February, 2011

Welcome!

February, 2011

Merry Meet and Welcome to the February Issue of PaganPages EMagazine.

It has been awful cold and snowy out.  We hope you are all warm and safe, snuggled by your computer, covered in a blanket, and reading PaganPages.
In This Issue:

An Interview with Gary Kowalski and Review of “Earth Day: An Alphabet Book”

Spells Spells and more Spells….

Pagan Parenting advice on Being Pagan and Pregnant

And we’d like to know would you…

Have a wonderful day of love.

ANNOUNCEMENT:

We are currently looking for writers to fill the following positions:

herbal column

incense & oils column

If you are interested, email us at [email protected]

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Across the Great Divide

February, 2011

Springtime Calls Ghost Hunters Back Outdoors


Ridgelawn Cemetery

Well, we had a big winter thaw here in Michigan.  Two feet of snow melted and the temp even hit the 50s.  The blanket of winter draws back to reveal the grass, freshly green from its long slumber.  The birds return and the scents of new life are in the air.

It was short-lived, though.  As I finish this article, a winter storm- complete with snow, freezing rain, and sleet descends upon the area.  But that brief taste of springtime brings with it thoughts of sunny days and fun in the great outdoors.   If you’re a ghost hunter, thoughts this time of year turn to revisiting favorite cemeteries and once again traveling into the unknown and investigating buildings and places.

I love the poetic duality of cemeteries; from the serene landscapes to the ornate markers; from the sadness of a newly-dug site of a young person to the historic intrigue of a cracked and faded headstone of those long gone and forgotten to the pages of time.

I’ve stated time and again that if you’re one of those groups that think you’re serious and professional paranormal investigators, but all your troupe does is sneak into cemeteries in the dead of night to snap a few pictures and laugh and have a good time, then you’re not only fools, but trespassers.  There’s a big reason why laws in recent years have been established closing off these otherwise public places during the night.  This was made all too clear in a recent news segment here in the Detroit area.

Vandals caused extensive damage to Detroit’s historic Woodmere Cemetery this month.  Rows of toppled headstones, smashed statues and headless angels replaced an otherwise tranquil setting.  110 headstones in all were pushed over, some destroyed beyond repair.  This is the third time vandals attacked Woodmere in the last six years.  Here’s a link to the video from the newscast: Vandals Strike Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery

Vandal damage at Woodmere Cemetery

If you’re caught in a cemetery at night, no matter the reason, and you have no permission to be there, then you deserve to be charged with trespassing. ‘Nuff Said.

Now, I like to use cemeteries as a place to train new members; and even when I’m just out and about enjoying a nice day I’ll come in with nothing more than a camera and recorder, or maybe even an EMF meter.  I’ll try to get a few EVPs or pictures; most of the time I’ll use the weather to my advantage and snap off a library of gorgeous professional photographs; if a wandering spirit sees fit to make their presence known, all the better.  I’ve caught enough material in cemeteries over the years to make the experience not only enjoyable on a personal level but worthwhile on a scientific level.

Some claim that paranormal activity in cemeteries is impossible.  The reasons being that those interred there are long gone and any haunting will take place around the place of death, not where they were moved to a week or more after death; this being a long enough time for whatever spirit energy to cease being attached to the physical body.

Others disagree and claim that cemeteries are the most haunted spots around.  Much of the photographic “evidence” is the subject of ridicule from serious paranormal researchers because they were often taken at night, quickly, and generally under humid conditions including mist, ground fog, and even the condensation of the photographer’s own breath.  The time and steps needed to rule out these environmental x-factors are simply not taken into account.  Just because you’re not sweating doesn’t mean there isn’t humidity in the air. When the temperature and dew points are within 10 to 15 points of each other formation of ground fog is highly likely.

A dirty, abandoned cemetery is going to stir up a tremendous amount of dust and dirt.  Snap a flash and the resulting reflections will produce photographs that look like they were taken through a dirty car window.  These are NOT the souls of the citizens of the cemetery.  Nothing burns my biscuits more than being presented with picture after picture filled with these dust particles and the taker eagerly chimping away, “but look at all the spirits!”  Don’t waste my time or your own with orbs.

