Reading has proved to help ease the adjustment to new life changes, prayer reminds us to think about others and unselfish acts, and meditation leads you down the path of renewal for a fresh outlook and perspective. All three of these ideas share one major commonality: Inner peace.
Reading spiritually-centered or sacred texts can inspire and encourage. Many religious traditions claim to have a sacred text or texts. Readings may be selected from the Qur’an, Torah, New Testament, Old Testament, Dhammapada, and Vedas, etc. Some find support in returning to the sacred scriptures of their childhood. Rekindled Spirituality can be good medicine.
There is evidence suggesting that the interaction between you the reader and the literature you read is helpful for life adjustment and personal growth (Silverberg, 2003). Reading shapes and moderates attitudes and behavior. Reading will help you realize you are not alone on this journey. Public and private libraries and bookstores offer a great variety of self-help books and materials. Books such as Feeling Good, by David Burns, M.D., offer self-help information and exercises that can assist you in your quest to understand and address any discouragement and depression you may experience.
For more selections, we recommend books and workbooks listed in 50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life (2003), by Tom Butler-Bowden. Fourteen selections offered by Tom Butler-Bowden are listed here (This list of books is not presented as a substitute for professional psychological or psychiatric intervention):
1. As a Man Thinketh. James Allen
2. The Bible
3. Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl
4. Iron John. Robert Bly
5. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Deepak Chopra
6. The Dhammapada. Buddha’s teachings
7. Women Who Run with the Wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
8. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin
9. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. James Hillman
10. Mindfulness: Choice and Control in Everyday Life. Ellen J. Langer
11. Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. Thomas Moore
12. Tao Te Ching (5th – 3rd Century). Lau Tzu
13. The Hero within: Six Archetypes We Live by. Carol S. Pearson
14. The Road Less Traveled. M. Scott Peck
Those associated with the production and distribution of this Manual make no claims as to the value or efficacy of the information contained in the books listed. This list of reading resources is offered for information purposes only and may not apply to your situation. These texts are offered solely as suggestions or illustrations of the kinds of self-help literature available. No claim is made here regarding the assessment, diagnosis, treatment or cure of anything medical or otherwise. This list of books is not presented as a substitute for psychological or psychiatric intervention.
Prayer and Meditation
Prayerfulness is “being in the present with your eyes wide open to experiencing life and God in dynamic new ways” (Wicks, 2009). Prayer is both silent and verbal communication. It has been defined as a method of communication and communion with a greater power outside of self. Prayer may be individual or private. Prayer may be practiced within a group. Consider how, where, and when prayer might fit into your life experience. Meditation has also proven to be a valuable adjunct to prayer. Historically meditation has been a proven pathway in the quest for inner peace and renewal. Finding your personal quiet space is very important when considering prayer, meditation, and reflection. Finding your quiet space may or may not be a seasonal experience.
Regardless of the frequency of your engagement in prayer, reflection, and meditation here are a few things to consider when selecting your sacred space.
1. If you use a room or part of your home, make sure you can make it your space at the times of the day or week. You will be occupying it for and by yourself
2. Make sure you can keep all technology out of your space if at all possible (i.e. phones, entertainment systems, etc.).
3. You may find that having soft non-intrusive music playing can keep extraneous noise to a minimum.
4. Fill your space with your personal retreat items such as a pillow, blanket or shawl, book(s), paper and pen, and candle and lighter.
It is good to remember that a retreat into quiet, reflective moments is not the normal course of life for most. When we think about getting away it usually involves doing something. Our culture is all about doing. Sacred spaces and self-care are not about doing more. This is not the purpose of creating a personal quiet space. We all need a specific time and a quiet space to practice self-care. So often our society honors exceptional work and major accomplishments. The call to mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-care is not an easy sell. It can be so awkward to adjust to mindfulness or prayerfulness. But the taking care of oneself is not a selfish act. “It is simply good stewardship of the only gift [we] have” (Palmer, 1999). Meditation While most religions practice some form of meditation there is no set formula. In meditation, we can consider God as we know God; with our heart and not just our minds. Meditation can facilitate connecting with a person’s Spiritual Center. Meditation is an effective stress management resource.
In this regard, Michie (2009) writes, “Chocolate, sex, morphine, and acupuncture all stimulate the production of endorphins by our bodies. So too, meditation increases endorphin output, and the resulting feel-good emotions are only part of the systemic benefits endorphins deliver.” Mediation involves intentional reflection. Through meditation, a person can replenish self and gain or maintain life perspective (Wicks, 2008). Meditation involves a process of spiritual introspection whereby we stop and look inward. For most, just stopping long enough to reflect inward is a challenge. It is possible to be still and commune with nature, the universe or God. It is a powerful expression of self-respect and stewardship. Meditation is a spiritual exercise that prepares the heart and mind for listening. It (meditation) can be a frightening proposition because it promotes silence. And silence is nearly an endangered practice in western culture. Silence has become a threat to our way of living. And yet, in silence we see ourselves as we are; driven, fearful, wounded, and vulnerable (Nouwen, 2006).
