This essay will help you write, lead, or choose a guided meditation. It starts with some simple steps for leading an effective meditation, gives some guidelines for choosing or composing a meditation, then concludes with two sample guided meditations.
Simple Steps for Leading an Effective Meditation
Speak calmly, slowly, and with warmth during your meditation.
If you are using a meditation that someone else has written, you should attribute the meditation to that person as you begin. For example, “Please join me for ‘Seeing the Rainbow,’ a guided meditation by Karen Lebacqz.”
If you wish, you may use some background music to accompany your meditation. Alternately, you may do your meditation in silence, or you may bring in a bell or a chime to signify the beginning and end of your meditation.
It can be helpful to begin a meditation by asking your listeners to take a couple of deep breaths and let them out again. For example, “I invite you to take a deep breath. Now let it out. Now take another breath. Now gently exhale.”
You may wish to invite your listeners to close their eyes. For example, “If you feel comfortable doing so, I invite you to close your eyes as we begin the meditation.”
Go through your meditation at a peaceful, contemplative rate. Keep it nice and slow. Put pauses between your sentences and phrases.
You may include a moment of silence in your meditation if you wish. When leading a silent meditation, it is important to watch your audience carefully. When they are ready to return, they will begin to move — this is your cue to call them back.
At the end of the meditation, invite people to return. For example, “Now I invite you to return to this room. When you are ready, open your eyes and rejoin us here, filled with Christ’s love and peace.”
Choosing or Composing a Guided Meditation
Here are some characteristics of an effective guided meditation:
Guided meditations invoke, they do not instruct. Their focus is emotional, not intellectual. In typical instruction, a teacher presents information to a student or students, who are expected to be able to retain and repeat this information as presented. In a guided meditation, the leader may call upon his or her listeners to reflect on a question, but the answers to the question, or even the exact nature of the question, are left for each person to find.
Guided meditations work best when they give the listener a lot of freedom. The people you’re leading may have very different needs or be wrestling with very different problems. A good guided meditation is one in which people can see themselves regardless of their situation.
Guided meditations tend to move at a slow, gentle pace. This means that they do not need to be long in order to be good. Two or three short paragraphs is an excellent length for a written meditation.
If you’re writing a meditation, it can be good to center your meditation in a setting outside of the current context and describe how that setting affects various senses: sight, sound, touch. Possible settings for a guided meditation include: the beach, a forest, the desert, a mountain, a mountain range, an ancient cathedral, a small church, a city park, a stream, the ocean, the stars.
Because guided meditations focus on imagery and emotional content, they can help people connect with emotions and memories that they have been suppressing. This means that people may be very emotionally vulnerable during a guided meditation. Thus, it is important to be nurturing and gentle. If your meditation is going to touch upon something that may cause your listeners to connect with their fear, anger, or other emotions involving trauma, it is very important not to re-traumatize them.
Guided meditations are not prayer. Prayer is typically addressed to God and takes the form of a petition (asking for something) or thanksgiving (thanking God for something). A guided meditation is addressed to a person or group and takes the form of asking them to imagine something or remember something.
Because the use of guided meditations has been more prevalent in non-Christian traditions than in Christian traditions, it is easy to find good meditations that don’t mention God or Jesus. It’s fine to use these meditations if you wish. It is also good to invite people to imagine an encounter with God, Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit in your meditations. Guided meditations with Christian themes do exist, they’re just a little harder to find.
Meditations do not need to be written out in advance. For some people, having a pre-written meditation works best. For others, a “free meditation” which is spontaneously composed will work best. If you’re not sure what will work best for you, test each method with a group consisting of two or three trustworthy friends.
Here are a couple of sample meditations that illustrate the principles described above.
A Good Meditation
Imagine that you are walking down the beach in the late afternoon. A gentle breeze is blowing, and the sea air is caressing your face. With each step, your feet sink a little into the sand. Seabirds call overhead, and you can hear the murmur of the waves as they come in and go out again. You’ve come to the beach to wrestle with a problem, something that’s been bothering you for some time. Suddenly you realize that Jesus is walking beside you, and has been walking with you for some time. You walk along with Jesus, not saying anything, while the waves roll in and out and the seabirds call. Then after a time together you begin to tell Jesus your problems. You walk and talk for a long time, and Jesus listens to you. Finally, you finish as the sun begins to set over the ocean. For the first time, Jesus turns and looks at you. He is illuminated by the golden light of the sunset, and as you see your reflection in his eyes, you realize that you’re illuminated by the same light. In that moment, seeing yourself in Jesus’ eyes, you find the answer to the problem that has bothered you for so long. Jesus smiles, and you do too, and you begin to walk home together. The seabirds call, the breeze blows, and the waves continue on as before. But as you return home, you are at peace.
Good things about this meditation: vivid imagery across a range of senses, allows the listener to define what problems he or she may be facing, leads the listener to an answer without specifying what that answer should be, gentle, invokes a sensation of peace.
A Problematic Meditation
Imagine that you are walking down the beach in the late afternoon. It’s nice. You’ve been wondering what you should do about your roommate, who keeps drinking all of your beer without ever buying more. Suddenly, you notice that Jesus is walking beside you. “Problems with your roommate?” he asks. “Yeah,” you say. Jesus looks at you sternly, “Get over it already! What’s a few beers between friends? Didn’t I die on the cross for your sins? Is a few beers too much to ask in return?” To make his point, Jesus flicks a few drops of blood from his hands onto your face. You resolve not to be so uptight, and walk home, changed.
Bad things about this meditation: weak imagery in general, definition of a problem which is too narrow and will lose most people, provides a specific answer which may or may not be appropriate for the listener, imposes an answer upon people instead of leading them to an answer, uses violent blood imagery which may upset or repulse listeners, puts forth a particular theology of the atonement which may alienate some listeners. Keeping in mind the principles set out in this essay, you can easily avoid these pitfalls.
I hope this essay will help you lead inspiring meditations which will help people relax, center, and renew their relationships with God.
© 2012 Rev. Michael Patrick Ellard
More of Michael’s writing can be found at his website itinerant-preacher.com