These days, I feel like I can’t go anywhere without hearing about mindfulness or the mental health benefits of meditation. I have read articles on how meditation actually restructures the brain, and I have even experienced the peaceful effects after a meditative experience on occasion. Yet, meditation has not been easy to put into practice. If you are anything like me, then sitting still and simply allowing thoughts to pass with your breath can feel excruciating.
Thankfully, this isn’t the only way to meditate. For those of us who are more anxious, we need some movement to bring focus. I know this from both my personal experience and from many professional development workshops as a teacher on how to help my distracted students focus in the classroom. Below are five different pathways to meditation that just might be the gateway for you to enter.
Walk a labyrinth
Movement releases my anxious energy, and I have found that just the act of walking outside refocuses me. I am looking outside of myself at the world around me, and am more aware of the present moment. When I walk a labyrinth, an ancient, meandering path that dates back 4,000 years, I am not thinking of where to go or how to get there. I am following a set path that weaves and spirals inward. Once I reach the center, I spiral back outward again. The constant changing of direction refocuses my attention, calling me back out of my thoughts. And the inward/outward journey is a physical representation of what is metaphorically going on inside of me.
Pray a Rosary
My mother’s side of the family has a long tradition of praying the Rosary. I always thought it was boring growing up, but the Rosary that hung on my bedpost got plenty of use when I got scared in the middle of the night. Because the memorized prayers were so familiar, I didn’t have to think about what to say. I just repeated the comforting words over and over until I fell asleep.
Having recognized how the Rosary helped me in anxious moments, I decided to try to practice it on a deeper level as an adult. Scripture says that Mary pondered all things in her heart. She gave us the Rosary to help us to ponder the world and God’s mysteries through our hearts. And so I tried it again, to see if these prayer beads could help me get out of my head and into my heart. It’s worked. The tangible aspect of moving my fingers over the beads, seeing how far I have come and how far there is to go, helps to focus me on the moment. The repetition of the rote prayers gives me something to do without needing to think. That frees up my mind to listen to my heart. Sometimes an image or emotion will bubble up that gives me new insight. Other times, I come to the Rosary with a problem in mind. As I pray the Rosary, I listen for inner guidance. Even if an answer does not surface, I always finish feeling more at peace. The running thoughts that were cycling through my head come to a pause.
Ponder a Scripture passage
My spiritual director taught me the practice of Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) when I was in my early 20s. Since then, I have practiced it both in small groups and alone in the quiet of my house. I begin by reading through the daily Scripture a couple of times slowly. I note any words or phrases that pop out to me or any memories or emotions that surface. I write my ponderings in my journal. The movement of the pen across the page releases that extra energy and helps me to focus. Other times, I use the word or the phrase that popped out to me as a sort of mantra to anchor my mind. In this case, I do not need to journal but only to repeat the phrase when my attention drifts.
Draw an object
A few summers ago, I decided to take a drawing class for fun. Through the process of recording every detail of what sat before me, I experienced the power of gazing. The act of contemplating something in all of its detailed nuances often brings insight or simply wonder and awe. It could be a dandelion or a stink bug on the window. Simply sketching it on paper brings my attention to details that may have slipped by me otherwise. I find that I get lost in the task of recording my observations and thereby enter the zone where meditation lies.
Try body prayer
I have found that physical body postures help me to release what I have been carrying and help to focus my mind. Many body poses teach me how to surrender and let go. Some poses, such as lying in a prostrate position, give me a sense of my place in the world. I feel my body connecting to the ground and surrendering to gravity. I feel my heartbeat, my breath, and the heaviness of my body. At the same time, I feel how big the world is and it gives me a different perspective. As I move through different poses, the blood begins to flow and my body becomes more flexible. Many times, my movements have released tension that I was holding onto in my neck and shoulders. I find that once I have quieted my body, I can quiet my mind. Having squeezed the anxious energy out, my body is now still and open to receive. This moment always begins with gratitude, which naturally flows into communion with the divine. Here is a simple body prayer from the Order of Julian Norwich: Await Allow Accept Attend.
On a final note, I have learned that it’s best to keep trying new ways to meditate when one way does not work. Sometimes, one of these forms of meditation works for me one day and a different one works the next. That is why I love having a variety of methods in my toolbelt. If you have struggled with meditating in the past, you just might find that one of these five techniques provides the opening that you have been looking for to finally enter into what St. Paul the Apostle tells us is the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”