Aside from that little rant on orbs, cemeteries can be a great asset in many ways for researchers.  You can, of course, travel freely in them during the daylight hours, but if you want to conduct nighttime investigations you can do so legally with just a few phone calls.  Contact the church, organization, or municipality that presides over the daily care and maintenance of the cemetery and seek permission.  As always, be sincere and honest in your approach.  If you do get the go ahead, then contact the proper authorities, and inform the local law that you will be conducting a scientific experiment in the cemetery.  Get permission from caretakers IN WRITING and provide proof of that permission, along with the date, time, and a list of those group members that will be participating.  They may even be willing to direct traffic around the local roads during the experiment so as to help reduce contamination if at all possible.  It never hurts to just ask.  The worst case is they simply say no.  Thank them for their time and try for daylight hours.  The problem here is that the increased traffic and noise levels of daytime could potentially taint any data you collect.

As with any investigation, do your research.  Check local records for a history of the cemetery.  Most records will at the very least provide a list of who is buried here.  Also look for any local events that could have caused this location to be active.

Use the daylight hours to get a map or plot from the caretaker or sketch out your own, especially if there’s a particular area that interests you. You’ll want to have all the landmarks and topography of the locations planned in advance for a smooth and speedy investigation.

If you or your team are thinking of doing grave rubbings, check with the caretaker first.  Some very old, weather -worn headstones may be so far faded that even the light rubbing of a charcoal stick can cause further erosion.  And please, do NOT do what I saw in one local cemetery.  Someone had taken permanent markers or paint and lazily colored in the engraved letters on several headstones in order to make the etchings stand out.  Not only is this disrespectful but is legally considered vandalism.

If it’s damp, foggy, or raining, cancel and re-schedule for more favorable conditions.  Any material obtained under such conditions would be inadmissible as scientific data.  Besides, I sure wouldn’t want to be trekking around out in the rain and mud.

As always investigate in teams and designate a central command area and timetable.  A great thing to do that will not only garner you great respect from other groups, but the gratitude and endearment of the cemetery owner is to bring a trash bags to not only clean up after yourselves, but clear the landscape of other trash and debris.

Sometimes cemetery caretakers aren’t interested in your data or the results, but in either case send them a professional thank you letter for allowing you to investigate.  Check with them as to their wishes regarding any evidence you may have.  If you obtain overwhelming evidence it and make it public, it may entice those aforementioned less-respectful types to invade the cemetery, or invite vandals.  No one wants another Woodmere incident on their hands.

So as the sunny days of spring return, keep these things in mind.  Also, please, above all else respect yourselves, respect the sites, and respect the field.  Happy Hunting and see you next month.

Romeo Cemetery

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Pagan Parenting

February, 2011

Pregnant and Pagan

As I write today I am 31 weeks pregnant with my second child.  My body is preparing for the sacred event of bringing forth a baby, birthing both a new soul and a new version of the mother in myself.  Making the “mundane” moments of life sacred is part of my spiritual path.  Because pagans are nature/earth based in our beliefs it seems that we herald being in our bodies and treating them as temples.

I often wonder how we do at this though.  Do we really treat our bodies with the care and reverence that we have for our gods or our sacred places?  And when we go through these huge life and body altering phases do we connect them with our myths and legends or do we let the rather institutional approach to childbearing in particular shade our experience of these life milestones?

The energy that accompanies the birthing of a child is primal and connects one to all the women who have done it before.  It is a lineage of creation that is reflected in the earth’s roundness and fertility.  I believe that, I feel that, but it does not translate well into every day life.  Due to the limited time that I give to my personal practice while raising a young family the practicality of communion with deity or even this time around setting up an altar is lacking.  There are moments of bliss, moments of frustration and being uncomfortable and moments of fear.  The vessel that my body has become to bring forth this new life is overwhelming in its implication and yet so simple in its purpose at the same time.

Motherhood is venerated in many religions but also controlled tightly in the physical and practical sense.  So while one might feel empowered by Mother Mary’s birthing story as a Christian or just in general the joy in that story is certainly not easy to translate into sterile hospital rooms or with the use of interventions that the North American birth culture considers the norm.

Having chosen to birth our first son at home, as we plan again with our second son my husband and I stepped outside of the routine many find comforting choosing instead to let the process be as organic as possible.  The sacredness was not lost on me in the moments but it is also such a primal experience that it kept me from idealizing the experience too much.  So my approach to pregnancy, birth and motherhood is not one that I put on a pedestal, it is rooted in the holy dirt, held by the trees, and blows in whirlwinds with the leaves.

