How Meditation Was Invented

How Meditation Was Invented

people floating in the dead sea

First published in Cygnus Review Spring 2019. This is an excerpt from the book ‘Meditation Masterclass’ to be published later this year.

Having taught meditation for decades, I want to reassure people that meditation is a natural human behaviour. All you need is an instinct be quiet and calm.  

So why are there all these competing meditation traditions and schools? Here are three short stories that illustrate how meditation might have been invented.

The Householder Who Invented Meditation

A woman lived in a village in a house full of children and relatives. One day she felt an instinct to get away from the noise and activity. She walked until she found a quiet spot under a tree by a stream.

She closed her eyes. She felt the tree against her back and the soft grass and earth beneath her. The breeze touched her cheeks. The sound of the stream was soothing.

After a few minutes she felt some anxiety and accompanying thoughts about her family and neighbours. She felt impatient and an urge to go home. But she stayed sitting quietly.

She sighed, noticed tension in her chest and began to breathe more softly.

She stayed sitting quietly, just patiently waiting, letting her body and feelings become more easy. This felt good.

She returned the next day. And the next. And the next.

She was meditating. Her mind and her feelings were calm. Her psyche was able to contemplate, enquire and explore.

 

 

The Worker Who Invented Meditation

A man worked in the city and was stressed and anxious. His doctor prescribed a sedative, which he took for several weeks but disliked its side effects.

Following an instinct he stopped taking the medication and on his way to and from work he began to stop regularly to calm himself – sometimes on a park bench, sometimes in a church or library.

Pausing and sitting quietly soothed him.

This pausing to self-soothe became a daily behaviour.

After a few months something else began to happen when he sat quietly. A part of his mind started to enquire: Who is this inside me who is choosing to calm myself? What is this part of me watching and guiding all this? Wow! Here is another part of my consciousness. It feels good and interesting. I want to sit longer and explore all this.

He was meditating.

The Warrior Who Invented Meditation

There is a soldier who was weary of fighting. One day, off duty, she felt a rising anger within her and recognised that she needed to calm down.

She followed her instincts and found a space where she could not be observed. She then practised some of her martial arts moves – strikes, punches and kicks – at the same time vigorously expelling air from her lungs with grunting breaths.

After thirty minutes of this extreme activity and catharsis, she could still feel some of her internal fury. Her next instinct was to sit still.

Disciplined and self-managing, she sat quietly for a while. Her mind scanned the circumstances of her life, contemplating her ethics and her behaviour.

Her anger subsided. She was in a space of watchful good-humoured equanimity.

She began to repeat the behaviour daily.

She had become a meditator.

A Meditation Contest

Imagine if the Householder, the Worker and the Warrior each attracted followers who copied their meditation behaviour. We now have three different meditation schools and there is the possibility of conflict.

My teachers says you must meditate in nature.

No only in a sacred space!

No!  Do these movements and chant!

Breathe like this.

Don’t do anything. Just be!

Today in our global village we can see so many meditation schools, such as yoga, chanting, Vipassana, mantra, prayer, mindfulness, guided journeys, healing and more. Newbies and teachers often think that their way is the only or the best way instead of honouring and exploring the different traditions.

Universal State

Wonderfully, although there are all these different approaches there is also, I assert, a universal state, which all meditators experience. This state is profound:

  • We are at ease.
  • We are conscious, awake and watchful.
  • We patiently witness and experience everything with care and compassion.
  • We feel connected to the beautiful mystery of all existence.

No wonder there is a natural human instinct to meditate. It is good for us and all those around us.

The above passage was then incorporated into my Meditation Masterclass

 

 

Glastonbury Abbey Meditation & Prayer Walk

Glastonbury Abbey Meditation and Prayer Walk

Introduction

Glastonbury Abbey is a place of Christian hospitality. In that spirit, we welcome people of all faiths and of no faith. And we invite you to enjoy our Prayer and Meditation Moments.

For hundreds of years this beautiful abbey was a place of worship, of learning and of sanctuary. As you enter its grounds, you may want to contemplate that your life is a spiritual journey.

Wherever you approach one of the areas indicated on the map, slow down and pause. Take the opportunity to breathe calmly and find peace within yourself. Then, if it feels right, follow the brief instructions.

