When we think of meditation, we often have a stereotyped image of an older, swami-like, long-bearded man, cross-legged in the lotus position, who may even be floating an inch or two off the ground while chanting unintelligible but harmonic syllables. Carrying this image around, we feel that meditation is something both inaccessible and irrelevant. The idea of wise-men reaching higher plains of existence seems unattainable, and more importantly, somewhat un-Christian. Yet, if we investigate the scriptures, we see that meditation is both valuable in our Christian lives, and that we are called to meditate as a part of our faith.
That mediation is rooted solely in Eastern religions is untrue: sometimes when a practice is helpful, it transcends any one religion. I read somewhere that just because a Buddhist eats breakfast, that doesn’t make breakfast a Buddhist tradition. In fact, the Bible makes several mentions of the need for meditation, as the Hebrew and Christian authors knew that it was vital to a healthy relationship with their creator.
Mentioned in the Old Testament, authors often associated meditation with memorization and consideration of His laws: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes” (Psalm 119.97-99). Law meditation was practiced to gain a better understanding and appreciation of His Divine plan. With a stronger understanding, we see His love for us throughout it.
The New Testament then widens the umbrella to include more items beyond the law on which to meditate: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4.8). We are called to control and focus our thinking on items that fit these descriptions, and meditation helps us to willingly and consciously accomplish this task, as seen when Christ withdrew to meditate.
So, if we are called to meditate, how do we? Unfortunately, many tune out at this point, as the idea of sitting quietly for 20 minutes ends in boredom or napping. However, too many think that this approach is the only way to meditate. Unlike the stereotype, mediation requires fewer requirements and parameters than you might think. With the recent introduction of mindfulness into our vocabulary in the last devotional, we can see how meditation falls under that umbrella and the one established by Paul and other biblical authors. If mindfulness is about being fully present and focused on the now and about heightening our awareness, then mindful meditation should help accomplish those goals for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with Him and shaping us as vessels ready to accept what God has ready for us.
With several ways to meditate, there are some basic foundations upon which to build these choices. You don’t need a meditation cushion, special bench, or any sort of equipment to access a meditative state, but you do need these two things: time and space. Whether two minutes or twenty, dedicate time solely for meditation. Also, set aside a space, preferably somewhere with a minimum of distractions. When you finally have both, take a moment to observe the present as it is by drawing from your senses. Observe the sounds around you, the smells, the physical sensations you feel. The aim of mindfulness and meditation is not quieting the mind or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: to pay attention to the present moment without judgement. Easier said than done, right? Yes, your mind is going to wander, and thoughts are going to pop into your head about obligations, conversations you’ve recently had, things you’re worried about, whatever. Try to let those thoughts and judgments roll by, like leaves floating by on a stream – they are there, but they neither affect you nor stick around. Make a mental note of them and let them pass, returning to observing the present moment as it is. And be kind to your wandering mind; don’t get frustrated and annoyed. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up; just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off and gently bring it back.
For those like me who need more structure to their meditation, there are guided meditations that exist online for many purposes. A quick search on YouTube results in mediations that help with anxiety and fears, detachment from overthinking, healing and sleep, gratitude, and “unstoppable courage”. Some are longer than others, so find the guided meditation that works best for you. Don’t worry about how you should sit or if you should keep your eyes open or not: guided meditations explain everything for you. Again, just finding the time and space is all you need to do.
Another method is “Body Scan Meditation” which can be guided or not. In short, you pick a point in your body (usually the head or the toes) and work your way mentally to the other end of your body, feeling all sensations in each part, becoming aware of everything that is happening to you physically. Body Scan Meditations are excellent at calming your mind and focusing your thoughts.
One meditation technique I recently started is the recitation of mantras–one sentence statements intended to target a specific need in life. You can create your own or find them online. I have a few written in my phone that go off as reminders during the day, so that no matter where I am, when I see it come up, I stop and spend time considering the truth behind it. For example, I noticed that my negative past actions tend to discourage me, so once a day, I am reminded that, “My past does not define who I am nor prescribe my future,” and if I spend time meditating on this truth, I can overcome that discouragement. Detractors might suggest that this action is human achievement-based, cutting out the need for God’s intervention, but we would argue that this God-given practice refocuses our minds towards His healing and a closer, more appreciative walk with Him. By silencing the negativity in my life, I am better attuned to the loving aspects He has created within me.
We tend to overcomplicate meditation, but in truth, we need only find the time and place for it, and the rest comes easily with the right tools. By renewing our minds and spirits and refocusing on what matters, meditation provides a centeredness that helps us hear Him better. It trains us to release the negativity that can pervade our lives and see the good in this world that is God. By trying out meditation this week, we can learn to appreciate our lives, become more centered, and ready ourselves for the plans that He has for us. Amen.