What is Meditation? by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
Meditation is one of those words that some of us do not understand.
To some people the word meditation evokes eastern religions and even negative connotations which is slightly ridiculous. Let’s discover this practice for what it is and engage in the many benefits that are available to us through this exercise.
Recent research from Harvard University has shown that just 8 weeks of meditation can change the structure of the brain. It can slow down ageing, it can reduce swelling, it can improve mental health. There is a growing body of information that shows that mediation can be used to treat mental health. People that practice mindfulness show more than 70% improvement in mental health than the average population. Mindfulness meditation works because it breaks the cycle of depressive thoughts.
Meditation trains the brain by exercising our attention muscle and has been shown to dampen the effect of anxiety.
Meditation or contemplative prayer has been apart of Christian tradition since its earliest days.
It is an ancient principle that is proven to:
- reduce anxiety
- relieves depression
- reduce stress
- and helps you to sleep.
According to The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association http://www.abc.net.au/health/library/stories/2012/10/25/3617494.htm
Meditation helps develop skills in:
knowing what your mind is paying attention to
working out where your mind’s attention needs to be focused
maintaining attention on what you want your mind to be focusing on.
“This ‘training’ is particularly helpful in preventing your mind from slipping into a “default mode” of focusing on replaying the past, worrying about the future and other negative thoughts. This pattern of thinking can leave us vulnerable to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, or just feeling stressed (which in turn can increase our risk of poor physical health).
Feeling relaxed and focused can be an immediate side effect of practising meditation, but evidence now suggests meditation has many long-term health benefits. It can also help improve mental performance”.
As you can see meditation is very good for you and we should all be practising this more than we do. This is what the dictionary says about meditation:
meditation noun the action or practice of meditating, “a life of meditation”.
“cultivating the presence of God in meditation and prayer”
I particularly like the term “Cultivating the presence of God in meditation and prayer”.
For spiritual seekers, the practice of mediation is to bring about a sense of peace, centring and calmness. To focus on one thought turning your attention inward or an exercise to discipline the mind. All very healthy and beneficial. Those who follow the teachings of Christ would see that meditation is all of the above but also primarily the practice of cultivating the presence of God.
You will see in the definition that there are many different ways to do this – thinking, musing, study, reflection, contemplation, pondering, speculation. The ultimate goal being spiritual formation, to understand your inner self and to see Christ formed within us. When we decide to believe in Jesus, his spirit is ignited within us. So we cary the presence of God within us. Meditation is a purposeful exercise to practice the awareness of this.
In our busy lives we often forget that we have this incredible life force of the Spirit of God dwelling within us and we are able to access this wisdom, peace, joy and life. The more we practise this the more we rest in His spirit instead of being pulled and pushed around by our manic lives. Spiritual formation also requires, in our pondering, that we look at certain inner questions and apply ourselves to understanding. Until we understand ourselves and how we are made it is almost impossible for us to be present for anyone else.
Here are some questions to ask yourself. Maybe take one question a week and make sure that you take time to write down the answers as you go.
How is God at work in me?
How has God made me?
How does the world need me to bring forth the Kingdom of God?
These thoughts stem from a quote by Fredrich Buechner.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I discovered this truth whilst doing a semester on “Theological and Spiritual Formation” at Tabor College. We were asked to examine: Our core values, our Biblical Purpose, Talents, Gifts, Passions, Personality and Temperament.
When all of these intersect we are filled with a deep gladness and this is where we find our personal calling or vocation. It is not mystical or magical, it is the deepest truth about who you are, how God created you to be and where you intersect with the world around you. However often we don’t take the time that is needed to contemplate and reflect on these things about ourselves.
We live in an a society that rewards addictive behaviour. Our lives are getting faster and faster and more is required of us every day. It’s vitally important that each of us take time each day for self-care. We need to learn to stop, reflect and breathe.
What is God saying to me today? How do I process this? How do I proceed? Can I just BE instead of DO?
In this addictive culture we often feel out of breath. Robert Mulholland makes a brilliant analogy between the contemplative life and the active life. In other words who we are and what we do. He likens it to breathing in and breathing out. Breathing in he explains is Spiritual Formation, and breathing out is the mission with Christ. Following Christ with no application to mission is like inhaling and not exhaling. Likewise if we are constantly doing without being we run out of breath and are forever exhausted.
The Benedictines emphasised a life that was balanced and sustainable. A life of quality and intentionality. We could all benefit by managing our time and being disciplined in the areas of spiritual reflection, work and education. This is an art not many have mastered in our fast paced society. The Benedictine teachings show us how to balance a life of study, work and prayer. They believe that you should live your life by example and be considerate to all. Enjoy relationships with family and community. Walk humbly before God and fellow-man with wisdom and love. This message and mandate has endured down through the centuries. Whilst empires and nations have risen and fallen monasticism managed to survive and remain resilient throughout the ages. It is an enduring legacy and model for all leaders but especially those who follow in the footsteps of Christ and the giants of the faith who have gone before us.
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Richard Rohr, Yes and Daily Meditations.
This perennial book features daily meditations, each written by Rohr and adapted or excerpted from his many written and recorded works. The meditations are arranged around seven themes:
- Methodology: Scripture as validated by experience, and experience as validated by tradition, are good scales for one’s spiritual worldview
- Foundation: If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of, but is the Ground of Being and on our side.
- Frame: There is only one Reality. Any distinction between natural and supernatural, sacred and profane is a bogus one.
- Ecumenical: Everything belongs and no one needs to be scapegoated or excluded. Evil and illusion only need to be named and exposed truthfully, and they die in exposure to the light.
- Transformation: The separate self is the problem, whereas most religion and most people make the “shadow self” the problem. This leads to denial, pretending, and projecting instead of real transformation into the Divine.
- Process: The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.
- Goal: Reality is paradoxical and complementary. Non-dual thinking is the highest level of consciousness. Divine union, not private perfection, is the goal of all religion.
Yes, and…is an excellent daily prayer resource for fans of Richard Rohr’s work, and those who are looking for an alternate way to live out their faith—a way centered in the open-minded search for spiritual relevance of a transforming nature.