Dear Donagh,

I read your website and I've been interested in meditation for the last 3 or 4 years.  I do John Main meditation with a group every week and I do my own at home morning and evening.  We meet in a friend’s house and it’s beautiful.  She has a special room set up for meditation and it is very peaceful and quiet there.  But there’s no spare room in our house – I have to do the best I can with a corner of the bedroom.  I put a mat there and an icon, and I light a candle, but it hasn’t the same atmosphere at all as my friend’s house.  Have you any suggestions on how to make it more suitable…?  Liz

Dear Liz, 

We are always being reminded that meditation is about the ‘here and now’, but we hear much more about the ‘now’ than about the ‘here’.  I have found that the only way to be in the ‘now’ is to be in the ‘here’, the only way to be in the present moment is to be in the present place. Time is a fluid element, impossible to touch. The more closely we look at it, the more microscopically it divides itself into past and future. But past and future are not real, we say.  Where then is the reality?  Where is the present moment?  It is very hard to put your finger on it.  "I know what time is," St Augustine said, "if you do not ask me."  Time is an intangible element.  But place is entirely tangible; it is these walls, this corner, this mat on the floor….  It is very surprising that more hasn’t been made of this in teaching meditation. 

The word ‘place’ can mean different things.  In Jane Austin’s world a “place” was not just any and every plot of ground on the planet.  It was a gentleman’s residence; or rather a step higher than a gentleman’s residence.  In Mansfield Park Crawford thought of improving someone’s house till it became a place.  “You may raise it into a place,” he said.  But (we want to shout) every place is equally a place!  Not for those people: they saw their houses from the outside, not the inside.  That particular house, Crawford imagined, “could receive such an air as to make its owner be seen as the great landholder of the parish, by every creature travelling the road.”  They saw their lives, as they saw their houses, from the outside.  They saw them through the eyes of others – even when they regarded those others as their social inferiors: “every creature travelling the road.”  That is the great contradiction in seeing ourselves only from the outside.  Meditation cuts through all this falsity.  It is a determination to bed down into the here and now – the present place and the present moment – no matter what they are like or how they appear to others. 

Places of meditation are normally kept simple and natural: no pretensions, no decorations, no distractions – just a few essential things, or nothing at all.  Don’t compare your own place of meditation with your friend’s.  It is just as good, and it may even be better for you; in your own bedroom you are not “a creature travelling the road.”  The more local it is, the better.  It is the ‘here’ of meditation, delivering you directly to the ‘now’.  I had a practice once of finding the most unsuitable places for meditation and sitting there in meditation for a while.  It helps you to appreciate every place, to come down out of an abstract world controlled by language and its definitions – and its snobbery about high and low – to sit on the ground; to know in your body that every place is a place of meditation, just as every moment is ‘now’.   

There’s a flight gene in all of us.  We nearly always want to be in a place we imagine to be better than where we are.  We are the most footloose generation ever, but we’re not the first.  Here’s something from the 14th-century Meister Eckhart: “People say: 'Alas, sir…, 'I can never manage unless I am there or there, or do this or that; I must get away from it all, or go and live in a cell or a cloister.'”  His diagnosis and prescription were characteristically direct: “In fact, the reason lies entirely with yourself and with nothing else. It is self-will, though you may not know it or believe it: restlessness never arises in you except from self-will, whether you realise it or not. Though you may think you should flee from some present things or seek some other things (places or people or methods, or company or deeds) this is not what holds you back: what holds you back is you yourself in the things, for you have a wrong attitude to things.  Therefore start with yourself, and forget yourself.”  It is only when the ego with its preferences are silenced that every place becomes a sacred place and every moment a moment of enlightenment.  

There, Liz!  Meister Eckhart has come all the way from 14th-century Germany to help you make peace with the corner of your bedroom.  May it be a place of immense blessing!


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