All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. – Dame Julian of Norwich, the fourteenth-century mystic
If you’re reading this, you already know through personal experience that life is not always smooth sailing. Sometimes, we must face the storms of life--illness, financial difficulties, relationship problems, and countless other challenges that blow our way and really rock our boats. In fact, sometimes we face losses so staggering, it feels like we’re in the middle of a Category Five hurricane. When harsh winds and rough seas shake you to the core, meditation and prayer can give you the stamina and grace you need to weather these tempests. They can bring you to a place of solace, peace and insight—the eye of the storm—even when chaos is spinning all around.
Remember that the same crisis that brings you to your knees because you’re hurting and afraid can also be the powerful force that invites you to reconnect with your spirit. There are problems and wounds so big and so deep that your mind, your body, your heart and your money can’t figure out a way to fix them. But there are no hits or hurts that your spirit can’t handle. When you want to draw upon that limitless resilience, meditation and prayer are the buckets you send down into the well.
We have listed some excellent books and CDs for you to check out if you want to learn to meditate or strengthen your prayer practice; they will give you the information you need to begin to turbocharge your spiritual resilience. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin a more authentic spiritual practice:
* Start small. If you were going to start running as a way to be more fit, you wouldn’t begin by running five miles. Over the years, when I’ve taken up running again after a hiatus, I always begin again by just throwing on my running shoes and taking a few laps around the block. For the first week or two, I give myself permission to just run for as long as I’m comfortable, though I do usually find that I want to go a little further each day. Pretty soon, without imposing pressure on myself, I find myself running a mile. And from there, it’s just a matter of growing my new fitness practice until it’s as big as I’d like it to be. Well, meditation and prayer are kind of like spiritual running. If you start out the first day by making yourself sit full-lotus style for an hour, you will be beyond your comfort zone and you’ll probably end up quitting before you really start. There are so many misconceptions about meditation and prayer and one of the biggest ones is that you must devote a lot of time to derive any benefits from it. Why not start by taking five minutes a day? Refuse to make prayer or meditation a burden or another obligation on your to-do list—instead, think of it as a pleasurable indulgence. And remember, short can be sweet.
* It’s normal to feel like you aren’t “good” at meditation or prayer. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they have tried meditation but that they just can’t do it. A common concern of people who are just starting to meditate is that they can’t get their minds to “shut up” for long enough to feel like they are “successfully” meditating. Well, let me tell you a little secret: virtually every person who learns to meditate feels the exact same way at first. The human mind is a chatterbox hovering above your spirit—your chatterbox mind is no different from anyone else’s and, not to worry, you can learn to go deeper into the quiet of your soul. The first step is to commit to practicing your meditation or prayer. They call it practice because you have to practice to get good at it.
* Consider using a Guided Meditation to help you get started. A guided meditation talks you through a visualization and breathing experience that can heighten your awareness and allow you to bypass your chattering mind by keeping you focused. Many people who have a hard time meditating silently have an easier time using guided meditations, especially at first. See our resource list for some suggested CDs.
If you’re new to meditation, just the experience of being in silence can feel strange at first. Try this little exercise to get you started:
If you prefer to read the text, please click here.
If you feel more drawn to prayer than to meditation, there are many resources available to help you grow as a “pray-er.” Just the way you can “grow” a meditation practice over time, you can also deepen your prayer practice as you go. The important thing is to just begin where you are. One simple way to begin praying when you haven’t done so regularly or in a while is to say to yourself “For the next five minutes, I will be alone with God.” Just begin with the intention of visiting with God and don’t worry so much about what to “say” as you pray. Of course, there are many beautiful and profound prayers already formed for you in the sacred literature of the world’s religions, but sometimes a good place to start is by just sitting quietly and being receptive to God’s presence. Many of us are accustomed to prayer where we talk silently or out loud to God but sometimes the simple longing for connection with God is the most profound prayer of all.
* If you want to develop or deepen your meditation or prayer practice, there are so many teachers and materials available to help you on this journey. This resource list is a place to start.
Meditation and Prayer CD’s
The Forgiveness Formula: How to Find the Happiness on the Other Side of the Hit You've Taken by Jillian Quinn Beginner’s Guide to Meditation by Joan Borysenko The Art of Meditation by Daniel Goleman, PhD Getting in the Gap by Wayne W. Dyer (book with CD) Meditation for Beginners by Jack KornField Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh Relaxation and Mindfulness by Daniel Goleman with Tara Bennett-Goleman and Mark Epstein, M.D. Guided Meditations for Busy People by Bodhipaksa Opening to Meditation: A Gentle Guided Approach by Diana Lang
Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield Prayers of our Hearts by Rev. Vienna Cobb Anderson Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault Open Mind, Open Heart by Father Thomas Keating Seeking God, The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal The Heart of Meditation by Swami Durgananda – Sally Kempton Meditation for Beginners by Stephanie Clement