Beginner-Meditation-Exercises: Introduction

Rudolf Steiner gave us six beginner-meditation-exercises. These are usually referred to as the six supplementary exercises. This is because strictly speaking, they are not themselves actual meditations, but simple exercises that help establish and maintain a regular mediation practice. At the same time, these beginner meditation exercises foster an attitude that is most conducive to a healthy, positive and compassionate approach to meditation.

If you are new to meditation, but even if you are already somewhat or very experienced with meditation, you may find that it is challenging to maintain your practice. I consider myself to be an experienced meditator, but even now I still sometimes get frustrated with my own practice and then do not meditate for a few days. I usually notice after several days that something important is missing from my life and pick up my regular practice again. But I also know I would benefit from revisiting these six beginner-meditation-exercies. This is one of the reasons I decided to now write more about them for the website!

These days our lives tend to be full of activities, where we engage with a wide range of technologies, which keep us hooked by ever providing distractions from whatever purpose we may have had to start out. In addition, we may hold down jobs, interact with lots of different people in various contexts, and of course we look after ourselves and possibly other people in our lives. Shopping, cleaning, cooking, traveling, talking, eating....there is no end to this. How on earth am I ever, yes ever, going to find time to meditate?? These six beginner-meditation-exercises will help:

1. Control of thinking:

"Stability, and the capacity to adhere firmly to a once chosen object, are what the pupil's thinking has to acquire" (p. 246 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

'Control of thinking' is the first of the beginner-meditation-exercises. Take a simple, human-made object. This could be a pen, a piece of chalk, a button, a shoelace or something like this. Then spend 5 minutes focusing on this object with your thinking. Describe the object to yourself. notice its shape, colour, weight, smell, hardness and so on. Think about how this object was made, where the materials came from. Think about who might have used it. But in all this make sure your thoughts stay with the real actual reality of this particular object. So if your mind is wandering into associative thinking, gently bring your focus back to the object. So if the button evokes thoughts about the time that your granny sewed on a button for you, then this is not longer a thought that relates to this particular object, but to your life experience in relation to a button some time in the past. For example, I used a pen, and even took it apart and examined in great detail at its outer form.

2. Control of willing:

"A good exercise for the will is, every day for months on end, to give oneself the command: Today you are to do this, at this particular hour. One will gradually manage to fix the hour and nature of the task so as to render the command perfectly possible to carry out" (p. 247 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

'Control of willing' (or doing) is the second of the beginner-meditation-exercises. Choose a simple, purpose-less action and set a strong determination to carry it out daily at a precisely determined time. Steiner gives the example of watering a plant. But any simple action will do. For example I practiced this exercise by touching a button on my clothes with my right index finger at 12 noon every day. Very simple, but you will find how easy it is to forget. If you do, then do the action as soon as you remember. Try not using a clock, but using your own inner sense of time to know when to do the action. As the quote above suggests, it may take some time to find just that action and that time of the day that allows you to consistently succeed at carrying it out!

3. Equanimity

The pupil "must not be slow to enter with fulness of feeling into pleasure and pain, but must be able to do so without losing self control and giving involuntary expression to it." (p. 248 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

'Equanimity' is the third of the beginner-mediation-exercises. Steiner remarks that especially those people who think they already possess this quality to a high degree should do this exercise! What matters here is to become aware more fully of one's feelings, but to learn not to give expression to them. It is not about suppressing the feelings themselves, but about noticing them within and unlearning any habitual responses to them. For example, one of your children may do something that you have forbidden. Your immediate knee-jerk response normally is to express your anger by shouting at them. Now, however, you just observe your own anger, but restrain from expressing it in this way. Instead, you may simply say, quite calmly, that you had forbidden them to do this and could they please not do it again. Or you may come to the realisation that your command was unjustified in any case, so you may withdraw it and save yourself the anger altogether. Another example could be to observe yourself when you feel sad. Your immediate expression of this may normally be to cry. But now you observe the sadness, feel it, but stop yourself reacting in your habitual way. It is all about taking conscious control over your own actions in response to the world. This includes your own feelings.

These standing stones in Dumfries and Galloway remind me of the solid foundation that the six beginner-meditation-exercises can bring to our meditation practice!

4. Positivity

"We cannot deem a bad thing good or an error true; but we can take care not to be put off by the bad from seeing the good nor by the false from seeing the true." (p. 249 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

'Positiviness' is the fourth of the beginner-meditation-exercises. In this exercise the purpose is to consciously become aware of the positive aspects of every thing, being or situation. As the saying goes, 'every cloud has a silver lining'. But this is not about closing one's eyes to ugliness, evil or falsehood. No, you still recognise these, but instead of trying to set them right, criticising or in some other way focusing on the negative aspects, try and find something, even just one thing, that is positive. For example, it's pouring with rain. The usual response where I live is 'Oh what a dreadful weather' or something like this. However, think of how good the water will be for the land, for the tress and plants and animals. Or observe the cosiness of being sheltered from the rain indoors.

5. Open-mindedness

"let him make the deliberate resolve, during a certain period of time to let every thing or being he encounters tell him something new. A breath of wind, a leaf falling from a tree, the prattle of a little child, can teach us something, are we but ready to adopt a point of view to which we have perhaps not hitherto been accustomed." (p. 24 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

This is the fifth of the beginner-meditation-exercises. Open-mindedness is a crucial aspect of the meditative path. It means that when we encounter a situation, person or thing to which we have a habitual response, we now foster an open mind to see what we can learn. It is a bit like positivity, but now more generally applied. We all have a certain degree of life experience and it is common to respond to certain situations in particular ways. 'Oh yeah, leaves falling from the tress, well it is autumn after all.' Instead, take a moment to check your habitual response and really observe a leaf falling from a tree. This also applies to our actions that are based on how we have learned to respond in the past to similar situations. Each situation is really unique and open-mindedness asks us to become aware of this uniqueness, without forgetting our own experience, but taking that experience as one set of data, as it were, while looking with fresh eyes (or listen with fresh ears, etc) at whatever is in front of us.

6. Harmonisation

"Lastly , when he has spent consecutive periods of time in training himself for the acquisition of these five qualities, the pupil will need to bring them into harmony in his soul" (p. 250 in Steiner, R. 1969. Occult Science, an outline. London: Rudolf Steiner Press)

'Harmonisation' is the sixth beginner-meditation-exercise. It refers to the need to consciously work with the previous five exercises in various combinations to create a sense of balance in the soul and through that in life. While practicing the previous five exercises in turn, you will encounter many difficulties and shortcomings in yourself. For example, you may find your habitual negativity keeps catching up with you; or your habitual laughing about what other people say is hard to stop. Do not lose heart. It is through these very simple exercises that you will gradually change. Your inner mood will become calmer and you will find it becomes easier to focus the mind, to distinguish what is important from what is not and to act resolutely where such action is required. But avoid hitting yourself over the head in the face of challenges with these exercises. It is more important to keep doing them than to fret over whether you are doing them correctly!

Finally, here is a short video in which Brian Gray, Program Director of the Foundations in Anthroposophical Studies' at Rudolf Steiner College, explains the six basic exercises, and how he has worked with them and teaches them to his students.

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