Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Meditation The Path Toward Health and Spirit

July 31, 2018

“Oooh, can you see auras?”

I believe that what John Climacus writes about as stillness, today in America we would call meditation. There is some confusion of terms also between meditation and contemplation. I’m more interested in the practice than the terminology.

The first Yoga class I took was at a time when young mothers had dropped their elementary school children off at school and then had time for themselves. So it was me in my 50s and a bunch of women from late 20s to mid 30s. They didn’t seem to mind me invading their turf. Once the subject of meditation came up and I mentioned I did. That provoked the question above. New Age had infiltrated even into Sidney, Ohio.

John devotes much space to stillness. He gives to us a list of signs, stages, and proofs of practicing stillness in the right way.

On the one hand, he says:

  • A calm mind
  • A purified disposition
  • No sense of attachment
  • An end to gluttony
  • The death of lust
  • An end to talkativeness
  • For those interested in spiritual formation, there are even more:
    • The imminence of death (also practiced by the Stoics, by the way)
      Rapture in the Lord
      A foundation for the direct experience of God
      A well of discernment

    The man who has entered on stillness for a good reason but who fails to see how it benefits him daily is either practicing it in the wrong way or is being robbed of it by self-esteem.

    That’s why you seldom hear from people who are practicing. Bragging about meditating is an oxymoron.

    And, no, I don’t see auras. You’re safe around me.

    What Is Gained With Perception

    June 18, 2018

    [I took a short unintentional break last week. Traveling on both business and pleasure got me out of my routines. I suppose it’s a good thing.]

    Meditation gives birth to perseverance, and perseverance ends in perception, and what is accomplished with perception cannot easily be rooted out.

    I’m still climbing the ladder of divine ascent with John Climacus. Some classics need to be reviewed at times.

    The seventh step is on Mourning. Introducing the topic, John includes the sentence quoted above.

    The apostle Paul often spoke of perseverance using the metaphor of athletics. Training hard and persevering for the race. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews (which you’ll seldom see me quote from) also talks about running the race.

    Jesus talked often of perceiving. As in “seeing they don’t perceive”.

    As we sit (or stand or walk or lie) in stillness, persevering over days, months, years, decades, we perceive many truths. We deepen spiritually even though we may not realize it at the time.

    John returns to the idea of calmness discussing other steps on the ladder.

    As we begin a new week, developing this calmness by persevering in mediation will help us do this week what we should be doing.

    As for me, I’m leaving shortly for Las Vegas and another technology conference. I’ll meet interesting people and learn new things. And if I persevere I won’t let the spirit of the “Strip” disturb the “force”.

    Strength For the Outer Life of Service

    April 11, 2018

    Thomas à Kempis

    Why is it that we are so ready to chatter and gossip with others, when we so seldom return to silence without some injury to our conscience? Perhaps the reason we are so fond of talking is that we think to find consolation in this manner; to refresh a spirit wearied with many cares. And so we speak of what we like and dislike, and of the things we desire or despise. But in the end this outward attempt to find consolation is only an obstacle to our inner life.

    Let us watch and pray that our time is not spent fruitlessly. Let us not busy ourselves with idle conversation, or with what other people say and do.…Blessed are the single-hearted, for they enjoy true peace.

    Jesus’ last commandment was an action verb. Love. It’s not an emotion. It’s a way of living.

    If you go back and read the parts of the gospel that talk about how Jesus lived as a story of a person, you will see that he lived that action verb–the very personification of love in action.

    Yet, if you are writing the biography of a person with a deep inner life, what can you say? Only what you observe–he went off alone to pray. Oh, and he went off alone to pray.

    We know that our example is to go off alone to pray.

    Where do we get the strength for service? Following the example of Thomas quoted above, we pay attention to our inner life that it is not spent fruitlessly.

    When I began meditation practice in my late teens, I never had a thought that it would become mainstream psychological therapy. Now, we have one of my students talking after Yoga class about a mindfulness meditation “class” his employer has during lunch time. He says, “That’s sort of what you teach at the end of class, right.”

    He wondered how you could go from a stressful morning filled with meetings to a lunch time of calm and quiet.

    Well, it’s called practice. It is not only possible, but necessary. Meditation literally rewires the brain. Your very personality changes over time. And you get strength for the long haul.

    Meditation Can Change Your Life

    February 7, 2018

    Psychologists and therapists have discovered en masse “mindfulness” during the last few years.

    There is a reason. It is good for your mental, spiritual, and physical health.

    It literally rewires your brain. It helps grow new neurons, divert others, and add to the fatty layers between the neurons.

    People will notice the change in you. Warning–not after one day. Or one week. Maybe a little after a month. It does take time. It is a spiritual discipline.

    The change–you will calm down and gain perspective.