You can do as many or as few of these Prayer and Meditation Moments as you choose. There is no particular sequence to them so you can do them in any order that works for you. We have however mapped two walks – a short one and a long one – which you might want to explore.

ST PATRICK’S CHAPEL

Many people came to Glastonbury Abbey for healing.  Sit quietly in this chapel. As best you can, breathe calmly and allow your body to sink and be at ease. Quietly say this prayer:

I am open to receive the gift of healing.
May all people and creatures be blessed with good health.

  

HOLY THORN

This Glastonbury Thorn tree flowers twice a year in Winter and in Spring, like a Middle Eastern thorn.  Legend suggests that it is a cutting from an ancient line of trees that dates back to the visits of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. Quietly contemplate:

How wonderful that the cells of this tree carry its history and its future.
May I always see the connections and wonder of all life.

LADY CHAPEL Upper Level

This chapel is dedicated to the worship and celebration of Mary the mother of Christ. The divine female can be found in many spiritual traditions. Quietly say this prayer:

Mother of the world, help me to love and care for all beings.

 

ST JOSEPH’S CHAPEL Lower Level

There are legends that Joseph, the uncle of Jesus, came to this very spot bringing the chalice from the Last Supper. Walk slowly and mindfully towards the altar. Quietly say this prayer:

I am grateful that I am safe and have a home.
May all people have a safe home.

 

ARTHUR’S TOMB

Legend states that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried here. Their court was home to the Round Table of chivalrous and brave knights. Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of injustice may I have the strength, courage and wisdom to support and champion the weak and vulnerable.

CLOISTER

Here in the cloister the monks walked slowly, praying and contemplating life. See how slowly you can walk around the cloister and at the same time calm your breathing.

May I be slow and calm. May I be wiser and more loving. Help me understand life’s difficulties and guide me into clarity.

ABBOT’S KITCHEN

In this kitchen food was prepared daily for the Abbot’s visitors. Quietly say this prayer:

The food I eat comes from nature, plants, animals, farmers, transporters, traders and cooks. I give thanks to all of them.
May everyone be fed and well.

 

HERB GARDEN

A monastic Herb garden would have supplied medicines, aromas and flavours. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the beautiful diversity and healing power of nature; and I give thanks too for the gardeners and their care.

ORCHARD

Every year this beautiful orchard gives an abundant harvest of apples. Quietly say this prayer:

Thank you mother nature for your beauty and your abundance. May I always remember and care for you.

 

FISH POND (Lower)

Water is one of the four ancient elements. Earth. Water. Air. Fire. This beautiful pond is cradled by earth. It is filled with water.Airand wind play on it. Light from the fireof the sun reflects from its surface. Quietly say this ancient prayer:

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit.
I am one with All That Is. 

WILDLIFE POND (Upper)

‘Ask the animals,’ said St Francis, ‘and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.’ At this pond we find fish and fowl. Pause. Calm your breath and be at ease.  Notice the fish, the birds, and the insects. Be aware too of the sky and the hills around you. Feel the air against your skin. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the blessings and gifts of all animals. May all creatures be treated with care and respect.

 

PARK AREA – BODY PRAYER 

There is a beautiful tradition of moving your body in tune with a prayer.

Slowly raise your arms above your head and stretch upwards:

The universe is filled with mystery and love.

Slowly bring your hands down and place them over your heart:

I too am filled with mystery and love.

Lower your hands so that your palms face the earth – or kneel down and touch the earth:

I bless the Earth and all living beings.

Repeat the action as many times as you like.

 

WILDLIFE AREA

In this area we celebrate untamed nature – God’s garden.  Be quiet. Imagine our whole planet and humanity living in complete harmony with the natural world. Quietly say this prayer:

From the tiniest insect and wild flower, out to the greatest ocean and mountain, may I celebrate the beauty of all creation.

BEAUTIFUL TREE 

Choose any tree that you like. In many spiritual traditions, trees are a symbol of strength and wisdom. Pause and imagine that you are a tree. Imagine and sense that you have roots growing deep into the ground. Feel the strength of your trunk. Feel the flexibility and movement of your branches.Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of endless change and noise, may I be like this tree – strong, flexible and wise.

