Over and over, I hear people talk about how they can’t meditate. They confess that whatever they do, they cannot still the voice(s) in their heads. It’s become one of those things that people think they should be able to do, but never quite get around to doing. Sometimes it seems like the Pagan version of Catholic guilt.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to being able to meditate properly. For some people it’s easy, and for some it’s hard. Often, the more spiritually sensitive a person is, the harder inner silence is to achieve. What this means for us is that, with the exception of those who have a natural talent for it (not me!), Pagans are some of the worst “meditators” in the world.
It’s hard because those voices aren’t entirely internal. Imagine that your spirit is trying to talk to you. Worse, other spirits are trying to talk to you, too. Plus, the occasional deity is sending you a spiritual voicemail wondering why you haven’t shown up at Circle lately. And on top of that, the jerks in the everyday world are flailing you with their spirits when you’re in their way.
When we put it that way, it’s amazing that anyone can meditate at all. So how do we start?
Taking a Breath
Each breath energizes your mind and your spirit. Sounds pretty neat, right? More is better? Not all the time.
When you’re first seeking inner silence, it’s pretty common to be asked to sit with your breath. Sit somewhere. Get comfortable. Start with the most basic breathing exercise:
Breathe in to a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Breathe out for a count of four.
Hold for a count of four.
Okay, now repeat that (a lot).
In the everyday world, we care about the breath coming in. We feel that we “need” the air. And sure, we do. But we also need to release it.
Here’s the funny little thing I noticed about this exercise: during that “four count” – between when you’re breathing out and when you’re letting yourself inhale again – that’s when your thoughts slow down. Oh, they won’t stop the first time (unless you’re one of those talented meditators), but that’s when we can get a sense for what the quieted mind is like.
One of the biggest challenges that we face in learning to meditate is that we don’t really know what we’re looking for. We’ve been told all about it, but we don’t have any practical experience with it.It’s like people keep telling us that Stonehenge is just over the hill, but we don’t know how to get there. It’s frustrating. By repeating this exercise regularly and chasing after those moments of slowed thoughts, you can get the metaphorical address for Inner Silence. And like Stonehenge, when you get there, you’ll realize that it’s been there all along.
Don’t Stop the Voice(s)
Attempting to push down the inner voice doesn’t make it stop. But what it does do is strengthen that particular aspect of the human spirit. Over time, and with practice, we will be able to pause our thoughts for a moment.
If the first step is to pause the inner voice for a moment, just to get a taste of it, then the second step is to keep at it until you realize that the inner voice isn’t “you.” As you practice, there’s a moment in watching your thoughts that they separate away from the self. It’s hard to imagine, but it will happen with practice.
Once you can do this reliably, then you can move on to the third step: instead of trying to push the thoughts back, start to allow them all to come out. Imagine that your thoughts were coming out of a partly-blocked pipe. You’ve spent weeks or months developing the strength to block the pipe. With this newfound strength, you pull the block away and allow all the thoughts to flow out.
The trapped thoughts that have been plugging up your mind will all start to rush out. For a while, it might sound like a thousand inner voices all at once. And then, something magical happens. Your mind starts running out of things to say. The voice exhausts itself. It stops.
Voila! Inner silence.