    Meditation practiced daily for at least 15 minutes (best is twice per day) reduces stress. This helps reduce inflammation in the body which is a cause or contributor of many diseases.

    I’m thinking about this after listening to a podcast interview with a guy who has written a book. I scanned the book–don’t recommend it. Just not helpful. But in his conversation, he talked about being meditation teacher to all manner of celebrities. I thought, heck, I know at least as much as what he’s talking about as a 40+ year practitioner. I could teach celebrities.

    Then I realized where I live. The last time a celebrity came through town was probably when Rob Lowe visited his grandfather. Well, unless it was someone on tour and their custom motor home traveled on I-75. <sigh>

    Americans associate meditation and mindfulness with either New Age or Buddhism. And those people do meditate. But there is a Christian tradition of meditation for enlightenment and experience of God that stretches back to the very beginnings of the faith. I have a shelf in my bookcase devoted to the writings of the Desert Fathers and many other “mystics”. I can testify that you can experience God if you devote yourself to that sort of meditation.

    But the practice is not esoteric. You can sit, stand, walk, lie. You can close your eyes or leave them open (especially if you’re walking). You can repeat a word (mantra), or not. (I use “God”, the Hindu tradition is “Om” plus a bunch of other sounds, you can try “Love”.) You can imagine a scene in your mind. Perhaps walking through a meadow in a woods and finding a secret garden where you sit and bask in the warm sun. Or just sit quietly and breathe.

    Try it. It’ll change your life.

    Practicing Mindfulness

    December 12, 2017

    We are reading in the gospel of John in a small group. John has been talking about these tough spiritual concepts about “being in the Father” and “the Father in me” and “Jesus in me” and “being in Jesus.”

    I mentioned the long tradition of meditation as a method of experiencing that union with God. I’ve been at it for more than 50 years. I can testify that it will change your life.

    Contemplating these things this morning, I rested in the question of what it means to be “in the Father” or “with-God” life.

    The image of the fruit of the Spirit rose in my consciousness. Paul writes to the community of Christ followers in Galatia, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

    Being in the Father means that we these words describe us–the type of person we are, the type of actions people see in us.

    During this season of the year, joy and peace are words thrown around sometimes casually. Patience, kindness, gentleness, and (especially) self-control are other practices that certainly would help us and those around us navigate through the season.

    While discussing meditation as a way to experience union with God, the question was posed, what about mindfulness? We hear a lot about that.

    The mindfulness practices we are hearing about, especially from therapists, strips away New Age clutter or spiritual meditation, and just takes us back to the practice. People began noticing decades ago that people who meditate experience many favorable physical and emotional benefits. So, therapists have taken the technique to help people cope.

    The number one app in the Apple App Store in 2017 is called Calm. It’s one of probably hundreds of apps that help you:

    1. Slow down
    2. Breathe deeply
    3. Focus on a word, or body part (my feet and legs feel warm and relaxed, for example)
    4. Reconnect body, mind, and soul
    5. Find sanity in a sometimes insane world

    Peace.

    Longing For God

    September 6, 2017

    I stretch out my hands toward you, longing for you like a parched land. (Psalm 143)

    In today’s readings, there was this teaching from 13th century mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart, “The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love.”

    So many of us miss out on this life of being filled, set aflame as he says, with God’s love. 

    Where I live, and probably where most of you live, the dominant teaching is to “accept Jesus into your heart.” The typical meaning is to tell people that you acknowledge Jesus and agree with the teachings of whatever group you did that statement of belief.

    And with that statement of belief, that’s all you need. Life is changed. Everything is beautiful.

    They miss the rest of the teachings of Paul (see Roman after Chapter 8, for example). The parts like “work out your faith in fear and trembling.” 

    Do we even use the word “longing” any more? It means wanting something so much that you feel a pain deep in your guts. Even more than wanting that new big pickup truck. Even more than that large house. Even more than that attractive person you just met.

    When we stop at just repeating the words, we miss out on life–what Jesus kept talking about and John repeated in his Gospel. Abundant life. Filled with the love of God.

    And like flames, to carry on Eckhart’s metaphor, they need to be rekindled and refreshed constantly, fed with new fuel. We do that by reading spirit-infused writing and contemplation and singing.

    Life In The Fast Lane

    August 21, 2017

    Life in the fast lane, surely makes you lose your mind.

    Following a quick visit to Houston on business last week, I was on vacation in Michigan combined with a wedding in Grand Rapids on Saturday. I ran out of time, so no post Friday.

    Watching people’s clothing choices (including mine) at a resort is always interesting.

    I see a guy wearing a tee shirt that proclaims “Fast Lane.” No further explanation. Like restaurant or bar or something.

    The first thing I think of is the Eagles. He was a hard-headed man, he was brutally handsome. She was terminally pretty.

