In March, nearly one-third of adults in the United States reported that worry and stress over COVID-19 was taking a toll on their mental health, according to a poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. By mid-July, that number had jumped to 53 percent.
Here, spiritual counselor Philip Goldberg, author of Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times: Powerful Tools to Cultivate Calm, Clarity, and Courage, offers a guided meditation, designed to access wisdom and provide comfort by cultivating a spiritual community—or what he considers an essential part of building and sustaining a foundation of peaceful strength in an ever-changing world.
Taking Refuge in Relationship
If you remember the late 1960s and early ’70s, or heard about the era from your elders, you know that times have been crazy before, and in some ways crazier. As Vietnam burned and the military draft hung like a heavy stone on the necks of young men, as revered leaders were shot and cities erupted in riots, as the Watergate scandal grew more intense and mind-blowing, America was as divisive and jittery as it is today. Like many in my generation, I was fed up, infuriated, and worried about the future—mine and my country’s. But it felt different then. Not just because I was younger, and not just because cable news, the Internet, and smartphones didn’t exist. The main reason I experienced the turmoil differently back then is that I was part of a spiritual community.
My fellow travelers and I were in the world but at the same time spiritually removed. We worked together, ate together, played together, studied together, and shared information and concerns on a regular basis. Spiritual practice was a top priority, reinforced by collective agreement. For me, the question of skipping sadhana (daily practice) rarely came up, even though my routine was about three times as long as what I do now. Our conversations, regardless of topic, seldom strayed far from a spiritual perspective. We had signposts. We had guardrails. We had soul protection.
I eventually pulled away from that community when I came to feel the urge to explore beyond its narrow confines. But I’ve often missed its warm embrace.
We are, each of us, captain of our own spiritual ship. But the ship is not a kayak; it’s a vessel on a sacred voyage, with a large scope and a precious cargo. It may sound paradoxical, but on the spiritual path, we are on our own—and we can’t do it alone.
We are independent and also dependent. Personal freedom is crucial, and so is companionship. Mapmakers, navigators, and brother and sister voyagers are indispensable.
A Meditation to Connect with Unseen Guides
Some people find guided meditation an effective way to receive comfort and wisdom, whether they believe it comes from within themselves or from an actual being. Here is a practice you can adapt as you wish. I recommend reading the instructions into a recording device, slowly and softly. By playing back the audio, you won’t have to open your eyes to read or rely on memory. If you find soothing music helpful, by all means play some in the background.
Lower the lights. Sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes.
Take three deep breaths, exhaling completely after each. Notice the soothing calm as your mind and body settle down. Invite each part of your body to relax even deeper.
Now visualize yourself embarking on a journey of peace, love, and truth. See yourself walking on a path through a serene woodland setting. Take in the beauty of the wildflowers and the shafts of sunlight slanting through the trees. Enjoy the natural scent of the forest, the touch of the breeze, and the sounds of birds chirping.
You come to a clearing. There you see a beautiful golden dome. It radiates pure light from within its walls. It is a holy place. It beckons you with the promise of healing and revelation.
Your intellect may tell you it’s just imagination, but your heart knows this sanctuary really exists, at the core of your being.
You approach a magnificent door. You open it. You enter. A luminous space welcomes you. A seat awaits you in the center of the room. You sit. A feeling of peace comes over you. Your worries and resentments dissolve.
A hazy figure appears before you. You are filled with awe and reverence. As the being approaches, it comes into focus. It might be a deity or an angel. It might be an embodiment of the Almighty. It might be a beloved holy person from history or someone you’ve known who represents the highest of human qualities. It might be a persona you create in the moment. Or it might be no discernible figure at all, but a radiant orb of holy light representing the transcendent, formless Absolute.
Whatever shape it takes on, it embodies unconditional love, pure compassion, and divine truth.
The figure speaks to you. The voice is gentle and strong. It says, “I know who you are. I love who you are. I know the pain you’ve endured. I know what you yearn for. Your journey begins anew right here, right now.”
Allow yourself some time to absorb that message. Notice how it feels to take it in. The voice continues: “I ask only that you open your mind to the omniscient intelligence of the cosmos. That you open your body to the healing power of nature. That you open your heart to the limitless love of the Infinite. That you open your soul to Oneness.”
You bow in gratitude. Wordlessly, the form before you invites you to ask any question you may have. What do you long to know? What mystery do you want solved? Take your time, knowing that you will have other opportunities like this.
When you know what you want to ask, have your imagined persona articulate the question.
Remain there in silence, basking in the presence of all that is sacred, good, and pure. The reply may come immediately or at a later time. In either case, know that it springs from the deepest place within you.
The figure blesses you. It begins to dissolve into pure light. And slowly it fades away.
You stand and leave the domed sanctuary, know- ing you can return at any time. You are at peace, empowered to take your next steps boldly and courageously.
Now return your attention to the present moment, in this room, in this body. Gently stretch, or rub any part of the body that needs attention. When you’re ready, open your eyes and resume your life.
If you find this exercise of value, repeat it any time you feel the need. Note that the answers that arise from your wisdom source may surprise you. They might be crystal clear on one occasion and enigmatic on another. You might have to probe for their deepest meaning. At times you might receive no discernible answer at all, in which case ask your- self if that might be the very answer you need. As Father Thomas Keating said in Invitation to Love, “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.”
Excerpted with permission from Spiritual Practice for Crazy Times: Powerful Tools to Cultivate Calm, Clarity, and Courage by Philip Goldberg (Hay House Inc., August 4, 2020).