I can do this! If worse comes to worst we can simply sit in meditation for the allotted ninety minutes! 😁😁🙂
An introduction to meditation
Perhaps you think you have never meditated. Below are some activities where I find I either have to focus and concentrate as I would in meditation or places where I’m able to let go and rest my mind.
- Sitting quietly with others present
- Playing an instrument
- Sitting on a beach listening to the waves
- Petting your cat or dog
What is meditation?
- A higher spiritual awareness; remembering every action can serve a spiritual purpose
- Stepping back and watching my thoughts as if watching a play
- Getting beyond my thoughts
- Focusing on an object and when my thoughts stray I accept that my mind is doing its job – thinking – and then I gently return to my subject
- A route to improving our conscious contact with our higher power
- To learn to be still in the midst of activity and to be vibrantly alive in repose (Gandhi)
- To discipline our minds
- To gain more discernment, insight and wisdom
- So our view becomes more panoramic and less restricted
- Although your mind can have only one thought at a time, awareness can take in much more. Focusing your mind through concentrative exercises can really access and free up more and more of your intrinsic awareness.
My first meditation practice was simply repeating the Serenity Prayer over and over in my head. I remember one difficult night when I was staying at a friends house and I had the opportunity to escape the chaos that was happening and sit in a hot tub. My mind was racing and I was very fearful and I remember sitting in the tub and slowly repeating the prayer over and over and linking each word to a breath and it helped. Try this for one minute.
- Breath in (God) Breath out (grant) Breath in (me) Breath out (the) Breath in (serenity), ETC to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference
My next attempt at meditation came from an idea I may have read in Paths to Recovery. I was living with a friend who was very open to meditation and yoga so I felt comfortable doing this in our apartment with her present. I had a few daily readers which I read each morning. I took a phrase or thought from the reading and repeated it over and over again in my head.
- Read a page from a daily reader. Either take a phrase or sentence and repeat it over and over, linking it to your breath as we did with the serenity prayer or try to focus on the idea of the reading. Try this for a minute or so.
One Christmas my boyfriend at the time and I visited his mother and her partner in Lake Arrowhead California. I knew that my boyfriend had practiced a branch of Buddhism with an organization called the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and his mother was quite active. I had been searching for a spiritual community and had attended several churches in Nashville but nothing felt like it fit. I decided to give chanting a try which is the main practice of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism. She taught me how to chant “nam myoho renge kyo” and I did that with her each day of our visit. She invited me to a Buddhist meeting/Christmas party”. I had been attending a 12 step meeting for about a year at this time and the Buddhist meeting was very much like those meetings. After chanting together we sat in a circle and had a discussion, each person sharing on a topic related to Buddhism. When the meeting was over there was a get together with the Buddhist group and some other people who had been invited. After talking with a few guests I found out there were also people attending who were in 12 step programs. I had found my community. When I returned to Nashville I joined a local SGI group. I attended meetings and practiced with them for about six years. For a variety of reasons I stopped that practice but was very grateful for all I learned and for having practiced throughout those years. If anyone is interested in learning more about the SGI and Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism, I’d be more than happy to help.
- Meaning of Nam myoho renge kyo, taken from “The Liturgy of Nichiren Buddhism – The name of the fundamental law of life and the universe expounded in Nichiren Buddhism. The literal meaning is Nam (devotion), the action of practicing Buddhism; myoho (Mystic Law), the essential law of life and its phenomenal manifestations; renge (lotus), the simultaneity of cause and effect; kyo (sutra), the truth expressed through the sound of one’s voice.
- Devotion to the Mystic Law of Cause and Effect through Sound
- Repeat aloud “nam, myoho, renge, kyo”
- Repeat for one minute or so, ring bell to start or use app timer
While I was practicing this Buddhism I was searching for other Buddhists in Nashville who also were in recovery. I discovered Refuge Recovery and attended a few of their meetings. This was my first experience sitting in silent meditation with others, attempting to clear my mind and simply focusing on my breath.
- Awakening The Buddha Within page 341. Breath Counting for one minute.
