Develop a “Dropping In” Ritual for Your Meditative Practices (wowo-2)
(This is part 1 of a series called "Wax On, Wax Off!")
A vignette from my practice
Diagnostically, Ronny was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. I met him when his grandmother gifted him twenty-five half-hour "massages”to help him relax. Technically, the sessions were a combination of craniosacral and energy work, but in truth they were mostly ritual.
Ronny was twenty-five, happy and friendly like a Golden Retriever, but without the slobber. He worked as a custodian’s helper at a school. Every Wednesday afternoon at four he appeared at the practice and our ritual would begin. First, we had to go to the closet to fetch our ritual object, the “Raft of God.” This was Ronny’s name for the scuffed blue and white Upledger Institute air mattress, inflated to about three-quarter capacity, which I used for craniosacral work. Many a treatment form in hands-on healing work involves sandwiching an area of your treatment partner’s body between your hands and the air mattress helps by reducing the amount of weight bearing down on the hand underneath. This is a godsend when working with hand-squashingly heavy clients. First time out, I referred to it as a “raft.” Apparently, Ronny had been to church—evidently of fire-and-brimstone variety—and in the hairball of word associations that lived in his brain, it became The Raft of God.
Although the "raft" was feather-light, consisting mostly of air, we each took up an end and in lockstep performed a sort of solemn portage of the Raft of God from the house’s front closet to the treatment room in back. There, we placed it on the massage table and cast a threadbare Kansas Linen Service sheet over it like a faded powder-blue parachute floating into place in a ceremonious billow. Ronny would then fly onto the table, lying on his back while I took my place at the head of the table and placed my hands gently on his shoulders. There, he squirmed and fidgeted, waiting for the ritual to continue.
“OK, Ronny, I need you to slide down the table one inch.” He slides down the table one inch.
“OK, Ronny, I need you to slide back up toward me half and inch.” He slides up a half-inch.
“OK, Ronny, I need you to slide back down toward the foot of the table one quarter of an inch.” He slides down a quarter of an inch.
"Perfect!” Whereupon he arches his head and neck backwards to look at me with a giant upside down Golden Retriever grin. At the same moment, I would feel his body relax and the “treatment” would begin.
If I left out a step of our settling ritual, Ronny would tense up. In that case, I would go back to the beginning of having him slide up and down the table. We would enact this unvarying ritual on The Raft of God at the beginning of each of our twenty-five very delightful sessions.
Everyone who meditates knows this scenario: you sit and start to settle in, only to find your body is an ant hill, your mind is a herd of cats and your heart is a seething cauldron. We all have to deal with this perennial issue.
I’ll tell you how I work with this in my own meditation and energy practice. Some days I drop peacefully right into my center; some days I drop into the above-mentioned seething cauldron. If anything has changed over the years for me, it is dropping the idea that one is necessarily better than the other. I don’t sit to meditate or do an energy exercise with a precise expectation of what is supposed to happen.
For me, the byword is “Start where you are.” Basically, this means you stop fighting with what presents itself as you sit. Then, regardless of what I end up dropping into when I sit to meditate, I start by taking my time settling. It is as much a part of my practice as anything else. In the course of this settling process, I routinely touch on a few basic things in myself—simple stuff—before I start whatever else I do. Here’s what I do:
I get comfortable: This sounds obvious but it’s an important step. I make sure I’m sitting so my body is supported, so I don’t have to use any big muscles to hold myself upright. This helps me let go. One little thing I often do is to bring the crown of my head directly over my perineum for a moment. You might give this a try—just as a starting place—and get a feel for what happens in your body with that kind of vertical alignment.
I turn my attention to how my weight is distributed: For me, this consists of dropping into where my body is being supported by what I’m sitting on. I run my awareness slowly along the place where my body meets the chair or the floor.
I turn my attention to my breathing: In this, I simply connect my awareness with how the air is moving into my body and out of it. I do this without trying to change my breathing pattern, and without trying to keep it from changing spontaneously.
I drop my awareness down in my body: I have found that making a feeling connection with my lower body, relaxing my attention there and otherwise not trying to make anything happen very often will have the effect of slowing my mental activity. It takes practice, but it’s a skill worth learning.
On one level, you can think of these as things that give your nervous system a means of calming, even if it takes a while. Remember Ronny in the opening story. Ultimately, though, this turns into a kind of ritual, and as such, it is a part of your practice you don't want to shortchange. These are the steps you take as you ease into the river of your practice.
Next up: A New Look at Distractions
Diving Deeper: For some general guidelines for doing energy-based meditative exercises, see "Guidelines for Inner Pilgrimages," pp. 47 and 48 in A Pilgrim in Your Body: Energy Healing and Spiritual Process.
(Special thanks to blog subscribers Max. S and Stafany K. for suggesting this topic in recent emails.)
Copyright ©, 2017 by Jim Gilkeson. All rights reserved.