*

You can view and download a PDF of this leaflet on the Glastonbury Abbey website: https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/resources/glastonbury_abbey_meditation_and_prayer_walk.pdf

What is Health and Healing?

Every Thursday at noon I sit in St Joseph’s Chapel in Glastonbury Abbey and participate in a healing meditation. It is a simple twenty-minute session: being still; awareness that healing is always available; receiving healing; sending healing to wherever there is suffering.

Sometimes in this meditation I contemplate what exactly is happening. I have one sceptical brain cell enquiring whether spiritual healing is real, or whether it is just a displacement activity to make me feel useful in a world where I may be useless. But this doubt is more than balanced by a clear sense, a deep knowing, that something real and useful is truly happening

In my meditation I also enjoy contemplating the nature of good health. Good health it seems to me  is best defined as a state of comfort and flexibility.  There is enjoyable harmony and flow. This applies to both our physical and mental states. It is similar too for societies. Bad health is the opposite. Illness is pain and rigidity. Movement hurts – physically and emotionally. Nothing flows.

If we accept this simple flip-flop – comfort and flexibility versus pain and rigidity – then we can suggest a coherent definition of healing. Healing is surely anything that facilitates comfort and flexibility. This definition is appropriate for modern medicine. It also reflects the Taoist philosophy that the universe is a harmonious ocean of flowing states; so a healthy state, for an individual or a community, is also to be in harmony with this continuous flux and flow.

In this context the process of all healing methods – surgery, medication, touch, spiritual healing, exercise, diet, being in nature and so on – can then be easily described. First, identify what is uncomfortable and rigid. Second, intervene with an appropriate strategy to enable comfort and flow. 

There are obvious problems of course if we deny or misdiagnose the rigidity. More difficulties can be triggered too if we seek an easy healing intervention, instead of an effective one.  A simple example from most of our lives is when we feel emotional pain and then intervene with food instead of perhaps some quiet in nature or a dance.

It is a simple reality of life that most of us at some time or another experience pain and therefore seek healing. The good news is that within each of us is there is a great doctor, a wonderful agent of healing: our own consciousness. 

Your consciousness – your mind, your awareness, your soul – can acknowledge your pain, seek to understand it and find the best medicine to bring yourself back into flow, comfort and flexibility.

An Autumn Meditation

Take some quiet time and sit or lie in a comfortable position.

Let your body just sink and drop into being at ease. Like in a deckchair; or after a satisfying meal; or looking at a favourite view.

Allow your abdomen to relax, sink and drop.

Imagine and sense your abdomen happily sinking down into the earth.

You are a strong and mature tree. With deep roots. A strong, thick trunk.

Enjoy a feeling of sinking down into the earth and being part of this large, warm and nurturing mother planet

Become aware now of your branches and your foliage.

With the turn of the weather and the rhythm of the seasons, you have hardly noticed that your leaves have turned from green to gold and are being carried by the wind and falling to the ground.

Sense that these golden leaves are old thoughts and feelings that you no longer need.

Let them go.

Enjoy how easily they are released.

Welcome the coming Winter.

Allow yourself to be nurtured.

Know that a new expansion will come in the Spring.

*   *   *

 

And here is a relevant quotation which you might also appreciate, from Alice Bailey’s Discipleship in the New Age Vol 1.

The past has gone.

I am that past.

It makes me what I am.

The future comes.

I also am the coming destiny and, therefore, I am that.

The present flows from out the past.

The future colors that which is.

I make the future also by my present knowledge of the past

And the beauty of the present.

And therefore I am that I am.

Why I Meditate – A List of Reasons

Why I Meditate – A List of Reasons


There was a mixed reaction from the audience when I said that I meditated for two hours every day.

A few shook their heads in concerned bewilderment. Why was he wasting his time?

But several people in the audience were also meditators and understood.

The situation was an academic conference at Kent University on transformative education. I was prefacing my presentation with some autobiographical information.

An interesting challenge came from one professor. He was concerned that meditation might reinforce an established sense of self and do nothing to develop anything new. He was thinking particularly of fellow academics who were not open to developing their thinking and just used meditation for self-soothing. I welcomed his disquiet.

