I’m going to tell you a secret.
I don’t meditate.
Pretty much ever.
At least, not the way all the books say we’re supposed to.
I really, really tried. For years and years I tried. I mean, basically every Wicca 101 book goes on ad nauseam about how the most effective, dedicated witches meditate, like, constantly. What’s twenty minutes a day? Couldn’t I just get up earlier?* What about meditating in the bathroom at work? Was I serious or what?
I even took classes and went to “morning sessions” at a Buddhist temple for a while. I got one of those pretentious, overpriced butt cushions at Whole Foods and diligently folded my legs into the most uncomfortable position I could manage, pressing my fingers into mudras that had absolutely no meaning for me.
I recorded guided meditations where I turned into a tree with roots shooting out of my butt. I visualized my crown chakra ablaze with whatever color light was required. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth, and I pretended that I wasn’t completely bored. I breathed harder. I breathed spiritually. I counted slowly down from ten, all the while pretending that this was turning me into a better witch. I imagined apples and floating letters and blank screens and balls of spinning energy. And I was always sure to nod sagely while other people went on about “alpha state.”
I went through this phase where I was convinced that in order to be the best witch possible—really spiritual and in tune with nature or whatever—I had to spend time every day in silent meditation. I’m not the only one who has been through this phase. Google “becoming a Wiccan” or “starting witchcraft.” Just look at the sort of advice that’s constantly being offered in popular mediums.
I even got snotty about it with newbies. Other people would post on AOL chat rooms, asking how to become Wiccan, and I’d chime in with all the other adolescent would-be mentors, “Well, it’s important to start a meditation practice. You should meditate every day.” And I’d feel self-righteous.
Here’s something I wish someone had told me: the reason all of those introductory books emphasize meditation is because it can help you to center yourself and make you more aware of your body, your actions, your thoughts, and your relationship with the world. It can also help you to achieve other altered states for more specific magical workings.
But here’s something equally important that usually gets left out: there are other ways to do all of those things. Sitting meditation isn’t for everyone, and hating it doesn’t make you a bad witch or an insincere Pagan (or something).
I was so busy trying to convince myself that meditation was turning me into a more spiritual person that I completely ignored all of the other things I did that actually made me feel more spiritually centered. Things like running, painting, journaling, playing music, or hiking.
All that time sitting still in front of a candle, trying to “clear my mind” or some such, and it took me forever to realize that the only time I ever managed that was when I would play guitar. Or right before sparring in one of my martial arts classes or at a tournament (it’s much easier to clear your mind when your focus is on not being punched in the face). Or now, when I’m shooting my bow.
I have an easier time achieving altered states in ritual when I incorporate my knack for this kind of movement and focus: Concentrating on a drum that only plays a heartbeat (better if I’m the one playing). Pacing the perimeter of the circle. Getting my heart rate up through an intentional, taxing exercise (dancing, sex, running). If I do sit for any kind of inner, meditative work, I will rock rhythmically, often in tandem with some kind of repetitive vocalizing (a chant, a song, a series of magical syllables, etc.). Frequently, I’ll leave my eyes open and allow them to lose focus. Depending on the intent, it’s relatively easy to either bring yourself down or work yourself up. Rocking and chanting can help me to relax and center, but they can also help me to generate power (especially outside, where nighttime ambient noise can be exploited to great effect).
Contemporary occultism, Paganism, and some kinds of witchcraft have been fairly heavily influenced by various East and Southeast Asian religious and magical traditions over the last century or so. Many of our collective ideas about how meditation should look and function find their origins in this influence. If it works for you, that’s awesome, but it’s important to remember that other strategies are available. I find it’s useful to start here: what are you doing—in your mundane, regular life—when you feel most centered? What activities make you feel “in the zone”? Use those things as a jumping off point for practice. It may not look like meditation, but it may have the same effects. Sometimes, I think the best skill to have as a witch is the ability to take what you’re already good at and use it to achieve something else.
*No. No I cannot.