Thursday, 26 March 2009
How To Meditate
There is nothing simpler than meditation, but that doesn't mean that it's easy. Also, it is a bit fruitless discussing meditation and learning about it in an academic sort of way. In order to really know anything about it you have to do it. More than that, you have to do it regularly and often and in a disciplined fashion and for a reasonable length of time before you can understand much about it, because meditation is about will and consciousness. Of course people dabble with it, which is perfectly OK and in truth, almost all meditators start as dabblers, but as part of the benefit of meditation lies in the discipline of it, dabbling won't get you very far in the long run.
If you are serious, you will need someone to help and encourage you. A meditation group is a good idea, and the World Community of Christian Meditators has groups in many areas of the world, maybe even yours. You can get a fair way with a meditation practice by using a good book. An excellent primer is Ian Gawler's Meditation Pure And Simple as is Laurence Freeman's Christian Meditation: Your Daily Practice . Best of all, find someone who does it and talk to them, but note: the conversation won't go very far unless you are actually meditating and thus have something to talk about.
There are many different methods of meditation - the Buddha identified 80,000 apparently - but basically they all fall into two broad categories, both of which are trying to do the same thing, i.e. get the chattering machine between your ears to shut up for a a few minutes so that you can just BE. One way is to find a way to distance yourself from your thoughts and just observe them. This is the type of meditation taught by Ian Gawler. The other way is to give the mind something to do, such as being aware of the breath or repeating a phrase. This is the type taught by Laurence Freeman. Both types of meditation have a long and honourable history in the Christian church, albeit a not very widely known one. A variant of this second type of meditation which has its origins in the Orthodox churches, and which I have used for some years now is the Jesus Prayer. If you want to dabble in meditation, it's not a bad place to start.
Sit somewhere where you are comfortable enough not to move for the duration of your intended meditation. Try and keep your back straight. Close your eyes. As far as you can, try to relax every part of your body; be especially aware of contracted muscles in the face, shoulders and neck. Silently repeat the phrase Lord Jesus Christ Son of the Living God Have mercy on me a sinner. If that seems too long, shorten it. Try just the first 8 words. Or even, just a couple of selected words: Lord...mercy... Repeat the words slowly giving equal weight to each word. I find it helpful to pace the words with my breath. Don't go theologising or thinking or trying to feel the presence of God. Don't worry that you suddenly remember that the washing machine needs turning on or the cat needs combing; it can wait. Don't get all excited by any mental pictures or "profound" thoughts that might burble up from the unconscious: that's just your brain having a dose of gas and it doesn't actually mean anything. If it really is a message from God, he knows your number and he'll get back to you later. If your mind wanders off, it's no big deal. Just pick up your phrase again and continue repeating it. Do this for a reasonable period; 10 minutes would be a good start for a newbie, but 20 would be better. Do it a couple of times a day. Do that every day for a week. See what happens. You might be surprised.