The Breath of Life
If you want to meditate within the context of your religion, being grateful to the Creator for the gift of breath is a good way to start. When you meditate, you go from thinking the verse, to praying with it, to getting to know it by heart, to letting it repeat itself in your heart, to resting in the feeling of it.
Genesis is revered by Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. The verse on the creation of humanity is beautiful, awe-inspiring and good to meditate with.
Yahweh God formed man from the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul. (WEB)
And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul. (ASV)
And the Lord God made man from the dust of the earth,
breathing into him the breath of life:
and man became a living soul. (BBE)
And Jehovah Elohim formed Man, dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and Man became a living soul. (DBY)
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and man became a living soul. (KJV)
To meditate, you could simply say this verse, in your native language, your mother tongue; or in any language you like. Whatever language you feel most at home with. Then begin to notice the breath flowing in your body, giving you life, sustaining your life. Notice that this verse is happening now, within you, in ways you can perceive and appreciate.
So select a version, and a language, and read it over a few times, mouthing the words and learning it by heart.
If you want to make the phrase you say even simpler, you could simply say something such as:
"I give thanks for the breath of life."
or, "God is breathing into my nostrils the breath of life."
For two or three minutes, just say this phrase. It can be at the level of a whisper or even quieter, but make a sound you can hear with your ears, and move your mouth and tongue as you say the words quietly.
Say it quietly, and very leisurely. The sense of leisure, of being unhurried, is important because you want to be able to rest with the prayer, hear the silence within it. If you have an attitude of hurrying, you'll miss out on all the interesting little feelings.
After two to three minutes of saying the prayer quietly, allow it to shift to "saying it by heart," just letting it repeat itself within you. Sometimes I ask the prayer to repeat itself within me. In other words, you are just thinking the verse, and not moving your tongue or mouth. You may want to close your eyes but you don't have to.
You may find that you want to let the phrase become simple – for example, just "the breath of life." This is fine. Let the verse be long or short, as is natural for you.
Continue thinking the phrase "breath of life," or the entire verse, and begin to enjoy the physical sensation of breathing. You might feel the coolness of the air as you breathe in, or the soothing sensation of the air gliding down your throat. You might rejoice in the quiet rhythm of the breath. There are tiny sounds that go with the breathing, little whooshing sounds. Just notice what is there in the breath, and allow yourself to enjoy the sensations. That is what your senses are for – to take delight in creation. When you turn your attention to appreciating breath, you are appreciating creation, and appreciating the gift of life.
After noticing the breath for awhile, find within yourself an attitude of gratitude for the gift of life. Notice whatever way you have within yourself naturally of being grateful for the breath. Don't manufacture anything, just be natural, because your way may surprise you and may change from moment-to-moment. You might be surprised at how easy it feels to meditate, or be delighted, or you may find tears of gratitude coming. You may find yourself taking the breath for granted and being smug: I am God's child, of course I am entitled to all the breath I want! Who knows – just notice whatever you feel, and accept it along with the breath.
Continue in this way for up to five minutes. In all, you could spend three minutes saying the phrase out loud and five minutes hearing it within yourself.
Then open your eyes and sit there for a minute, just looking around. Then get up and go about your day.
If you have never meditated before, then I recommend you meditate only once a day, for 8 minutes or so, for four days or so before doing any more. Check to see that all systems are go, that it adds a tiny bit of inner peace to your day. Then gradually increase to meditating for up to 12 minutes.
Most likely you will feel a just-barely-noticeable good feeling, a tiny bit of relaxation that carries over for a few minutes or an hour after meditating. *
If you want to continue, then you really need to train yourself in how to accept all the thoughts, emotions and sensations that arise. Nothing happens during meditation that is not happing every second of every moment of every day you have been alive on Earth. But because you are relatively quiet and paying attention during meditation, you notice what is happening. So you need to learn to deal with it all in an effortless manner.
