Lots of people much smarter than me pitch the idea of choosing a single discipline and sticking with it. In the long term, that’s probably very wise advice. In the short term? There is an amazing number of options, each with their positive and negative sides. It seems like there is something to be said for exploring the various options below.
I have done my best to arrange these by complexity. There is a certain logic to starting with option 1 and slowly progressing through the others.
What to do: Sit in a comfortable chair, with the best posture you can manage. Some people like to leave their eyes open, softly focused on something across the room.
What you might expect: Time will pass slowly. Many people struggle with the idea that this is wasted time, that they ought to be performing, doing something, doing anything. Fears and insecurities will crop up. This is much of the reason that we do so much of what we do: we frantically run from one thing to the next, filling our lives with busyness and noise so that we won’t have to face the things that make us uncomfortable.
We have only two choices though: we can resign ourselves to running from these things forever. Or we can sit through them.
What to do: As you sit up straight and make yourself comfortable, find a word (mantra) that you will use to focus. Repeating this word silently to yourself gives you a way to dismiss the thoughts and feelings that might pop up.
Some people choose a word that is important to their spiritual journey: God, Yahweh, Jesus, love. Others choose a word that means nothing to them, nonsense words. Still others use ancient words. John Main, (and probably many others) pitch the word Ma ra na tha. This is a way that Jesus might have announced God’s presence. I find it useful because it is a rather long word, about the same length as an inhalation or exhalation.
What you might expect: I find that utilizing a mantra is especially helpful on days when I am distracted or anxious. If I am especially likely to feel the invasion of thoughts, I find that this is a good time to emply a mantra. The downside in my experience is that sometimes the mantra shapes the meditation, a little bit. Sometimes, it doesn’t quite feel like I have entirely emptied my mind, because that often-repeated word still lingers.
What to do: Sit with your palms upward. Rather than choosing a word, utilize the breath itself as a mantra. When you find yourself distracted, return your attention there. You might do this holding an awareness that the name God is said to have given to Moses, a word we sometimes translate as “I am”, which we give in English as Yahwew or Jehovah, is a word that Rabbi’s say is quite unusual and unique. It is a word which imitates the breath itself.
What you might expect: A dawning awareness that all of us have been saying God’s name for our whole lives. Doing it with intent and awareness bring, perhaps a different aspect to it.
What to do: With the exhale, bring to mind the observations above, from option 3: The exhale is a sort-of saying of God’s name. But with the inhale, breathe with Adam: He was brought to life when God breathed into him.
What you might expect: The exhalations can be feel charged, imbued with a special vitality granted from God breathing life into us.