    What a way with words.

    What a thing to proclaim on a shirt.

    If this was a proclaimation of life in the fast lane, did the wearer know that the song is sarcastic? Or prophetic?

    But we all can get caught up in a version of the fast lane–hopefully without drugs, alcohol, and a death wish.

    Suddenly we look at the week ahead, or weeks ahead, and everything is filled. We are going to be running here, meeting there, classes, visits, vacation, business. 

    When are we going to breathe.

    That’s when we need to recall “Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46. Another translation says “stop your striving” in place of “be still”. 

    What I need is a reminder to stop and take a few deep breaths.

    Only then can I refocus and remember to just tackle one thing at a time. Or as the first self-help guru/management consultant I heard some 40 years ago said, “Try…easy.”

    And maybe take care about the message you proclaim to others.

    Meditate for Life

    July 12, 2017

    I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night. Ps 63:6

    I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. Ps 77:12

    I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. Ps. 119:15

    Scientists continue to discover benefits from meditation or, as it is called these days, mindfulness. Being in quiet and stillness for even just five minutes a day can change your personality.

    It slows you down–which is a good thing. You can focus on what is important learning to let distractions fade away.

    You become quieter and calmer.

    Now we are seeing how meditation helps “white matter” grow between the neurons in the brain. This aids thinking and learning. It’s also thought to have a positive effect in preventing Alzheimers and other brain disorders.

    It also helps adolescents, as well as adults, improve their emotional well being.

    We think this is new. It’s not. Humans have intuitively know this for millennia. David wrote his songs (Psalms) 3,000 years ago. And no one seemed amazed. The word already existed in the Hebrew language.

    Jesus had a habit of withdrawing to be with himself and God. We call that meditation.

    Paul reports once on the result of a meditation when he talks of being swept into third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12.

    Mindfulness teaches one to be in touch with the body. That is good. Meditating on God is the next step. God leads us to visions and brings us to a sense of unity with creation. But that is for another time.

    Mindfulness also grounds us in the present. We are not in the future worrying or in the past recriminating. As the Buddhist phrase puts it, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

    I should add that we are now seeing evidence that coffee also helps you life longer. Meditation along with a cup of good coffee–that has been my morning habit for many years.

    Take A Journey In Your Mind

    May 2, 2017
    Leave your cares behind
    Come with us and find
    The pleasures of a journey to the center of the mind
    Come along if you care
    Come along if you dare
    Take a ride to the land inside of your mind
    Beyond the seas of thought
    Beyond the realm of what
    Across the streams of hopes and dreams where things are really not — Amboy Dukes; Ted Nugent and Steve Farmer

    OK, so Ted Nugent went from writing psychedelic rock to being a conservative political activist.  There may be some kind of meaning there.

    The 1960s witnessed a spiritual revival. Not religious. Spiritual. Some of the spiritual quest was, well, illegal. This song was no doubt an attempt to write about “psychedelic” experience.

    But as often happens in poetry, there are meanings beyond what you write.

    In meditation, you suspend thought and facts. You focus on God. Perhaps a story like maybe an interaction that Jesus had with someone. Or a parable. And you don’t analyze. You experience.

    And sometimes God breaks through. And you experience.

    And you believe in God, not because you read somewhere that you should or someone told you that you should. You know.

    And now spiritual truths make more sense.

    Psychologists will sometimes instruct patients to go somewhere where they can be alone with their thoughts. Then settle in and just tune in to the inside.

    A patient once told Carl Jung, the famed Swiss psychologist, that he couldn’t imagine anyone worse to be with than himself. I think Dr. Jung probably thought, “You’re right. And I’m trying to help you get over that.”

    Find 15 minutes today. Slow down, concentrate on God, a story, a bird, a leaf, a bug, whatever is around. Relax. Become aware of where you are and what you’re doing.

    Your blood pressure will thank you. Your brain will thank you. People around you will thank you.

    You Can Be a Mystic

    April 27, 2017

    Meditation is greatly misunderstood by most people. You can do it.

    You can do it if…you can sit still and focus.

    We focus on our breath. Slowing it down. Paying attention.

    Then we focus our attention on God. We just sit (or lie, or walk) in the presence of God.

    It may last 5 minutes. I may last 2 hours. Doesn’t matter.

    Mystics? Not a popular word these days. Well known in previous centuries.

    They are just people who make a daily practice for longer and longer times of sitting in the presence of God.

    It changes their lives. They slow down. Are less anxious. Can face adversity.

    We sometimes have visions of things God wants us to see.

    And then again, sometimes not.

    But we have conversations, speaking and listening, with God. We thank him. We ask him for guidance. But then we must listen and pay attention to what he tells us. Sometimes that is hidden within other people. It is up to us to discern.