My intention here is to describe what meditation is for me, and how I combine it with other psychic practices that are fundamental to celebrate so called “traditional Pagan” rituals with the right attitude. I underline that I am not a “master of meditation” or an expert in oriental doctrines, and what I write and suggest here comes from my experiences, readings and practices. It has to be seen as my personal opinion on the subject, although it comes from the environment I am part of.
First of all, I call meditation a specific sort of psychic (mental) practice that, focusing on the breath (and in other version on the heartbeats), helps us to clear the mind from ordinary thoughts and prepare our inner condition in order to experience our daily life, or a specific ritual moment, with a different attitude.
The literature about meditation is large, full of foreign terminology and has expanded its scope out of the spiritual and esoteric milieu to become part of the “New age subculture” and even mainstream culture, where it is known as “mindfulness meditation”. All of this will be left out from the present note, as I will not enter the discussion about which culture “invented” meditation and so on.
What it is important is that meditation is a traditional practise that has roots in ancient Vedic civilisation, but can be adopted in any traditional cult, if it is intended to be done in the correct way, as an aid to further practices. The traditional worldview, in fact, brings us back to the awareness that “we” are not only constituted by our physical body, but also by the Soul (Latin Anima) and the Spirit (Latin Spiritus). In this way there are different levels of realities that are not always visible with our eyes, even less with inexpert eyes, but they are relevant to us and they have an important, if not total, influence on our life.
Different traditions depict several partitions of the soul, and different “intelligent entities” that connect us to the Spirit. What concerns us here we can call psyche, that is, the part of our soul that is closer to our body, and it’s more dependant and influenced from it. The influence is reciprocal, as for instance the so called “psychical problems” are often manifested in our body, and some problems that originates in our psyche are derived from a difficult relationship with our body.
On the lower level of the psyche is located what it is generally called “the rational mind”. The rational mind is what in general is identified as “our inner self”, “our real identity”, where “our thoughts” are created and exist. Unfortunately, this is only partially true; what we perceive as “our thoughts” in most cases are not really produced by our inner will, but they generate themselves automatically inside the mind, without any will. In the same way, they will disappear automatically, in a state of constant flow. How something that is it not created by our will can be an expression of ourselves? How can thoughts be a mark of any identity if they disappear in the same way that they came up? Even if it is clearly a misleading path, the depicted events related to the thoughts that we briefly mentioned are seen as the “ordinary condition” for most of the people.
This overwhelming condition, where the mind plays constantly with thoughts was considered problematic already in ancient times, and such a presumably rational mind was considered an illusion, unable to get in touch with the inner Self, and unable to grasp the metaphysical realities of the human being. In order to diminish the power of the mind’s illusion, and to lower the intensity of the intrusive, pure illusion of auto-generated thoughts, meditation was created.
On the way to the basic practice
How to start practically with meditation? There are at least two plans to take into account. The first plan is the general mindset that helps to understand why meditation is needed and in which way it will help us. To fulfil this plan, the reading of traditional sources, plus contemporary experts can be sufficient. But no reading can replace the practice. Because we live in a “rationally” orientated world, the use of the mind or of the rational thought itself can't be logically avoided, so we arrive to the second plan, the plan of the daily practice.
A daily practice is the best way to feel the improvement that meditation will give to your mind and to your psyche. Also here there are different schools of practices and techniques. Some of them could be more functional to particular people instead of others, and it’s inappropriate to believe that there is only one “true” technic that is better than the others.
Here I will suggest one technique that I mostly use and from which I gain an objective benefit, not only on the level of ordinary life, but also in the direction of the practice of traditional ritual.
In a few words, the practice of meditation consists of sitting/lying for about 15-20 minutes, without moving, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation movement of the breath from the nose to the lungs and vice versa. To aid the concentration, specific music can be used (rhythmic music with drums and repetition of mantra-style terms is particularly recommended, but the volume should not become a distraction from the practice). To separate the moment of practice from the rest of the day, an alarm clock is necessary. In this way we will not be worried about trying to calculate the flowing of time with our mind.
The starting position should be comfortable for you: although most of the texts and authors suggest to sit in the so called “lotus position” (the typical cross-legged sitting position, in which each foot is placed on the opposite thigh; if you choose this position remember to keep your back straight) also lying in the supine position, on a hard surface is good. The surface should be hard to avoid falling asleep. In fact the mental condition of meditation, on the highest level, can be considered as close to a state of altered consciousness between sleep and wakefulness. Once you choose your starting position, be sure to have set the alarm clock (15 or 20 minutes is a good starting time) and eventually put some relaxing music. As already mentioned the music should contain rhythmic and repeated sounds such as the beating of a drum or the flowing of a river.
When the clock is set and you are comfortable in your position, it is time to start the relaxation. This can be done preferably with closed eyes to minimize stimuli meditated through images from the world outside you.
Then, it is time to relax. You can either start from the upper or the lower part of the body. Here the aim is to focus on the muscles and parts of the body, visualizing it in your mind and trying to release the pressure that is inevitably present. You can repeat in your mind words like “relax your jaw, until it is totally soft and elastic and now move to the neck, do not tighten, let go of all tension”. This process has to be done with all parts of the body. When you have completed this task, it is time for the core of the practice, the focus on the breath.
Keep your focus
The total relaxed position in which you are now is the best moment to focus on your breath. Actually the whole mediation is based on that. Here you have to visualize the air you breathe, inhale and exhale, which enters the nose, descends into the lungs and then goes up the same path. Even if theoretically it may seem easy, it's actually quite difficult, because especially if you are new to this kind of practice, your mind will be invaded by a lot of different thoughts, that will try to disturb your focus. This happening is completely normal. The mind not accustomed to the practice is in fact like a wild animal who tries to avoid any attempt at control and runs wildly.
But our goal here is not to control the mind. On the contrary, it is to elude the incessant river of thought, letting it flow and concentrating on the breath. It is important for the practitioner to just let the wild animal go away, without giving it any attention. In order to help the concentration on the breath, it can be useful to mentally count every time your breath enters and goes out from the nose. You can count from one to ten and then restart the count. You will notice how it is difficult to do this simple count remaining focused only on your breath, while between every number the accumulation of intrusive thoughts will increase.
Don't worry about the thoughts
The worry about the thoughts is the hardest part of meditation. As previously said, our aim is to direct the mind towards a state of calm, where the thoughts cease to appear and you slowly come into contact with a different, altered dimension of consciousness in which the part of the mind that generally observes thought will begin to observe itself. Of course, this is an ultimate goal that require years of practices, and it is beyond the present writ, that wants to give some basic tools on how to start with the meditation.
However, even at this first step it is fundamental to not judge the presence of intrusive thoughts in the most superficial part of our mind. The more you focus on avoiding some thoughts, for instance, the more these thoughts will become stronger in your mind. Here the key is to let them flow and to not judge the permanence of certain thoughts as inability to practice. The vast majority of thoughts exists only in impermanence, they are not based on deeper realities. It is only a matter of time and repeated practice that these background voices of the mind will cease to disturb and one will proceed towards greater awareness with one's inner self.