You should probably read Meditation 24/7, or Meditation Made Easy. Both these books present the basic techniques of meditation and talk in detail about how to handle experiences. And don't just read them once. Read one of these books five or six times, over and over, slowly. Then re-read them every month for the first six months you are meditating. You can buy and download all 14 guided meditations from Meditation 24/7 right now if you want, and play them on your computer or transfer them to your iPod. These guided meditations will help you develop your skill set of how to handle your experience.
Also, words on paper, or things you hear during your usual mood have no impact at all on your skill at meditating. The only teachings that impact your skill at meditating very much are the words you read or hear in the five minutes before you close your eyes to meditate, and the five minutes afterwards. So actually, that is the best time to read about meditation – those ten minutes. If you do not internalize the skills talked about in Meditation 24/7, you will probably quit meditating. In interviews with people who used to meditate, and then stopped, I found that it was almost always because they did not know some aspect of the technique – in meditation, the technique is always all about grace – and that they started forcing themselves to do something against their grain.
If you are enjoying yourself, then after a week, meditate twice a day if you wish. For example, meditate in the morning, and then again in the evening. If after a month that still seems good and useful, increase your time to 20 minutes in the morning and the evening. Do not meditate more than 20 minutes twice a day for several years, unless a teacher you know you can trust suggest you do.
What I am saying here is that meditation can be very, very simple. You are just sitting quietly each day and resting in gratitude for the gift of breath. You are allowing the verse from Genesis to be in the living present tense, "God is breathing into my nostrils the breath of life, and I am a living soul." You are allowing your senses to awaken to inform you of what breath is, the touch of the Holy Spirit, sustaining you, healing you, teaching you.
If Obstacles Arise
* But sometimes issues arise. Some people had asthma as children, and have a fear around breathing. So when they practice breath awareness, their old fear comes up to be healed. Or you may have allergies, or want to give up smoking, so when you pay attention to your breath, all kinds of associations arise. Just deal with all this, and if you need help, get help. Talk to someone you trust – a coach, priest, minister, rabbi, therapist. (There are speech therapists, movement therapists, art therapists, music therapists, and so on) Notice I did not say talk to a meditation teacher. This is because meditation teachers are not the best meditation teachers – they are usually into a hundred other things that have nothing to do with meditation – running a cult, teaching Hinduism, teaching yoga, being vegetarians, whatever . . . they are usually not the best choice.
The main challenge for meditators is always thought, feeling and sensation. And also, change.
The more you let go and let God do the work, the more surprising each moment is. As you start to realize the gift God is giving us each moment, you stop taking life for granted. This is a very, very strange experience in a way – it feels like being in love with life. In awe and wonder that life exists.
As your heart opens in this way, you will encounter all your past hurts and fears, one by one, in odd, unpredictable bursts of feeling. This is because you can't relax without letting go of tension. And your body-mind system will not let go without reviewing each tension, saying in effect, "Are you sure you don't need this tension? Are you sure you don't want to hold on to this old resentment? Are you really, really sure you do not want to hold on to this old feeling of being hurt and angry? Really?" This process is called Healing of Memories and can be very intense, and it's always unpredictable. If you need help, get help.
Basically, what every meditator needs to learn is to tolerate greater intensity of feeling, passion, perception, surprise, gratitude, adoration, wonder, and delight. If you do not learn to tolerate – to "suffer," as Jesus said, as in, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," - if you do not learn to allow, you will try to control. And if you try to control, you will make meditation so laborious and boring that you won't want to do it. You will have corrupted meditation into mental strife. Why allow? Because you are allowing the intense little people within you, arise, allowing the divine child in you to come forth, crying and laughing.
Suffer the Children
But Jesus said, "Allow the little children, and don't forbid them to come to me; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to ones like these." (WEB)
But Jesus said, Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for to such belongeth the kingdom of heaven. (ASV)
But Jesus said, Let the little ones come to me, and do not keep them away: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (BBE)
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and do not hinder them from coming to me; for the kingdom of the heavens is of such: (DBY)
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (KJV)
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come to me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (WBS)
Jesus however said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them; for it is to those who are childlike that the Kingdom of the Heavens belongs." (WEY)
But Jesus said, 'Suffer the children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the reign of the heavens;' (YLT)
Learn the Psalms of David
The Psalms (link to the fantastic Bartleby.com site) are beloved of Jews and Christians of all kinds. They express almost every mood a human being can feel – defeat, oppression, gratitude, revenge, protection, restfulness, delight, and so on. One reason it is useful for meditators to memorize the Psalms is that in the course of a day or month or year, you will probably encounter in yourself quite a few human emotions. And then when you are meditating, you will feel these emotions intensely as you go through the process of forgiving yourself and everyone else and God and History and the Universe for existing. The Psalms help with accepting the intensity of it all.