Most importantly we must support women as they endeavor to take these journeys of transformation.  Our bodies are ours even when we carry new life in them, or better yet especially because we do.  Until you have conceived, nurtured and grown a child from the inside, birthing it and feeding it from your body the profoundness of the process is hard to grasp.  The story of Demeter grieving Persephone being away from her is relatable when you count the hours of time, nurturing and patience that a mother gives to her children.  I see the miraculous act that my body has performed and will again perform.  The fact that it knows what to do all by itself is also incredible.  Often when the chips are down we just have to let our minds wonder off somewhere else and surrender to the body’s innate sense of what must happen.

Somewhere between glowy pregnant women rocking their unborn babes as they dance in spring fields and formulaic scientific jargon about what my body is doing this week lies my connection to spirit and my growing baby.  I will try to honour the process as the days move on towards their climax and feel the ancestors calmly or sometimes loudly calling the names of all that have been there, done that.  It is a good place, a holy place but overall it is a human and animal place to be.

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Me,Myself and I, Words from a Solitary Practitioner

February, 2011

A Solitary Imbolc

The sound of the bell fills the air, soft and low
As an ancient reminder As Above, So Below
The practitioner stands in the velvet cover of night
So there’s no interruption to this time honored rite
She stands still in the darkness, firmly wrapped in her cloak
And centers her energy to welcome Imbolc
The natural items on her altar, become magic in her hands
As has been the Witch’s way for many years, in many lands
The golden glow of candle light, the sweet smell of burning herbs
In perfect love, and perfect trust she say’s her heart felt words
She gives her thanks to the Ancient Ones then leaves the sacred place
She walks softly on the mother earth and her passing leaves no trace
A Solitary Wiccan, yet she knows she’s not alone
All the children of “The Craft of the Wise”dwell in this sacred home.

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Spellwork through Poetry, Lesson 7

February, 2011

Limerick

The limerick is a five line poem that has a very distinctive rhythm. It follows a rhyme scheme: AABBA, with the first, second, and fifth rhyming lines being longer than the third and fourth. Limericks are often humorous (and the best ones are dirty).

This one, from Wikipedia, is an excellent example:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical

Using limericks in spellcasting can be very fun. In my personal experience, the topic of which I was casting was never serious, an in I need this to happen pronto, nor was it serious, as in this subject is important and should not be goofed with. My favorite limerick that I have written involves the birds and the bees:

A The flutter of the birds and the bees

A All over the grass and the trees…

B The maiden will blush,

B The man will rush,

A And both will go weak in the knees.

One I have used with spells related to the blooms in my garden:

A The spring bud turn to summer bloom

A Gentle flowers I come out here to prune

B Pull out some weeds

B Plant some more seeds

A Arranged so as to leave room

Assignment: Try your hand at at least one limerick

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Gems of the Goddess

February, 2011

FREYA


Love is in the air.  Yes, a very cliche saying, but one that Freya would agree with always.  She is the Norse goddess of love, and enjoys getting arrangements of flowers and dancing to music.  Along with the prettiness she was also a warrior goddess of the Valkyries.  On her missions as the leader,  she would ride on her chariot of two blue cats across the sky, creating what is now called “the northern lights.”  When she got to the war battle field, she would claim the souls of the bravest warriors who died, and bring them back with her to rest in perfect peace.  A very kind women, she would also ask their wives to come with her as well.

With her sparkling personality and charming toughness, the strawberry-blonde defiantly attracted the attention of many men.  One in particular named Od, who was the other leader in the Valkyries.  Freya fell hard for him, and the two were soon married.  Until one day Od disappeared, a mystery to everyone.  Freya was outraged and upset, so she cloaked herself in rave’s feathers and flew off to find him.  When she did she found him as a horrible sea monster, but she loved him so much nothing could get in her way.

Soon after she found him, he was suddenly killed, giving Freya no time to stop the incident.  Freya was blinded by anger and wanted to kill whoever murdered such a noble God.  Before that could happen Od was sent to Valhalla, where he could have occasional visits from Freya so the two would be together for eternity.

CONNECTING WITH FREYA

On a Friday (the day named after Freya herself) take a rose quartz crystal and recite an evocation to Freya of your choice, to be with you as you charge it, for love and luck throughout the year.  Carry the stone with you in a safe place and make sure to charge it every once and while.  Freya is very compassionate so always know she is never far from your heart.  Another note, she is also helpful if you are experiencing relationship problems.

