At the recent November Young Adult weekend retreat (more on this soon!), we spent a whole morning reviewing the basic instructions in passage meditation – “meditation mechanics” if you will. After spending a few hours getting tips and suggestions from other YA meditators, we here at the YA Blog Team started thinking. . . have we ever explicitly shared the instructions in passage meditation on the blog? Well, no time like the present!
This week we’re sharing an excerpt by Eknath Easwaran from the recent BMCM Spring 2013 Journal detailing the practice of passage meditation. We hope these basic instructions inspire newcomers to try passage meditation and encourage long-time meditators to find ways to tune-up their practice.
Most of us have grasshopper minds, dispersing our attention, energy, and desires in all sorts of directions and depriving us of the power to draw upon our deeper, richer resources for creative living. Using an inspirational passage for meditation every day, as instructed below, helps to slow down the furious, fragmented activity of the mind so that we can gain control over it. The slow, sustained concentration on the passage drives it deep into our minds. Whatever we drive deep into consciousness, that we become. “All that we are,” declares the Buddha, “is the result of what we have thought.”
- Meditate for half an hour every morning, as early as is convenient. Do not increase this period; if you want to meditate more, have half an hour in the evening also, preferably at the very end of the day.
- Set aside a room in your home to be used only for meditation and spiritual reading. If you cannot spare a room, have a particular corner. But whichever you choose, keep your meditation place clean, well-ventilated, and reasonably austere.
- Sit in a straight-backed chair or on the floor and gently close your eyes. If you sit on the floor, you may need to support your back lightly against a wall. You should be comfortable enough to forget your body, but not so comfortable that you become drowsy.
- Whatever position you choose, be sure to keep your head, neck, and spinal column erect in a straight line. As concentration deepens, the nervous system relaxes and you may begin to fall asleep. It is important to resist this tendency right from the beginning, by drawing yourself up and away from your back support until the wave of sleep has passed.
- Then, in your mind, go slowly through an inspirational passage from the scriptures or the great mystics. I usually recommend the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.
- Do not follow any association of ideas or try to think about the passage. If you are giving your attention to the words, the meaning has to sink in. When distractions come, do not resist them, but try to give more and more attention to the words of the passage. If your mind strays from the passage completely, bring it back gently to the beginning and start again.
- When you reach the end of the passage, you may use it again and again until you have memorized others. It is helpful to have a wide variety of passages for meditation, drawn from all the world’s major traditions. I recommend chapters two and twelve of the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twenty-third Psalm, the Beatitudes, and the first chapter of the Dhammapada of the Buddha. I have also translated some of the Upanishads for use in meditation. Whatever you choose, the passage should be positive and practical, chosen from a major scripture or a mystic of the highest stature.
The secret of meditation is simple: you become what you meditate on. When you use the Prayer of Saint Francis every day in meditation, you are driving the words deep into your consciousness. Eventually they become an integral part of your personality, which means they will find constant expression in what you do, what you say, and what you think.
If you're interested in more passages recommended by Easwaran for meditation you can find many of them free online, and all of them are in his collection "God Makes the Rivers to Flow" available as a paperback or e-book.