So memorize them, already. Start with one you love, any of them, in any language. Spend a few weeks or a month memorizing the Psalm – "Learning it by heart," and then when you are ready, move on to the next.
From The Psalms Of David
"The Psalms Of David are the songs he composed to worship and praise his God. They express the deepest feelings of his heart —his love and joy in the Lord, his sorrow and pain in realizing his human feelings, his anguish when confronting the treachery of his son Absolom.
Above all, the Psalms Of David are an eternal record of his uncompromising faith in God, an example to all of us to believe in the triumph of good over evil.
David wrote 73 of the 150 psalms; the others were written by his son Solomon, Asaph, the sons of Korah and many others. They are songs which give us strength and comfort, songs which renew and confirm our faith.
Sing them in your heart, and rest in the shadow of the Almighty."
(the emphasis is mine).
I know it may sound strange coming from a meditation teacher, to hear me say, "memorize the Psalms," but I am just speaking practically here. I am very practical. The Psalms will help you much more than reading many books on meditation. It is not very difficult to memorize something, to learn it by heart. Just write it on a piece of paper and learn one or two lines every day.
Notice how intense the very names of the Psalms are. The writers were in extremis, in gratitude, in all kinds of situations. When you learn them, you realize that your own situations at work, with your kids, with your friends, with the IRS, on the freeways, are just as bad as what David faced, or maybe not as bad. But in any case, you can accept your struggle, your story as it shows up in your meditation.
KING JAMES VERSION
NEW YORK: AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY, 1999
NEW YORK: BARTLEBY.COM, 2000
1 The Righteous and the Ungodly
2 The Reign of the LORD's Anointed
3 A Morning Prayer of Trust in God
4 An Evening Prayer of Trust in God
5 A Prayer for Protection
6 A Prayer for Mercy in Time of Trouble
7 A Prayer for Vindication
8 God's Glory and Man's Honor
9 Thanksgiving for God's Justice
10 A Prayer for the Overthrow of the Wicked
11 The Refuge of the Upright
12 A Prayer for Help against the Wicked
13 A Prayer for Help in Trouble
14 The Folly and Wickedness of Men
15 The Inhabitants of God's Holy Hill
16 A Goodly Heritage
17 A Prayer for Protection against Oppressors
18 Thanksgiving for Deliverance
19 The Works and Word of God
20 A Prayer for Victory
21 Praise for Deliverance from the Enemy
22 A Cry of Anguish and Song of Praise
23 The LORD Is My Shepherd
24 The King of Glory
25 A Prayer for Guidance, Pardon and Protection
26 A Protestation of Integrity
27 The LORD Is My Light and My Salvation
28 A Prayer for Help and Praise for Its Answer
29 The Voice of the LORD in the Storm
30 Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death
31 A Profession of Trust
32 The Blessedness of Forgiveness
33 Praise to the Creator and Preserver
34 Praise for Deliverance from Troubles
35 A Prayer for Rescue from Enemies
36 The Steadfast Love of God
37 The Insecurity of the Wicked
38 The Prayer of a Suffering Penitent
39 Hope in the LORD
40 Praise for Deliverance
41 A Prayer for Healing
42 Thirsting for God
43 A Prayer for Vindication and Deliverance
44 Former Deliverances and Present Troubles
45 A Song for the King's Marriage
46 God Is Our Refuge and Strength
47 God Is the King of All the Earth
48 The Beauty and Glory of Zion
49 The Folly of Trusting in Riches
50 God Is the Judge
51 A Prayer for Cleansing
52 The Futility of Boastful Wickedness
53 The Folly and Wickedness of Men
54 A Prayer for Protection from Enemies