SYMBOLS AND THINGS TO PUT ON YOUR ALTER

Roses, moonstone, cats, sandalwood, emerald, mint, valerian, swords, mistletoe, green, silver, viking hats, flowers, romantic music

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Myth and Legend: Journeys Through Time

February, 2011

Have you ever had a sibling that you just couldn’t stand? A brother or a sister that for some reason no matter how hard you tried, they just rubbed you the wrong way? Or if you don’t have siblings somebody in your life that for one reason or other just drove you bonkers? If so then you’ll be happy to know that even Gods and Goddesses had this problem. Norse trickster god Loki couldn’t stand his brother (even if they were only brothers by adoption) Thor. In some versions of Greek and Roman mythology Hades or as he’s known to the Romans, Pluto would do his best every so often to upset Zeus who’s Roman name is Jupiter.

Oh and in Native American mythology, they believed in the spirits and Coyote was one of the most distrusted, warily dealt with spirits ever..despite his intentions not always being bad, he simply couldn’t be trusted by the other spirits…or people and animals of our world. It’s been said that whenever the great spirits held meetings, they couldn’t allow Coyote at a meeting, nor could they rightfully turn him away and nobody wanted Coyote next to him…so he stayed in the doorway for a quick escape in case anything went wrong…or he simply couldn’t control himself.

However…compared to all of that…nobody ever had as bad a case of the jealousy as the Ancient Egyptian God Set. Set (also spelled Seth, Sheth, Sutekh, Setan, Seteh, Suetekh, Setesh, Seti, Setech, and Sutech) was the brother of Osiris, who came to be the Egyptian god of the underworld, Isis wife and sister of Osiris also goddess of magic, motherhood, love and life, and Nephthys, who was not only Set’s wife but also his sister. The thing that Set is most famously…well infamously known for is the murder of his brother Osiris. Before that though, Set was a god of the desert, storms, chaos, foreigners, and darkness. He was the chief god of Lower Egypt and his nephew Horus was the chief god of Upper Egypt. When Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt united, it was commonly depicted that Set and Horus shared the crown as opposed to one of them ruling Egypt entirely. However….Upper Egypt started conquering Lower Egypt so the pharaohs of Upper Egypt started depicting Set as an evil being. As somebody who would go out of his way to harm Horus instead of helping him. Some parts of Egyptian mythology say that Set became known as the personification of evil because he was terribly jealous of his brother Osiris, and why wouldrn’t he be? Osiris was fertile and could have children whereas Set was barren and could never have children. Osiris eventually came to be revered and honored for pretty much any and everything whereas poor Set was considered to be beneath him. Eventually Set got to the point where he could no longer take being a second class being so he tried to kill Osiris. Twice. The first time he attempted to kill Osiris, he did so by having a large, nicely decorated box constructed and placed at entrance to his palace. He invited all the deities over for a great feast and when Osiris arrived, managed to trick his brother into getting into the box…really it was a coffin. When Osiris was in the box, Set had his carpenters nail the lid shut and then sealed it with molten lead. After that he threw the sealed box into the Nile  river. As a result Osiris drowned. Isis though searched and searched for Osiris’ coffin and she eventually found it along the shore of the river. Using her magic, she brought Osiris back to life and conceived Horus during this time. Unfortunately,  Set discovered that Osiris was alive..again and this time around, decided to make sure Osiris stayed dead for good. Set killed Osiris again and to make sure that Osiris stayed dead, dismembered him and scattered his body parts all over Egypt. It is this second killing of Osiris that Set is most famously known for. Isis once again intervened and patiently searched for the pieces of husband’s body and upon finding them all, put them rightly together and brought her husband back to life. Although he was resurrected, Osiris elected to ule the Underworld as King of the Dead. His son Horus decided to take revenge against his uncle Set for his father’s murder and they both fought a great number of battles. Horus was going to kill Set but Isis took pity on her brother and asked her son to spare his life.  The battles between Set and Horus are often seen as the greatest fight between good and evil. All in all, Set wasn’t an evil god. He started out decently but sadly was slowly pushed out of favor which made him resentful and hateful towards his brother.

http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Sa-Sp/Set.html
http://www.egyptianmyths.net/seth.htm
http://www.fact-index.com/s/se/set__mythology_.html
http://www.egyptiandreams.co.uk/set.php

