Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

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.

Teach Your Children Well

April 10, 2017

Teach your children well. –Graham Nash

If you’re like me, you can’t hear those words without the famous steel guitar intro by Jerry Garcia.

What started this line of thought was a comment by the Dalai Lama in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. “The problem is that our world and our education remain focused exclusively on external, materialistic values. We are not concerned enough with our inner values.”

I remember being adolescent. Of course, I got over that disease much earlier than today’s younger people. It seems to linger into the 30s anymore. But any thought of values meant conservative things designed to prevent fun. I remember students in the education departments who did not want to be role models, only instructors of their subject matter.

So, teachers no longer model good behaviour. They often dress like slobs or like the “women of Wal-Mart” videos.

I’m not so sure that churches in America are all that often modeling and teaching inner values. Everything these days seems to be political–here’s my political belief system, memorize it and you will be saved.

The Book of Joy is a conversation between two of the world’s greatest spiritual leaders held about two years ago. There was the Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, and the Christian, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

There is much to learn from these two men. Each has suffered greatly at the hands of people. Yet, each emanates a deep spiritual calmness. And the ability to laugh.

We often ┬ámistake the source of joy and happiness. Later, the Dalai Lama said, “Most people never pay much attention to the ultimate source of a happy life, which is inside, not outside. Even the source of physical health is inside, not outside.”

It is time to pause, look inside, find that spiritual core that connects to God. We sometimes call that mindfulness. Being intentional, aware, senses sharpened, awaiting the whisper of God.

And then pass it on.

We Don’t Have a Soul; We Are One

January 9, 2017

We are a soul that has a body; we’re not a body that has a soul. — John Ortberg, Sr. Pastor of Menlo Churches

We live in such a rationalistic age. Everything is about thinking. We believe in a proposition rather than experiencing God. We study the body in all its intricacies. We study the mind and the brain. We study words and repeat them.

Ancient peoples studied the soul.

What you find by reading the works of those ancient spiritual explorers and even those up until today that there is universal agreement across all cultures that there is a soul.

You, too, can get in touch with your soul.

Stop, pause, consider–who is the thinker of your thoughts?

When is it time to stop thinking, though, and just find that still point of communion with God. No need for words. No need for actions–that comes later. We finally slow down, open up, focus inward beyond thoughts and worries and plans, and bask in the light that comes from God.

Here I Am, Stuck In The Middle

December 28, 2016

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.  –Stealers Wheel

Here we are. Wednesday. Christmas and Advent three days behind us. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day three days ahead. Stuck in the middle again.

Gifts, gift giving, special church services–all behind us.

Resolutions, parties, football–all ahead of us (Americans, for football that is, don’t know about the rest of the world).

Maybe you can feel stuck with no where to go, like Stealers Wheel.

Or maybe like TS Eliot in his poem Burnt Norton, where he talked about the still point–at the still point of the turning earth, there is the dance, and there is only the dance.

It can be that pause in the middle.

Just time to stop the rushing and anxiety. 

It’s the time in the middle to pause. Be still.

Everyone is posting their 5-ways for this or 10 steps to that (known as click-bait in the industry-people click on those numbered lists then continue on, but see the ad).

We don’t need 10 resolutions. Or 5 steps to a better year.

We just need to be. In the moment.

It’s not a resolution, it is a way of life.

Be Calm To Reach Successful Life

April 14, 2015

The Yoga class is in the final 5-6 minutes in what we call “final relaxation.” There are people, usually called mothers of young children, who look forward to this twice-a-week ritual. Freedom from demands, noise, worries. This is the first stage of meditation. For many people, it’s all they need.

Over the years of teaching, I’ve noticed a few people who just cannot settle in for even 5 minutes. Usually they are about 18 years old and female. Lately I’ve noticed a woman probably right in the middle of middle age (she has a daughter in her mid-20s). She cannot lay quietly.

