Exploring meditation

A few of my friends and family members have asked me to help them learn to meditate. Whenever I get the same request three times, I try to be sure and create a post. This one will be long.  It will incorporate the meditations I've already posted on as well as some new ones. First of all, I want to qualify this by saying I am sharing this as a new practitioner, not an expert.  Having said that, I have a dream of doing a workshop to introduce and practice all of these as a group.  It would be fun to share what we learn, how they work, and how we might tweak or deepen our practice.
These descriptions are how I use the meditations. There will be links to places where you can get more official instructions if that is what you are looking for. I use the word meditation pretty loosely and it covers mindfulness, prayers, and visualizations. At one time I considered myself 'spiritual but not religious' and I had an aversion to prayer and to scripture because I fear and resent any misuse of both to judge, divide, and create violence towards ourselves and others. As I heal, discover, and experience new ways of embracing loving kindness, transformation, and inclusion with these same resources, it is still more comfortable for me to use the term meditation.
When I meditate, I aim to create space to connect with the sacred within me and in all living things, as well as our shared story. I hope to slow down and recognize and experience the stream of thoughts that pass by without addressing them.  One concept that I like to think of as a benefit of meditation is this:
Your are not your thoughts, you cannot control your thoughts, you can practice choosing which you attend to and let go of the ones that may be distracting you.  If I am particularly preoccupied with ones I want to remember, like to do list items, I jot as many as possible down before I meditate, so that I am not tempted to try and remember any of those that pop up. 
Here is a list of different meditations or practices that work for me. By 'work', I mean, I have noticed more peace, mindfulness, humility, patience and/or clarity in the minutes, hours, and days that follow my practice. Most of these I try to do while in quiet solitude in a comfortable seated position, eyes closed loosely, with my mouth lightly closed and the tip of my tongue gently on the roof of my mouth. Some of these I do in the middle of everything, because that is where I am when I long for the benefit of the practice.

1- Count your breath - 5 reps of counting silently to six while inhaling and counting to eight while exhaling. Do your best to stay focused on the breath and each number. I like that the exhale is longer than the inhale. I tend to take deep gasps when I am stressed so I feel like these longer exhales get my internal air pressure back to a balance.

2- Just breathe - Any time I need a quick fix I take as many of these moments as possible. Think to yourself, "just this inhale". Notice the way the cool air passes through your nose and into your chest, feel how your body moves and changes as you take in air. On the exhale, "just this exhale", give attention to the air leaving your body, possibly taking with it waste, unnecessary baggage, focusing on just that act of letting the air leave you. This one is great for me when I realize I am beginning to worry about something in the future. It allows me to connect with just this millisecond that is now.

3- Centering Prayer - please check out more qualified descriptions of this and seek out workshops or live instruction and ways to do it with a group.  This is the one I intend to do every day.  Here is how I can describe it: Decide on one word that you will come back to every time a thought pops up. I sometimes use the word "light." It reminds me of the light inside me as well as a reminder to lighten up which keeps me from giving any attention to the thoughts that come up. Other words I've tried are 'home' and 'peace'.  Choose any word that works for you, but do not use something visual.  Whenever a thought does come up, silently say your focus word as you let go of the thought. Do not judge yourself for all the thoughts that will come. I have had weeks at a time of doing this 20 to 45 minutes a day and still find rare moments when I had a pause in repeating my focus word. Even if you think you are failing at this because you have to constantly say your focus word, it is working and it is worthwhile.

4- Wish yourself well - I originally posted this on 11/29/12.  I recently attended a Mindfulness workshop with Micki Fine titled "Freedom from Chronic People Pleasing". Below is my favorite take away jewel.
Sit quietly and take a few moments to settle in. Relax while noticing your natural breathing pattern. Focus on the in breath and out breath.
Visualize someone you love dearly, that brings you deep joy. (For me, it was my son that I adore)
Take some time to let yourself really feel the love and appreciation you have for them.
With that feeling, turn to an image of yourself as if you are looking in the mirror.
When I did this, I felt the corners of my mouth dip down from a grin to a flat expression.  As I noticed what happened when I turned to my own image, it became obvious that it is an important practice for me.
Next she used Sharon Salzberg's Loving Kindness Meditation series of simple invitations that we silently repeated to ourselves in our own language:
May I be safe and protected
May I be physically and mentally well
May my heart be open
May I be at peace.
Repeat the above invitations for an amount of time that you can commit to each day.