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Rites & Rituals

February, 2011

Imbolc

“I remember I saw you, I saw you dancing through the woods.
I watched you dance away the snow, from the shadows where I stood.
I smelled your scent within the breeze, it dropped me to my knees.
As I watched you, so longingly….
And the Wheel turns, can you feel the fire inside, begin to burn?
Can you hear the wind whisper our names?
Destiny that cannot be changed
As it is willed, so is it done
Our dance has just begun
When the Moon is kissed by the Sun”
Imbolc, I imagine somewhere deep within a sacred grove of ancient trees. The youthful God stands quiet and still. The Mother aspect of the Goddess has been shed into the cold Earth to begin her work from below of prying Winter’s grasp from the land and leaving in her place the Maiden. An unseen source, softly fills the air with music as the Maiden lightly dances her way through forest and field. The youthful aspect of the God watches in silence as her steps melt away the snow. His eyes stare in disbelief at the small, fragile flowers her steps appear to conjure up to defy the stark black and white world of Winter’s palette. He thinks about stepping out to meet her but instinct holds him back, whispering, not yet, not yet. As the Maiden dances closer and the music in his head grows louder, his eyes grow heavy. His vision blurs and he feels himself drifting in between what is and what can be. The Maiden dances ever closer, weaving her spell over all. She reaches down with her magick to slowly awaken those that deeply sleep. She reaches out with her dreams to those awake but caught in Winter’s stupor, to believe once more in the turn to Spring. For a few brief moments, for those whose eyes are open to see, there exists a fleeting glimpse of Spring. It is barely a thought, that dances just beyond your touch. It is so small a sign of color amidst the bleak void of Winter, that it lies beyond sight of all but the greatest dreamers. It is there though and as more of those sleeping awaken, join with those already dreaming, the intention of Spring takes hold and turns toward manifestation upon the Wheel. When the young God regains his senses, the Maiden has long since danced away. His thoughts swirl back and forth between succumbing to Winter’s immediate embrace or holding onto an improbable notion of Spring. I often wonder, each year when Winter and Spring begin their tug of war, if it might be the combined belief in or lack of belief toward either season that determines the time line for stable change. It is inevitable that Spring will eventually prevail but it is often far from decided until considerably past the equinox. These are the thoughts and the imagery that move me, as I consider the magick of Imbolc. As I do my ritual to celebrate the midpoint and subsquent fading of Winter, lighting the white candle in my cauldron, I think about all of the new life possibilities coming. I think about renewing my self promise to embrace the wonder of Spring with all of my senses as free as is possible from the taint of the mundane. As I take a long drink from my wooden chalice, savoring the cold champagne, I tell myself that I will allow the energy to wash over me, intoxicating me with Nature’s rush. Then as I sprinkle one last pinch of incense over the charcoal, I promise myself, that no matter the situation, I will strive to teach, to heal, to open eyes to see. Imbolc is the moment when I whisper my dreams, for the year that comes in earnest now, into the seeds I’ll sow. As it is willed, so mote it be………
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Enchanting Eats

February, 2011

Bringing Imbolc to the Table

In February, we celebrate Midwinter. It is the time that we see the first hints of spring as Old Man Winter says farewell. The snow is melting, and birds are returning. Some like to focus on fire and candles during this time, as it is a symbol of the sun. Spicy hot foods are entirely appropriate as are foods that are cooked by fire–baked, roasted, or even flambed. In the same nature, sun-dried fruits and vegetables honor the sun. Others find themselves honing in on the physical signs of spring through seeds, sprouts, early spring vegetables, and dairy products. It is also common to use up the last of winter’s bounty, namely root vegetables. Look inward to see what connects the most with you.

One way to honor this time is by making bread pudding. Bread baked with fire. Milk nodding to animals in gestation. Raisins dried by the sun.

I recommend a chewy bread with lots of texture for this recipe. I prefer to use a Sourdough or Tuscan bread. You may use other dried fruits as well, such as cranberries, currants, and diced apples. I have also made this with a variety of nuts. Walnuts or pecans are a great accompaniment.

If you are gluten free, try a rice pudding by swapping the bread for 3 cups of cooked rice. Omit the eggs and cook over medium heat in a saucepan until creamy. Vegans can easily substitute with soy milk, margarine, and an egg replacer.

Ingredients

One standard-sized loaf of bread

3/4 cup raisins

3 cups scalded milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 Tbsp melted butter

1 cup brown sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

dash of salt

3 eggs

Directions

1. Soak raisins, or your choice of fruit, in enough water to cover until plump. Drain.

2. Tear or cut bread into bite-sized chunks. Toss with raisins and place in a casserole dish.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients until well combined.

4. Pour mixture over bread and raisins. You may need to add in parts, as the bread soaks up the mixture.

5. Bake at 350 F for 45-60 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving, or serve room temperature.

Notes: Breads vary in terms of moisture. If you have liquid leftover, no problem. If you run out, you can make a half batch of the mixture or, in a pinch, just make a simple syrup with brown sugar and water. This dish is wonderful served hot or cooled. Whipped cream, ice cream, or a rum sauce all make a wonderful topping, but it can certainly stand on its own.

