Sometimes when we feel a strong pull towards a particular deity we may be unsure as to how to connect with that God or Goddess – making suitable offerings is obviously the first thing we can and should do. If we want to do more, and we are inspired by devotional practices common within the most well established polytheistic religions of our own time (Hinduism and Buddhism), we might consider meditating on the deity for whom we feel a particular pull. We can do this by resting the mind lightly and mindfully on an object, image or place associated with the God or Goddess with whom we wish to connect.
When we invoke a deity by meditating on his or her image, such as a picture, or on an object, scene or place associated with a deity, it is said that we make a greater connection with that deity, which may in turn bring the qualities associated with that God or Goddess into our lives. We can meditate directly on an image of a deity or we can meditate on an object, or an image of an object, or a scene or place associated with the deity – for example, we might focus on a rose, for roses are sacred to Venus.
If you would like to meditate on an object, image, scene or place associated with a deity, suitable choices may include:
- Apollo – watching the sky at sunrise or sunset.
- Bacchus – grapes or ivy.
- Ceres – a field of grain.
- Diana – a moonlit sky or forest.
- Janus – a beautiful gateway or doorway.
- Juno – a peacock feather or a moonless night sky (esp, on the new moon/lunar kalends).
- Jupiter – an image of lightning or watching rain.
- Magna Mater – being amidst or near a mountain or cave.
- Mars – an image of Alexander the Great (as he has been a popular subject for painters) or another great general you admire.
- Mercury – looking at beautiful script / calligraphy, even if you do not understand what it says.
- Minerva – a beautiful woven rug.
- Neptune – a lake, river or the sea.
- Pluto – a crystal.
- Proserpina – a pomegranate.
- Venus – a rose.
- Vesta – a gentle flame.
- Vulcan – an image of a volcano erupting.
|"Mercury about to behead Argus" by Gandolfi (circa 1775)|
Click on the image to enlarge
If you choose to focus on an image I suggest that you avoid erotic images (unless you are meditating on an erotic deity) – such as a naked image, as you may find yourself becoming more like Pygmalion than you ever thought possible and become aroused during meditation, which is distracting (this happened to me when I meditated for 10 minutes on Pajou’s sculpture of a semi-naked Mercury). I also suggest you stick to coloured images, or images with quite a bit of texture, rather than, for example, a plain white sculpture. It is my experience that full colour images are easier for the mind to settle on and the best images are those where you can look right into the eyes of the deity as depicted in the image of your choice. Ubaldo Gandolfi’s “Mercury about to behead Argus” (c. 1775) is in many ways an ideal image for meditation – Mercury’s eyes are mesmerising, and the theme of this painting is conducive to spiritual reflection, for on the one hand Mercury the liberator confidently strides forward, doing what needs to be done in order to free Io from captivity, and on the other hand the fact that Mercury is about to kill Argus reminds us that death may come at any moment, particularly when we cease to be watchful, like Argus who has forgone vigilance and fallen asleep.
What to do – meditation on a divine object*
Rest the mind lightly on a sacred or inspirational image, scene or place of your choice (from hereon I will use the word “object” to refer to any one of these things). Keep the attention gently focused on the object. There is no need to focus on every detail or to think about it. Keep your focus loose, with just enough attention to hold a light awareness of what you are looking at. When your mind drifts away from the object just gently bring your attention back to it. The key point is to simply allow your mind to rest on the object in a state of non-distraction and spacious awareness.
If you find that you have become distracted gently bring your mind back onto the object – even thinking to yourself about how you got distracted is just another distraction; thought itself is a distraction. Let go of any notion of judging yourself or the quality of your meditation.
Be aware of any sounds that you hear and any sensations that you feel, just rest, open, in the present moment.
Breath naturally, with your body still; gradually your mind will (probably/hopefully) settle in a state of non-distraction, peacefulness and a kind of communion with the revered deity.
Meditation tips (from the Vajrayana** tradition)
Good posture during meditation is essential – you should be neither too relaxed nor too tense. For optimal posture during meditation you should:
- Sit on a cushion or comfortably on a chair.
- Gently place your hands on your knees or in your lap.
- Keep your back straight.
- Spread your shoulders slightly.
- Keep your chin slightly lowered.
- Your mouth stays slightly open.
Keep your eyes open (slightly lowered is ideal), but relax your focus – do not focus too hard on the sacred object, instead break up your attention as follows:
- 25% on mindfulness of the object.
- 25% on a watchful awareness, to oversee that you maintain mindfulness.
- 50% spacious abiding in the present moment.
How long? When you first try meditation you should try it for at least 5 minutes at a time. Over the course of weeks you can build up to around 15 minutes at a time, if you want to, and then longer, if you feel able to do so. You can meditate everyday if you wish to. It is generally considered more skilful to meditate for short 5-15 minutes sessions everyday than infrequently for longer periods, however, there is no right or wrong when it comes to how long or how often you meditate.
* Much of the information on meditation in this blogpost comes from a booklet on meditation obtained from Rigpa (I am currently doing a course on meditation through this centre) as well as the website whatmeditationreallyis.com – associated with Rigpa. Rigpa is a Tibetan Buddhist/Vajrayana organisation.
** Note that “Vajrayana” is the name of a major school of Buddhism often associated with Tibet but originating from a region that is now part of north Pakistan. It is a Sanskrit term – Sanskrit is like the Latin of south Asia – that literally means “the vehicle of Indra’s thunderbolt” – as the God of thunder and lightning, Indra is clearly Jupiter by another name so we may understand “Vajrayana” to mean “Jupiter’s thunderbolt vehicle [which frees us from suffering]”.
- whatmeditationreallyis.com (focusing on an object) (click on the second video)
- whatmeditationreallyis.com (guided meditation)
- betterhealth.vic.gov.au/Meditation (scientifically ascertained benefits of meditation)