Three Fundamentals of Setting Up a Meditation Practice

Photo by Flickr user alicepopkorn


You’ve read you can increase your brainpower or you want to enhance your sports performance. Perhaps your doctor told you it’s time to learn stress reduction. In yoga class you’ve become aware of the possibility of enlightenment, understanding your true nature or your purpose in life. Whatever your motivation, bravo! Meditation is an extremely effective change agent because you are looking within yourself.

There are three simple steps to set up a practice: create the appropriate environment, maintain a relaxed and alert posture and have an intention.

Create the environment

We don’t make our minds meditate any more than we can make ourselves sleep. But to achieve the latter usually all it takes is lying down on a comfortable surface and closing our eyes. Sleep happens. Similarly we can condition our minds to slip into meditation by creating a soothing environment with few distractions. For example, you might choose an easy chair in the living room or a large pillow on the floor of the den or bedroom. Low lights, a lighted candle can also enhance the ambiance. Wearing the same clothes, sitting at the same time of the day can help you enter into meditation more easily.

Sit in a Comfortable Posture

You can throw away the picture in your mind of the yogi sitting crossed-legged in a full lotus asana (posture) with hands in shin mudra (thumbs and index fingers touching). Although there are advantages to those positions for meditation, they are not necessary. The two main essentials are being seated upright and being relaxed. Upright so you stay alert and relaxed so that your breath is moving easily. It’s hard to stay relaxed if you’re uncomfortable so use props like pillows and blankets. You can shift your posture during meditation as long as you stay relaxed and upright. Rest your hands on your thighs or fold them in your lap. Again, whatever feels good to you.

Set an Intention

Why are you meditating? You may have an overall intention like stress reduction, but it helps to get specific. For example, to stop worrying about an exam, to relax your shoulders, to focus on the tightness in your chest to discover what’s bugging you. These are not expectations. Instead you are programming your mind to guide you where you want to go. It’s a set up for disappointment if you approach meditation thinking you want to see a full lotus blooming in your head like your friend experienced. Meditation, like dreaming, is highly individual.

With all of these points, be flexible. Make them work for you. If the pillow in the den is too soft, try sitting in a chair. If your legs fall asleep, move or stretch. If you worry that your meditation isn’t “working,” change your intention to: “I will accept whatever happens.” There are no mistakes with meditation. It is you being with yourself.


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Book Signing at Crazy Wisdom

Good evening and thank you for coming tonight. This is my first ever book signing and I’m very grateful to Crazy Wisdom, Rachel, and Bill for setting this up for me. They also did a very nice piece in their Community Journal. If you’re not familiar with this publication, it’s a great service to our community, on many levels.

Given our setting I thought I would talk a little about my spiritual unfolding through writing. First a story.

I was at an event with my meditation teacher who was about to leave on a world tour. While waiting in a line to greet her and say my farewell, I had a blessing, kind of a poem, in my hand that I had written. I was mulling over my connection with writing and whether it was something I should pursue. I’d never been educated in it and had little experience but I felt drawn to it. When it was my turn at the head of the line, I handed the blessing to my teacher. She handed it back to me and said, “Please read it.”

I must have gulped audibly. There were probably 200 people in the room. I’d never read anything I’d written in public before. In as clear a voice as I could manage, I began. She immediately stopped me and said, “Come closer.”  I stepped forward and read. Afterwards she thanked me, said the poem was beautiful and gave me a gift. I later learned that she posted my blessing wherever she went on tour that year.

That was 16 years ago.

Writing became the arena that I stretched myself, where my growth, both personal and spiritual, began to take place. I no longer had difficulties in my career, finances, relationships – all those places rich with nutrients for growth. Now, writing was going to offer all those challenges.

So I wrote poems and learned about submitting poems to journals and magazines and getting rejected.

I wrote a novel and learned about submitting novels to agents and publishers and getting rejected.

