I’ve spent the last few months discussing different ways to meditate; this month I’d like to focus on why meditation is such an important skill for both practical and magical purposes. Research is revealing more and more health benefits to a regular meditation practice, but the ability to direct your own attention and shift your focus as you wish is incredibly valuable in everyday life, not just while actively meditating, and also an essential part of working magic.
As a practical skill, meditation can help us deal with difficult times in our lives. Many people who have depression experience being stuck in negative thoughts, going around and around the same issue or problem over and over again. This “spin cycle” can produce feelings of helplessness and despair. Meditative practice at redirecting your attention can help you break free of these traps.
This “thought stopping” is a difficult skill to develop. It requires a kind of self-awareness that allows you to monitor your own internal monologue so you can recognize when you’re getting stuck in repetitive thoughts and feelings. It’s very difficult to develop this ability while you’re in the midst of a stressful or painful time. Meditation practice gives you a chance to cultivate that skill so you will be able to use it when you need it most. Exercise helps you develop and maintain the physical skills and strength you need for other activities; meditation is mental and emotional exercise.
It is a bit misleading to talk about “thought stopping,” though, because it’s not so much stopping as redirection. Just as in meditation, you don’t so much stop thinking about one thing as choose to direct your attention elsewhere. And like in meditation, you have to be gentle with yourself when you do this. It’s counterproductive to blame yourself for thinking or feeling the way you do; what matters is moving your focus to something else of your choosing. If you’re spending time and energy blaming yourself, worrying, or suppressing those thoughts or feelings, you’re still focusing on them. You can acknowledge them, then refuse to let them occupy center stage in your mind. Gently let them go and redirect.
The same advice applies when you’re trying to change a mental habit. If you identify a negative idea about yourself that you’re trying to change, maybe by replacing it with an affirmation, you need to redirect your attention away from the negative idea, not suppress it. Many admonitions to just “Think positive!” make people feel like it’s their fault if they think negatively, which makes them feel worse, which gives them even more negative thoughts and feelings to try to ignore. I call this the backlash of positive thinking, because the harder you push down those negatives, the more energy you give them to throw back at you, often subconsciously or from an unexpected direction.
To avoid that backlash, don’t treat an affirmation as a magical incantation that will banish your hurts, fears, and doubts all by itself. Acknowledge those feelings or your negative beliefs about yourself and gently redirect yourself away from them towards the new mental habit you want to cultivate instead.
Where this becomes a magical skill is when you use the same techniques to improve your visualization and focus on your intent for a spell. We do magic because we want something to change, but in visualization, we need to concentrate on our desired outcome rather than the current state of affairs.
This is the “Don’t think of a pink elephant!” problem. If you’re trying to help heal a friend, for example, it is easy to be distracted with concerns about how she was sniffling and coughing this morning. That’s the reason you’re doing the spell, after all! But you’re not raising and sending energy towards the idea of her staying sick; you want to concentrate that energy on her being well, so you have to catch those thoughts and change your focus to your visualization or affirmation of her as healthy and happy.
Working with different types of meditation can help you identify your strengths for magical practice and improve your abilities in areas where you’re weaker. If you like meditating with a physical object to focus on, then you can use the same techniques to direct your intent towards a spell component like a candle, stone, or herb. If chanting or prayer works well, make the most of that by designing spells with verbal elements. On the other hand, if you are good at concentrating when you have your eyes closed, you can work on meditating while gazing at a physical object to make it easier for you to concentrate on an object for magical purposes.
These are just a few examples of how awareness of your own thoughts and feelings and the ability to redirect your attention are both practical and magical skills. As your practice deepens, you’ll find even more ways to apply the benefits of meditation in everyday life.