May 17, 2022

More To Meditation Than Sitting Still


I’ve never been able to sit still and meditate with the goal of emptying my mind.

The first time I sat down to give this meditation thing a go, I was…23 years old, with a partner and two young children. I remember it vividly, because it didn’t go at all how I’d expected.

It was morning. The rest of the household was sleeping. I sat down on the couch and got myself comfortable with the intention of trying meditation. It seemed to me the next logical step to what I was doing. I’d been working with my dreams for a couple of years now, and it was time, I thought, to start doing some more work during my waking hours.

I had no real idea what I ought to be doing, when it came to meditation. The gist of it, I thought, was to relax, and enter some sort of state of stillness. To focus on my breathing, to quiet my mind, empty it of everything.

I focused on my breathing. I became as quiet inside my head as I could, and then I realised I wasn’t sitting on the couch in the living room anymore, my children sleeping in the back room.

Was this meditation? Or something else?

I was standing on a grassy path above the shore of a lake. There was a pear tree beside me, and I gazed around, then at the great golden pears hanging from the branches. Doing what felt right, I tugged one of those pears down and took a bite. Juice ran down my chin. The pear was ripe, sweet, perfect. I ate the whole thing.

Do you recognise this story yet?

I had no feeling whatsoever that I was still sitting on the couch, eyes closed, meditating. I wasn’t in that room anymore.

The water caught my attention next, and I walked down to where it lapped against the sandy beach and then I did something that always strikes me, looking back, as extraordinary. I was following my instincts, nothing more, and those instincts told me that if I wanted to cross this water to the island I could see out there in the lake, then I couldn’t go in the form I was in. I laid down on the sand, took a breath, then sat up again and looked down to see my sleeping body still there on the sand. Standing up, I stepped out of my body and gazed about until I spotted a rope leading into the water.

The rope was attached to a small, slim boat.

You know the rest of the story, if you’ve read The Singing.

Ever since I had this experience (and you can be sure that I kept doing it, going back to that old woman who taught me, sitting with her cooking pot over the fire between us) I’ve not worried about whether I was doing meditation properly. Emptying my mind, I realised, didn’t have to be the only goal. I was supremely lucky in that shamanic journeying came so easily to me, but there are many ways and means to achieve journeying, and living in a world filled with spirit.

The world is a big place.

The world is a bigger place than we usually notice. To my mind, one of the best mediations we can perform, is to look at this big world of ours.

How do we do this?

Focus. Attention. Go for a walk – and it doesn’t have to be in nature, although that is where you can see more easily, but it works just as well in an urban environment.

Go for a walk, or find somewhere to sit where you won’t be disturbed. Outside is good when you’re starting out with this exercise, but it doesn’t have to be outside. It could be in your own living room. You can learn the art of seeing wherever you are.

Breathe. Relax. Let the tension flow from you. Breathe.

Then, the tricky part. Be focused. Give things around you your attention. But do it dispassionately. Don’t be invested in what you’re seeing. Just notice it all. Notice the tree in front of you. And while you’re looking at the tree, be aware that there is another tree in your peripheral vision. Notice the way the light slants in your kitchen window. And while you’re looking at the light, notice that you can also see the way the drinking glass on the counter gleams in your peripheral vision.

See it all at once. What you can’t quite see, pretend you can – as if you have eyes in the back of your head. There’s another tree there, and the knowledge of it prickles at you like seeing. There’s the kitchen door there, and you can feel it behind you almost like you can see it.

And all this time, you’re breathing, being quiet. Just looking. Just feeling what you see and know.

What’s there when you really look?

Things have light and weight and texture, you realise. There’s a weed growing up between the cracks of the footpath. The concrete of that building has a texture you can almost feel under your fingertips, even though you’re not touching it, and behind its wall, you can feel that there are rooms and corridors and stairs and people moving about, thinking, feeling, living.

And behind that tree, there is the shadow of a bird moving, and its song almost has weight on the air, as though the notes hang there a moment, some sort of sweet golden drizzle. Or perhaps the notes are blue, and waft away on the breeze.

You’re noticing it all, seeing it all, just sitting, just walking, breathing in and out, not thinking about it tightly, not making judgements on any of it, just noticing.

Just focusing loosely and noticing. Just paying attention without grasping.

The funny thing is, that if you make a practice of this, other things will happen as a matter of course. The world widens around you, and you will see more. The glow and gleam of something in the shadows. Another part of the world tucked into the folds of this one. Things become more alive. Things become more.

And you – you become part of it.

(Thank you to Jasmin, whose email inspired this post).

Winsome had been puzzling all month on how to get her parishioners to be able to expand and relax their spirits. She’d not had any real, practical ideas, yet, but wasn’t prepared to let the matter drop in her mind. Perhaps, she thought, she could institute some of Morghan and Ambrose’s practices and call them stress-relief exercises, or something. Maybe even set it up as a class. Like chair yoga, but better.

Winsome, The Belonging Ch 6

Katherine Genet is the author of the Wilde Grove mythic/visionary fiction series, as well as complementary non-fiction. She has been walking a pagan path for 30 years and is a shamanic Druid, spirit worker, and priestess of  Elen of the Ways.

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  1. Janice Ireland

    I truly love this as a woman who walks and meditates or sits near the lake and escapes. This is perfect. Thanks Katherine. L

    • Kate

      Wonderful! Being in nature and really taking note of it is always good for the spirit.

  2. Patricia Williams

    I often sit like this and disappear into a world within my world I had not realized I was shamanic journeying until I read an article and took a course on Journeying.
    Love your books they are inspirational.

    • Kate

      Isn’t it funny – I had no idea for the longest time that what I was doing was shamanic journeying. I didn’t have a name for it, I just know it was amazing. Glad you’re enjoying the books ?

  3. Jasmin Cameron

    Thank-you so much! It’s most reassuring to know that I am not the only one that struggles with what’s regarded as ‘standard’ meditation practice. I will feel much more confident about trusting my instincts when I sit quietly outside now, rather than feeling inadequate and ‘confined’ (indoors) because seemingly I can’t meditate the way that I’m told I should! The Wilde Grove books talk so much about instinct and – it’s all about learning to trust that inner ‘knowing’ – and I guess my adjusted approach to meditation will be among my first steps in that direction. I guess that as we’re all individuals each one of us has to find what’s right for us!

    • Kate

      There are so many ways to meditate and ‘tune in’ to the world(s) around us, that I’m always surprised when I see so many mentions and images of people sitting legs crossed in that classic pose. I think opening up to the world around us is a foundational thing, because for some reason, it makes everything else happen more easily.
      Trust those instincts of yours!


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