*

So why do I meditate?

Yes – I enjoy it very much.

But more than that, it is the most productive and creative period of my day.

In Autobiography of a Yogi Yogananda suggests that  in terms of service and self-development one good meditation is worth a year’s living. I agree! But how can that be?

So let me list some of the things that happen in my meditation.

 

INTO THE ZONE

First I just sit, am patient and wait. Wait until I go into the zone. By the zone I mean that my body, emotions and thoughts are at ease – and that I am mentally very conscious, alert and watchful.

At ease and alert.

At the same time I feel connected with . . . what shall I call it? I feel connected with life, with the flow, with all that is . . .

I can come into the zone even if I am in physical pain or emotional distress. (This is when many people give up and walk away.) I am in both states at the same time. In the zone. In my humanity.

 

HEALING

Just being in the zone is profoundly healing. It soothes my biology, my nervous system, brain, endocrine system, heart rate variability, breath and gut. This is a powerful foundation for good physical health.

I also allow myself to absorb the benevolent vitality that permeates the cosmos. I circulate and absorb the healing energy deep into my bones, spine, brain and tissue.

 

WATCHING, WATCHING, WATCHING

All the time in meditation I am coming home to witnessing and watching. Guiding myself to be compassionate, empathic, accepting and kind. Completely trusting the whole process even when the sensations and feelings that arise in me are tortured. Breathing into and through whatever arises. Accepting, integrating, healing. This is so good for my psychological health.

INNER DIALOGUE

Connected and calm I am my own best friend, counsellor, guide and therapist. As difficult feelings, thoughts and sensations arise within me I give them care and attention. I converse and create relationship with them. This is an essential part of my healing and development.

 

REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

Inside every meditation I carefully review my life. I look at how I conduct my relationships, the quality of my emotions, my livelihood, my ecological awareness, my engagement as a citizen, my prejudices, my neuroses, my talents, my future. It is in meditation that I see myself with clarity and can guide my development and behaviour. At the same time I sense how my consciousness needs to expand and I experiment with altered states.

 

CLEARING MY DESK

My meditation time is also part of my work. It is the best possible space to look at and be mindful of business. Mortgage, projects, colleagues, finance, relationships, next steps . . .  Everything benefits from meditative awareness. Here I can prepare and train myself. What better place to contemplate the actual activities of my life? My wise self can shine light on everything.

 

SEED THOUGHT CONTEMPLATION

This is part of the education that happens in my meditation. I can contemplate any concept or idea and allow my awareness to be open to learning. Insights come from what Patanjali called the raincloud of knowable things. I might for example choose to focus on the meaning of Jesus’ incarnation. I can contemplate any symbol or myth, ideology or philosophy, idea or theory. Revisiting a concept day by day, perhaps for years, I learn.

 

METAPHYSICS, ESOTERICS AND EXPLORING THE COSMOS

Another educational aspect of meditation for me is to connect with the vibration and energy of a metaphysical ‘thing’. What is Aquarius? What is God? What is Mary? What are the higher planes? What is Christ? What is the heart chakra? What is a landscape spirit or angel of healing? And so on. In the calm I connect with the ‘thing’ and allow impressions to land. I learn from feeling and sensing the quality.

 

SERVICE AND INVOCATION

Every meditation also includes periods of service. Mainly I practice Tonglen (Tibetan Buddhist) or turning the other cheek (Christian.) I tune into suffering and negativity, and breathe it into my own body and aura. I hold it, absorb it, cleanse it and then breathe out a blessing.  I also scan my neighbourhood for people and animals who have died, are lost and may need help moving across into the ‘clear light’. And of course I send love and loving waves of positive energy to my family, colleagues, students, folk in distress, world leaders, etc.

 

EMPTYING AND SURRENDER

And for me most important of all, I practice being empty and yielding to the sheer beauty, mystery and benevolence of all that is.

*

Of course how I practice meditation is not the same as everyone. For example I rarely use mantra, prayer or visualisation, which I know can be central features for others. But the more I teach and enable meditation – especially how to teach and guide it – the more I assert with confidence that, regardless of our beliefs, style or background, we all enter the zone and connection.

