When you commit to the Feast you are committing to observe 40 consecutive days of spiritual practice for 40 minutes each day. You can choose to engage in a silent meditation, prayer, reading sacred text, journaling, dancing or drawing.
What is important about your commitment is your intention. Your commitment is to inner peace and to world peace. To reach that goal you must bring your mind to silent stillness and focus. There you will find your own natural place of inner peace — a peace is always present. But for the most part that peace is hidden behind a barrage of words and thoughts that we have come to consider normal. The problem is that many, if not most, of these thoughts are not even true. They are constructed by our minds and come as a result of events that happened when we were very young and unable to tell right from wrong and true from false. They are simply habits of mind.
As adults, we have access to an inner wisdom that knows better. But without stillness, it is not possible to access that wisdom. The problem is that we cannot reach this stillness without quieting our minds. This is most commonly achieved through a practice of silent prayer or meditation. It is that practice that I will try to guide you into in this article and it is that practice that the Feast for the Soul promotes.
I invite you to find a quiet place where you can hear the loving, wise inner voice that wants to reach you at every moment of the day and night. You may call it God, your Higher Self, or the Universe. If it is not kind and does not generate peace in your heart, then change the channel, because I assure you that when you find that place you will feel loved and you will then become more loving. The question is how do you get there on your own?
In fact, it is simple, but not always easy, to access this inner sanctuary. You have to do very little to reach this place. The hard part is to quiet your mind. This is something that people in the Western world know very little about. Here is what I suggest:
- Find a quiet place where you can sit with your back straight, even if you are sitting with your back against a wall.
- Close your eyes and begin to focus on your inner world.
- Begin by watching your breath, noticing how it flows in and out effortlessly. There are some who say that the breath is like a thread that connects the soul to God. To watch the flow of the breath is a very important act.
- Notice how the breath slows down as your mind becomes quiet. This is the beginning of your practice.
Now let’s talk about what happens next. For most of us, it not long before the mind begins its familiar habit of generating thoughts: important thoughts, foolish thoughts, even irrational thoughts that have no meaning. Sometimes these thoughts seem important and do not want to go away. Sometimes they are accompanied by emotions that seem important and impossible to let go of. In any event, I assure you that you are powerful enough to “command them to pass.” Here are some suggestions:
- Imagine that these thoughts or emotions are like clouds that move across the sky and disappear from view. Let them dissolve and go back to focusing on your breath.
- Imagine that all your thoughts are like waves on the ocean’s surface. Drop down deep enough that you reach the floor of the ocean where everything is peaceful with fish peacefully swimming in and out of the coral reefs. Now go back to watching your breath.
- Imagine that you can see through the thoughts. Your mind, in its natural state is like the blank screen in a movie theater. Once the projector begins rolling we are transported to amazing places and events. It is hard to believe that without the projector, the screen is clear and white. Turn off your mental projector and allow the mind’s screen to return to stillness by refocusing and going back to your breath.
Now I will remind you of two important truths about your relationship with your thoughts. First, you can always return to focusing on your breath. Second, and most important, do not judge yourself as having failed when thoughts take over. This is the human mind and its way in our culture. Through these practices you are retraining your mind.
One of the most important things to remember is that this shift will not happen overnight. As a matter of fact, after nearly thirty years of meditation practice I still find that I “fall into a ditch” with my thoughts on occasion, or become distracted by the events of the day that has passed or the coming day, and I have to start all over. In meditation, starting over is not a crime. It is a good habit to acquire for all of life. We are often called to start over. Do it without shame and know that it is part of the rhythm of life. Each morning the sun starts over, starting a new day.
The most important thing I have learned through my meditation practice is not to judge myself as having failed when I am carried away my mind and its thoughts. Harsh judgments of myself spill over into harsh judgments of others. Kindness toward myself will also spill over into kindness toward others. What could be more important than that?
Start training your mind now. Try smaller increments of time at first, say 10 or 15 minutes, even five minutes will be a good start. If you can, ask someone else to time you and let you know when the time is up. Otherwise, you will be distracted by looking at your watch and by your wonder of how much time has passed. The important thing is to begin to stretch your limits and to tell your mind that it is capable of resting in stillness. You will both be the better for it.
Until next time I send you love, peace, and prayers for your success.
Written By: Valerie Skonie, Founder, Feast for the Soul
Valerie Skonie is a retired businesswoman and interdenominational meditation teacher living in Hailey Idaho. She directs the third annual Winter Feast from her home with the help of a small group of volunteers.