5- Loving Kindness Guided meditation originally posted on 9/8/12.  From what I can figure, this is a form of ancient tibetan buddhist meditation.  Repeat the following lines. Start with wishing these for yourself, then to those you know and love, then to all those you see as adversaries. 
May I be filled with loving kindness and compassion
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
May no harm come to me.  May no difficulties come to me.  May I always meet with success.
And may I be given the patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures that are sure to come to me in my life.

May you be filled with loving kindness and compassion
May you be well
May you be peaceful and at ease
May you be happy
May no harm come to you.  May no difficulties come to you.  May you always meet with success.
And may you be given the patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet the inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures that are sure to come to you in your life. 

6- Healing light - When I or someone I know or a group of people that I know are needing healing, support, shared grieving, I use this visualization. Get an image in your head of the person or people and place a golden ribbon of light around them. Think of that light warming them, embracing them, keeping them "together." This has helped me many times when I've been grieving the death of someone I know or wanting to grieve with someone who has recently lost someone they care about. It has even been helpful when it is people I don't know, like victims of tragedies and their families we hear about in the news.

7- The Examen of Consciousness- originally posted on 11/4/12. This is a 10 minute exercise to be done before lunch and before bed each day.  The heart of the exercise is to re-member and connect with the times when you recognized the spirit during your day and the times you might have missed it.  This is to be done with a loving heart so that you don't obsess over your shortcomings, but become aware of your tendencies in your ordinary life.  If it is complex or you are obsessing, you're doing it wrong.  It is held to 10 minutes and is simple for a reason. (paraphrasing Fr. Chircop)"The Examen is a tool to link heaven and earth and never separate them."
Song of the Red Bird - Paula D'Arcy, "God often comes to us disguised as our life."
We are radically accepted and held by God in each moment.  At what point in my day today was I paying attention and rejoicing in that embrace?  When I was unaware of being held (because that didn't change), what was numbing me or distracting me from feeling it?
The steps are on his blog - based on an article by Father Dennis Hamm - Rummaging for God | Praying backwards through your day.
Here is my paraphrasing of the steps (but please go read his - I am a beginning novice, redundancy intended)
1)  Take a few seconds to slow down, breathe,  a prayer he offers for this is "relax in the reality of being loved.
2)  Root in Gratitude what are you most grateful for today.
3)  Review all the most liveliest feelings and happenings in your life today (those you'd view at positive and negative)
4)  Choose one and pray from that, you can use scripture, quotes, prayers - whatever suits you.
5) Look toward tomorrow.

8- Interpreting scripture. I just learned this one on Friday.  It was presented by David Joseph Rofrano.  He was teaching us how to use scripture and music in spiritual direction. I've heard a few times now that instead of reading scripture, we can let it read us. I have spent years uncomfortable with the Bible. I have been anxious and fearful about the way I feel it is used in harmful ways to judge, divide and create violence (within and between us). As I attend Dr. Kerley's Ordinary Life class and SDI at the Cenacle, this is being healed for me. I love the idea that we can be read by it instead of misusing it to read and judge others.
Here is the simple task. Take a verse or verses, and pull it apart into lines or phrases. Without planning or thinking about what you're writing, just respond to what you are reading, how you hear and receive the message. We turned a Psalm into a personal prayer. We were given three to choose from. I chose Psalm 131 and here's what was rewritten that connected deeply to what feels authentic to me from this passage:  (Underlined words are scripture, italicized are my interpretation/prayer.)

O Lord, my heart is not proud
It is only when I do your work that pride has no meaning for me.
My eyes are not raised too high
My eyes rest on the present moment.  Only on what exists in your presence to be found in this moment.
I do not occupy myself with things too great and marvelous for me
Things that seem to be important in our world are shallow, meaningless and melt away.
I have a calmed and quieted soul
I release the grasp of the brass ring, the empty promises of our culture and my heart is fully at peace
Like a child in its mothers arms
I love and am loved and I rest my body and it's longings.  Your glory is waiting for me to let go and become still so it can be revealed.
Like a weaned child is my soul is within me
Within me you live and move and breathe
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord
Allow my peace and connection with you be a way for others to see your grace
Both now and forevermore
Let me not be tempted to turn away from this knowing and being

I hope that there is a practice here that you want to try and realize that even a few weeks ago, there are some here that I wouldn't have enjoyed.  Feel free to use this as you see fit.  If you do try any, I would really appreciate feedback or questions.  There are a few others that have asked for this 'how to' and I think it would be beneficial to do a follow up and learn from each other.
You can email me your follow up at brookeic2c@gmail.com

Grace in, peace out