An enormous range of stilling, centring and explorative exercises can be found under the blanket banner of ‘meditation’, however it’s quite important to recognise that they’re not all the same, and that they can all bring very different results. This is a huge subject and in this basic introduction for readers who may not have explored meditation in depth, or who may be a little confused, we’re going to be looking at the differences between a few separate techniques, how they can benefit you, and how you can smoothly incorporate them into your life whatever your faith background.
There are three main themes in this article, and these are meditation, contemplation and Pathworking. They are all significantly different from each other.
What is meditation?
Meditation can be defined as a controlled and active, perfectly focused state of mind while experiencing profound physical relaxation. However, this doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to be sitting still or lying down, because once you feel comfortable with the technique you’ll be able to enter a meditative state in many safe situations, such as riding on the bus, doing housework, or mowing the lawn. ‘Walking meditation’ is a very effective technique for clearing your head and de-stressing yourself. But obviously it would be irresponsible to try to meditate while driving, or when you need to be attentive!
What is contemplation?
By contrast, contemplation is a completely passive state. It is the practice of emptying the mind and waiting in silence for it to be filled with the Divine presence, or with Light, gnosis or wisdom from the collective consciousness, or with a message from your immaterial guide or Master, depending on your belief system. In contemplation we learn to completely surrender our ‘Self’ in a very holistic way, and this can only be done in a secure private environment, because the technique requires a very deep state of consciousness.
What is Pathworking?
Pathworking is a method used mainly as an explorative tool, usually practised to either help us to understand ourselves better, to gain an insight into our nature, and to go on spiritual journeys. We can use Pathworking to discover our spirit animal and our immaterial Master, we can discover our true inner being, and we can use it to help heal painful past experiences that are locked within us. In this article you’ll be able to read examples from these three themes, and how to use them for yourself.
Meditation in practice
If you’ve never seriously tried to meditate, even though you like the idea, you’re probably placing barriers in front of yourself, such as believing you don’t have enough undisturbed time to relax, or you have trouble ‘switching off’. Bear in mind that your practice is progressive and developed in small steps. Simple meditation can be achieved during any time in the day when you’re not actively occupied. When you properly take stock of your day, you’ll find many more of these periods than you had realised before. Absolutely nobody is 100% active for the whole day. Even five minutes will have a great cumulative benefit, and will help you to cope better.
An effective technique is to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus every morsel of your attention on the breath as it moves in and out past your nostrils. The aim is to place ALL of your concentration here, rather than thinking about your worries, or paying attention to surrounding distractions. After a few rounds, change your focus to feeling the breath moving past your throat. Really try to feel the air moving in and out. Then follow the same process for the upper chest and feel the breath in your lungs. Then follow this process for the lower chest lungs. And finally, follow the path of each breath in and out, from top to bottom. By this time you should be feeling much more relaxed.
At this point you may have to stop and get on with your day, but if not, then take things a stage further and occupy your mind by focusing on gently repeating an inner affirmation, such as, "I am calm and able", allowing your consciousness to absorb the phrase. Alternatively, repeat a single word, such as "positive", and focus on the real true meaning of its essence, absorbing it, and playing with it in your mind, making it grow and become real. After you have experienced success with these simple techniques, you’ll feel more confident to explore meditation further and for longer periods. Many Buddhist temples offer free space, classes, or groups in which you can develop your practice, and many people find these very useful whatever their faith.
Contemplation in practice
Contemplation is for most people more difficult to achieve than meditation, and most people decide to try and explore it after they’ve already had some experience of relaxation and stilling techniques. However, if your personal aim is to create a deeper relationship within yourself with the Supreme Being, or the Light, then you may feel the need to begin working with this technique.
This is a very deep form of altered consciousness, and it helps if you are guided by a more experienced person, or are otherwise mentally prepared for what may be an unusual experience for you. One thing of great importance is that you MUST be in a safe environment where no harm is going to come to you when you detach your consciousness from our reality. For example, it’s not a good idea to contemplate in a busy rail station late at night, where you may find yourself in danger from mugging. It’s also vital to incorporate early into your routine the firm idea that no sudden noise will distract you, otherwise the doorbell buzzing will make you leap out of your skin and could possibly even cause you serious physical damage. You should also incorporate that if an emergency occurs you will immediately gently awaken and handle it perfectly. All of these things are vital for your physical safety, and are important factors that allow your subconsciousness to ‘let go’.
