One of the most potent ideas in magic and ritual is creating what we want to have happen in our minds, so that we can focus and direct our energy into making it happen. (This is just as true when we’re talking about practical goals as magical ones, of course.)
Meditation is a huge and broad subject, far too big to go into much detail in this format: I highly recommend getting a copy of Diana Paxson’s Trance-Portation and working through it. That said, there are some skills you can start with that will give you a really good foundation for whatever work or path you find yourself on later.
The most basic of these is visualisation – only, not just images, but other kinds of responses. As I talk about in the “Ways you learn” article, people will have different preferences. The same is true with things like visualisation – some people will find it very easy to create an image, a sound, a smell, or a texture, but very hard to create others in their mind. As with so many other things I’ve discussed, you do want to work to build your skills in all the areas – not just the ones where you’re strongest – because it will give you so many more options down the road.
What to practice:
Begin by getting comfortable (some people prefer to sit on a chair, some on the floor, some to lie on their backs with their knees bent.) You may find your feet or legs get colder, and want a blanket.
Close your eyes, and begin by working with the counted breathing pattern you’ve practiced. Once you’ve got the rhythm comfortably established, you can then try to create different things in your mind. The suggestions below work from simpler to more complex, but you’ll find that some of them are easier than others for you.
With each, create it as clearly and cleanly in your mind as you can. At first, just getting each thing may take all your effort. As it gets more comfortable, work on examining the image or sound or taste or smell more closely. If it’s an object, turn it around and rotate it. If it’s a sound, listen closely for echoes and overtones. And so on.
- Simple shapes (a blue triangle, a red square, a yellow circle, etc.)
- A single bell ringing or a knock on a door.
- The feel of velvet or bark under your fingers.
- The taste of an orange or dark chocolate or coffee (anything with a very specific flavor)
- The smell of freshly cut grass, or cinnamon, or your favorite flower.
Then move to more complex things with each sense:
- A favorite image or picture or painting.
- A simple song
- A piece of embroidered clothing, your hands in rich garden soil.
- A favorite soup or stew or tea blend (something with multiple flavors)
- The smell of a favorite perfume or incense.
And finally, try out even more complex creations:
- Picture yourself in a location you love (somewhere you feel secure and welcome)
- Hear in your mind a song you love, with all the rich harmony and melody.
- Imagine walking around your home, picking up objects and holding them.
- Sit down to taste your favorite holiday meal, dish by dish.
- Imagine walking into a store with many different scents – a store that sells herbs and flowers, one that sells incense, bath products, etc. Or imagine a garden in full bloom.
If you find you have trouble with any of these, keep practicing, and don’t get discouraged. It took me several years of regular practice to get very comfortable creating images in my mind (where I had a very easy time with sounds, and got comfortable with scent and texture pretty quickly.) Practice really does help, as does breaking it down.
- Start with something very simple, that you can work with in the physical world. (Like an orange)
- Practice what you’d like to visualise, paying close attention to the sense that you want to work with most. For example, pay very close attention to what the orange really looks like, what the texture of the skin looks like close up, what the color really is.
- Do this several times (give yourself at least a day or two between each physical session.)
- Then try doing it, followed by creating it in your mind.
- Repeat, getting more complex, as you get better. Add more senses as you can.
More complex exercises:
Create an orange in your mind: round, rough textured, a little bit squishy. Now, in your mind, peel the orange (smelling the citrus juices and oils, feeling the juice and pith under your fingers), break it into segments, and eat it.
Study a specific collection of objects (like 3-5 objects from your altar). In your mind, focus on what they look like, and then what it would feel like to pick each one up and use it. Smell the incense or the sulfur of a match for a candle. Feel cool water or grainy salt in a bowl.
Go for a walk: Take a walk outside, and pay close attention to every sense. What does the wind smell like? Is it the ozone after a summer storm or the smell of approaching snow? Has someone been mowing their lawn or turning on their grill? What flowers or plants do you smell?
