Updated: Nov 11, 2020
A few years ago, I was visiting Asheville, NC with a couple of friends, and we found ourselves at this little witchy shop called the Raven and Crone. They carry all sorts of materials for spell-casting. Herbs, candles, tarot, and oracle cards - the shop is just crammed full of little trinkets and pagan lore. That particular day, after hiking to waterfalls and eating delicious vegan food, we wandered lazily around the store, perusing all the mysterious and magical objects. I picked up a few hand-made oils and herb bundles as gifts and wandered over to the book section.
It was called Active Meditation, and it just jumped out at me. The book had a bright blue cover, with big, white letters. Above the title was the claim "THE MOST COMPLETE EXPLANATION OF MEDITATION EVER PRINTED!" - well, I mean, how could I resist? The look of it screamed early 80s (published in 1982 to be exact). At first, I thought it would just be a funny old book and might be an entertaining read. But, that night, as I tucked myself into my tiny loft bed in the woodland cabin we were renting, I started reading and was startled by what I found.
The two authors, Bob and Carl, as they affectionately refer to themselves, wanted to write a book about how meditation can be "active" - meaning that we can use it to become better people. Not just to be more relaxed, but to increase self-discipline, stimulate creativity, and access the wealth of wisdom, courage, and love that we all have within us.
I was intrigued. It's been my understanding for a few years now, that the Buddhist practice of meditation is not one of clearing the mind of thoughts, or of deep relaxation. Instead, it's meant to increase the time we spend in the mind-states that are most beneficial to us. These mind-states are compassion, joy, and equanimity. We use meditation as a place to practice these states, to break down barriers to them, and as a result, enjoy more life lived within them.
What is "Active Meditation?"
What Bob and Carl are touting in this book is decidedly Western, New Age-y kind of stuff. They scoff at meditation styles that encourage repeating a meaningless mantra (given the time period and the circles they were running in, I'm guessing this is a dig at Transcendental Meditation). But, they are onto something in referring to our meditation practice as an "active" process. Meditation can be a time spent building new skills.
That night, reading in my little loft bed, I got pretty excited because this book gives very practical step-by-step instructions to use your meditation practice to create more of whatever mind-state and, therefore, behaviors you want. For example, if you'd like to be a more creative person, you can use your meditation practice to increase your ability to access a creative mind-state. You can create a meditation practice specifically for this. It's a very personalized approach.
Beware of false Gurus
This book outlines some fascinating practices, and I'm going to teach you one here. But, there are definitely a few reasons why I wouldn't choose to teach everything in it. First of all, there's an Angel, Herman, who pops in from time to time to advise. I guess these two nerdy, academic guys felt like they needed to invoke some spiritual wisdom, so they figured having an angel on hand to catch them when they were getting too in the weeds would be a nice touch. Or, they actually consulted a real angel on the book. I like the idea of Angels, but either way, Herman is a little unusual.
Second, Bob and Carl are really snarky. They spend an excessive amount of time talking about what NOT to do and discussing what's wrong with all these OTHER types of meditation. I'm not here to review their book, but if I ever write a book about meditation, I won't spend one-second bashing other types, just don't think there's much need for that.
And one last thing: they are a couple of white dudes from the US with a bunch of letters after their names discussing spiritual philosophy that mainly comes from Eastern religions. Take from that what you like.
All that aside, I do believe there are some exceptional things to take from this wacky book I found that day stashed in the backroom of a witch shop. The practice that I'm going to share with you all today is one that I've done a lot myself, and taught to some of my students. I can say without a doubt that it's powerful, and really works. Also, it's just different, I've never really come across anything like it!
Creating a Seed Thought
Bob and Carl encourage us to create what they call "seed thoughts" during our meditation practice. These are basically affirmations. If you've never used an affirmation, they are positive statements that we repeat to ourselves to help overcome negative thoughts or patterns that we might have. An example of a positive affirmation might be "I am resilient, strong and brave" or "I choose to be happy."
There's a lot of evidence that these practices can work. Studies have shown that positive affirmations can decrease stress and negative behaviors and increase healthy choices. But there's an essential difference in the traditional practice of repeating positive affirmations and the use of seed thoughts. A seed thought is created during meditation and rises up from our intuition. It is an affirmation that comes directly from you. It is infused with more meaning than one that is given to you, or that you chose from a list, and for that reason, is very powerful.
Here's how to do it.
The first step is deciding on a quality that you would like to grow in yourself. Use these prompts to help you find it.
Think of someone you admire greatly.
Ask yourself what qualities this person has that makes them so admirable.
(be careful to make sure that you are naming qualities, not behaviors. For example, if this person generous, don't focus on the generous actions, focus on the generosity itself).
Now, choose one of those qualities as your focus for meditation.
The Seed Thought Meditation
For this description, I'm going to keep with the generosity example, but you insert whichever quality you chose.
Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to become still and centered. Take as long as you need to fully connect with your body.
Imagine a time recently when you acted with generosity. It could have been a simple act or a profound one. Genuinely imagine it, and pretend like you are watching yourself. Try to make this imagining as rich with detail as possible.
Once you can see it fully, infuse this act with positive energy. See it as shining and bright. If you connect with the idea of a Higher Self or Higher power, guides, or angels, imagine them filling this action with love. Imagine them fueling it, and cheering you on.
Next, consider any other qualities you needed in order to do this act. For example, maybe you needed patience or courage. Infuse these qualities with love too.
Finally, allow a word or phrase to come to you that captures these qualities. It should be in the present tense. For example, "I use courage to act generously." It's important that this phrase comes to you naturally, not forced. This is your seed thought, and it may be simple, complex, poetic, or plain. Let it come from the heart, and above all, don't judge the words that appear.
Repeat this phrase over and over, remembering what it feels like to act with generosity.
After you finish your meditation, be sure to write down whatever came to you during this meditation. This is your personal affirmation, and you can now use it whenever you need it! Write it on a sticky note or create beautiful calligraphy utilizing the phrase.
The more you use it, the stronger it becomes
This is a self-love practice. It's also shadow work. The quality you admire in others is part of your golden shadow. There will be a lot of arguments coming from the brain for many of us and a lot of resistance to the statements we create. This is because it came from the heart, from your spirit, not the brain. Saying definitively that you are something positive, without qualifying it, can be hard. Our mind wants to come up with reasons it's not true; "well I could do more", or "so-and-so does it a lot better", or "this feels totally narcissistic." That's ok. Just let the brain have its little tantrum. You don't have to believe it. In fact, you'll know that you've found the right seed phrase when your mind tries really hard to reject it.
This practice can be used dozens of times. You can continue to reflect on new scenarios using the same affirmation, or you can use it for different qualities. It can be used to discover all sorts of things about yourself. And it will begin to increase your self-respect and self-esteem the more you use it. What will happen the more you meditate with it, you will begin to notice those times that you act with generosity (or whichever quality you chose). They will start to show up more and more, and you start to affirm it in yourself. The affirmation becoming made real.