Breathe In, Breathe Out, Repeat (How to Spiritually Recharge Part III)

 I wish someone had taught me to meditate when I was, say, two. It’s one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done, but as a highly distractable, late starter, it took me ages to realize how key it is to spiritual sanity.

Gobs has already been written about meditation, including the differences between eastern meditation (which focuses on emptying the mind) and Christian meditation (which focuses the mind on God.)  This blog will cut to a few simple steps for getting started with Christian meditation. (You don’t have to be Christian, just willing to give God the benefit of the doubt!)

  1. Find somewhere quiet where you can be alone and uninterrupted.
  2. Relax into solitude and become aware of yourself, shutting out distractions. The blog just before this one helps with this.
  3. Get physically comfortable. For most of us this does not involve twisting our legs into the shape of a pretzel. It’s nice to have your head at rest.
  4. Start with a prayer, asking God to lead you into peace and truth and protect you from spiritual darkness.
  5. Focus on your breathing, and inhale deeply and slowly. Exhale slowly. This will help you calm down and slow your thoughts.

Next, try one of the following ways of meditating:

1 .Center on what feeling or thought is dominating right now, and come up with a simple prayer related to it. For example, if you’re obsessed with a deadline and having trouble relaxing, pray, “God of peace, help me to rest.” Or if you’re angry and can’t forgive someone, pray, “Please God, take this anger!” If you’re grieving, “Father God – comfort me.” Notice these examples are really short, and in two parts. That’s so you can sync it with your breathing. As you inhale, breathe in the truth about God that you need to focus on; as you breathe out, breathe out the request for what you need. As you exhale, try to let go of tension, try to let go of anything negative and surrender it to God. You can say the words, but it may be more helpful  just to think them.

2. Instead of coming up with your own prayer, you can pick a short Bible verse, to sync with your breathing. Psalms are a good place to look. A few of my favorites: Be still and know that I am God”,  “You are my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear,” “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Pick a verse that addresses a current need, that drills a truth you want to live into. Meditating on one important thought at a time drives it deep into your being. What you want to believe becomes what you do believe.

3. Take a chunk of the Bible and read it slowly, letting it speak to you personally.      Don’t hurry. Don’t analyze. This isn’t study. Meditating is like eating good chocolate. You take it in small bites and savor it. Try reading the passage three times. Maybe a short psalm, maybe an incident from one of the gospels. The first time, read for understanding. The second time, imagine the scene – make a movie of it in your head. The third time, you can put yourself into the scene as one of the characters.

It may not click right away, but if we keep at it, meditation becomes a powerful way of stepping out of the craziness of everyday life, to let God heal, guide and renew us.

Enjoying Silence (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part II)

The first post in this series talked about finding quiet, beautiful places to escape to, for a few minutes or a few days. This post begins to explore how to make the most of the time there.

Being silent and alone can be creepy for some people. Some of us freak out without our phones on. Some of us are so used to an Ipod or some other device making noise, it’s hard to concentrate without it. I knew a kid, who had lived through a lot of trauma, who couldn’t sleep without the white noise of a fan.

Even so, we really need silence. There are important things we’ll never know about ourselves and wonderful experiences of God we’ll never have if we avoid being silent and alone.

Turning off all devices and going alone to a place we won’t be interrupted opens the door into our own souls, and makes us much more deeply aware of God’s presence. It may not be instant, but someone who makes a regular habit of solitude will be rewarded.

The first time I tried it, I took too much time. I walked to an empty art studio a few miles away and sat alone among the canvases, trying to feel some kind of connection with God. Nothing happened. By the end of the day, I felt worse than before I started. I wish I’d known a few things:

  1. Start small. If you don’t mind being alone, shoot for a few hours. If you hate being alone, a half hour is probably enough to start with. Add more time as you get comfortable.
  2. Say a prayer at the beginning of the time. Don’t expect some epic spiritual awakening, just ask God to protect your thoughts, to help you focus, to give you peace and anything else you need.
  3. Slow down. If you want to be still, get comfortable. If you want to walk, take slow steps. Pay attention to how you feel physically and emotionally. Acknowledge everything, negative and positive. You can’t take care of yourself if you don’t know how you’re doing, so this is your time to climb inside your own skin and pay attention. This self-awareness is necessary before we can really meditate, pray, reflect or study – subjects for future blogs.
  4. Then, focus on your surroundings. Make sure you’re sitting in front of something that you want to look at – flowers, a view of the sky, a picture if you’re inside. This will help you shut out the hundreds of random thoughts about the past and the future that grab for your attention. As much as you are able, stay in the moment, resting in the silence, enjoying the beauty. When negative thoughts do crash in, try to let them go and refocus on now. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts or memories, ask God to help you. Wait it out for a few minutes. For most people, this will work. But if you try solitude a few times and it’s just haunting and hard, find a pastor or a counselor to talk with before you try it again.

The vast majority of us will leave a time of solitude feeling stronger and more peaceful. Letting our minds and bodies rest from work, people and noise, focusing our senses on where we are right now and becoming conscious of how we are feeling, is healing in itself.

For further reading, try Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline,” a classic.