“Why do we meditate? We meditate precisely because this world of ours has disappointed us and because failure looms large in our day-to-day life. We want fulfilment. We want joy, peace, bliss and perfection within and without. Meditation is the answer, the only answer.”~ Sri Chinmoy
I first read about the lovingkindness meditation in Learning To Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life by Priscilla Warner. My own meditation practice had been less than regular when the Twitter Yoga Book Club chose this as their new selection. The lovingkindness meditation was just what I needed to jump-start not only my personal meditation time, but it was also a safe, non-threatening way to introduce meditation to many of my yoga students.
In Learning to Breathe, Warner spends a year studying meditation, guided imagery, chakra therapy and other alternative therapies in an attempt to overcome a lifetime of anxiety and panic attacks. Along the way she meets with therapists, scientists, Rabbis and teachers. And she meditates. She meditates on the beach, in her home and even on the train. In fact, when I recently spoke with Ms. Warner she said she can now get quiet enough to meditate in the middle of Grand Central Station.
How is it possible to become so quiet in the midst of chaos? In Learning to Breathe, Warner suggests seven steps:
- Start off slowly. Warner finds 20 minutes a day to be manageable and realistic in her life. Personally, I shoot for 10 minutes per day. During a recent #YOBC discussion, we were sharing meditation tips and Kate Bartolotta (@kate_bartolotta) tweeted that she meditates for thirty minutes each morning and evening. But, she adds “2 minutes is great! 10 min is great! When life gets in the way – even 10 breaths is great.” Certified Master Coach Wanda Marie agrees. She says five minutes alone with your Spirit is like five hours alone with your Spirit. Even a little bit of meditation goes a long way!
- Find a way in. Warner used guided imagery as a tool to take her to a safe place, a place she wanted to return again and again. When Warner practiced the lovingkindness meditation, she repeated it nine times. The first three recitations were directed towards herself, as she said the second set of three she visualized someone who was in pain and in need of healing. The final set of three were said for all living beings everywhere. I’ve used that same pattern as I teach my yoga students meditation. Living in the Bible-Belt South, meditation can be a scary word. Lovingkindness takes the scariness out of it and is a safe, gentle way to teach mediation to beginners. My students have been very open to learning more about meditation thanks to lovingkindness.
- Cue the music. Warner calls Krishna Das her joy therapist. The first time I heard Krishna Das sing God Is Real/ Hare Ram I was brought to tears. But not everyone prefers a soundtrack to their meditation time. Fellow Twitter Book Club reader Meredith LeBlanc (@MeredithLeBlanc) has been gathering all the meditation and #YOBC conversations on her blog The Pondering Yogini. The silence vs. music debate was pretty evenly divided. Even for those who do prefer music, it must be quiet and soothing. Sondra Lawrence (@neshobayoga) says she needs “quiet or Tibetan singing bowls.”
- Find a teacher. Warner listened to Sharon Salzberg’s Guided Meditations for Love and Wisdom – 14 Essential Practices. She says having someone whisper in your ear is a very intimate experience, so be sure to choose your teacher with care. When I’m having trouble quieting myself or just need someone to guide me, I like Harshada Wagner’s guided meditations on YogaGlo.
- Listen to dharma talks. Warner suggests Dharma Seed, a free website that offers talks by a variety of Buddhist teachers.
- Slow down and be quiet. With six kids, a husband, two dogs, private clients and work all demanding my attention, quiet and private space is rarely possible in my house. So, in my recent conversation with Ms. Warner I shared with her my own little meditation secret. Sometimes I’ll leave for work early, drive somewhere quiet and spend just 10 minutes in my car in meditation. It’s not ideal. But it works. Not only did she love my little secret, but she told me “we need to get over labeling meditation as separate from our life. It’s sacred and we need to treat it as sacred.”
- Try to be kind. To yourself first, and then to others.
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. — Dalai Lama
For more information on Priscilla Warner, her other books and her blog visit her home page.
Join the Twitter Yoga Book Club discussion at #YOBC