Editor's Note: Welcome to the Department of Meditation, where you are treated to the ageless wisdom and inimitable wit of our very own meditation guru, Constance Wilkinson, psychotherapist and card-carrying Buddhist.

Constance welcomes your feedback and questions about meditation at triptych2@gmail.com

Department of Meditation

by Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA

Holiday Edition

Generally speaking, holidays are all about cooking. Thanksgiving certainly is cooking-centric – whether stuffed-turkey-traditional, vegan, or vegetarian. So are Christmas, Channukah, and New Year's.

Main dishes, side dishes. To every holiday side dish, there is a season – hard-to-find Eastham turnips, acorn squash baked with butter and just a dab of pure Vermont maple syrup, creamed onions made from a million little teeny onions (each one so impossible to peel), fresh cranberry-orange relish, pilaf with wild mushrooms, glazed carrots, delicate haricots, Yukon Gold potatoes mashed to a high fluff, retro-odd-Southern sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows (omg)…

There are desserts – glossy spicy pumpkin pies, yummy strawberry-rhubarb pies, Yule logs, red velvet cakes not actually made from red velvet, or the very traditional, very New England special dessert — fresh white snow topped off with (once again) pure Vermont maple syrup.

Okay, so, um, holidays, side dishes, vegetables, marshmallows – gentle readers may well be asking themselves at this point, yo, what is she on about? Isn't this column supposed to be "the Department of Meditation"?

It is. Yep, it is.

The link here is cooking and meditation. Here's how that works: sometimes I run into people who tell me, "I like to meditate." To which I reply, "You do? Great."

But here's the other thing, which I don't go into unless the time and place seem right – what does that actually mean? Meditate? What specifically is it that they're doing?

Now we swing around, right back to cooking. Someone tells you, "I like to cook." Based that phrase, how do we know what it means? We know that it might mean just about anything. You like to cook. You like to cook – what? Hand-gathered widgety-grubs from outback Australia? Golden Persian ice cream with rosewater, saffron, sultanas, pistachios? Glorious lamb Bolognese simmered for five hours with just a dusting of nutmeg? Baklava? Sushi? Uni? Kelp? A whole side of beef, freshly slaughtered, roasted on a spit? Live lobsters boiled in salt water from Maine til they're unalive? A green bean on a toothpick? There are just a thousand possibilities.

Meditation is like cooking. There are a thousand ways, a thousand styles, a thousand lineages, a thousand methods, a thousand techniques.

There is sitting meditation and walking meditation; there is meditation with form and there is formless meditation. There is meditation involving visualization and meditation without. There are Hinayana methods and Vajrayana methods and Zen methods and Cha'n methods; there are Christian meditations and Hindu meditations and Buddhist meditations. Some styles have you keep your eyes open; others you're your eyes shut. There are contemplative methods and breath-based methods; methods to develop compassion and methods to calm the mind.

Whatever style and method and tradition you choose to follow, it is important to know what you're doing, and why, and what the point is of doing it. It's important to learn proper technique from someone who knows. It' important not to do just any old thing with your mind on the assumption that doing any old thing counts as meditation. It does not.

Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA is a licensed psychotherapist who uses a mindfulness-based, solution-focused approach to help reduce symptoms of dysregulation, as well as to develop clients' personal goals and strategies to achieve them. She is trained in EMDR, clinical hypnosis, EFT, and expressive arts.

She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in creative writing and an MA in clinical mental health counseling psychology from Lesley University. Since 1978, Ms Wilkinson has been practicing meditation and studying with distinguished Tibetan Buddhist refugee teachers in the United States, India, Nepal, and Tibet.

Constance Wilkinson can be reached at 508-648-8105 Or by email: triptych2@gmail.com

Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA
The Center for Change

mindfulness-based, solution-focused psychotherapy
expressive arts--EMDR--clinical hypnosis

Brewster, MA

I've taught meditation – or tried to – to a number of people, and I am often surprised by the results. I give specific instructions, as I have in these columns, yet time after time when I check their techniques, I discover they've made up a new lineage.

I say, "straight back, eyes open."

They say, "Oh I just closed them and let my mind wander until I was, you know, in kind of a blissful state and I stayed that way, all blissed out, for hours."

That's not meditation. That's letting your mind wander. Not the same.

As in cooking, unless you use the right ingredients and follow the directions, you won't get the result you wanted. If you throw in chocolate when you're making a vanilla cake, it won't come out flavored vanilla. If you don't use yeast, don't knead the dough, and don't let it rise in a warm place, you're not going to get that loaf of bread. You won't get scalloped potatoes out of blood oranges.

Really, I promise.

Meditation ain't rocket science, but it is all about cause and effect. There is a sense of experiment and a real need for precision. Do this, then do that, see what happens, report back. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's good to learn to meditate from someone who has both training and experience. It's not good to just try any old thing.

Meditation, studies show, is good for you. Anyone can learn to do it. It's now widely available – regardless of race, class, status, gender, nationality. Meditating takes some effort and it takes some time – but everyone has enough time to learn both how to do it and to do it.

The holiday season tends to be a time of celebration and of stress. It's also an excellent time to learn to work with mind. As long-time meditator Matthieu Ricard says, "[Meditation] is something that's going to determine the quality of every instant of our lives. We are ready to spend 15 years achieving an education. We love to do jogging, fitness. We do all kinds of things to remain beautiful, yet we spend surprisingly little time taking care of what matters most – the way our mind functions – which is the ultimate thing that determines the quality of our experience."

It's the holidays. Give yourself a gift. Learn to meditate. Give the gift of practice to – yourself.