55 A Prayer for the Destruction of the Deceitful
56 A Prayer of Trust
57 A Prayer for Rescue from Persecutors
58 A Prayer for the Punishment of the Wicked
59 A Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
60 A Prayer for Help against the Foe
61 Confidence in God's Protection
62 God the Only Refuge
63 God Satisfies the Thirsting Soul
64 A Prayer for Protection from Hidden Enemies
65 Praise for God's Bounty in Nature
66 Praise for God's Mighty Deeds
67 The Nations Exhorted to Praise God
68 The God of Sinai and of the Sanctuary
69 A Cry of Distress
70 A Prayer for Deliverance
71 The Prayer of an Old Man
72 The Reign of the Righteous King
73 The Fate of the Wicked
74 An Appeal to God against the Enemy
75 God Abases the Wicked and Exalts the Righteous
76 The God of Victory and Judgment
77 Comfort from Recalling God's Mighty Deeds
78 God's Faithfulness to His Unfaithful People
79 A Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
80 A Prayer for Restoration
81 God's Goodness and Israel's Waywardness
82 A Rebuke of Unjust Judgments
83 A Prayer for the Destruction of Israel's Enemies
84 Longing for God's House
85 A Prayer for God's Mercy on Israel
86 A Prayer for God's Continued Mercy
87 The Privileges of Dwelling in Zion
88 A Prayer for Deliverance from Death
89 God's Covenant with David
90 God's Eternity and Man's Transitoriness
91 Abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty
92 Praise for the LORD's Goodness
93 The Majesty of the LORD
94 A Prayer for Vengeance
95 A Song of Praise and Worship
96 A Song of Praise
97 The LORD's Dominion and Power
98 Praise for God's Righteousness
99 The LORD's Faithfulness to Israel
100 An Exhortation to Thanksgiving
101 A Pledge to Live Righteously
102 A Cry in Distress
103 Praise for the LORD's Benefits
104 The LORD's Care for His Creation
105 The LORD's Wonders in Behalf of Israel
106 The Rebelliousness of Israel
107 The LORD Delivers from Trouble
108 A Prayer for Help against the Foe
109 A Cry for Vengeance
110 The LORD Gives Dominion to the King
111 The LORD's Care for His People
112 The Prosperity of Him Who Fears the LORD
113 Praise for Exalting the Humble
114 The Wonders of the Exodus
115 God and the Idols
116 Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death
117 Praise for the LORD's Merciful Kindness
118 Thanksgiving for the LORD's Salvation
119 The Excellencies of God's Law
120 A Prayer for Deliverance from Deceitfulness
121 The LORD Is Thy Keeper
122 A Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem
123 A Prayer for Mercy
124 Praise for Deliverance from Enemies
125 The LORD Is Round about His People
126 Thanksgiving for Restoration
127 Prosperity Comes from the LORD
128 The Blessedness of Him Who Fears the LORD
129 A Prayer for the Overthrow of Zion's Enemies
130 Hope in the LORD's Redemption
131 Childlike Repose in the LORD
132 A Prayer for Blessing on the Sanctuary
133 The Blessings of Brotherly Unity
134 Exhortation to the Night-watchers
135 The Greatness of the LORD and the Vanity of Idols
136 Praise for the LORD's Everlasting Mercy
137 The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon
138 Thanksgiving for the LORD's Favor
139 God's Omnipresence and Omniscience
140 A Prayer for Protection against Persecutors
141 A Prayer for Preservation from Evil
142 A Prayer for Help in Trouble
143 A Prayer for Deliverance and Guidance
144 A Prayer for Rescue and Prosperity
145 Praise for the LORD's Goodness and Power
146 Praise for the LORD's Righteous Acts
147 Praise for the LORD's Favor to Jerusalem
148 All Creation Exhorted to Praise the LORD
149 Israel Exhorted to Praise the LORD
150 A Call to Praise God with Musical Instruments