FROM Moon Over Water
by Jessica Macbeth
Gateway Books, 1990

17. Beginning a Journey

Long ago, ships setting out from some Mediterranean ports ritually gave an offering of flowers to the spirits in the sea. We still set out to do things and go places with some kind of comforting ritual. We may go through a mental checklist, go back and double check that we have locked the door, check our wallets or handbags, or say goodbye to the cat. A ritual is a set of actions performed in a particular sequence. The actions themselves may have a practical purpose or not - what makes them into a ritual is that they are done in a set form, and this comforts us and helps us feel in control as we begin something. We tend to feel quite uncomfortable if any of our rituals are scrambled or incomplete.
It is very useful to develop our own ritual or ceremony, a set of signals that tells our bodies and our minds that it is time to shift into or out of the meditative state of consciousness. This is like warming up the car or stretching out before jogging, a way of preparing ourselves for action - or non-action, as the case may be. Once more, we can use our tendency to form habits to help us by creating a very brief routine that can be used as a trigger, a way of shifting into meditation.
In creating our ritual, common sense is important. Obviously, something long and elaborate is going to be counter-productive. People who think that they must sit facing the east, must have this scent of incense burning, must have that white candle in a special holder in front of them, must sit on a special mat with their crystals arranged in a particular pattern around them - these people are engaged a kind of primitive magic. They are trying to bribe or coerce the universe into giving them something - in this case a blissful meditation - which they feel they have now paid for. Their energies would be better spent on diligently attending to their meditation technique.
This sort of thing also gives our resistance a lot of tools with which to work.
The ritual can be as simple as a few words and a couple of deep breaths. The words could be a prayer or can simply state what we want to do, but it is important to use the same words each time. These words then become associated with allowing ourselves to drop into that relaxed, focused state of meditation, and once that association has become firm, they become a key which opens the door to that state.
When I first began meditating I used a three-fold breath ritual of my own. On the first breath as I inhaled I thought, ‘I am breathing in peace’. On the exhalation I made an image in my mind of my center of being connected to the center of the earth. On the second breath I thought, ‘I am breathing in peace’ on the inhalation, and on the exhalation I made an image in my mind of my center connected to the center of the universe. On the third breath, I thought, ‘I am filled with peace’ on the inhalation, and on the exhalation focused my attention in my own center, feeling its connectedness to earth and heaven, and letting go of everything else. Then I began practicing my meditative technique. Over the years this seems to have simplified itself so that it all happens in one slow, deep breath, but this took a long time.
In working out your own ritual, keep it internal, keep it easy to remember - it doesn’t help to be sitting there frantically trying to remember what comes next - and keep it gentle. Remember that meditation is not an attack on some part of yourself, but a loving gift you give to yourself.
Keep it fairly short - long-winded rituals get pretty boring after a while, and because they are habit they are hard to give up. Something brief and to the point which involves both the mind and the body is probably the most effective thing.
If you feel a need for protection from anything in your environment, physical or psychic, you might want to visualize yourself surrounded by a pure white light, which shelters and holds you. It also would be a really good idea to practice some of the earthing and centering exercises we will discuss in later chapters. A ritual for returning to the usual wakened state of consciousness is also valuable. I used concentrating on the inhalation of three deep breaths - the first to say ‘thank you’ to the powers-that-be and myself, the second to become aware of my body, and the third to become aware of my external environment. Again, in time it has come down to just one breath and the ‘thank you’ combined with awareness. Then I spend a couple of moments just enjoying being in the world while still fully experiencing all the peace of meditation.
Now, this is not what I believe you should say or do - it is just an example which may suggest the general kind of thing you might find useful. It really doesn’t matter whether we develop our own rituals, use rituals learned from someone else, or use an adapted version of a learned ritual. It does matter that the ritual feels both appropriate and comfortable and that it is incorporated as an integral part of the meditative exercise.

This chapter originally appeared in Moon Over Water,
published by Gateway Books, 1990
Copyright © 1990 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved.
Your comments will be read with interest.
Moon Over Water, Chapter 2
Moon over Water, Chapter 3
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