“Deep within the still centre of my being, may I find peace”. – From the Druid’s prayer for peace.
Today is World Meditation Day. I’ve never really got on with meditation, to be honest.
For years as I tried to meditate as part of my Druid practice, I thought I was just not very good at meditation. Rather than helping me find peace, it got me quite stressed. Don’t you need to meditate to be a good Druid? Isn’t meditation meant to help with stress, not cause it? Do you have to sit still in an awkward cross-legged position and think about nothing for ages every day? Really?
This disconnect between the promise of meditation as a spiritual practice and the reality of it actually increasing my anxiety probably has a lot to do with what I thought meditation was, and the types of meditation I’ve been exposed to.
Not being a Buddhist, I didn’t want to get into Buddhist meditation per se, and so I looked around and landed on mindfulness, the fashionable non-theological Western set of practices that are, ultimately, derived from Buddhist techniques but with the philosophical and spiritual elements filed off as it were. However, mindfulness is often taught at a very superficial level, and even used as a corporate tool to ensure “productivity” in workers. This renders it vulnerable to mis-use. Without taking a holistic approach, dare I even say a spiritual approach, to the human person, mindfulness can in fact exacerbate issues it intends to relieve.
In a 2018 article for Medium, Yvonne Aburrow points to studies showing that mindfulness can in fact make people ill, with traumatic memories resurfacing, and even depersonalisation. Aburrow writes that “There is a tendency in the West to assume that these practices are not life-changing and do not modify consciousness. However, they can be very effective — provided they are taught with the proper safeguards…the new mindfulness industry is not regulated and there are no minimum requirements for trainers in these techniques. People often set themselves up as trainers in these techniques without having the necessary experience and expertise”.
As someone who lives with longstanding trauma and has experienced depersonalisation on more than one occasion, no wonder mindfulness made me more stressed. The fact that I thought I “had to” meditate didn’t help, as it made it yet another thing to do on my to-do list, and I would mentally beat myself up for missing a meditation, or not getting into the zone during one, or not acheiving results.
Recently, however, my approach to meditation has changed as my concept of what meditation is has expanded.
I have begun a yoga practice, working through one of the 30-day programmes from the popular YouTube yoga teacher Adrienne. This has the benefit of connecting meditation to movement. Rather than focusing on observing my thoughts or clearing my mind, I can focus on my breath and my body, moving through postures in time with inhalations and exhalations. It’s a challenging practice and yep, there are days when I don’t feel the least bit peaceful when doing it (mostly just sore), but there are other times when I enter into a “flow state”, that state of “complete absorption in what one does”. Nakamura and Csikszentmihalyi (2009) describe the conditions of flow as both “percieved challenges or opportunities for action that stretch (neither overmatching nor underutilizing) existing skills” and “Clear proximal goals and immediate feedback”.
Yoga fits these characteristics well, but then so does gardening, cooking, walking or any number of hobbies and skills. If meditation is, at least in part, a series of techniques to “refine awareness” (Walsh and Shapiro, 2006), then in this broadest sense, any of these activities undertaken with a sense of focus can be meditative.
My favourite “meditation” practice is simply sitting outdoors somewhere, in the woods, the garden or park, and observing nature. Silencing my own chattering thoughts is easier when I have the natural world to focus on rather than merely the echoes inside my own head. I find it natural to relax in this way, and can easily slip into a “flow state”. Simply sitting and being, aware of what I can see, hear, smell, feel – this is much more beneficial to me than forcing myself into formal meditation practice.
Frank MacEowen (2002) uses the Irish Celtic word sitchain to describe a sense of peace that can be entered into to become an sith, in alignment with “the shimmering peace of a place”. MacEowen writes: “There are many ways of becoming an sith, of becoming the peace: Engaging in deep meditative states within the natural world. Hillwalking and going on pilgrimage. Making ablutions in a stream or spring…All these are ways of entering sitchain“.
There are as many ways to enter sitchain, I would propose, as there are individual people. What works for one may not work for another. Personally, I find spending time in nature, whether sitting or walking, or having a nap, does more to bring me into that sense of “shimmering peace of a place” than any formal meditation practice. As a Druid, I believe that nature is a great and sacred source of healing, peace, inspiration and wisdom.
So if you find meditation difficult, don’t do what I did for years. Don’t be hard on yourself, force yourself to do something that isn’t helpful, or feel that you’re a bad Pagan or Druid or whatever for not meditating for an hour a day.
Meditation shouldn’t be a chore, a to-do task, hard work. It should be time for you, time to connect with yourself and with whatever you draw peace and inspiration from.
So today, why not take some time, even five minutes (even one minute) to simply pause, breathe, and find the stillness at the centre of yourself?
Aburrow, Yvonne. ‘Managing Stress in the Workplace’. Medium, 1 Mar. 2018, https://medium.com/@vogelbeere/managing-stress-in-the-workplace-ed74eeb6f668.
MacEowen, Frank. The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers. New World Library, 2002.
‘Getting Started with Mindfulness’. Mindful, https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/. Accessed 27 May 2020.
Nakamura, James, & Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. ‘The Concept of Flow’. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (ed.). Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2009.
Walsh, Roger, and Shapiro, Shauna. ‘The Meeting of Meditative Disciplines and Western Psychology: A Mutually Enriching Dialogue’. American Psychologist, vol. 61, no. 3, 2006. escholarship.org, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7885t0n6.
Yoga with Adrienne. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene. Accessed 27 May 2020.