Earlier I mentioned the meditation practiced in yoga. The concentration and focus on breath required in my yoga practice over the years has recently revealed to me how much yoga is a practice in meditation. In many yoga styles they use what is called the Ujjayi breath. Yoga is also how we prepare out body to sit in meditation for an extended period of time.
Below is an adaptation of how to practice ujjayi breathing from https://www.yogaoutlet.com/guides/how-to-practice-ujjayi-breath-in-yoga
- In relation to Yoga, it is sometimes called “the ocean breath”
- Begin seated in a comfortable position, relax your body and gently close your eyes. Let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
- Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
- On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Softly whisper the sound, “ahhh,” as you exhale. Imagine your breath fogging up a window.
- As you become comfortable with your exhalations, maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out, like ocean waves.
A friend introduced me to a group of women who held a meditation meeting which I have attended sporadically over the years. Here I discovered a style of meditation called Loving Kindness or Metta Meditation.
Benefits of Loving Kindness/Metta Meditation
Taken from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201409/18-science-backed-reasons-try-loving-kindness-meditation
1. Increases Positive Emotions and Decreases Negative Emotions
2. Increases vagal tone which increases positive emotions and feelings of social connection (Vagal tone refers to activity of the vagus nerve, a fundamental component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. This branch of the nervous system is largely responsible for the regulation of several body compartments at rest.)
3. Decreases Migraines
4. Decreases Chronic Pain
5. Decreases PTSD
6. Decreases Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders
7. Activates empathy & emotional processing in the brain
8. Increases gray matter volume
9. Increases respiratory Sinus Arrythmia (RSA)
10. Slows Biological Aging
11. Makes you a more helpful person
12. Increases Compassion
13. Increases Empathy
14. Decreases Your Bias towards others
15. Increases Social Connection
16. Curbs Self-Criticism
17. Is Effective Even in Small Doses
18. Has Long-Term Impact.
YouTube Video of Loving Kindness used in study
Practice Loving Kindness or Metta Meditation adapted from https://www.mettainstitute.org/mettameditation.html
- Close your eyes and bring your awareness inward. Take a deep breath in and breathe out.
- Mentally repeat, slowly and steadily, the following or similar phrases
May I be happy. May I be well. May I be peaceful and at ease
- While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express.
- Now bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then slowly repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them.
May you be happy. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease
- As you continue the meditation, bring to mind other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals, and finally people with whom you have difficulty.
- Use the same phrases, repeating them again and again, or make up phrases that better represent the loving-kindness you feel toward these beings.
Some other types of meditation
Mental Gratitude List from A to Z
Chewing Meditation – Awakening The Buddha Within page 334
Meditation and Poetry
Recently I came across this poem which I would like to share with you. I often listen to this poem as a meditation.
She let go.
Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.
She just let go. She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.
She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line.
She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.
No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations.
No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
We opened and closed our discussion with OM. Below is some information taken directly from https://www.gaia.com
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF OM?
Seed mantras like OM are no ordinary words with dictionary definitions. These mantras are more about the vibrational content than the meaning. Frawley again: “Om is the Word of God.” The sound OM is a vibration from which all the manifest universe emanates. Form and creation comes from vibration. OM is the most elemental of vibrations. It is the sound of the void. Frawley says: “Om is the prime mantra of the Higher self, or Atman. It attunes us with our true nature. It is the sound of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, who is also the inner guru and prime teacher. It reflects both the manifest and un-manifest Brahman, sustaining the vibration of being, life, and consciousness in all worlds and all creatures.”
OM AND AMEN
According to Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the classic text Autobiography of a Yogi: “Om or Aum of the Vedas became the sacred word Hum of the Tibetans, Amin of the Moslems, and Amen of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians.” The syllable has been translated into many different languages, cultures, and religious traditions, but the creative and transformative power of the sound remains the same.
If you’re interested in learning more about meditation or deepening your practice please read my blog “Meditate in Nashville” to learn about more opportunities.
Books and meditation apps used to create this post
Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison
Awakening The Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das
Paths to Recovery, Al-anon Family Groups
Courage to Change, Al-anon Family Groups
Language of Letting Go, Melody Beattie
Sam Harris “Waking Up” Meditation App
Insight Timer Meditation App