Mindfulness and the Pagan Path

Hello dear friends and readers!

So as I have been committing to silent meditation and spiritual practice, or rather recommitting after years of neglect and wandering off the path of practicing my Paganism, I have been giving a lot of thought to Meditation and its proper place in my practices as a Pagan and in the practice of the many forms of Paganism in general.   This has led me, as I was in the midst of writing this post, into re-writing a portion of the meditation section on my main Spiritual Practice page…

Enjoy and please give me some feedback.

One of the great definitions I’ve heard over the years was to the effect that prayer is a form of speaking to the Divine, and meditation is listening to Them.  Meditation is, I truly believe, an important tool in any Pagans spiritual toolbox.

Meditation is not always, or usually, about listening too/for the Deities, BUT, it can sometimes be a darn useful skill to develop as we seek our relationships with Them.  Meditation can help us learn deep truths about ourselves.  Meditation can also help us to set aside the everyday matters of our world and give us the clarity and focus that is right and respectful for when we are engaging in our relationships with our Gods and Goddesses.

I can’t meditate, I’ve tried

Anyone can meditate, and a lot of us do it without even knowing it.  In studying meditation one will regularly run across the concept of mindfulness.

Being.  Being fully present.  Being fully present in the moment.  Not concerned with the past or the future.

This is where, in some of my writings on meditation, (here and here for example) I have said to myself “thinking” to acknowledge that my mind is wandering away from being and being present and is getting caught up by the many shiny things of my interior world.  So I return to focusing on my out-breath and let go of whatever shiny idea or thought my mind has snatched up for the moment.

Now I have this idea that in their everyday lives all of our Pagan ancestors had a LOT of opportunities to engage in mindfulness, whether or not they lived in a place or culture that recognized formal meditation.  For most of them life involved a lot more physical labor than our own modern lives; there was also not the pressure of a consumer over-culture pressing into you all sorts of manipulative messages, but for right now lets focus on the labor and mindfulness….

There is a Zen proverb, often credited to the Buddha, that goes something like…

“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.  After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

Think about it, have you ever mowed the lawn, or scrubbed a floor, de-boned a chicken, or shoveled snow?

You can do these things while thinking about some fight you had with your brother, or what you want to do after your done, or that really nice meal you had the other day, or that cool tv show or…or… or… BUT you will often end up doing a poor job because of distraction and you will have just done your chore and moved on to the next thing rather routinely and robotly.

BUT, if you focus on the process and simply do it… let’s say shoveling snow, an example that as a former Alaskan I have some familiarity with…

If you shovel the snow, focusing on each shovelful of snow and picking it up carefully yet efficiently, and placing it to the side of the walk or drive, either far off into the yard or by the side of the walk and drive to form a wind break.  If you do this shovelful by shovelful, paying attention to how you are moving and breathing and to what you are doing; not only do you do a better job but the job seems to get done quicker and your feel really good about the whole thing.  At the end you not only feel physically but mentally and spiritually invigorated.

That’s mindfulness, that’s meditation.

Chop wood, carry water.

Our Pagan ancestors had many, many opportunities to go into a mindful place and their world lacked a lot of the mental and physical distractions of our own modern life.  So in learning to meditate we can actually put ourselves in a much better framework for worshiping and relating to whatever of the Holy Powers we honor in our particular Pagan path.

Like a lot of spiritual and magickal tools you can use meditation for a number of different purposes or goals, depending upon your imagination and spiritual tradition and inclination.  With meditation we are sometimes simply trying to clear the mind, accepting thoughts as they come but releasing them and returning to a silence and focusing on our breathing.   Sometimes we are seeking to follow these thoughts and inspirations and will allow ourselves to pursue them, or at least notice them for a bit before returning to the silence and our breathing.  Sometimes we are meditating upon an image or idea or an emotion to see what comes up within us about them.  Sometimes meditation is a guided affair with someone leading us in a visualization or pathworking; or perhaps we have found a meditation in a book that speaks to the truest parts of ourselves and we record ourselves and play it back.