*

And all of that is what I would like to have said to the academics at the conference who wondered why I meditate and if I was just wasting my time. Mm. Wasting time. That’s a good seed thought for meditation: What is time?

*

May 2020
Most of my ideas about meditation are now available in my Meditation Masterclass.

Book Cover Meditation Masterclass by William Bloom

 

 

Meditation Masterclass Article in ‘The Independent’

 

This article appeared in the Sunday Independent 14 January 1996 by Andrew Purvis
 
Today I teach meditation in a more relaxed and accessible way, which you can find in my book ‘The Power of Modern Spirituality’. 
 
 
WHAT IS MEDITATION?
 
 
In India it is known as ‘tethering the drunken monkey’, quelling the babble of thoughts to focus on the profound silence within. Another metaphor compares the human mind to a constantly flickering flame; meditation is the technique used to still it.
 
 
For William, meditation is ‘a way of getting the mind, body and emotions into a receptive, fluid and calm state so the core consciousness can become present’. To understand this, he says, we must understand something about the duality of human nature. ‘Everyone knows what we mean when we say there are two aspects to the self. There’s the social-psychological self, made up of everything we internalise from our family and our national culture, all our social patterning and our ambitions. Then there’s the core self, the essence of a person. It tends to be relaxed and wise in its own way, inclusive, expansive, understanding about who it is.’
 
 
The purpose of meditation is to reach this core self. In practice, it feels like that blissful moment of drifting off just before you go to sleep; ‘like a warm ocean of consciousness.’ What it requires is for the mind to be simultaneously relaxed and focused, which sounds like a contradiction. If it isn’t both, then you’re daydreaming , or thinking or sleeping. Meditation is none of those things.’
 
 
SCHOOLS OF MEDITATION
 
 
One of the most confusing things about meditation is the many different schools, all with contrasting techniques and varying degrees of religious involvement. One much publicised in the West is Transcendental Meditation, in which practitioners repeat a sound (or mantra) silently to themselves until a state of ‘bliss’ is reached. The initial aim is to achieve deep relaxation and eliminate stress, which is why many GP’s recommend it, but advanced meditators (or siddhas) use that relaxed state to explore aspects of consciousness in yoga-like exercised known as asanas. TM teachers insist on 20 minutes of meditation twice a day; siddhas meditate for several hours a day.
 
In other traditions of mantric meditation, the mantra is repeated over and over again, centred in the head , in the heart, or in the throat. Attention is focused on that specific area of the body. Hatha yoga teaches pranayama (‘control of the stream’) techniques which use intense breathing to achieve a state of calm. Practitioners focus on the breath- the number of inhalations and exhalations, or the ‘shape’ of their breathing- until the required state of consciousness is reached.
 
Buddhist meditators might explore a particular idea such as compassion in their meditation, reviewing their behaviour throughout the day and resolving to treat people differently in future. Or they might focus inward tapping into their compassion by thinking of someone they really care about. Then they expand the emotion by including more people and situations in their thoughts.
 
 
In other schools pupils could be given a visual pattern (or mandala) to focus on, or a paradox such as the notion of a one-handed clap. ‘There is another form, where you simply sit very still watching and waiting, watching and waiting. You have a teacher who is so sensitive to you that he will beat you across the shoulders if you waver.’
 
‘There is a postmodern holistic approach to meditation. Until this century, the different traditions were isolated by their geography and culture. That’s no longer the case. They have all become accessible, so instead of being firmly on one particular path because there are no choices, people can taste different methods.
 
The five steps outlined below underpin all forms of meditation from asanas to Zen.
 
 
GETTING GROUNDED
 
‘How you experience the physical body is crucial. When you’re sitting, you must feel that you are completely ‘in your body’ as opposed to just bobbing around in your head. You
must feel that your feet or bottom connect with the earth, or the chair you’re sitting on. If you don’t, your mind will be in a mode of escape from the situation.’ One way of achieving this physical awareness is to focus attention on each part of the body in turn.
 
 
It is best to meditate once or twice a day for 20 minutes – preferably an hour or more after a meal, and never when you feel tired. You will simply fall asleep. If these constraints are too limiting, ‘remember that it is better to meditate for 60 seconds once a day than not at all.’
 
