Meditation for the Incredibly Reluctant by Deborah Castellano
If you are anything like me, the idea of “relax and let your mind become a distant observer” is anathema. Let’s start even sooner than that—let’s start with someone else ordering you to “let your eyes drift shut.” The basic functions of your brain and body should be something you have sovereignty over, not be at the command of some yoga-toned near-stranger barking orders at you and forcing you to relax against your will.
I have been forcibly resisting meditation for nearly my whole experience as a Witch. I think in part because I was constantly being told I had to do it (pass), in part due to being a type-A doer, in part due to my indifference to enlightenment, and in part due to my anxiety. Let’s go over these examples as reasons why you, too, may be resistant to meditation.
“If you don’t meditate, you can’t do magic.”
So let’s start at the beginning with that one. If that was the case, none of my magical work up until the last two years or so has been effective. Now, obviously, it’s hard to concretely point to one’s magic and say, “Yes! That’s what made This Thing go!” But I think just going by the number of years I’ve been practicing Witchcraft, it’s safe to assume that something at some point worked.
If you were a Witch in the Woods/Edge of the Village—type historically, do you think you had a whole lot of time to meditate? Probably not, as you were trying to survive. Not from persecution most of the time most likely, unless you had a particularly choice little piece of land that someone wanted to put their grubby hands on. Mostly, in the boring ways—you had to grow food, store it, and possibly deal with animal husbandry along with the thrill of medieval laundry. So that’s not a terribly true statement. Does it help? Of course it helps. You know what else helps? Eating a healthy diet of lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains without delicious sugar. Are you doing it all the time? Probably not. Meditation won’t promise you an impressive magical career, but not meditating will not promise you that either.
“If you don’t meditate, you’ll drop dead.”
My Aunt Jeanie is ninety-four years old and recently shook off a heart attack like an annoying head cold. She cusses, she smoked up until the last ten years or so, and she only agreed to go into a retirement home because she was bored at home all day. Aunt Jeanie is a total type-A proto-badass and she’s never meditated a day in her life.
Would it help you manage your stress level? Of course it would. Do you know what else would help with that? Not getting so stressed out by by modern living. Does that sound unhelpful? Because it is. It’s really difficult when you are a type-A psycho like myself to not engage in stressful activities and even harder to want to dedicate large swarths of time not doing. We’re a group of hypermotivated Parvatis, always wanting to make sure the universe keeps turning by the sheer force of our activeness. You may be like my Aunt Jeanie and just have fantastic genetics, or you could meditate every day of your life and be genetically predisposed to cancer. Meditating doesn’t guarantee you a long life, but you aren’t guaranteed a long life by not meditating either.
“You will never achieve personal enlightenment without meditation.”
Meditation seems like a pretty reasonable path to enlightenment in many traditions, but saints in other traditions seem to get enlightened through austerity and trance work. Mary Magdalene was enlightened enough to give resurrection a whirl and wait it out even when the boys had given up on it, even though she had never witnessed it. There are many arguments to be made that Mary Magdalene was enlightened through her work with her teacher, but that’s another story for another day. At the very least, there seems to be many paths to enlightenment, depending on your personal belief structure.
But let’s put that aside for a moment to contemplate: “Am I terribly interested in becoming personally enlightened?” This question seems like it has an obvious answer of yes, of course. Because shouldn’t we all want to be? But I feel like if we really, truly wanted to be enlightened, we’d all be working a lot harder at it. So it’s worth investigating if that’s even of particular interest to you.
“You will never achieve a lack of anxiety without meditation.”
There are lots of ways to get a generalized anxiety disorder under control through the use of therapy, medication, cognitive behavioral exercises, and alternative medication and healing practices. If me becoming less anxious hinged solely on meditation, I would have been in for a really rough past two decades. Like all of the other examples, does meditation help? Yes. It does help.
Then why bother?
As you have probably picked up, the point of all of these examples is you can lead a fully functioning, happy, magical, type-A existence with an anxiety disorder that’s reasonably under control (or whatever your specific reasons are for not wanting to meditate) without meditation. However, meditation is a really good tool to add to your preexisting tool box of Witchcraft and coping skills. It doesn’t have to be your only tool or even a tool you use that often. But it will help you focus your will faster in magic, it will help you destress, and it will calm and center you. Not perfectly, not every time. But coping skills and magic don’t work perfectly every time either, so having one more trick up your sleeve for your magical and practical repertoire can only help you.