For this page, I have focused on solitary and basic meditation techniques.

Breath Awareness & Sitting in Stillness and Silence

Breathe properly.  Breathe slowly and deeply.  Breathe in and out, savoring the act and the nourishment that the air provides.  Focus your attention on your breath and focus only on that, emptying your mind of thoughts.  Thoughts may come, but you will simply acknowledge them as thoughts and then let them go and return to your breathing.

Breathe as silently as you are able.  Silencing the speech and the mind.  Embrace the silence.  If you need to clear your throat, or sniffle, do so, but return to silence.

Sit still.  If you become uncomfortable you can mindfully and gently and quietly  reposition yourself, and then return to stillness.

Sit in Stillness and Silence.   Breathe in and out, in through the nose and out through the mouth if you are able, or establish an even and slow in out rhythm.  If you feel the need to focus on something then gently and lightly focus on your out-breath and touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

You can set an alarm, or simply note the time before you start and when you end.  Try for 10 to 20 minutes, then go for 30.   Time spent in meditation is important, but not as important as continuing to engage this practice.  It may seem like an eternity and only 5 minutes will have passed, or you will be sitting there in silence and it will feel as if your throat muscles are spasming with the desire to SPEAK!!… or is this just me?

Thoughts may come. No, thoughts WILL come.  Our brains are kind of wired for them and we live in a society and contemporary world that really doesn’t encourage silence or stillness or being and peace or simply being.  When you recognize that you are not mentally silent but are caught up in thoughts or distractions then you can simply think or even say “thinking” to yourself and return to gently  focusing on your out-breath.

Confession #1 ~ I have a LOT of difficulty with Sitting in Stillness and Silence.  I am happy if I can last 10 minutes, although just short of 20 is my average… IF I APPLY MYSELF!  I am, as of this writing (12/14/09), wrestling with this tendency to want to do ANYTHING but Sit in Stillness and Silence… but since I have experienced its benefits I keep trying and that is the best advice I can give you if you have trouble with it, or with any of these practices is to continue to explore and engage with them.

NOTE: 02/20/2010 ~ I am getting better about this…

When you are in a situation of stress, You can take a moment and simple breathe, aware of the process of my breathing and fully conscious of the sensation and act of breathing, and gain a measure of peace to continue dealing with whatever must be dealt with.  If you find Centering useful, you can breathe those conscious breaths into your Center.

I can’t meditate, I’ve tried

Did you, how long, how many times, and what were you expecting?  Meditation is a practice.  We have to do it and do it regularly and repeatedly before we begin to experience it”s benefits.

Sometimes we feel invigorated and energized by meditation, we slip into silence and timelessness and a moment of bliss.  We focus on our out breath and suddenly the timer is going off and we are surprised at how quickly things went

Sometimes we are sitting there our back is sore we can’t seem to stop our thoughts, our nose itches and we are thirsty and it’s just not happening, BUT, we still at least TRY to sit for the 5 or 10 or 15 or whatever minutes.  Even if we only sit for a portion of our chosen time we have at least tried to engage in the practice and we can return and sit again later that day or the next day…

Sometimes we wrestle with meditation.  We keep finding our selves thinking and returning to our out breath, back and forth back and forth and by the end of our time we feel a measure of peace and calm and stillness and silence.

Sometimes we sit in the hands of the Gods.

Yet for any of the above to happen, we must commit, we must choose, we must return to the practice.



2 thoughts on “Mindfulness and the Pagan Path

  1. Haley

    Great post Pax. I just wanted you to know, I’ve bought that book you suggested to me (Kissing the Limitless). I’ll let you know how I get on with it =D

    1. Pax

      Let me know how you like it! If that one speaks to you, then Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart is a fantastically useful set of essays that, from a Buddhist perspective, covers meditation and spiritual practice in, what were for me, some truly useful ways../

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