Now I’m going to share my thoughts on an aspect of meditation dear to my heart. Because I’m so thoroughly visual in my orientation to the world, creating a harmonious nest for myself—and by extension a place to meditate—is essential to my well-being and my enjoyment of my meditation practice. Of course, I also spend a good deal of time meditating in nature, so then I need nothing extra. When I’m home, however, I like my props.
Experienced meditators may scoff at the discussion of props, but especially in the beginning, making yourself really comfortable and setting the right tone can determine whether or not you’ll pursue the practice.
First you need to be comfy.
As I said before, I don’t think meditation should be painful in any sense. Personally, I love a really cushy recliner. If you’re determined to sit on the floor, at least consider a good cushion or perhaps a chair especially designed for floor sitting that has some back support like theone pictured here. Ditto, if you’re going to try it lying down—use some sort of cushion—a pad from a deck chair or a yoga mat at least, though I find those way too thin.
Next is your sound environment.
If you live on acreage, or in the country or in a soundproof condo, then you’re in luck. But if you’re surrounded by urban noise or just the sounds of your family being themselves, you might need to block all that out in order to concentrate. Once you have some experience meditating, then you can do it in an airport lounge, but at first you need help staying focused. Sometimes I’ll use music (be sure it’s instrumental—no matter how much you may like Celine Dion, you don’t want her interrupting your meditation). But music is so influential over our moods, that I don’t like something external to influence the course of my meditation. If I need to block out my neighbor’s barking dog, I’ll use white noise. I have a nifty sound machine that allows me to pick from a number of choices, including rain, ocean sounds and so on.
Once you’re meditating for longer periods of time, say 20 minutes or more, you may notice that as you relax into it your body temp drops and you feel a chill. I like to keep a shawl around me to pull up if I need to. Some people like the idea of having a special scarf or shawl that they use just for this purpose, so that simply wrapping it around their shoulders starts to set the mood. I used to have a very special Balinese one that I used a lot, but I ruined it by spilling wax all over it. (We’ll get to candles in a moment!)
Next let’s think about fragrance.
Scientists have proven that our strongest sense is our sense of smell, and it’s directly connected to the part of the brain that contains memories. Which is why adding a special fragrance to your practice can, over time, really trigger an immediate relaxation response whenever you experience that particular scent.
• You could try traditional incense, or be more adventurous and buy the small rounds of charcoal which you light as a base for such things as myrrh or frankincense. Shops that sell natural products or alternative bookstores usually sell these sorts of things. You never know where you’ll find something wonderful—I found some fabulous mesquite incense at Pier One, of all places.
• Another way to go is to use essential oils and place drops on your pulse points.
• Or perhaps you have a favorite perfume or body lotion that you’d like to use. Be aware though, that once you begin to associate a certain scent with meditation, then it will be difficult to wear it for other kinds of activities—the urge to go sit in a corner and meditate can be very strong!
• My personal favorite is to use dried California sage and do a traditional smudging with it. This is especially important if you’re approaching your meditation that day in a state of anger, disappointment or upset in any way. Lighting some sage and wafting the smoke around you as you settle in is a wonderful purifier.
I’m not suggesting that you can’t meditate without this, but an exotic fragrance that you resonate with can enhance your meditations. If you really want to explore this area, visit an aromatherapist and perhaps get a custom-blended essence.
Another tool that you may find useful is a meditation focal object.
This is something small that you either hold in your hand or place in your lap, something that keeps you grounded in your meditation. It could be a special stone or shell, perhaps a locket or a tiny goddess statue—anything that helps you block out other realities. Sometimes you may want to try meditating on a specific object. That’s more of an advanced meditation technique, but you can read about it here.
Last but not least is the visual element.
Even if you always choose to close your eyes for the entire time you meditate, having special things to look at as you center yourself can really help shift your focus away from your ordinary world. It could be a vase of flowers or a piece of artwork you find inspiring. Many people like to set up altars in their homes—I have multiple altars in every room of my house—and each one has a different purpose. The one pictured here is right beside me as I type this. It’s a small collection of things that are symbolic to me of creating this blog. Don’t let the word “altar” intimidate you—especially if you come from a religious tradition that incorporated fancy altars. An altar is simply any space you declare is sacred to you. It may simply be photos of your loved ones on your mantle. It might be a collection of beach finds on a window sill, or it may be more formal in structure.
A note about candles.
Especially when meditating after dark, it can be relaxing to do so in a candlelit room. Please use only carefully contained candles—I only use votive candles inside heavy, fireproof vessels—glass, ceramic or metal. Tapers are dangerous, and even big pillar candles can cause trouble when they spill over their edges. Once you get into longer meditations, you need to be able to lose track of time, and worrying about lit candles is counter-productive. That said, focusing on a candle flame can be a wonderful beginning to meditation, or even the entire experience. This is another opportunity to introduce fragrance into your practice. I like to vary my candles and attune them to the seasons: scents of spicy apples and pumpkins in the fall, fresh pine and balsam in the winter and florals in spring and summer.As you grow in your experience of meditation, you may decide to dedicate a special corner of a room or perhaps even an entire room to your meditation space. That’s the beauty of being your own spiritual director—it’s all up to you. I know someone who has a special room she uses just for her spiritual work. Not to get too woo-woo on you, but she believes that over time the room accumulates positive energy and that by simply entering into the room her transformation begins. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion or just how beautiful the room is, but I also sense a different vibration in her meditation space.
To use props or not is your choice, but it’s a way to add more layers of meaning and engage more of your senses in your practice.
Please leave me comments on the blog posts and let me know your reactions and experiences—I’d love to hear from you! (There’s a comment box at the end of every regular post on this blog.)
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