Meditation and Contemplation

The Website Lifehacker recently published a post on the Myths of Meditation exposed. It started my thinking about how confusing the terms can be in this era.

We have ancient sources on humans practicing both meditation and contemplation. The Bible, especially in the Psalms, talks about meditating on God’s words and contemplating God’s wonder or mystery.

There is a rich Christian heritage of contemplation including some of my heroes such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, John Climacus and many more.

Then the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, helped popularize an Eastern form known as Transcendental Mediation. But that method actually invaded Europe and America by the early 1800s. Alan Watts and others popularized a form of meditation in the Buddhist tradition of Japan–Zen. That was a Beatnik thing (if you remember them).

If you have looked me up on LinkedIn, you’ll have noticed that I describe myself as a “contemplative Christian.” Contemplatives try to “empty” our minds typically by focusing on something such as a word or a scene (out in nature for example) and experience God. There are many writings of people who have experienced God in this way. I have had that experience a few times. It is unforgettable. The apostle Paul also writes about a contemplative experience he had.

Meditation typically is focusing on something to change the body or learn something. In the TM tradition, there are areas of the body known as energy centers (chokras) that are the source of a particular energy plus the universal energy center at the top of the head. Each of these “chokras” has a unique sound that helps the meditator focus on that particular energy.

So the energy center at the top of the head, the universal one, has the sound “Om” that you’ve probably heard of. Business people are taught that the seat of strength and power is the gut and the sound is “Ram” (pronounced with the soft a as in European languages and not the short a of English). You focus on the center and recite the “mantra” associated with it as you sit quietly. (Incense and gongs are optional.)

In Christianity, we might read a story in the Bible, my favorite is the road to Emmaus, and focus on the story. Sitting quietly, play the story over in your mind. Maybe making yourself the “fly on the wall” listening in. Maybe taking the place of one of the pilgrims and asking Jesus what he means.

Don’t get carried away by the terms or worry about them. Or be concerned that you’ve become “New Age.” Any time you stop, slow down your thinking, and focus on God, it’s good. Both meditation and contemplation are good for both your body and your soul.

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