Keeping a journal is not an absolute requirement here, but it's something I strongly recommend. I'll be doing it myself as I go along with the practices and exercises that I suggest to you. What I mean by a "journal" here is simply to have a blank book, a notebook, or a computer folder where you make notes of things you especially want to remember relating to this course. It is, first, for the simple things (like three words about how I feel after my daily meditation practice or a few words about my experience with the energy perception
Right now the things we'll be learning will be quite simple and take very little time to write. You don't need to keep a record of everything that happens. The aim is simply make notes so you can look back and see things like themes that show up again and again, issues you find that you'd like to work on, progress that has been happening slowly enough that you might not notice if you don't have a record, things you can do that you couldn't do before—things like that.
In my own journal I'll probably include some of my dreams, because they often seem relevant to what I'm learning or how I'm growing or the magic I'm experiencing. I make a note of issues and attitudes in my life that I'm having trouble with, just so that when I look back through the pages I can both notice progress and continue to work on the old issues with new skills I'm learning. I'll also be writing in it tips and tricks of growth, both magical and psychological. (I shall be learning here, too, as well as practicing the exercises.) Everything I'll be teaching you is something that has worked for me, and nearly always also something that has helped other students in the past. And we'll all be learning new things from each other's successes and mistakes.
Many people like to keep their journals in beautifully-bound books, and this can be a truly wonderful thing to do. For some, making the journal lovely and artistic is part of the joy. For myself, though, the pristine blank pages intimidate me, and I feel like I "should" put only really wonderful, special things in there. But, while these journals may contain wonders, they are equally important for the everyday things—meditation, energy perception, and other small disciplines and exercises. So, my own choice these days is to use an ordinary three-ring binder, adding more pages as I need them. I'll probably print out these lessons and put them in there too. Having the flexibility of a notebook, I can put in drawings or glue in relevant pictures or other bits and pieces. It's a workbook, not a family heirloom—an aid to our fallible memories. Anyway, that is what works best for me, and you need to find what works best for you. The main thing right now is to get into the habit of putting things in writing so you'll have it later.
I don't want you to feel burdened by this or that you have to spend a lot of time on it. There are two main reasons we're keeping a journal:
So, write as much as fits well into your life. Don't make it a burden. But... do write something, even it it is no more than the three words about how you feel after your daily meditation. I find it useful to carry a small pocket notebook with me so I can make notes that I may (or may not) transfer into a journal later. Much of this lesson started as notes in a small pocket notebook.
I forget things; I need to be reminded of them—especially at the moments that I need them. One of the future uses for your journal is to use it as an oracle. Yes! You're already making a magical book! And a good personalized oracle is as important as any Book of Shadows or Book of Spells. You've probably heard of the technique of using a dictionary or a holy book like the Christian Bible or the Muslim Koran for an oracle to answer questions. To do this, you simply take a few deep, calming breaths, focus on your question, and with your eyes shut, choose a page at random. With your eyes still shut, put your finger somewhere on the page. Then read the words, sentence, or paragraph you've selected and think how they may apply to your question.
While your journal is still simple the answers you get will be equally simple—notice that just writing three words after meditation will give you a list of feelings and thoughts that can be used in this way. If you include more complex things later on—dreams and vision quests, for example—your oracle will become rich and deep in meaning. In using your journal/oracle this way, you'll also learn a lot about the art and science of asking good questions, which is a very important skill that we'll talk much more about later. In fact, we'll be talking a lot about the making and working of oracles later on.
The single most important thing you can do to aid your personal, psychic, and spiritual development is to meditate. Daily. Routinely. Consistently. There is no technique, exercise, ritual, or magic you can learn that is as important as simple meditation. In fact, if you practice meditation, the other things will gradually come to you—more slowly than if you were learning them from a teacher, but they will still come. And if you meditate, you'll also learn better and faster from a teacher than otherwise. It's the best investment you can make in your personal, magical, and spiritual future.
On the other hand, if you don't meditate, you will probably never be as good at the other things as you might have been. You'll be like a house without a solid foundation—liable to crack and collapse without warning. Meditation, properly practiced, is what gives you a solid foundation—the ability to focus clearly, to listen clearly, to step aside from your emotions and see clearly. I cannot over-emphasize how important this is.
Now, I can already hear some of you saying, "But I can't meditate!" Wrong. What you can't do is what you imagine meditation to be, and it's quite possible that what you're imaging is not really what it is about.
Meditation is NOT:
The first above is very nearly impossible for any sustained period of time. The others are "visionary experiences" and, while they are sometimes wonderful and sometime useful, they are not basic meditation. They are more like side effects, and sometimes they are actually distractions from the discipline of basic meditation.
