I had a PM requesting suggestions for meditation techniques for abuse survivors the other day, and we thought the response would be a good starter for a thread on this. It has step by step instructions for a number of different practices. If you have other techniques to add to this list, that would be great.
For me meditation has been the ultimate help in my healing. For better or worse I've never been in therapy (no money at first, no access later), so it has really been my main recourse, along with a huge amount of autobiographical writing.
You asked for techniques specific to abuse survivors. I would say that meditation is healing in general and certain traditional practices can be especially helpful for people like us, but the traditional path is so useful in and of itself that it would sure be my suggestion. So I'll give you that info too.
Not being sure where you are with meditation training/info, I'll give you some basics first. For me the first step would be breath meditation, and I'd suggest doing that alone, or with walking meditation mixed in (the traditional Zen blend!) until you feel comfortably able to focus for twenty minutes or so with no extraneous thoughts.
Basic breath meditation: For me the best posture is seated on the floor on a fairly high cushion so that my butt is elevated. I sit with my left leg bent so that my left foot can fit in the crease between my right thigh and right calf as I bend my right leg. Some people would call this a relaxed tailor style of sitting. You want your knees to be stable on the ground as much as possible so that you have a kind of tripod, with your knees as two feet of the tripod and your butt as the elevated third foot. The feeling of stability is helpful. If you can't sit this way, sitting on a chair is fine, too, or there are kneeling postures, too, generally with a cushion between your calves and thighs. The key thing is stability.
Once you're seated, stretch your hands over your head to lengthen your spine, then bring your hands so they are cupped in front of your stomach. I usually rest mine in my lap. You want your shoulders and head comfortably back with the sense that the top of your head is flat and reaching for the sky. What you're looking for with the posture is a beautiful sense of serene weightless stability. Let your mind wander through your body checking for tense spots or points of pressure and shift your self into comfort. Your posture should be stable, with a feeling of helpful muscular support keeping you there. The manuals often call this relaxed tension.
Now sense your breath especially in your lower abdomen. Then tilt your pelvis forward slightly (butt is slightly back and your stomach slightly forward) until you feel a bit of tension in your lower belly (your tanden in Zen terms). This tension is really helpful in gathering your focused energy.
To do the breath meditation, simply focus on the inhalations and exhalation, trying to center your consciousness in the tanden. Allow your breathing to start in your lower abdomen and center in your tanden, with no breath originating in the chest. This is breathing from the diaphragm. You might even think of keeping your abdomen tense like you would for lifting a weight or bracing for a charge in football. You might imagine that you are breathing into the tension in your tanden. You may find that your breath begins to consist of long exhalations and very short (not deep) inhalations. Sekida says this is relying on your reserve breath, and the meditation sensation deepens if you breath this way. You may find it helpful at first to count the inhalations and exh's in cycles of four. Some books suggest feeling the breath at the nostrils, and this can be a good way, too. As your practice deepens you can trace the breath in many directions. Good books on this by Thich Nhat Hanh (there's one on mindfulness practice with excellent instructions called the Miracle of Mindfulness). The best book for me has been Zen Training by Katsuki Sekida. Another excellent one: Satipatthana, by Analayo has an in depth discussion of multiple breathing strategies and body meditations.
It's easy in the beginning to stress about the voice that keeps coming up in your mind. Relax and simply say to your self something like: "Where am I? Or what am I doing right now?" This self-watching will help you see the the divided self running away so you can bring him home again. After a while the voice will get more distant and much less troubling until it is a kind of white noise behind the sense of peace.
This practice takes a while to develop. For real beginners, I'd suggest five or ten minutes in the morning, then again in the evening. Little by little is the key. Many of the manuals compare this practice to training a wild horse. Your mind will fight at first and resist mightily. Time will feel very strange at first, like it is taking forever to pass. That's the mind's resistance. Don't exhaust it by pushing to hard at first. Treat it as a slow work out. If can build it up to twenty or thirty minutes once or twice a day, you'll most likely see some interesting things develop.
Once you've done the breath meditation for a while you'll feel a sense of deep clarity begin to emerge. You'll find the internal dialogue begins to quiet. This quiet is revelatory. I sometimes do a day full of silent (or near silent) meditation (no inner voice for a long period feels really good!) You can keep the voice quiet (or quieter) in the day by adding a mindfulness practice.
