In Eat, Pray, Love the recently divorced Elizabeth Gilbert spends three months at an ashram in spiritual practice. She spends many long hours in meditation, both alone and in groups. She finds it enormously difficult but eventually has the kind of ecstatic spiritual experience she was hoping for, and is able to reflect on her journey and the lessons she has learned. I found the section fascinating, both for her frank acknowledgement of the personal frailties that were getting in the way of her spiritual development and her details of life in an ashram.
Part of me was wishing that I could have that kind of an experience, but if I’m honest, my desire is more for a three-month holiday than the kind of floor-scrubbing and mantra-chanting worship that Gilbert had. Another part of me recognised her journey, for, as a child, I was lucky enough to have a grandmother who taught me how to meditate and how to engage in spiritual practice. However, unlike Gilbert, I never had to struggle with the language and idioms of meditation. For me it has always been as natural and as easy as it is for small children who imbibe a second language without realising they are doing so.
My grandmother was a fascinating woman – a non-racist in a racist country, a divorcee (her marriage lasted a whole six years – one year plus the second World War) amongst married women, a painter, a gardener, a spiritual thinker and a gentle soul. She was a wonderful grandmother; adoring, non-judgemental, generous with her time and love. I am so grateful to my beautiful Ellie for the gift she gave me. She was a wonderful teacher, who never took to a podium, but allowed fascinating drips of information to leak through, just enough at a time to keep me interested and coming back for more. She doled out spiritual teaching just as she doled out chocolate – one piece at a time.
I thought I would share, for those who are interested in beginning or furthering their own spiritual practice, some of the things she taught me:
For meditation, you don’t need a guru, an ashram or a mantra. You don’t need a church or a mosque or a priest or an imam. You don’t need the Kaballah. All you need is a quiet place to sit.
For meditation, it is best to sit cross-legged or on a chair with your feet touching the floor. Lying down brings you too close to sleep.
Close your eyes, breathe deeply in and out, and insert a pause between each in-breath and each out-breath. God – or the divine – is in the pauses.
You can imagine a white light entering your head, or you can imagine your chakras opening, or you can imagine a tree. Anything that brings you to peace.
Meditation is about sublimating the ego. Let the thoughts and darts of the ego swim past you like fish. Don’t fight them, just acknowledge them and let them go.
Listen to your heart. Your heart is the seat of prayer. Meditation is about listening, not speaking.
Don’t make a list of the things you want; rather list the things you are grateful for. Prayer is gratitude.
Don’t second-guess yourself. If you are still, quiet and listening, you are meditating. You don’t need a guru for that. And it gets easier with practice.
You can use meditation for relaxation, or to connect with the divine, or you can use it for both. Either way, you will receive insights or messages about how you live your life. This is the wonderful benefit of taking time to be quiet and listen – you will hear what you need to hear.