A Repetitive Meditation
In Hinduism, when you say a mantra 108 times while focusing on your intention (whatever magical work you are attempting to accomplish, a favor, a prayer for yourself or someone else, and so on), it’s called a japa practice. You would usually use prayer beads to keep track of your counting, though there are tricks to use only your fingers. I have never been able to pick up how to only use my fingers correctly, so feel free to do further research on that on your own if that’s of interest. If instead you decide to go with prayer beads, you can buy a set either at your local India Cash and Carry or on eBay. Making them yourself would also be an option. In-person purchase is ideal, so you can find beads that move easily through your fingers and make sure there are actually 108 beads by counting them.
When you use prayer beads, they are always to be held in your right hand regardless of which hand is dominant. When you are moving the beads through your hand, you use your thumb and middle fingers. You never use your pointer finger. You start at the tassel of the prayer beads and you work your way around them until you come back to the tassel. You may want to practice the motion before actually performing japa.
Generally, when working with goddesses in the Hindu pantheon, there are mantras that have to be given to you and could have repercussions if done incorrectly, and then there’s everyone’s seed mantra. The seed mantra is the equivalent of calling someone on the phone and saying, “Hello, is Name here? May I please speak to them?” Even if you mispronounce something, no one is going to get all that upset because you got their “phone number” out of the seed mantra “phone book” and everyone has a copy of it.
Shiva is an excellent deity to do mantra to. He’s married to Parvati (for all our type As here), and while Parvati is the “doing” part of the universe, Shiva is the “being” part of the universe. If you are trying to get more in touch with your own “being,” he’s the one to talk to. When he’s not being a householder with Parvati and holding the universe together with her, he’s smoking pot in a cremation ground hanging out with his cremation ground bros, the ganas.
His seed mantra is , or Om Hrim Namah Shivaya.
Om: Oooooooh-mmmm. The sound starts in your belly and shoots up through your throat and then through the top of your head. It’s the universal sound of creation.
Hrim: Hah-reem. The sound starts in your throat and then shoots out the top of your head. It’s Shiva’s and Shakti’s sound, and it lifts the veil of illusion for you to reach Shiva (or Shakti).
Namaha: Nah-mah-hah. A salutation where you are honoring Shiva.
Shivaya: Shee-vah-yah. Shiva’s formal name. You are calling him directly but also your inner self that is “being.”
So you would practice this meditation by first focusing on your intention and then holding that intention while you intone your mantra once for every prayer bead, starting at the tassel and then ending at the tassel. Usually, the last mantra is said more slowly, so you and the deity you are talking to both know you are finished.
Building a Tiny Astral
Home Away from Home
When you build an internal shrine inside yourself and you maintain it, you are building a tiny safe haven for yourself on the astral plane. Kabbala, Gnosticism, and Hermetics all have some version of this. If you don’t have a lot of experience or a mentor, this is a good way to get your feet wet in working with the astral world, and it’s in the borderlands between meditation and trance work, which makes it interesting. Obviously, anytime you do magic there’s an element of risk involved. Use your common sense and critical thinking skills here—don’t juggle hedgehogs or chainsaws. If you don’t feel ready to do this, then you should not do it.
Your astral home is a good place to do magical work and to work with spirits and goddesses you already have a good working relationship with. Treat your astral shrine as you would treat your actual home: you likely wouldn’t invite a bunch of random strangers into your house, you wouldn’t give an acquaintance who doesn’t live with you a spare key to your house to come and go as they please, and you would have a general set of rules about how you expect people to act in your home. The same rules apply to your spiritual shrine.
Create Your Shrine
1. Take some deep breaths until you feel grounded and centered in yourself. If it would make you feel more protected and you are not Wiccan, put down a salt circle around you and four white candles (one to one of your sides, one to the other side, one to your front, and one to your back). If you are Wiccan, you can always cast a circle according to your tradition’s ritual outline.
2. Imagine yourself in a cave. You are holding a torch. You see a set of stairs leading down. Follow the stairs and walk until you see an exit from the cave.
3. When you step outside the cave, what do you see? An ocean, a valley, mountains? Walk until you see a clearing. Wait until you see an omen that it’s okay to construct your shrine there.
4. Construct your shrine however you see fit, furnish it however you see fit, landscape however you see fit. Make sure it’s something you can remember easily, especially if you aren’t a visual thinker. The more consistent you can keep your structure, the better a foothold it is for you.
5. When you are done spending time in your shrine, follow the path back to the cave and take the stairs back up. If you had cast a circle, open it back up. Resume normal life.
6. Visit your shrine regularly. Make sure it’s kept the way you want it to be kept. Entertain visitors you’ve prevetted. Eat food there, read there, do whatever you like to do in your physical life. The more time you spend in your shrine, the more of a hearthstone it can be for your astral work.