Meditation is an exercise, like riding an exercycle. It can be as simple as breathing, and I don't know any living person who isn't doing that all the time. I'm pretty sure you're breathing already, right? Let's look at what a basic meditation exercise is really like.
Okay, close your eyes and take ten natural breaths, counting each one from one to ten. You don't need to breathe in any special way. You're not looking for visions or special feelings or anything else. Just count each breath and when you reach ten, start again with one and go to ten. Do this for ten minutes without thinking about other things.
You probably cannot do this. Hardly anyone can. Just as most of us cannot run a four-minute mile and never will, most of us can't hold out attention in a tight focus on our breath for ten minutes without other things entering our minds. We can get a great deal better at it though. It just takes practice. And it is the practice that is important. That's why we call it a "meditation practice". And the worse you are at it, the more benefit you will gradually get from doing it.
So, what to do about it when you get distracted, as you will, and lose count, as you will? Start counting again at "one" and go to ten. Do not start timing yourself again. The whole process—breathing, counting, getting distracted, noticing that you're distracted, and starting to count again—is all part of the same ten minutes on the clock, and when that ten minutes is up, you're done.
And please, don't try to tell me (or yourself) that you don't have time to meditate for ten minutes a day. Nearly all of us waste far more time than that every day just being distracted by things. One of the many benefits of meditation is that we gradually become better at paying attention to what we're doing and what's going on in our daily life. It just happens, and to a great extent, it happens without special effort on our part. It's the discipline of the practice that matters, that builds the mental "muscle" that we need. Just like you don't go anywhere or "get something done" on an exercycle, the muscles you build will make you stronger in running, walking, dancing, and everything else you do. As we continue our meditation practice, we just naturally become more focused and more clear and more self-disciplined with no particular effort other than that ten minutes of daily practice.
About discipline... it's something we develop, not something we have or don't have. It's a sort of a moral muscle. The more we use it the stronger it gets. And mentally beating ourselves up when it isn't "strong enough" doesn't really help and doesn't make us stronger. Think about beating on a muscle that isn't strong enough—will that make it stronger? No. What makes it stronger is correct usage, gentle at first and stronger as strength gradually builds. So don't bully yourself about not succeeding at some imaginary goal for your meditation. Just. Do. The. Practice. And it's okay if you smile while you do it.
Meditation is called a "practice" because we practice being present. We aren't naturally very good at it, so it takes a lot of practice. I remember reading that the Dalhi Lama gets up very early so he can do four hours of practice before beginning to deal with other people. His practice must be so much more advanced than mine. But I am where I am and he is where he is, and we both are trying to be better. It's that simple—we needn't worry about where we are in relation to anyone else. We just need to practice.
So, your assignment is to meditate using a simple breath meditation every day. You may have another different, perhaps more advanced meditation you do regularly, but please humor me about this. We're working on foundations just now, and this basic, simple focus and concentration is the foundation. We want to be certain our foundations are solid, strong, and without cracks, so we are practicing the very basics this first few weeks, even if you've done them in the past. Practice the breath meditation for 10 minutes. If you want to, you can practice longer, but do the same length of time every day. If you can meditate every day, just breathing and counting, and going back to "one" when you get distracted and lose count, you are being very successful in meditation. It's that simple; it is all part of the same practice and process.
In the long run, you will probably find it very helpful if you make some notes about your meditation practice each day. Even something as simple as three words describing how you feel when you finish will be quite useful. Remember, though, that you're not supposed to be having amazing thoughts or visions—you're just breathing. Anything else is a distraction from that concentrated focus.
Now, you're not at all obligated to tell me how you're doing with this (though I hope you will at least tell your journal) but I'd love to hear, especially if you're having trouble with it. I might know something that would help, but I'll need to know what the problem is before I can suggest anything!
This is an interesting and rather fun thing to do, and it has a great deal of value as a first step in subtle energy awareness and control. The main difficulty most people have with it is believing in their own subtle perceptions, but the more you do it, the better you'll be at it and the more sense it will make to you.
Sit or stand with your arms held out to your sides as if you were reaching out to a large tree to hug it. (We may get to tree-hugging later, but not yet!) Your arms should be making a part of a large circle, with the palms of your hands facing either other, but quite a distance apart, probably about three feet.
Be aware of the sensation in the palms of your hand and insides of your fingers and your fingertips. There may not be anything much to notice yet, or you may feel a subtle sensation. If you feel something, notice it—is it warm or cool? Exactly where do you feel it--palms, fingers? Does the feeling have a texture? If you're feeling nothing, that's all right because I don't really expect you to at this point, but a few people do.
