Meditation is an ancient spiritual practice that is found in all great religious and spiritual traditions. There are many types of meditation, and many ways to practice it. This weekly column will focus on presenting ideas about aspects of meditaiton, styles and practices, and benefits and rewards of developing a meditation practice.
From Meditations with Teresa of Avila:
"Listening in Love"
Don't think this recollection is acquired
by the intellect striving to think'
about God within itself.
This method is good
and an excellent kind of meditation
because it is founded on a truth,
which is that God is within you.
But this isn't the prayer of recollection
because it is something each one can do.
before people begin to think
they find that they are already
Inside the castle.
I don't know
In what way
or how they heard
their Shepherd's whistle.
It wasn't through their ears
because nothing is heard.
But one noticeably senses
a gentle drawing inward.
And this recollection
is a preparation for
being able to listen
so that the soul,
instead of striving to engage in discourse,
strives to remain attentive and aware
of what the Lord is working in it."
Meditation is a contemplative practice. What is contemplation?
Contemplation, in its religious and spiritual meaning, is seeking a direct experience of the presence of the Divine. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali refers to God as present in the OM. In Christianity, the presence of God is experienced formally, through the sacraments, but the Divine, God, is present within us and within all of Creation as well.
One of my favorite living mystics is Trappist monk, Thomas Keating. His work, Open Mind, Open Heart, opened me to the gentle path of meditation, that focused on the idea that contemplative meditation first and foremost, an intimate relationship entered into intentionally with the Divine, the Creator, God. Contemplative meditation is grounded on four simple principles.
SIT DOWN. First, you need to sit down. Simple enough, yet how often do we tell ourselves we don't have time to meditate or take a rest? So even though the first requirement is relatively simple, it requires that we set aside time to simply SIT DOWN. This is the first step in develping a contemplative meditation practice. Set aside a few minutes to sit down each day with the intention to SIT DOWN.
SEEK MEANING.Second, choose a sacred word or image/object (candle, eagle) that symbolizes God's presence to you. If you choose a sacred word or mantra, select words that hold real meaning for you, not words that hold loaded or negative connotations. Choose a friendly symbol that holds meaning to you, and note that over time, the symbol may change just as our ideas about who/what God is changes and grows as we do. Start where you are, and be receptive and open along your
contemplative meditation journey to the growth and deepening of your ideas about the Divine.
ENTER SACRED SPACE.Third, start your contemplative meditation by sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, and settle in briefly, calming your emotions, thoughts, body, and senses. Use your breath as a focal point, noticing the flow of your natural breath. Once you feel calm and ready, introduce the sacred word or object you have chosen that symbolizes God's presence within you. As you do this, be aware that it is natural, normal, and inevitable to notice distractions.
When I begin my meditation groups, I remind each of us that we come into contemplative meditation with our brain, our body, and our breath. Our brain is active 24-7, and is constantly bringing up images, memories, throughts, concerns, plans, and is also picking up distractions including ambient noises, sudden and surprising sounds (coughs, stomach growling, dogs barking, people outside yelling, etc.). Being in contemplative meditation does not require that we tune distractions or judge them harshly. When we get annoyed or frustrated by distractions, we change the course of our contemplative journey from experiencing the Divine Presence within to experiencing annoyance and frustration.
When we begin to befriend distractions, we see more clearly how our spiritual journey is not separate and apart from the daily, mundane elements of our life. Our spiritual journey infuses our daily life with greater peace, love, meaning, and presence, if we allow it to. Remember, distractions are not harmful, and they in no way signal that you "don't knowhow to meditate or contemplate"; distractions are normal.
I would go a step further, and say that often distractiosn deliver their own messages. Distractions are only judged so because we seem to have no control over them. Distractions remind us of something else that is part of our life, and we can see them as an integral part of our contemplation. In one meditation class that I was leading, I was just at the point in the meditation when I was going to ease people out of their relaxed state to complete the meditation session. At the precise moment when I said something about enjoying the peace and quiet, my cell phone rang. Normally, my cell phone is turned off, but for some reason that night, it was on. During the meditation we had been sending thoughts, love and energy out to those we love. When the phone rang, I discovered later, my daughter was calling. She is who I had sent love to during the session. We find meaning for all kinds of experiences in our lives, and the point with contemplative meditation and building a daily practice, is befriend the distractions. If the baby cries or wants your attention, bring the baby into the contemplation. If the kitty or puppy wants to curl up in your lap, let it be. Embrace all of life in your practice.
INVITE IN THE SACRED/RECOGNIZE THE SACRED WITHIN.Fourth, remember that contemplative meditation is an intentional loving relationship based on the faith that the Divine dwells within you, and is constantly present with you. All we need to do is notice. How is the Divine present with me right now? What is stirring within me to notice, pay attention to, tend to, or hear? The Divine Presence within is always active, and is aware of our needs before we are. Experieincing the Presence of the Divine is about listening, and it is also about observing how the Divine is already present and active in our lives. Noticing what already is.
"Our spiritual journey, and search into consciousness and light (which after all, is what contemplative meditation is about), "ignites and intensely personal and magically transcendent process of self discovery and awakening" Paolo Coehle.
The key to developing a contemplative meditation practice is simply, do it. Begin, and continue to set aside time for your practice. You cannot do it wrong, because the contemplative meditation is about feeling what you feel, sensing what you sense, getting what you get from each experience, and trusting that the Divine is already present within you and all around you. Even if you are uncertain, the Divine knows what you need and provides it for you. Trust yourself that deep down inside, the truth of who you are, what you truly desire, and what you are searching for, is present within you waiting to come to the surface in ways that will help you open the doors of your own perceptions. As your dreams (another passageway providing you messages from your consciousness) give you symbols, stories, and experiences to capture your attention, so too your own mind, body, senses, relationships, and experiences provide you with intuitive knowledge of what you need and what you seek.
As French novelist and essayist, Marcel Proust said, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” We have this wonderful capacity to discover the hidden magic, insight, creativity, truth, and connections, and all we need to do is be willing to sit, be still, listen, observe, and receive. What gifts await us when we are open to the Presence of the Divine within us, within one another, and in all Creation.
A good source of simple, basic meditations can be found on the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.