A creative meditation. Designed to connect you with the creative resources in your own psyche.
It’s based on a creative reading of the Bible’s donkey stories. The typical donkey scene in the Bible stars a human character who isn’t sure where they are going or what they will do when they arrive. But, they saddle up their donkey, ride, and somehow find their way.
In a way, “riding the donkey” seems like a metaphor for developing creative intuition. You saddle up, go on an inner journey, and then return with deepened insight.
To see the donkey stories this way, it helps to read the text through a Hasidic lens. Hasidism was an 18th century Jewish movement emphasizing what we might call “everyday Kabbalah,” learning to see the divine in everyday life. Hasidic teachers used music, meditation, contemplation, prayer, and Torah study to help develop spiritual perception. They learned to read the Bible as a kind of meditation manual. Thus, they taught, instructions for spiritual practice are metaphorically coded into characters, stories, and key phrases.
In the Biblical donkey scene, I see a basic template for a meditation technique. It has three steps: (1) saddle up; (2) ride; (3) dismount.
First, you “saddle up.” You prepare, gradually moving out of ordinary consciousness. You may have a technique you’ve studied that always calms and focuses you, such as hatha yoga, deep breathing, chanting, or reading poetic psalms. If so, use it!
Next, when you feel your thought and feeling have changed, you can let go of the practice, and “ride,” so to speak, on the saddle you have prepared. As you ride, stay with the type of experience that has come forward. So, you might sit with feelings, listen to sounds, recall a dream from the night before, look more impartially than usual on memories that surface, allow concepts of infinity to stretch your thought. Then, at some point, you may feel you have “arrived” at a destination. You may have received an insight, a perceptual shift, a feeling of well-being, a life-question for further thought, a memory newly resurfaced.
Finally, when you arrive, you “dismount,” and take some time to articulate where you landed. You might journal, draw, talk to God, or make notes to bring to your next conversation with a spiritual friend or spiritual director. When you dismount in this way, you may notice deeper dimensions of the ride.
Do make time for all three steps, because each is distinct and important. First, “saddle up” and relax into the process. Next, “ride” and let go of preconceptions or plans about where your meditation will lead you. Finally, “dismount” and let your chosen technique show your conscious mind what you received. Remember, the biblical donkey ride works best when riders trust their journey. Because they really don’t understand where they are going until they dismount.
While I was “off the grid” for three days in Strathcona Provincial Park, I did this meditation every day. My vacation hope was to reawaken my creativity.
One day, I sat by a lake. To “saddle up,” I breathed deeply. Then, I “rode” by listening to water lap the shore, as the wind gradually picked up speed. I “dismounted” by writing about my perceptions, realizing that the sounds had shown me the shape of the shore. And I realized that the bats I saw flying with echolocation the night before were not so alien. I, too, could map the world through sound.
Then, the next day, I sat again. I breathed deeply, and then watched reflections of light rolling on the currents in the water. They looked like one thing, and a moment later, like another. To “dismount,” I spoke to the Creator. “God, you made the world full of analogies, so that we could extend our knowledge, and learn about so many things.”
On the third day, I sat by a different lake. And I focused on my feelings swelling along with the tiny waves. Rising into anxiety, relaxing into calm, over and over again. To “dismount,” I sang along with the waves, chanting the Hebrew word for water, mayim.
Each day’s catch was a creative seed. Day one: a sensory insight, and a bit of an answer to the famous philosophical question, “What is it like to be a bat?” Then, day two: a prayer, and delight in the way analogies suggest new knowledge. But also a reminder that insights, like the one about the bat, need to be tested. And, finally, day three: a sensory attuning and a fragment of a future melody.
Of course, this meditation technique is not new. Carl Jung called it “active imagination.” My mentor Kurt H. Wolff called it “surrender and catch.” But, like any creative insight that comes together anew for you, it felt exciting. So, I wanted to share it with you!
Photo credit: Charles Kaplan