Monday, February 08, 2010

To Marketta Gregory: What Meditation Is, and What it is Not

Every morning while I eat my whole grain flax cereal, I read our local Rochester paper, the Democrat and Chronicle. Mostly my reading is the comics, but occasionally I have a few extra minutes and read something else. Today the column on faith and daily living by Marketta Gregory caught my eye. It was titled On the Road to Meditation and Faith. In her article, Marketta, a Baptist woman, describes her attempt at meditation while driving on the highways of Rochester, NY.

I was really distressed at her description of meditation, which she believes is not a part of her Christian tradition. Apparently Marketta picked up her meditation instruction from Eat Pray Love, a book about Elizabeth Gilbert's experiences. Marketta believes that meditation is has something to do with humming -- being quiet and humming.

Marketta, meditation has a long history in Christianity. It also can be practiced with no religious overtones at all. Even if practiced for a very short time a day, say 10 minutes, you can get the benefit of thinking more clearly. And that helps everyone.

Here are instructions for a simple kind of meditation called "calming the mind". I recommend that you try this for 30 days, and then if you don't notice any benefit, abandon it. For people who currently are doing some sort of spiritual practice such as a daily Bible study, I would suggest you do this immediately before your study time.

1. Find a quite place/time. You need 10 to 15 minutes of relative peace, so do this when the kids are napping, or at school, and turn off the tv and your cell phone. You don't need a dedicated place, but that can be nice. But for heaven's sake, don't create requirements for yourself like, "I'll meditate when I get the spare bedroom cleaned out and made into a meditation room." Starting now is better than starting tomorrow.

2. Sit comfortably with your back straight, your hands resting naturally in your lap. You don't need to sit cross legged on the floor, although many people do assume that posture. Most important is that your back is straight and you are experiencing a minimum of discomfort.

3. Your eyes should be open, focused about 18 inches in fron of you, a little above your nose. I suggest eyes open, with a soft gaze. Your tongue should be resting in your mouth. You are going to breath thru your nose if possible. Your breath should be natural and unforced.

4. Start by considering your motivation. Your meditation will lead to a clearer mind, which will make it possible for you to more effectively carry out whatever you see as your mission in this life. Take a few minutes to think about this and then make a heart-felt aspiration that your meditation will lead to this.

5. Focus your attention on your breath. As thoughts arise in your mind, simply label them as thoughts and redirect your focus to your breath. Don't allow your mind to grasp those thoughts. Just let them go as they arise and continue to bring your mind back to the breath. This is what meditation is, the effort of refocusing your mind on the object of meditation, in this case the breath. Some meditation techniques focus on an object, such as a picture, a rock, a flower, a small statue. Some meditation techniques focus on a sound, a phrase, a word. I have heard that in early Christian times, people focused on the phrase, "Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." A link to information about this practice can be found here. In the meditation I am telling you about, you focus on the breath.

6. Continue to redirect the mind to the breath for a period of time, maybe 10 - 15 minutes. It is helpful to have a small timer so you don't have to continually distract yourself by checking the time.

7. When the time has ended, take another moment and make a short aspiration prayer that your meditation will lead to you being able to better carry out your mission in this life. This will be different for each person, based on their own faith tradition.

There are some common problems that come up. If you become sleepy, it is suggested that you mediate at a different time of day when you are more alert. Raise your gaze slightly. Also, you could have a cup of coffee or tea before you meditate. If your mind becomes super busy, that is also very normal. it is suggested that you lower your gaze slightly. Also, several shorter sessions might be better to start.

Don't become discouraged, however. No one that I know of meditates without thoughts arising, which is good because it is the practice of controlling your mind when thoughts arise that is true meditation. You will be amazed at the control you can develop during the rest of your day. So, if for example, you have negative thoughts, you will be able to control those thougts with greater ease. You will also find that you can think more clearly when you do your bible study or other spiritual reading.

Good luck, and may all benefit from your fruitful meditation practice!


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