Discursive Meditation: Beginning Meditations

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is the third post in my Beginning Meditations series, in which I teach the most important techniques that I recommend to clients and students. Today I’m teaching discursive meditation, which opens up insight and inspiration. This meditation is the primary method I use to study and explore esoteric philosophy, such as the ideas behind tarot, astrology, qabalah, and spirituality. This practice produces deep understanding and unique perspectives. Today’s post includes written instructions for the practice of discursive meditation, and an 8-minute mp3 recording of a lecture I did explaining the process. Please also check out the other meditations in this series!

  1. Fourfold Breath Meditation with Tarot Ace Visualization – July 15, 2018
  2. Jôshin Kokyû Hô Reiki Meditation – August 15, 2018
  3. Discursive Meditation – Today’s post!
  4. The Middle Pillar Exercise – October 15, 2018
  5. TBD – November 15, 2018

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About Discursive Meditation

A heavy book with gilt-edged pages lies open on a table, lit from behind by a bright, round, light. Studying passages from spiritual or philosophical texts is one use of discursive meditation.
Discursive meditation sheds light on passages from spiritual or philosophical texts. Photo by Cathy Mü on Unsplash

Can’t stop your thoughts when meditating? Welcome to discursive meditation, the technique that lets you think! Meditation is not about emptying your mind. Although some styles of meditation encourage you to disengage from your thoughts, that is not the only way! Rather, all forms of meditation, in varying degrees, ask you to limit and reduce your focus. Discursive meditation asks you to actively pursue thoughts limited to a single topic or theme. Think about it!

Themes for Discursive Meditation

Themes for discursive meditation are everywhere. If you’ve ever come across a confusing passage in a book and stopped reading for a few moments to ponder what it means, you’ve engaged in discursive meditation. Discursive meditation is perfect for studying, especially philosophical or spiritual texts. But you can choose your themes from many sources.

For example, writing or reading poetry can open up the discursive process. Images such as tarot cards, spiritual artwork, or alchemical woodcuts benefit greatly from concentrating your thoughts toward understanding their symbolism. Explore your big life questions. Consciously deliberate on esoteric correspondences, which correlate symbols from different systems (such as qabalah and astrology, or I Ching and tarot) in a structured and enlightening way.

Whatever topic you choose for your discursive meditation, actively question and consider it and purposefully follow your thoughts. This is a directive, not receptive, form of meditation. However, a tenacious and one-track determination to understand and find meaning opens up the most surprising and profound intuition and wisdom.

Discursive Meditation Instructions

  1. Pick a theme, topic, verse, symbol, or sentence that you would like to understand better.
  2. Sit in good meditation posture. Sit forward to the edge of the chair, spine erect, feet flat on the floor, with an alert but relaxed posture. See my post on best practices for more information about meditation posture. Eyes can be open or closed for this meditation.
  3. Begin with a few rounds of focused breathing or fourfold breath to start.
  4. Get your topic firmly in mind. For instance, if I am meditating on waka, Japanese poetry used for contemplation in traditional Japanese Reiki, I will say the poem out loud twice before beginning. If I am meditating on a passage in a book, I would read it through several times. If an image, such as a tarot card, is my topic, I’ll gaze at it until I can visualize it clearly with my eyes closed or without looking directly at it.
  5. Start thinking about your theme. You might at first have a little conversation with yourself, such as wondering, what does this mean? Ask yourself questions about your topic. Let ideas flow through your mind. If an idea unrelated to your topic comes up, redirect your thoughts to your topic.
  6. As the ideas start to flow, choose one that seems interesting or more specific than the others. Explore that idea with focused and deliberate thoughts, such as you might use to solve a problem or to retrace your steps in order to find your keys.
  7. If your thoughts wander, practice tracing them back to the point at which they left the theme. This can provide much insight in itself.
  8. Try to take your mental exploration to the end of the trail. When you feel you’ve gone as far as you can go, return to basic breathing or fourfold breath to conclude the exercise. It can also help to shake out your muscles to return your consciousness fully to your physical body.

Recording of Joy Explaining Discursive Meditation

Because I find this process so useful, I teach discursive meditation in several of my classes. Most recently, I described the process in my Tarot Court Cards class. Esoteric correspondences make excellent topics for meditation. In this case, I suggested that the students consider the element-of-element correspondences for the tarot court cards. I then talked through the discursive process using the Queen of Wands, Water of Fire, as an example.

About half way through this recording, I seem to pursue a tangent about a study group I’m part of. Although it seems off-topic at first, I bring it full circle with an interesting conclusion. Please listen to the whole thing for a rather surprising insight into discursive meditation!

I learned this style of meditation from the writings of John Michael Greer, ceremonial magician, ecologist, and former Grand Archdruid of the AODA. He teaches discursive meditation in most of his spiritual books, including Learning Ritual Magic (pp. 49-50) and The Druidry Handbook (pp. 220-228). He also describes the process in this blog entry from The Well of Galabes.

What is your experience with discursive meditation, or with focused study that opened up your inner wisdom? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments!


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Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit JoyVernon.com.

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