It was good to hear of your plans to participate in activities and events that are enjoyable and life-giving for you! Enjoy your W/E in Geneva!
Today I am returning to the topic of meditation to comment on some of the practical questions you have asked.
Let’s begin with the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle! Personally I do not know of anyone who has decided to ride a bicycle and has just got on one and managed to ride it perfectly. It takes time to develop the balance and co-ordination necessary to ride without having a close encounter with the ground!
Similarly learning to meditate takes time and practise. We have looked at the importance of posture, breathing and dealing with distractions in a previous letter. But choosing an appropriate place to meditate, time of day and length of time are also important considerations.
As I was living on my own when I first explored meditation, it was easy for me to find a quiet place in my flat, where I could practise meditation. I found it helpful to have a designated space that I regularly used for this purpose. It was quiet and relatively distraction free and I could sit comfortably in a chair and enter into stillness and meditation. For me having a specific place to pray and meditate really helps me prepare myself to enter into stillness.
On a side note, I remember once going to a mid-day mid-week meditation, in a city centre church, and the man leading the meditation sharing with the group the idea of walking, as slowly as possible into your place of prayer. Using the deliberate act of walking slowly, to help you let go of your cares and concerns, as you went. He invited us to each go into a different part of the church and then to walk slowly to the area where he was to lead the meditation.
While, to be honest, I thought it was an unusual/crazy idea, it proved to be a profound experience and I have used it from time to time, especially when I feel rushed and under pressure!
Of course many people do not live alone, and so they will need to find a place which is as private as possible and relatively quiet and distraction free, within the available space where they live.
Once you have selected your chosen space, what time of day do you choose to meditate? The question of when has to be determined individually, taking into account family/work/roles /responsibilities and whether you are ‘a lark or an owl’! Some people find mornings best, others evenings and sometimes the time is determined by our age and stage of life.
When you have selected your space and time, the next question is how long do you spend? It is really important to set realistic time frames and to have realistic expectations. You do not want to set yourself up for failure and discouragement! Neither do you want to practise meditation so infrequently that each time feels like going back to the drawing board!
There are various views on the length of time one should spend – some suggest an hour a day, others suggest twenty minutes twice a day. The best advice I was given at the beginning of my journey into stillness and meditation was from Father Thomas, at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, on the first retreat I ever went on.
He encouraged us to commit to giving five to ten minutes a day to God for prayer. He added that we could always give more, but if we set out to do half an hour and then only managed five minutes we might feel guilty and be discouraged.
So, decide what is best for you and endeavour to keep to it!