by Carol Ingells
Meditation has been an effective means for healing, spiritual growth, and
body, mind, spirit connection throughout human history, regardless of religious
practice or the lack thereof.
There are countless ways to meditate, but basically you need to sit or lie in
a quiet place, breathe deeply, and let yourself be. It helps to assume an open
alert position and close your eyes, or focus on something such as a candle,
religious object or a nature scene. For some, soft music and/or gentle incense
help create a meditative atmosphere.
At first, you may feel a bit silly or restless. This is true whenever we try
a new thing, so don't give up. No matter what you experience the first few
tries, keeping at it will bring positive change.
Meditation is not like a competitive sport. Longer isn't necessarily better.
However, like physical conditioning, it becomes more meaningful if you practice
regularly. Just five minutes every day is enough to begin. First thing in the
morning is an especially fruitful time. (If you have a daily devotional
practice, consider beginning or ending it with meditation.) Soon, you will see
how meditation assists your inner peace, mental clarity and physical
refreshment. Like exercise, once it's a habit in your life, you will notice its
absence and miss it.
Here's a short meditation you can try.
Sit in a comfortable, but straight-backed chair, if you are able. (Lying down
is OK, too, but that position encourages sleep.) Set your timer for five
minutes. Arrange things so you have the least chance of interruption. (Some
parents of young children even do this in the bathroom!)
Notice your breathing. Think "I am breathing in"; "I am breathing out."
Breathing is pretty miraculous when we stop and think about it. After a few
cleansing deep breaths, breathe naturally. Notice each part of your body, and
how it feels as it is held in the chair. In places that are especially tense or
painful, focus your breathing there for a time, allowing further relaxation.
Return to your breathing and let a word or phrase come into your
This word or phrase will help you stay "centered." It might be a prayerful or
sacred word, such as love, peace, hope. Or, it might be more directive such as
relax, heal, trust, be. Don't force anything, but trust what comes and gently
repeat the word whenever you notice your mind has wandered away—which it will.
You may use the same word each day over a period of time or invite a new word at
any time. Allowing a "half-smile" as you meditate relaxes the muscles in your
face and affects your inner and outer demeanor as well. When the timer rings,
let yourself stretch, feel delicious, and go on with your day.
With practice you will learn to use breathing to relax in life situations of
tension, fear or impatience. Not only will meditation benefit you and your
health, it will affect those whom you encounter. Your life will be more and more
a gift to yourself, your loved ones, and the world.
If you have access to the Internet, there are many helpful sites. Two of the
best are www.spiritualityhealth.org and www.gratefulness.org. Otherwise, a search of
"spirituality" or "meditation" should bring a wealth of possibilities.
May you grow well and whole!
Carol Ingells is a former Chaplain in Pastoral Care at
McLaren Greater Lansing. She has a private practice in spiritual guidance
and has led retreats, given presentations, and taught classes in spirituality,
prayer and meditation for over 20 years. As a chaplain, she worked in emergency
and critical care for ten years and co-created the Clinical Lay Ministry
training program for lay chaplains' assistants. Her background in public and
religious education, ecumenical program development and leadership, and training
in spiritual guidance at Shalem Institute in Washington, D.C., gives her a
strong foundation for a ministry of listening, acceptance, and