Contemplation is a complete emptying of your Self, and a silent waiting for the Divine presence, or Light, to fill you. Therefore, as a beginner it’s useful to start with a general relaxation and stilling/centring technique, after which you can begin the process of ‘emptying’, which is a practice that progresses slowly for most people, and is a great challenge. Feel well if you manage just a few seconds during each session when you first begin. After some time, you will manage far longer and more successful periods. It assists many students as they enter the ‘waiting’ for them to literally imagine, feel, and believe that their skull case is an empty vessel (a vase, a pot, a sphere) that is filled with indigo. Do not think. Do not use words. Detach your Self. Rest within the safe secure comfort of the indigo. Feel the Light around you, penetrating your every cell and atom. Lose your Self. There is only the Light. These are the first basic steps in this very deep and profound technique. Try these beginnings and see where they take you. You may be astounded and thrilled, and drawn to explore contemplation further. Traditionally this has been a Christian mystical practice, and many retreat houses and convents/monasteries offer interfaith or non-denominational holidays where you can deepen your techniques.
Pathworking in practice
Pathworking is usually associated with New Age and Native American faiths, and Wicca. It’s a very useful exploratory technique that has virtually limitless scenarios and possibilities. If after some success you enjoy Pathworking and wish to explore it further, there are many in depth books on the subject, and workshops, camps, circles and audio tapes, are usually advertised in ‘mind, body, spirit’ magazines.
Pathworking is generally more effective, especially for the beginner, if it is lead either in person or by listening to a tape. You can always make your own tape of a Pathworking you wish to follow, and then play it to yourself. This is a very cheap, easy, and personal way of developing your practice. An extremely useful journey of self discovery that I ask all students to take approximately every six months, is a technique to reveal your true inner self, the real true self that we believe we are deep inside. It is interesting to discover how our inner perception changes as we progress along our spiritual path, and it gives us a very useful insight and lots to think about afterwards. However, the experience can also be very disturbing for some people. It can be upsetting, frightening, puzzling, or disappointing. The vital thing is NOT to have any preconceived notions or images prior to or during the Pathworking, otherwise the exercise is pointless and unrewarding. As with all Pathworking, you MUST let your Self go, and allow your inner Being to be transported by the journey, and allow the journey to REVEAL its message without any conscious prompting or interference from your Self. That is the main difference between this spiritual technique and simply ‘daydreaming’. Don’t be tempted to repeat this journey more than every few months, otherwise you’ll simply become confused or disappointed by the insight.
Make yourself comfortable, and in your mind vividly find yourself in front of a large stately mansion. A wise old gardener tending the flower beds nods at you as you pass him on your way into the grand entrance hall. The hall is very large and every wall is full of doors of different shapes, colours and sizes. One of the doors appeals to you, so you go to it, you open it and go into the room. The room is dimly lit and you look around at its furnishing and decoration. You see a full length mirror, and walk towards it, knowing it is magical. The surface of the mirror is misty and unclear. As you stand in front of it the mist slowly disappears and you examine the reflection before you, which is your true inner Self revealed. After a few moments the mirror becomes misty again and you calmly leave the room, and the house. The sun is shining and the flowers in the garden are beautiful. As you pass the wise old gardener he stops you and speaks to you. Listen to his words, he has an important message for you. You thank him and say goodbye, then calmly and in your own time, you return back to our reality. It can help to discuss what has been revealed with your Leader or fellow students, because sometimes your insights need an ‘outsider’ to assist in interpreting their real meaning.
Finally, you may also wish to explore Chakra meditation which can be extremely rewarding, but not something to be attempted without experienced advice or thorough prior reading. You may also wish to explore the use of sounds and vibrations and their effect on the body from external sources, such as chimes, bells, and singing bowls, and also the effect of your own vocalisations on the body which can feel terrific and healing, plus the use of repeated verbalisations, affirmations and mantras. Of course there are dozens more techniques that can’t be covered in this brief article, but many of them are not suitable for novices or even for experienced lay people, such as the methods used by Yogis, however there’s enough material here to start you off in the right direction.
The ‘world’ of meditation in its broadest blanket sense is absolutely huge, but there’s no need to feel daunted by it. Remember, small steps. Stick your toe in the water and see how it feels. Have a little experiment, and you may find that one single technique floats your boat or you may find that you prefer a variety of methods. Few people receive no benefit from regular practice, and most people are surprised by how good they feel and the general holistic benefits they gain. There are no strict rules with most forms of ‘meditation’ and they can usually be practiced alone, so please have a go, and enjoy!
© holisticshop and Hazel Alexander 2002. All rights reserved