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Meditation for Escape
By Nimue Brown
In my book ‘Druidry and Meditation’ I spend a lot of time making the case for meditation as a way of engaging more deeply with life. I’m conscious that in some meditative traditions, the aim is to transcend. However, I see druidry as a faith that embraces the world we inhabit. Thus the aim of any druid activity is not, normally to escape, but to go deeper into relationship with all that is. What I want to do in this essay is cover content not in the book; namely when it is a good idea to use meditation as a way of disconnecting, and how to go about this.
I do not believe in using the spiritual life as a way to ignore hardships and challenges. Where there is injustice, there is a call to action. Where there is suffering, there is a call to healing work. A life lived well responds to the hard times with intelligent and effective measures. At least, this should be the goal. We do not revel in pain as some medieval mystics did. We do not seek opportunities to prove our worth through meaningless physical discomforts. There are no hair shirts in druidry.
However, there come times in everyone’s lives when nothing more practical can be done. Recognising the time for inaction is also a challenge. Fighting for the sake of it is usually a waste of energy and can worsen a problem rather than alleviating it. Sometimes there is nothing to do but wait for the storm to pass, the bone to heal, the absent one to make contact. There are also times when solutions are not available and the need is for respite. Pain, distress and misfortune will grind anyone down given time, breeding the kind of despair that makes us powerless. Then what is called for is a careful stepping out of the flow to draw breath and seek solace.
In extreme situations and times of spiritual exhaustion, meditation can be used as a means of escape. This only works as a short term measure. One cannot hide forever, but if the need is equivalent to getting your breath back before starting to run again, then it is as well to do so. So, for example, meditation may be used to reduce the racking effects of anxiety or to help break the grip of depression. In my own life, my most frequent reason for using meditation in this way, is to help deal with the ravages of especially harsh period pains.
If the aim of an escape meditation is to regain a sense of control, then simple is best. Working with the flow of breath and focusing upon it, going as far as you can into that bodily awareness, is an ideal technique. In times of panic and distress, our breathing is one of the first things that may be affected, so taking deliberate control of it not only alleviates physical symptoms, but helps avoid a sense of lost self governance. Pick slow and gentle meditations that engage you with yourself and affirm your sense of being.
Sometimes when faced with ongoing worry or depression, the answer lies at the other extreme, in the complexity of a long pathworking. This is simply distraction tactics. Obsessive thinking is a natural enough response to distressing circumstances, but it more often worsens things than brings relief. Plunging all conscious thought into complex meditation forces your thoughts away from the lines you have been running down. Sometimes it’s when we let go and stop trying to reason out an answer, that the answers begin to occur to us. Stepping away in this manner also helps to put problems into perspective which in turn enables us to get a better grip on them.
It is possible to use meditation to go into the pain or the problem in a controlled way. By creating a meditative space, we hold a sanctuary within ourselves where we are safe. Here we might play out possible consequences and explore potential solutions, or simply confront that which makes us suffer. It is impossible to tackle a problem you cannot face. Rehearsing the confrontation by making a meditation of it, makes the eventual process easier.
For someone who experiences, or is subjected to suffering they cannot escape from bodily, meditation is an escape inwards. It can be a way of placing the pain, humiliation or abuse at a safe distance from your core self. One of the reasons that others act in cruel and abusive ways is to break the spirit as well as the body. Sometimes, in meditation it is possible to hold a fragment of self safe, even in face of deliberate and horrendous assault on body and psyche alike. It may be nothing more than an egg self, carefully folded away, a spark of identity and memory that can be protected. Sometimes the act of meditation is to create a shell, protecting what selfhood remains so that when the attack is over, there is something left from which you have the hope of re-growing. Listening to news of uprisings and violent reprisals, I wonder how many souls have to turn themselves inwards each day, in order to survive.
There is a danger in building inner shells from meditations, and that is that we remain where we need not be, holding firm but remaining victims when escape might be possible. This is why, if we meditate to escape, it is so important to keep some awareness of returning and not to lose sight of more conventional methods of self protection.
It is easiest to learn meditation skills when life is calm and simple. However, when life is easy, we tend not to imagine the future in which we may be stressed and stretched to breaking point, crushed by bodily pain or beset by inner demons. Learning to meditate in self defence, is much harder work but can still be done. Either way it is a precious tool to have. Control of your own mind and the ability to work deliberately within yourself makes all manner of things possible.