Feel the ground under your feet – is it pavement, or ground? If it’s ground, is it springy or frozen, muddy or solid? If it’s pavement, do you feel cracks or a slant in the pavement? Do you feel sun or a breeze?
Look around you, too: what do you see? What color is the house next to you, or the car in the street? Are there flowers or plants or decorations you can see? If you closed your eyes, could you name the colors of the houses near you, or the cars? Are there places where plants are overgrowing the sidewalk, or grass needs to be cut, or leaves need to be raked?
If you take a few moments to do this regularly, your skills in noticing and recreating images in your mind will get a great deal better.
Part of why we do all this practicing is that doing longer meditations can help us explore our spiritual world in ways we can’t easily do physically. Longer meditations can give us a chance to interact with our Gods, with other beings of interest, or to learn a skill we can bring back into the physical world. Again, Diana Paxson’s Trance-Portation is highly recommended.
There are a number of sources for longer guided meditations out there – Yasmine Galenorn has a couple of volumes out, many other authors include a couple in introductory books, and of course, you can write your own. I’ve included one here that I wrote for ritual use a few years ago: it was designed to be done in the spring, as part of a ritual about clearing away what we no longer need to focus on, to make way for new growth and potential. As you can see, I tried to include quite a lot of other sensory cues: if you find a meditation from other sources, you may find you want add in more sensory cues than the author used.
You can record this yourself (since many modern computers make this pretty easy) or get together with a friend to read it, or whatever else works for you. The instructions in brackets  are to give some idea on pacing. Going slowly is a good thing: take more time than you think you need.
You can use any basic meditation induction you like. Some people like tensing and releasing their muscles (toes, feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, etc… all the way up the body). Some people like to visualise a mist collecting around them and covering them, carrying them away to the location of the meditation.
A garden meditation
[insert basic meditation induction sequence here]
Your eyes still closed, you take a deep breath, smelling the damp earth and the tang of last year’s meadow grass.
You open your eyes to find yourself standing in a broad open field. The wind is brisk, but it is warm enough to be out without a coat. The ground around you is muddy in spots, with yellowed grass, but feels springy beneath your feet. The sun above you is not yet strong but you can feel its growing warmth.
[short pause - 5 to 10 breaths]
You stand for a moment, trying to get your bearings, when you hear the chirp of a bird behind you.
You turn and see a cardinal. It lands on the ground in front of you and chirps, then hops toward the eastern edge of the field, cocking its head, as if encouraging you to follow.
You begin to follow it and it takes to the air. Your feet squish in the damp loam of the meadow as you make your way toward a break in the stone wall and the forest beyond the meadow.
Once you reach the edge, you see a footpath between the trees, and set off between the trees. Some are evergreens, their needles still dark and vibrant. Some have bare branches, with only the hint of leaf buds. White birches glimmer between the brown bark of the other trees.
You can hear animals moving around in the woods. You see a rabbit cross your path, several squirrels, and then hear a rustle that might be a deer leaping away from the soft noise of your feet. As you walk, the cardinal flits from branch to branch, waiting for you to catch up.
[short pause - 5 to 10 breaths]
The path curves shallowly down and around until you find yourself in a small clearing. Before you is a cottage. There are signs of weeds grown tall and crushed down by the snow. The paint is old and peeling and there are no footsteps in the soft ground around the door.
You peek in the window. Dust is thick as velvet on the furniture and floor. As you stand there the bird chirps again, off to your right. You look towards the sound, just in time to see the bird disappear around the corner.
You follow, to find a tall wooden fence curving out from the back corner of the cottage. Directly in front of you is a heavy door with a large padlock. Some gardening tools are pushed into the corner between the cottage and the fence.
You walk closer, noticing more details. Above the door is a simple sign – black text painted on a white board – which says “Open to all who would use their talents.” You reach out, testing the padlock, but it is solidly locked.