Last night she mentioned it. I gave her some tips on sounds or visualizations to help her focus and calm her breathing. I told her it could change her personality. Become less up-tight, calmer in situations, reduce worry, feel less stress. It’s all actually quite healthful. Her daughter was encouraging her to try it.

This calmness is essential for truly successful living. We actually achieve more by seeming to do less. Those who live in a flurry of activity are often not all that productive.

Great examples are quarterbacks in American football. Their position demands that they be the leader. The great winning quarterbacks achieve a calmness combined with intensity that inspires the team in the face of adversity. Watching Joe Montana in his prime or Tom Brady today, we can see that in action.

Just 5-10 minutes a day of quiet will eventually change your life. You will begin to achieve that calm focus–or return to it when circumstances pull you into frenetic worry or something.

Oh, and my tips:

  • Focus on breath, consciously begin to slow its pace
  • If you like sound, repeat a sound in your head–doesn’t matter too much what it is–ahh, om, god, love, whatever
  • If you have visual imagination, go off in your imagination to a beach and feel the sand and hear the surf, or lie in a meadow in the mountains in summer, or maybe walk down a country lane seeing a gate in a hedge fence opening and entering and finding an orchard with a bench sitting on the bench and resting. You get the idea.
  • Do not force random thoughts out. Just let them drift away as you return to your breath.

There is nothing particularly mystic about this, so far. You will start to slow down your processes and stop fidgeting. I know many people who would be well served (and their followers) to practice this. There are 535 who meet in a great domed building in Washington, D.C., for example. You probably know others. Perhaps yourself.

Calm yourself, focus, achieve.

Meditate in Nature

November 3, 2014

Quiet and meditation are important spiritual disciplines. Meditation does not require a cushion, incense, quiet music.

Walking is a great physical posture for meditation. Walking around the block when I need a break from writing is refreshing. I can meditate on the problem I’m pondering and solutions just come to me.

Walking in the woods is even better.

We had the first hard freeze last night in western Ohio. We’ve had a beautiful autumn notwithstanding not having a hard frost early. Today Bev and I walked through the woods and hills of Bruckner Nature Center in nearby Troy. After a freeze, the air is clear. Breathing the fall air is a delight–cool, dry, full of the smells of fallen leaves. The underbrush is dead, so you can see through the woods and spot the white-tailed deer (we saw a few).

Meditating on nature, gratitude for God’s creation, it is refreshing to the soul to be out in God’s creation.

Psalm 104 sings gratitude and awe at God’s creation:

O Lord, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

the earth is full of your creatures.

…These all look to you

to give them their food in due season.

Once again science verifies Bible teachings when it studies people’s well being and discovers that it is healthy for the body and the spirit to be in nature and aware of the beauty.

Happy November. (And to my friends in South America and Australia, I guess it’s happy Spring.)

Meditation and Contemplation

October 15, 2014

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.

Cultivate A Powerful Mind

April 7, 2014

Twenty minutes of quiet meditation daily rewires your brain to tap into and grow the regions responsible for a more positive outlook on life.

How many people do you know that just can’t settle down? They can’t take time to focus on just one idea at a time. Their thoughts are scattered all over and their anxieties multiply.

Is that somewhere that you’ve been? Or are now?

Brain researchers are discovering that the brain need not harden and weaken as it grows older. It can, in fact, continue to grow, add “wiring”, become more integrated. It just needs new experiences to keep it malleable and growing.

True confession–I have never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels. I own one in paperback that I don’t think I ever read. But I’ve gotten hooked on the CBS series Elementary, the Sherlock Holmes movies and the BBC adaptation mini-series on PBS. I’ve been learning about Holmes’ thought process.

Maria Konnikova has written a well researched book on Holmes’ thought process intertwined with the latest on brain research. The book is Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. I recommend it.

Toward the end of the book, she says, “If you get only one thing out of this book, it should be this: the most powerful mind is the quiet mind. It is the mind that is present, reflective, mindful of its thoughts and it’s state. It doesn’t often multitask, and when it does, it does so with a purpose.”