I took writing classes, met regularly with a mentor, then later joined writing groups but I couldn’t call myself a writer. I somehow believed that was for people who had published. But after lots of positive feedback from teachers, and members of my growing writing community, I began to let myself think of myself as a writer, then as a poet. But I had difficulty acknowledging that I was writing a book. This seemed so pretentious to me. Even though I never thought of myself as having self worth issues, there it was.

I continued to work hard on the craft of writing, which I have to say is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn. I found my meditation practice was vital to my writing and so my meditation practice became regular. Then one day I was mowing the lawn, thinking about what I was doing with my writing and I had one of those “ah-ha” moments. Musicians, dancers, singers, give themselves concerts or performances. Why couldn’t I give myself a recital? I could invite my friends and family to hear my work and also bring their own to share. That was 3 years ago. The next day I received an acceptance letter for one of poems in a literary journal.

I’d like to say that being published didn’t make a difference but it did. I relaxed about it after that. One person, or committee of editors, had validated my work. Since that time my poems have been published in several other journals.

Okay, so I could say I am a poet. But what about being a book author, a novelist? Not sure how it happened but gradually, the stigma I had attached to that gave way. I stopped feeling self-conscious about it. So, the other day my publisher asked me how it felt to be a published novelist. I actually can’t say, because the labels have lost that mysterious charge they used to have. Last winter, after a deep meditation, I just knew that my book was going to be printed by the end of the summer – one way or another. It was released and in my hands a week before autumn was official.

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Book signing at Nicola’s Books

Good evening and thanks to all of you for coming tonight…and to Nicola’s for setting up this event. It’s a privilege to be here.

Tonight I’d like to share a little about my process of writing novels, in particular, and then some background on A Barroom View of Love. I’ll read some excerpts and then take questions.

About twelve years ago I was taking a walk on our rural, dirt road and I started noticing how I was stepping into my own shadow spread out before me. This captured my attention as an interesting metaphor so later I began to write a poem. The more I wrote, the more I began to see a character emerging. But what to do with a character? I’d never written fiction and didn’t see myself as a storyteller.

But there was something very appealing about taking on a project bigger than a poem. It was the time of my life that my children were transitioning to be out on their own. I needed to let go of my former, intense involvement in their lives. But what else could fill that void? A novel? And that had the added benefit – so I thought at the time – of control. I could write my characters lives however I wanted. There is some truth to that but I found, quite happily actually, that the characters took on lives of their own. I remember one chapter that I put off writing for weeks because I knew the character was going to have a bad experience and I couldn’t face it.

In the first novel I wrote, called Mornings One Winter, I wrote without knowing where the story was going. I finally sorted it out but it took a long time and was very frustrating. I was beginning to shop that novel when I got the idea for A Barroom View of Love. Within an hour and a half I had the major plot outlined and I thought the story would be more marketable than Mornings One Winter, so I put that one aside. Because I knew how the new story ended, the writing went much quicker. The challenge I faced, though, was with point of view. The omniscient narrator seemed too old-fashioned, so I chose to write from the main character’s POV and in third person. This gave me a lot of freedom and the story flowed. I had the book professionally edited and began to query agents.

Then one day I was in a bookstore and saw the book “Enlightenment for Idiots.” As I flipped through it I noticed how engaging it was and that it was written in the first person. I don’t think I could have started A Barroom View of Love in the first person, but with the story down I knew Katherine Sullivan better. So I took the next year to rewrite it from her point of view and in the first person. It was more difficult than I thought it would be. There are many things that a narrator can say about a character that a character wouldn’t say about herself.

I also liked that the book now sounded more like a memoir, which is very popular currently. But, I want to alert you: A Barroom View of Love is fiction. One of the editors I worked with kept telling me about her favorite pizza places in Ann Arbor. Finally one day I mentioned that I didn’t eat pizza. She laughed with embarrassment. Because Katherine Sullivan is very choosy about her pizza, she assumed that I was, too.

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