 
There are no hard and fast rules about where to practise (though it obviously helps to be private and quiet), or what posture to adopt. You can sit in a chair, or in bed, or on the floor with your legs straight; crossed legs and the lotus posture are optional, though keeping a straight spine helps and it is good for the body, too. Wear loose clothing, and take your shoes off; the important thing is to feel comfortable. The ideal minimum meditation time is 20 minutes, so you must feel comfortable for that period.
 
 
‘You can’t be truly calm, unless your centre of gravity is down in your abdomen. Look at a statue of a big fat Buddha, and copy him – or copy a pregnant woman. Anyone who is carrying a child knows exactly what it is like to have a centre of gravity down there.’ Changing your centre of gravity may sound like something outside your conscious control, but it can be achieved just by using the imagination.
 
 
There are specific mental exercises to help. ‘One method is to sit there with a sense of your energy and body fluids flowing downwards to the centre of the earth, feeling the heat at the core of the earth and coming back up again.’ Another is to imagine that you are like a tree, with your torso as the trunk and the roots going down deep into the earth.
 
If the centre of gravity isn’t low, there will be a tendency, as you start to relax, to take that as a signal to go to sleep. ‘Ninety-five per cent of people who fall asleep or daydream during meditation are not grounded. You should be sitting there comfortably and as solid as a rock, not like a nervous rabbit. If you’re solidly in your body, you can start to feel your true consciousness.’ A frequently used Zen image is that of being like a mountain.
 
 
USING THE BREATH
 
 
Once grounded, the next stage is sitting quietly for a while to allow the body and mind to settle. A useful way of doing this is to focus on your natural breathing and be aware of it.
 
William begins his own meditations simply counting his breaths to 100, or sometimes to 200 or 300. While counting, it’s useful consciously to relax the abdomen, chest and throat and concentrate on keeping the breaths regular and rhythmic.
 
 
‘Very gently guide your breath so the out breath is similar in length to the in breath. The exhalation slides gently into the inhalation and vice versa – or put a little pause at each end. It’s as simple as that: it’s something quiet not noisy.’ This is not self-conscious breathing, in which you make yourself breathe. The secret is to become conscious of your natural breathing.
 
 
Using the breath is useful in another context, too. There are times during meditation, when you will feel ‘squirmy’- either physically or mentally uncomfortable, or anxious about the practice itself. ‘A lot of people, when they are about to sit still for 20 minutes, start to feel uncomfortable. They might suddenly think meditation is awful or that they’re not doing it properly. The mind becomes a critic and says, ‘This is pointless.’ Or it starts to wonder what time it is, whether the cooker is still on, or the phone is about to ring.’
 
 
Physical discomfort can usually be controlled by simply relaxing the area that feels uncomfortable. ‘Send out a little signal to anywhere that feels tense. Think about the shoulders, or the muscles at the base of the spine.’
 
 
Mental ‘squirminess’ can be countered using the breath. ‘Just stay gently guiding your breathing, until the irritation goes. People who have meditated for decades still have squirmy days – but they have many more that aren’t.
 
 
ACHIEVING WATCHFULNESS
 
 
‘The next stage is just to feel comfortable and happy, to sit there breathing and bobbing along in your quiet and relaxed state. As you sit, anything can crop up in your mind and your feelings. Be comfortable with it. Accept anything.’
 
 
Now comes the difficult bit. What you have to develop in meditation is a sense of observation, of watchfulness. No matter what is going on in your head, your emotions or the environment around you – voices, birdsong, traffic noise – you must always be aware that you are meditating.
 
 
‘There must be a voice that is able to say: ‘Here I am, calm and observing’. If ‘squirmy’ thoughts arise, don’t simply listen to them and give up. Observe them with compassion as part of the meditation process. If you have positive and happy thoughts, don’t drift off and come back to consciousness minutes later. That is daydreaming. In meditation, it’s important to remain an observer of the daydream rather than allow yourself to get lost in it.’ Imagine your thoughts are like clouds drifting across the sky’ watch them but don’t engage with them.
 