You take a step back and see that the wall on your left is covered in a mural. Like the rest of the cottage, it has been neglected, but many of the colors are still bright.
The mural shows pictures of people doing things – cooking, sewing, making all kinds of crafts. People celebrate with friends, play with children, and talk with others. Some people make music, dance, write, read, or learn. Some people are doing chores or working hard. Others are helping someone, or even making an apology.
Looking at the mural, you realize these people are all DOING things. They are taking action in their own lives, and they are doing the hard work that sometimes needs to be done.
Your eye catches on scenes of particular meaning to you. Some are things you enjoy. Others are things which make you uncomfortable, but which have to be done. You look more closely at those uncomfortable scenes and begin to think about changes you might make in your own life.
[longer pause - about 20 breaths]
Eventually, your eye is drawn downward towards the gardening tools. A glint of sun catches on something just behind the watering can.
You bend down to find a golden key, the right size to fit the padlock. Three short phrases are painted on the wall above the key in clear black letters. The first says: “Clear the old”. The second “Nurture growth”, and the third “Embrace beauty.”
You take the key off the hook and pick up the basket of gardening tools and the water can nearby. Turning to the door, you try the key in the padlock.
It unlocks, and you open the door to find yourself in a walled garden. It is in disrepair – there are weeds everywhere, and it is overgrown. A fountain in the center is clogged with fallen leaves. The trellises around the walls look dead and barren.
Once this garden would have been alive with color, vibrant with life. Now, it looks lost, alone and neglected. It’s a little upsetting.
You could turn away, find your way back to your familiar surroundings. But there is a challenge in this garden. You start wondering if you could make a difference in how it looks – at least do *something*.
You look around and spot a rake leaning against the edge of the stone fountain. There is a wheelbarrow pushed into the shadow of one of the trellises. You decide to set to work.
You begin clearing the leaves from the fountain with your hands and the rake, dumping them into the wheelbarrow. As you clear the leaves, you uncover pure, clear water. The water feels invigorating and cleansing.
As you clear the last of the leaves, you spot a lever under the water. You flip the lever and the fountain starts flowing, an arch of water falling from the center into the fountain’s pool.
It is beautiful in its simplicity.
[short pause - 5 to 10 breaths]
You watch the water for a time and then turn to do something else. You look through the basket of tools and find a pair of gloves, a gardening trowel, and a bag of seeds.
You start at one side of the door, clearing away the leaves and debris. As you clear a small patch of ground, you suddenly see a shoot of bright green springing up from the damp earth. You clear around it, revealling a bright yellow crocus, not yet unfurled.
You stop for a moment, admiring it and its resilience.
[short pause - 5 to 10 breaths]
As you start clearing away again you move more carefully so as not to damage other things that may lie beneath the leaves. As you work, you find more early flowers glowing with life.
After a time, your knees and back begin to ache slightly. You stretch and look at what you have done. A good patch of ground is cleared, the wheelbarrow piled high with leaves. The ground is rich and pungent, damp from the water can.
You take in the beauty of the garden.
[short pause - 5 to 10 breaths]
It is a good beginning. You can see a difference already. You realize, however, that it will take time and continued effort to finish the job. What you have done is a wonderful start, a good day’s work.
You wash off your hands, and dump the leaves you have cleared at the edge of the woods, where they can decompose and feed new life. You put the tools away. When you’re ready to do some more work, you’ll know where to find everything you need.
As you walk back up the path to the field you started in, you think about other goals in your life that might work the same way as this garden – little steps, taken over time.
[something to bring people back such as...]
As you enter the meadow once again, you feel a warm breeze gently blowing your hair. You close your eyes and let the breeze take you. As I count from 10, it carries you back to your physical form. 10, 9, 8, you feel warm and safe. 7, 6, 5, you remember all the things you saw in the mural and the insites you gained from it. 4, 3, 2, 1, as you come fully back to your physical body, you feel energized and inspired. Breath deeply and when you are ready, open your eyes.
[last edited January 8, 2011]