Breathe: Meditation

Meditation is becoming more and more popular with people. Where once it was relegated to the monks that inhabited the mountains of Tibet, or the hippy flower children, the benefits of meditation are being experienced by more and more people.

For some with a more conservative Christian worldview meditation has been looked at with suspicion - 'an eastern practice, that is sure to leave our faith shipwrecked on the rocks of some transcendental mind-trip.' Of course, study will help us uncover a rich heritage of meditative and contemplative prayer that was very much alive and practiced by followers of Jesus throughout the centuries.

Meditation is simply a means by which we become still (more still), where we practice quieting our minds (thoughts, emotions) as we become more present to the present moment. This is important because if you are like me, your thoughts are often focused on either what you have to do, or what have done.  A proverb might be: The present moment is crucified between two thieves - the past and the future!

The problem with this is we are never fully awake to enjoy/experience what is happening as we are living it, and therefore missing out on perhaps deeper experiences. Meditation can help us to this end, in that it helps us cultivate a posture towards living that is more awake.

Meditation is a practice where we discover and learn to live from a deeper place, a more

Encounter God in silence, the still small voice.

authentic place. The core of our being, far below the surface things we use to identify ourselves. It is much deeper than the labels and other such cultural Graffiti that often applied to us. This is a place where we can connect with God in the “secret place” in spirit and truth. This provides the context to discover our sacred created-ness, and perhaps get to know it for the first time. It is in these experiences that we can begin to shed the masks and false selves and live a little more deliberately into who we are. Heck, it might be the first time that some of us learn to like and accept ourselves!

“it is the orientation of our whole body, mind, and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God”

- Thomas Merton

Meditation is not a fleeing from life, problems, or avoiding the storms of life but a resource to help us navigate them. Nor is it the escape from the body rather we use our bodies as the conduit through which we experience reality, the present physical moment. We learn to become aware of our bodies, and there is much they can tell us if we pay attention.

“Healthy spirituality makes us more human, more whole, not more fractionated.”

So… how do you meditate?

Choose a quiet place with limited distractions. If you can leave your phone/tablet in another room, that is a bonus! Many feel the need to respond to every ping, buzz and ring their devices make. Relegating them to silent in another room will go a long way in helping you grow in your meditation practice.

How long one should meditate? If you know me a little, you know that I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality - we are all unique! However, as a rule of thumb, if I have to have one is, sometimes less is more. The issue isn’t the amount of time as much as it is cultivating a quality within that time. Start with 5 minutes once or twice a day. As we begin, 5 minutes can be a little bit of a challenge but with gentle practice, we will begin to experience the quality of the inner experience, and we can certainly expand our time. Our practice will begin to provide its own encouragement to take us deeper, longer. Please, don’t despise small beginnings!

So here we go…

We begin with assuming a comfortable posture, ideally sitting up, straight back and neck. Feet flat on the floor and our hands gently in our laps.

With our eyes open, focused in general. We take a deep breath and exhale. We do this a couple more times as a way to breath out busy thoughts, anxieties. A couple of deep breaths will also increase the oxygen level in our blood that will help us be more focused. Funny thing, when we are stressed out we tend to breathe shallowly - so let’s be conscious to take a couple good, deep breaths.

Gently, we close our eyes and begin to scan our body. Starting at the top of our heads focus on how each part of our body feels. Note temperature, the experience of weightiness as we sit, the sensation of our breath around our nose and mouth. Does our chest or our belly expand and contract with our breath? This not an exercise of evaluation, or passing judgment, rather it is for awareness that ushers you gently a little deeper into the present moment.

We then gently shift from body awareness to our breathing. We bring our focus to our breath, its rhythm.  Just notice it, in and out.

Fun Fact: Yahweh, the sacred Hebrew name for God, the name so holy it must never be spoken coincidently(?) sounds very much like the sound we make when we inhale and exhale. When we inhale it sounds like “yah”, and when we exhale it sounds like “weh”.

This is significant. Remember the creation story? God created humanity, formed from the dust and God-breathed (Ruach, the breath, the Spirit) into us - the divine breath which gives and sustains life. As long as we breathe, in and out, we have the sacred (intimate) name of God on our lips.

As we finish our time, we reverse the process. We gently shift our focus from our breath to our bodies - starting at the soles of our feet and doing a slow scan on our way to the crown of our head.

Slowly open your eyes, and pay attention to how you feel. Notice any sensations, thoughts, pictures, or songs that may come to mind. You may want to explore these to see what, if any significance they may hold. I love to journal these.

As a method of prayer, it helps us show up to God with our hands empty - not on the merit of what we know about God, but by the merit of divine love alone. In the cloud of unknowing we simply “are” before the lover of our souls.

Meditation is about presence - not some marketable heavy revy or titillations, escapism or even a shopping list of needs and wants. It is us offering ourselves as a gift to the source of gift itself.

Meditation is not the elimination of all thoughts. You will certainly have thoughts, and experience distractions especially when you begin your practice. It is learning to acknowledge the thoughts and distractions and letting them go. Resist the temptation to be aggressive with the distracting thoughts. Even our best intentions that are aggressive will stir us up, making the distracting thoughts more sticky. So resist the temptation to cling to them, rather acknowledge them, and let them go. Like a leaf on a river, you notice and let it float on by. And return to your breath.

Meditation is a labour of love that does take practice and patience. Be kind to yourself. Remember, it is not the practice itself that is the end goal. The end goal is the growing awareness of the present presence with God, the ultimate reality, or the fractal of love that creates, enlivens and sustains all things. Cultivating an awareness of the divine and our intimate connection is what guides us through life, the storms and joys of a life deeply lived.

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