 
This achievement of focus and relaxation is the key to meditation and anyone can do it. ‘We’re talking as if there’s some trick, but there isn’t. Anyone can learn to be an alert observer. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have a degree of self-observation and humour about themselves. People are naturally watchful. The problem is sustaining watchfulness.’ This is why a device like a mantra can be useful at a particular stage in meditation, to help maintain alertness. ‘But it’s not essential. It is the tool for taking you into the state, not the state itself. Basically, when your eyes are shut you have two choices: you go to sleep or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’re being watchful, you’re meditating!’
 
 
DEALING WITH THOUGHTS
 
 
‘Some schools say this is all you have to do. Just sit there watching, and everything will come and pass, come and pass. But there is another form of meditation which is more active and engaged.’ There are two aspects to this. One is learning to deal with thoughts as they emerge, treating this as an opportunity to look at situations, feelings and relationships afresh. The other is to introduce thoughts and ideas to explore how far the human mind can go.
 
 
As random thoughts emerge, it’s important not to regard them as unwelcome interference. In the Tibetan tradition, meditators are urged to be ‘a good host’ to all thoughts that turn up, to have an attitude of goodwill and compassion rather than resentment.
 
 
 
“The things you think about when you’re bobbing along are mostly to do with yourself, an inappropriate communication with your boss, what he or she said, how you deal with your children, your relationships. As these thoughts surface, give them your attention in a very gentle and comfortable way.”
 
 
This is contemplative meditation, in which people, problems and situations are viewed from other angles. ‘It should be done in a very relaxed, intuitive, non-intellectual way. Ask why a situation occurred, what it was about, how you could handle it differently if it happened again.’
 
 
In contemplation, William argues, you get fresh insights into the kind of person you are. ‘Because of your relaxed and watchful state, you’re looking at yourself in a totally different way – who you could possibly be, how you could possibly behave in that situation. Anyone who is grounded and breathing, and shuts their eyes and decides to watch, can do it.’
 
The conscious introduction of thoughts can be more challenging. As the meditation draws to a close, ‘expand your consciousness away from the city, to take in the trees and fields and countryside.’ To wind down, sit quietly for a couple of minutes before opening your eyes.
 
 
SUSTAINING PRACTICE
 
 
Learning to meditate may be easy, but sustaining the practice is a different matter. ‘There will be an initial resistance and it takes anything from two months to two years for people to feel they’re doing it properly.’
 
 
An analogy with art classes might be, ‘When people are learning to draw, they think they’re doing it wrong until they’ve had lots of practice. They get disappointed and they give up.
 
For drawing you need an implement and something to draw on; for meditation you need your mind, body and emotions to be in a particular state. For that you need no outside crutch – just you.’
 
 
But it isn’t as simple as that. Regular meditation interferes with your other commitments, wreaks havoc with your diary and your social life and makes some people view you as a crank. Why carry on?
 
 
‘The only reason is because it feels so good. If you like something enough, you will carry on doing it. Being quiet, grounded and aware is a very pleasant experience.’ Refreshingly, he thinks there are other ways of achieving the same ‘altered state’ – dance, sport, art, music and looking after children, for example. ‘In coming to meditation, you’re simply recognising that this, for you, is the most effective way of having that privilege.’
 
 
 
 
FIVE STEPS TO MEDITATION
 
 
1. GETTING GROUNDED: to begin meditation, you must feel that you are wholly in your body. Adopt any comfortable sitting position, preferably with your spine is straight. You should sit solid as a rock, with your centre of gravity low.
 
 
2. USING THE BREATH: to allow the mind and body to settle as you sit quietly, focus on your breathing and be aware of it. Don’t consciously make yourself breathe; the secret is to become conscious of your natural breathing.
 
 
3. ACHIEVING WATCHFULNESS: while in a state of complete relaxation, it is important to be aware of your thoughts, but not absorbed by them. Imagine your thoughts are like clouds drifting by; watch them but don’t worry at them.
 
 
4. DEALING WITH THOUGHTS: as random thoughts emerge, try not to regard them as unwelcome interference. Be ‘a good host’ to all thoughts that turn up, giving them your attention in a very gentle and comfortable way.
 
 
5. SUSTAINING PRACTICE: while it is better to meditate for 60 seconds than not at all, the ideal minimum is 20 minutes. Learning is easy; keeping it up is a different matter. But the main reason to keep going is that meditation feels good.