In the early stages of practice

I am at the Natural Living Expo 2013 trade show this week-end in Marlborough, MA.

It is a great and large gathering. Many sincere and open minded people.

I have had the great pleasure of speaking to many people who are interested in meditation but have not quite reached the point where they can practice on a regular basis.

Part of the issue is how busy so many, many people are these days. But there seems to be another stumbling block that gets in the way of many folks.

Over and over again I have heard this week, “I can’t clear my mind”. As a result of not getting to this meditative state, it seems many people feel there is little point to keep trying.

The first thing is this.

If your mind is jumpy and unsettled, don’t try to force it into some imagined peaceful meditative state. It is enough to say within yourself, “Yup, I keep getting distracted.”, “No big deal”, and then come back to the breath or sacred word or phrase you have chosen as the object of your meditation.

What I have noticed is that many people have not had the chance to do the following process for themselves. This process is for those who believe in God, whether their image of God is specific or somewhat general and without form. I can touch on how this process works for people who do not believe in God, next week.

To begin the process I tend to ask, “If you believe in God, what image or phrase comes to mind?” Some might say “Jesus” or “God the Father”, or the “Divine Mother”. Many others would say “energy” or “universal energy”. What is important, in my opinion, is to ask, “What image comes to mind when you think of who God is for you?” The next step is to refine your answer.

When you answer this question simply and clearly you can choose a word or phrase that is closely related to the image you have of the divine other.

The word might be “love” or “energy” or “spirit”. The phrase might be “Jesus draw me ever nearer unto you.”, or “Come Holy Spirit” or “I open my heart and mind to you O holy one.”

What is important is to match the word or sacred phrase to the image or sense of who you envision the creator or divine other to be.

Then you can simply repeat this word or phrase quietly within yourself as you breathe in and out for 5 or 20 minutes, whatever time you have for that session that day.

As you begin each session there is something else you can do. You can see if there is a need to forgive yourself for any poor choices you have made that caused suffering in your life or in the lives of others.

You can call to mind the lives of those you love the most and offer a prayer of good wishes for their happiness. “May my son, or my husband or my mother, (whoever it is that you love the most), may they be happy may they be well.”

Someday you can get to offering love and kindness to those who you feel do not deserve either of these intentions. But for today and tomorrow it is enough to forgive yourself and to offer love to those you love with gentleness and deep sincerity of purpose.

For today it is enough to think, “If I believe in God, what is the image of the divine or the sound of the divine that comes to mind when I think of this divine friend.”

Draw a sacred word or phrase from that image and use this phrase as a way to begin to settle the restless mind and heart.

When you realize you have become distracted, notice carefully if there is any sense of judgment towards yourself for having become distracted…touch that judgement with gentleness and a soothing, patient care. Then just start again with your sacred word or phrase and your breath as you breathe in and out.

If you prefer a simple focus on the breath without any words as you breathe in and out that is fine to.

Be patient with the restless mind. If you get distracted 20 or 50 times per meditation session that is OK. Just know that a few minutes a day is the way to get into meditation.

Over time your mind will quiet and settle and you will have found more of the peace and wisdom you are looking for. You can proceed from there to deeper experiences of both.

But when the mind is jumpy and you don’t want to sit and meditate, this is what I do to cajole myself into doing at least a little bit of sitting.

“Can you sit for two minutes and repeat your sacred word or phrase or follow your breath even if the mind does not settle at all?”

“Yes. I can do that.”

Most of the time I am then able to do a full meditation session. But sometimes, all I really only can do, or feel like doing, is to sit for 2-5 minutes. Even a brief highly distracted sitting, without any noticeable benefits, is still much better than no sitting at all.

What is important is to develop a realistic schedule for yourself and then to stick with it regardless of whether the mind is peaceful or prone to multiple distractions.

Please let me know what you find when you ask the question, “What image of God comes to mind when I think of the creator or universal energy?”

I can help you find the right sacred word or phrase to serve as the focus on your meditation.

Peace to you O Pilgrim.


Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness”

Host of






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