Next, start moving your hands slowly toward each other, palms facing each other. Keep them well in front of your body so that each hand has the opportunity to feel the energy of the other hand without your body energy getting in the way. As your hands move toward each other, at some point you'll begin feeling sensations in the palms or fingers. The sensations may be of warmth or coolness, perhaps almost like a very slight breeze. They may be prickly or as if you were barely touching something rough—or smooth or textured some other way. The sensation may be as simple and subtle as resistance to the inward movement -- your arms want to stop moving. (Sometimes, people can stand in front of a mirror and notice a hesitation in the movement before they notice the corresponding feeling.)
The important thing is to notice what you DO feel and to TRUST the sensation, whatever it is. Self-doubt is not your friend here! What you are feeling there is your own subtle energy field or aura. Everything has one, not just "living" things. Some are easy to perceive while others are less so.
As soon as you feel it, let your arms drop, shake your hands to improve the circulation, wait a moment, and then try it again. On this second try, when you find the sensation again, spend a little time noticing whatever you can about it—firmness or softness, approximate size, temperature, texture, or any other sensation. Chances are the sensations will be quite subtle. Make two or three tries at this the first time. Don't keep doing it over and over because your arms will tire and so will your ability to perceive the sensations. Just identify whatever you can, and then go do something else for a while.
Generally when you're tired or ill, the energy field will be smaller and/or have a less distinct edge. When you're well rested and healthy or you've just done yoga or t'ai chi, it usually will be larger and/or firmer. All these sensations will change radically between one time and another as your subtle energy changes. It changes with your thoughts—a depressing thought can shrink the aura radically and the longer you stay with the thought, the more it shrinks. A cheerful thought can do exactly the opposite, of course.
With experience you'll find that there is a sort of normal place and sensation that occurs when you're just feeling as you usually do. You'll also find that you can have a pretty wide variation from that without feeling extreme physical change. The subtle energy changes faster and more readily than your physical energy in your muscles. We'll be talking a lot more as we go along about what some of these changes mean in your own energy field and that of others.
Your hands generally have the strongest energy as well as being the most sensitive, which is part of the reason we're doing it this way. Also, you are very accustomed to using your hands to get information by touch and your brain is well-trained to perceive and interpret those sensations.
Now, I'll tell you something funny. Every child can do this. Every single young child I've ever shown this to could feel their own energy field between their hands right away. Only some adults can't. What's the difference? Adults have learned to doubt their ability to do anything they haven't done before just because they have not done it before. We run into this problem again and again on different things as we learn to use our subtle senses. Every child I've done this with (and there have been a LOT of them) under the age of seven or so could do it easily. Somewhere around that age we start doubting ourselves. Many children and quite a few adults continue to be able to do this easily, but some begin doubting their own perceptions and as time goes on it can get worse. On the other hand, many people are quite astonished at how clearly they can sense the energy the first time they try. In a classroom, you can often tell who gets it easily by the dumbfounded expression on their faces.
I don't know what to do about this really. I can tell you that if you continue to practice and really notice what you're experiencing, you'll get it. Don't get discouraged if you're one of the ones having trouble—it can happen to even very sensitive people. It's about self-doubt, not sensitivity or talent or ability. The energy is real, and you're quite capable of noticing it. We all are. If you don't feel this right now, just keep trying, a little every day. We'll also be doing other exercises that may be easier for you in particular as we go along, but this one is usually the easiest for most people.
As you can see, this little exercise is not time consuming at all. A few seconds here and there, sometimes even when you're doing something else, is all it will take. The main difficulty is remembering to do it! A good time would be first thing in the morning when you first get up--just take a couple of deep breaths and then check the energy--sensation, size, quality. Check before and after meals, before and after meditation practice or physical exercise. If you notice you're feeling especially stressed, check the energy between your hands to see how it differs from your normal. If you get angry, test it while you're angry and then test it again after you calm down. Take a moment before answering the telephone to check and then do it again after you hang up to see how the call affected you.
Please remember two important things: big is not necessarily good; small is not necessarily bad. A lot more than size is involved. We'll be talking and practicing perceiving a lot more about subtle energy later.
With this practice, you're doing two important things. First, you're increasing and fine-tuning your ability to perceive energy in general and the subtle changes in it. Second, you are, perhaps without realizing it becoming more aware of what your own energy is doing at all times. Does your energy field shrink or grow when you are in a crowd? When you're With a small group of close friends? With one particular person? As you practice sensing the energy, you'll find that you gradually become sometimes aware of it changing while it is happening and without testing it between your hands. Like... magic.
This is very valuable information as you go through your day, noticing what really decreases or increases your energy, both subtle and ordinary. Most of us learn some things that surprise us that way.
We'll be doing a lot with this energy, both perceiving and using it, as we go along learning healing and psychic skills. In fact, all three of the things we've discussed here—keeping a journal, meditation practice, and energy work—are foundation skills for everything else we'll do. These are the basics.
© 2013 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.