“Meditation . . . produces an attitude that makes us less defensive and more intrigued with stumbles as well as triumphs” (Wicks, 2000). Meditation finds meaning and power in stillness and silence. Meditation is difficult because ‘hurry’ and ‘faster’ are more acceptable than slow and non-anxious. Thich Nhat Hanh offered this advice: “Life is so short, we should all move slowly.” One way to move more slowly is to be deliberate and intentional about finding our quiet space and practicing meditation.
David Michie (2009) offers the following insights when practicing meditation:
a. First thing in the morning, find a quiet space/room and shut the door.
b. Sit cross-legged on a cushion on the floor: Seek three points of contact with the cushion and floor.
c. Rest your hands in your lap. Try placing one hand on each knee either palm up or palms down. Find what is comfortable and fits you.
d. Keep your back straight; follow the natural curvature of your spine.
e. Relax your shoulders and your face. Consciously think about this as you are relaxing your mouth, jaw, and tongue. Relax.
f. Tilt your head forward; find what works best so as to create the most comfortable space without falling asleep.
g. Close your eyes.
h. When you begin to practice meditation allow yourself 10 to 15 minutes. Do not try to be the master of meditation in your first week or month.
i. Begin with an object in mind: Write and memorize a stated objective for your practice of meditation. What is it that you desire to achieve or accomplish?
Spend time working out the wording, memorize and repeat this statement of purpose at the beginning and end of each meditation session. This may include a statement of your hopes or intentions for another person. It may follow a particular religious or spiritual formula. ILL: “By the practice of this meditation I am becoming calm and relaxed, more efficient and happier in all that I do both for my own sake as well as for others” (Michie, 2009). ILL (Spiritual): “This is the day that the Lord has made and I am rejoicing in it and am filled with joy. In meditation I experience God’s presence and find peace and deep contentment and face this day with gratefulness and confidence.” j. Begin with your affirmation followed by counting your breaths on the exhale. Concentrate on the tip of your nostrils as you are breathing and counting. Count using a sequential numerical cycle. Note: When you start you will discover that before you reach the end of your pre-determined cut-off number your mind may wander. When this occurs, start your count over beginning with number one. Normal counts run from 1 – 4 and may run as high as a count of 21.
Breathing Exercise: Many find breathing exercises helpful as a separate practice or as an adjunct to meditation. There are Spiritual traditions that believe certain breathing exercises mitigate fear, loneliness, despair, and frustration (Kuchler, 2003). Breathing can have a calming effect on those who practice it. More particularly, breathing exercises can reduce hypertension, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and gastrointestinal disturbances (Kuchler, 2003). Breathing exercises are often recommended and taught to patients experiencing stress or anxiety.
Below are some suggested steps (parallels listed in meditation section above) in practicing intentional breathing exercises:
a. Find a quiet and private place.
b. Sit in your most comfortable place and position.
c. With your eyes closed, slowly inhale, allowing your stomach to rise (not your chest). Slowly and to yourself count either to three or to five. A variation on step C: Some suggest that when you begin Breathing Exercises you should keep your eyes open, pick a spot and focus on that spot as you begin to release all thoughts other than the focus on breathing.
d. Now slowly exhale while counting – either to three or to five (slow; pace yourself until it becomes routine).
e. This pattern of slow inhale followed by slow exhale should be repeated until you feel a decrease in stress and anxiousness and an increase of peace and relaxation.
Centering Prayer: Spiritual centering prayer makes use of a sacred word. Examples are God, Father, Mother, Mother Mary, Abba, Jesus, Great Spirit, Lord, Creator, Wholly Other, Allah, etc. Practicing Centering Prayer:
a. Choose a quiet and private place.
b. Choose to sit, kneel, lay prostrate, etc.
c. Select your sacred word, phrase or text.
d. Practice alternating times of repeating your sacred word or phrase with times of silence.
e. Centering Prayer can be practiced while engaging in breathing exercises (see 2 above). Inhale Sacred name. Exhale Affirmation. ILL: Inhale: God of Peace. Exhale: Grant me peace this day.
In the silence of prayer, you can spread out your hands to embrace nature, God, and your fellow human beings. This acceptance means not only that you are ready to look at your own limitations, but that you expect the coming of something new. For this reason, every prayer is an expression of hope.