Once upon a time, there was a man who found his mind wondering when he meditated. Tried as he might, he couldn’t “still the mind” and found himself miles away daydreaming. He even found himself disappointed when his meditation timer rang, so engrossed was he in his stories.
Contemplation with stories, a form of Ignatian meditation, sounds like the type of meditation this guy should be doing.. Made famous by Saint Ignatius Loyola, this form of meditation (or reflection or prayer) can be liberating because we have the liberty to live a story during the time of our sitting practices.
As a backgrounder, Saint. Ignatius Loyola, born in 1491, was from a family of minor in Spain. He was seriously wounded during a battle with the French in 1521. During his convalescence, Ignatius was aroused through Christianity to do great things. Over time, Ignatius became skilled in spiritual direction, with his insights compiled in his book ‘The Spiritual Exercises’. Together with a small group of friends, Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, who are conceived to be “contemplatives in action”.
While this form of meditation may be rooted in Christianity, it can be used with any forms of stories, reflections, even poetry. The practice need not use religious texts at all, so let’s have an open heart and humbled mind to receive.
What is Ignatian meditation?
The form of Ignatian contemplation we are exploring encourages and involves imaginative activity. Traditionally, how this form of meditation works was to read a passage from scripture, sit and reflect on it for some time, then follow that with a gratitude practice.
The reason why I decided to introduce this form of meditation is because it works very well with stories, whether stories from yoga or from religious scriptures, or even popular stories or fables. The point isn’t just the story but the reflection from the story, and the gratitude practice following that.
So here’s how we can practise the Ignatian form of reflection or meditation.
Reflecting on stories.
First, either select a story (scriptural or other) and find yourself a quiet place. Set your timer for the duration you would like to sit.
- Then seated comfortably with an upright spine, close your eyes and begin with grounding through your body,
- Then move on to centring through your breath (see below on how to ground and centre).
- Spend a few minutes on grounding an centring.
- If you like, you can also include a mantra or phrase (centring prayer / mantra meditation – see below).
- Then mindfully read through your story, not rushing yourself.
- You may then close your eyes and put yourself in the story. Allow yourself to instinctively gravitate to a character, or just be an observer – there is no right or wrong.
- Use your five physical senses – what do you see? what can you hear? what sensations do you feel? what do you smell?
- Then move on to your emotions – whether or not you are a primary or secondary character in the story, or just an observer – do you feel happy or sad? shocked or calm? sympathy or antagonism?
- Allow your imagination to lead the way, let whatever happens happen.
- When you are finished, you may spend some time in reflection.
- You may also wish to practise some gratitude (in Ignatian tradition, called the Examen).
I suggest you spend some time reflecting on what transpired in your meditation (even if nothing did). You may also consider journaling about it. Did you end up the villain? Why? Was there really a villain in the story you chose?
These kind of questions are not necessarily judgments, so there is no need to feel bad or small about yourself. These kinds of questions however reveal more of our inner selves to us, in yoga we call it ‘darshan’ or mirror.
As mentioned above, I find this form of reflection, together with journaling, incredibly helpful in our journey for clarity, which then leads us to calm and confidence.
Do attempt it, and let me know your experiences in the comments. Also, if you need help with guidance, do feel free to contact me, and I will do the best I can for you.