MIndfulness is quite simple in concept but difficult in daily practice. It is to return yourself to the present moment at as many moments as possible in the day. Our voices usually talk about the past or present and they color both time frames. Mindfulness helps us to live where we are, in the now.
Traditionally you begin mindfulness practice with the breath meditation. In the voicelessness you are one with your breathing. You can use the breath meditation to study your present body, focusing attention first on your head or your eyes. Thich Nhat Hanh has a book, Blooming of a Lotus, with 34 guided mindfulness exercises that are extremely useful for building on the breath practice. The goal in the end is to be able to control your consciousness so you can place it where ever you wish. You can watch the movement of the breath, let your conscious wash over your body with warmth, you can use it to cook or clean mindfully, focusing only on the task at hand. This is very restful practice for people with stress or anxiety issues, because the act of accomplishing small tasks silently and well can really help the spirit.
I find this practice incredibly useful for healing because in my case the inner dialogue is what really reiterates the abuse. As I think about it, I recall it and make it present again. We water it with our attention. This watering might be useful if guided (as in therapy), but in daily practice it recreates the abused self. Living in the voiceless present allows me to unhook some of the little velcros of the abuse, the words of self loathing, the words of fantasy, the habits of daily life that have arisen in response to the pain.
In the silence, those habits become very clear. In mindfulness your inner eye grows very wide, and you see yourself moving through your day, and your responses to the happenings of the day and of the mind gradually become yours to control. This has been liberating for me.
A couple of tools for mindfulness. Remind yourself to be present in all the little activities of the day, like brushing your teeth, going to the bathroom, making food, etc. You can place gathas (little poem reminders) around the house or cubicle to help you with this, for example on your bathroom mirror something like "In brushing my teeth I know myself, the enamel and bone are part of me." then the tooth brushing becomes an exploration of self. Etc. You can do this practice at work, too, by just reminding yourself to be fully in the present with whatever task is at hand.
Another tool, useful to me, is a ritual practice I learned from Starhawk (her books are wonderful, esp. Spiral Dance and The Earth Path). I think she calls it anchoring. You take an object you see often (I use a ring), and perform a ritual that allows it to become an anchor for memory. You can simply hold the ring in your hand and say a few words while visualizing your desired reminder. I might visualize myself wandering through my day in mindfulness and say: I ask this ring to remind me to be present in every moment of the day. As I go through my day let every sight of it help me return to the moment. This has been very effective for me. In mindfulness you want to still the inner voice as much as possible. It can be helpful to say to yourself, "I don't have to think about that now, all I need to do is be." Of course if your inner voice is telling you something vital, you should hear it.
For us abuse survivors there are a couple things I'd recommend especially. One is the practice of studying the body through breath meditation, and the books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Analayo would give you the basics. Essentially you use the breath and mindfulness to study your inner self in all its states from birth to the now to death through use of the inner eye and the body's sensory field. As your attention wanders through the body point by point (and through time point by point, child body, man body, old age body) a sense of deep compassion begins to grow. I'd start with the guided exercises in Hanh (you might record them and listen as you meditate). For those of us with body issues, this can be amazingly healing. These are much more powerful after you've done the breath meditation to twenty or thirty minutes with no (or very quiet) inner voice. They are a progression.
Other meditations: I wrote a discussion for Male Survivor back in 2003 about working with the inner child (based on some ideas from Starhawk), and here's a link to that http://www.malesurvivor.org/board/ubbthr...12670#Post12670
There's a follow up discussion of inner child work here: http://www.malesurvivor.org/board/ubbthr...3195#Post173195
One of the most interesting and useful meditations I've developed is based on the question Would I do it? Would I do this or that thing if I hadn't been molested? I did this after working with the inner child to find my old self, then began to not do the things I wouldn't have done. I wrote a discussion for this a while ago, too, and here's the link: http://www.malesurvivor.org/board/ubbthr...43342#Post43342
Thanks again for your question. It's always nice to think these things through. I hope this is helpful. If people have other techniques to share, that would awesome.