Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Meditation: What I Know


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.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

13 thoughts on “Meditation: What I Know

  1. Thank you so much for sharing that Charlotte. It was great to read it put so clearly and simply, cut down to the essence. I’m still trying to get to grips with allowing myself that quiet time and too often it’s only at bed-time and I’m asleep before I know it. I’m going to print this out to remind myself.

    Your grandmother sounds wonderful – a rare soul in her generation and place. I wish I’d absorbed that approach to spirituality as a child.

  2. I do a lot of meditation and it really does help. It’s tricky to begin with, however. May I suggest for people who have very frantic minds and find it hard to know what to do with themselves at first, I found it helpful to put my hands on my knees and feel them there, and then feel my feet on the floor. It was a simple way to focus myself initially. Still waiting for that spiritual epiphany, though!

  3. Charlotte:thanks for posting your thougths on “Eat, Love, Prey”. I just read the book and absolutely loved it, both because I thought it was really well written and because I a was able to live vicariously through Gilbert. She did something that I have always dreamed of doing – taking real time out and pursuing the things that are really important to her. Maybe someday

    I look forward to reading your thought on the Love section.


  4. Thankyou! I have been practicing yoga for several years now and just barely learning how to meditate. My instructors try to teach how but I’ve never succeeded in class. I liked your simple steps.

    And what a wonderful grandmother!

  5. Wow! That was really helpful!!!

    I’ve been encouraged to go back to meditating now that huge changes are, apparently, about to happen in my life this summer… I’ve honestly forgotten how beneficial it can be to just, you know, pull back (or outward, or inward – or wherever you go when you meditate, which could be all those place at once, I guess)

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  7. Thank you. Lovely post. Maybe you could write a story or two about your grandmother. She sure sounds as if she lived many stories in her life that women today would find facinating.

  8. Loved that. I follow Dogen’s method which is pretty much identical to your grandmother’s excepting that my eyes are open. I was trying to explain it to my boss the other day during my appraisal (yes, I have a very understanding boss) and finally concluded that it was like attempting to achieve a kind of one molecule thin gap (if I’m lucky) between the constant chatter of my ego and what’s beneath it.
    I wish I’d had a grandmother. Sitting. The most difficult thing in the world.

  9. I think I would have loved your grandmaman. Simple, yet wise thoughts that you will always remember. And I was struck by the thought of praying as expressing gratitude rather than desires. I like that. Thank you for sharing this … and please think about sharing more of her wisdom. We could all benefit.

  10. That was beautiful; thank you!

  11. I’ll echo the others — thank you for this post! Your grandmother sounds truly wonderful. And I like reading your thoughts about meditation. I’m not sure I’ll pick it up, but it’s there, in the back of my mind, and I just might …

  12. Thank you! You don’t know how badly I needed this little lesson.

  13. So glad to read this. When I was reading the book, I felt jealousy. I was uncomfortable with this — but I kept thinking that if anyone needs to spend 3 months in an ashram, it’s Moms — what does she really have to be that stressed about?

    But, I like your guidelines here. I recently discovered that it is the heart that you focus on. I have spent a lot of time focusing on the third eye — but it is the heart — really where the focus should be.


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