Enjoy and blessed be!

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Meditation Moment

February, 2011

Marking Time

Last month, I discussed setting aside time and space – any time and space you can use regularly – for a meditation practice. Once you’ve started integrating meditation, or even just a few minutes of quiet time, into your habits, you can start shaping that time and space to further your meditation practice. I can’t emphasize enough that the most important thing about meditation is doing it. If you try one of these suggestions, and it pushes you further away from making your practice a regular part of your life, scratch that approach and go back to what you were doing before, or try something else.

For beginners coming to meditation, the time part can be the hardest. Not just finding or making time in the schedule, but the time during meditation. Letting go of the constant stream of time – has it been a minute yet? how will I know when I’m done? I wonder what’s happening on my Twitter feed? – is a big challenge. On the practical side of things, one way to deal with this is to decide how long you’re going to meditate and create something else to keep track of that for you. A clock isn’t the best solution: I won’t know if my five minutes of meditation are up if I don’t keep looking, and if I keep looking at the clock, then I’m not meditating.

Now I’m sure that some reader is asking himself, “Did she just write ‘five minutes?’ That must be a typo. Five minutes is entirely too short a time to meditate!” No, that’s not a typo. As I said last month, start with an achievable goal. For most of us, wrapped up in concerns about time as we are, with the feeling that the world is constantly accelerating around us, five or ten minutes is a good goal to start with. Avoid the initial anxiety over what you’ll do for all that time by setting a smaller goal at first, and once you’ve kept it for a week and are comfortable, work up to fifteen to twenty minutes. Don’t try to jump from five minutes to twenty, either: I’d suggest adding no more than five minutes. Stick with it for at least a week, or as long as you need to feel comfortable, before adding another increment.

Back to keeping track – or letting something else keep track – of that time. An alarm on a watch, clock, or kitchen timer is certainly an option, but most people find an alarm so startling that it undoes most of the relaxation effects of meditation. For a gentler approach, there are many, many free programs for computers and other devices available online that use a gentle bell or chime sound to signal the end of the session. (Try searching for “meditation timer” or something similar.) A gentle sound can help you transition back to your everyday experience much more smoothly. Try it out ahead of time by setting the timer while you’re doing something else, like reading, to make sure the sound isn’t too jarring but still gets your attention. Adjust the volume as needed.

Another option is to use an object that marks time for you, like a candle, stick of incense, or a tiny hourglass-type egg timer. For starting out, even a three-minute egg timer can be useful. If you’re working on meditating for around fifteen minutes, try a birthday candle. If it takes too long to burn, make a mark halfway down and use that as your indicator. A small stick of incense – just two or three inches – can also give you a reasonable amount of time.

These methods aren’t as precise a way of measuring time: one candle will burn a little faster than another, and a draft can make it gutter itself out more quickly too. But for meditation, a little imprecision can be a benefit. Meditation isn’t about whether you spend thirty seconds more or less on any given day. Using a more natural, less precise method of timing can help you get out of the idea that you always have to live up to the artificial standards of the clock. A little variation also prevents you from getting into the habit of counting off the time inside your head so that you can anticipate the chime. Even if you do that with your eyes closed, it’s still not meditating.

The downside of candles or incense is that if you like to close your eyes while you meditate, these methods don’t give you a sound to tell you to open your eyes, so it’s easy to get interrupted by peeking every so often to check if you’re done yet. The benefit is that if you don’t want to close your eyes, a candle, stick of incense, or tiny egg timer can do double duty as a visual focal point as well as being your timer. Let your eyes rest on the focal point and just observe it; when your attention wanders, which it will, gently draw your gaze and your attention back to the focus.

Another benefit of doing something specific to mark the time of your meditation practice is that it helps set aside your meditation practice as something other than your usual experience. The way that you set up your timekeeper, and then acknowledge that it is over, can become bookends supporting your practice. In fact, it’s worthwhile to make it a small ritual. It doesn’t have to be religious, or hugely ceremonial, just an act done with intention. You might clap your hands, make a gesture, or recite a statement; then mirror that action when you conclude your practice. Do it with the intent of settling into the present moment, of letting go, for a while, of the past, and the future, and anything else.

Setting aside the time for meditation, and then not worrying about the flow of time during meditation, are important acts for more than practical reasons. Meditation is about being in the present moment. Next month, I’ll discuss how to begin working on that presence by directing attention.

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