Three Steps To Creating A Meditation Practice

By Susan Piver
Much has been written about the health benefits of meditation and it’s thrilling to learn of the latest research into this ancient practice. It is very good for your body! However it is also an extremely potent tool for achieving emotional and spiritual well-being and these, as Dr. Weil points out, are at the root of happiness. Rather than being dependent on those rare moments when external circumstances are just right, genuine happiness is the ability to return to inner balance no matter what may be going on around you. Meditation teaches you how to do this.
However, the way it works is quite mysterious and it’s important to make room for the mystery. If we undertake our meditation practice as a means of self-improvement, we rob it of its magic. The real benefits come when we let go of expectations and self-judgment to simply be with ourselves as we are – which, in our world of relentless self-criticism and the drive to have more, is easier said than done.
There are three steps employed by many spiritual traditions that help keep a contemplative practice firmly rooted in the spiritual rather than mere self-help. I invite you to try them and see what you think.
Before you do your meditation practice:
    1. Make offerings. When you walk into a shrine room of any religion, there are often flowers, candles, and incense. These are offerings. You can make a similar type of setup in your home, by creating a smaller version of a traditional shrine. Or you can simply place some fresh flowers next to a picture of someone or something you love and aspire to emulate. You can light a candle as an offering of warmth, light, and safety.These are wonderful examples of offerings. However, the best offering is one you can always make, no matter where you are or how you feel and that is your own experience in the moment.Before meditation, touch in with how it feels to be you right now. Maybe you feel great, cruddy, or both. Feel it. Offer it to whatever you hold sacred by saying something like, “I offer exactly who I am right now to the highest wisdom and goodness I can imagine.” You don’t have to know exactly what this means, just rouse a sense of generosity.You can offer your wonderful qualities, but you can also offer what is less than wonderful. Believe me, I have no idea how my grumpiness or impatience could help others, but when I offer it so that somehow it may, I feel relieved and cleansed.
    2. Request blessings.It’s totally OK to ask the world to bless you. And whom do you ask? If you are a Christian, you could ask Jesus. If you are a Buddhist, you could ask for your teacher’s blessing. You can seek the blessings of magic if you are an Alchemist, of Gandhi if you’re a pacifist, of the earth if you’re a Pagan. The idea is to seek the blessings of your lineage.Your lineage is comprised of those that inspire and motivate you; the people you identify with and think, “that is the best.” It may be a traditional lineage such as those mentioned above, but it could also be another type. Perhaps you feel yourself to be part of the lineage of Italians or healers or intellectuals. Maybe you’re of the lineage of poets or scientists, of painters, mothers, CEOs, crusaders, or lovers.There is nothing woo-woo about this. You feel connected to or inspired by certain individuals or cultures or belief systems. What inspires you the most is the key to figuring out your lineage; you resonate so strongly because you are already one of them. You hold that lineage.Get a sense of your heart’s lineage and, in whatever way feels natural to you, request the blessings of that line or lines before you do your meditation practice. It can be as simple as saying to yourself something like, “Please bless me. I hold your lineage and I seek your support.” Something like that, but in a way that feels natural to you.
    3. Dedicate the merit. Once you have finished your practice, connect with whatever benefit you may have created for yourself through it. Once you have this felt sense, in whatever way feels natural for you, make the aspiration that the results of your practice could be used to also benefit others. In this way, we don’t try to hold on too tightly to the fruits of our practice (which spoils them), but offer to share them with all (which amplifies them). Close your practice with the simple wish that the benefits of your practice could be shared as widely as possible.

Susan Piver is the New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including the award-winning How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life and The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Her latest book is Start Here Now: An Open-Hearted Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation. She is at work on her next book, The Four Noble Truths of Love.

Susan has been a student of Buddhism since 1993, graduated from a Buddhist seminary in 2004 and was authorized to teach meditation in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage in 2005.

In 2012, she launched the Open Heart Project, a completely virtual meditation center that lives in the cloud. There are close to 20,000 members all over the world who receive free weekly guided meditation videos from her.

She has worked with Dr. Weil to create two CDs about meditation, “Eight Meditations for Optimum Health,”  and “Sound Body, Sound Mind.”

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