I have struggled with overcoming the busy mind, anxieties, lack of focus on my life. I’m sure many others have. I’ve also spent almost 50 years researching and experiencing and reflecting on this topic. She nails it.

And every time I drift, something calls me back to a quiet mind, focus, being present in the moment.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

  • Start the day with quiet time, maybe a cup of coffee or tea, just relaxing and focusing on breath. (remember that in the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible breath, wind and spirit are the same word)
  • Take a break during the day at times to move around to break the momentum of stress
  • Become aware of yourself and your thoughts that reside in the background, when they are not helpful, stop and take a few deep breaths
  • Turn off email and phone when you need to concentrate on reading or work
  • When you listen, listen; when you read, read; when you meditate, mediate–become fully aware of only the present moment

Peace.

The Truth About You

March 19, 2014

John Ortberg, senior pastor of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, is teaching a series now on “The Truth About You.” He says, “The truth about you is that you don’t know the truth about you.”

The most famous phrase on this subject is the inscription at the Temple of Delphi, home of the so-called Delphic Oracle, which says, “Know Thyself.” Christian theologians have picked up that phrase over the centuries–including Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, John Calvin.

During the course of years of my meditating, there have been periods where recurring images would come to me. I’d explore the images during meditation. Sometimes reflecting on them. Then some conclusion would happen, and I would never revisit that image again. Doesn’t mean that I forgot them. I just never went back to that experience.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans talking about how sinful we are. Those can be just words. In my meditations many years ago, there was an image that recurred over the course of many months.

One day during meditation, I opened a door and came face-to-face with all of my sins and all of the sins that I was (am) capable of committing. It was a a shocking experience.

Later, I could understand Romans. And other such works. Forget that I’m so good. I know that within me is the power if unchained has great capability for committing evil deeds.

I’ve said that I’m not really a “Lent” person. It was just never in my heritage and I’ve not picked it up very much. If we take it as a time of reflection of how much bad we have done and how much we are capable of doing, then the release from all that sin and evil (a subsequent experience in that series of meditations) is all the more sweet. That would be the climax of Lent–the celebration of Easter and the Resurrection.

Know yourself. It’s hard. It’s necessary.

Meditations on Meditating

March 14, 2014

We are in the Christian season of Lent. As I’ve said previously, I grew up in a tradition where we did not really recognize Lent. As a kid, I knew that the Lutherans and Catholics chose something from which to abstain during Lent. I don’t even remember going to any special Ash Wednesday services.

I wonder if we practiced Advent mostly because of the commercial hype around gift giving. We had Advent calendars that marked off the days until Christmas. We had Christmas programs at church. We had Christmas programs at school (when approximately 100% of the school’s population is Christian, you could do that).

I’m meditating on Lent this year. Maybe because there is another movie out that, like the one by Mel Gibson several years ago, seems to focus on the death of Jesus. In some traditions, the “way of the Cross” is commemorated bringing to the front of mind the steps of Jesus from Pilate’s residence to the place of crucifixation.

We know the point of Christmas. It is that Jesus came into the world. For Lent, as it leads up to Good Friday and Easter there are two events. Death and resurrection. Tradition has us concentrating for 40 days (plus Sundays) on the death. We have one quick day celebrated by pastel colors and candy to remember the resurrection. And then it’s over.

Read Acts again. Read Paul’s letters. The first followers of Jesus did so because of the resurrection. That was the single most important event in our religious heritage.

Jesus said that he pointed the way to eternal life. John always uses the term in the present tense. Eternal life begins when you choose it. It also carries on to life with-God after we die–physically.

Those of us who meditate deeply understand the distinction of body and soul. We’ve experienced it.

We need a celebration to remember the resurrection all the time beginning with Easter and leading to Advent. It is our life now and our hope for the future.