Forty is one of those numbers that seem to turn up everywhere. It has many symbolic meanings but in biblical terms, as well as in the Asian traditions, it points to the idea of process, a time of trial or preparation during which people are made ready for the next stage in their development.
To meditate, begin with your physical posture. Sit down (chair, cushion on the floor, or meditation bench). Keep your back straight. Relaxed and alert, sit still. Let go of any points of tension in your shoulders and face especially. Close your eyes lightly.
Then silently, interiorly and without moving your lips or tongue, begin to repeat a single word or phrase, sacred in your own faith tradition. Recommended for the Christian meditator is the Aramaic prayer phrase found in Scripture: maranatha. Repeat it faithfully. Say it gently without force or impatience.
Those who care for the dying say that the most important ingredient in a good death is meaning. And meaning means connection. The sense of belonging, of being linked to another or to otherness itself. Meaning is more than explanation. Explanations, dogma, ring hollow at such times of unavoidable encounter with reality. (How we do anything to avoid reality!) At these times we find ourselves totally defenseless and exposed in front of the tribunal of reality. Concept turns into truth and we’d like to run as far away from it as possible.
At critical moments in his life, Jesus was in solitude, but was solitary with his close disciples. When he knew he was a marked man waiting for the midnight knock on the door, or in his case the betrayer’s kiss in the garden, his instinct was to go near to the desert—a place associated both with solitude and with the deepest of all relationships, in the ground of being. And he went there with those human beings whom he understood best and who, for all their failings, understood him best. Solitude is truthful and often delightful, even when painful.