Meditation as Practice

I have read many books on meditation. For some reason I have always been drawn to this practice. Perhaps it has something to do with my personality type. For those familiar with the Meyers-Briggs personality indicator, I am an INFJ. Intuitive – Introvert – Feeling – Judging. I won’t go into what that all means. I have forgotten most of it, anyway. Such tests are fascinating for people when they don’t know who they are. I guess I know myself by now and I have to admit that tools such as the Meyers-Briggs probably helped.

According to one expert each type of personality is drawn to a different type of spirituality. It was in reading the findings of this expert that I found that meditation might be a sensible path for me. So I started out trying to meditate and, as I said, I read many books. It seems that whenever I’d read a book of a spiritual nature that really spoke to me, somewhere in it was some reference to meditation.

When I first attempted to meditate, it was a little crazy. The idea of putting thoughts out of my head seemed ridiculous to me. In my way of understanding, I needed to do lots more thinking if I wanted to figure things out so I could better manage my life. Besides, I couldn’t do it. Whenever I would sit with the candle burning before me and the soft music playing, I’d find myself out and out attacked by thoughts. Important thoughts like what to fix for supper and how to tell my boss that something he said was totally unfair. The timer would ding and I’d realize I had spent all of my meditation time thinking.

I kept at it, though. It seems that I really was called to this unusual practice of sitting and doing absolutely nothing. Eventually, I began to experience brief moments when I was able to put my thoughts at rest. It would have been a good time for God to step in and shine like a bright light. I realize now that that is actually what I was looking for, some kind of profound spiritual experience to take away my loneliness and to make me feel loved.

While not much happened while I meditated, things began to happen during the rest of my days, when I was just going about my business. I began to be more aware of what was going on around me. I found myself able to put my thoughts aside when watching a child at play or listening to the song of a bird.  One day, I actually stopped my car and pulled off the road to watch a sunset, so caught I was by its beauty.

Another thing that happened is that I found myself able to be more present to the people around me. One day I was talking with an inmate at our local county jail. I was carrying out a project in which inmates could read children’s books into a tape and send them as Christmas gifts to their children. This young man wanted to sing a rap song he’d written to his child. After he was done, he began telling me of his experience, why he was in jail, that he would be going to prison, and how he felt about leaving his child. I really felt his regret and pain. I was actually aware of my consciousness, that I was really listening and hearing to this guy. I felt it a heart-to-heart moment.

That sense of presence is one of the outcomes of meditation that has changed my life. Not only am I more aware of my surroundings, whether I am observing nature or appreciating art, but it is changing my relationships.  My loneliness is dissipating. I am feeling a connection to all that is around me.

I have investigated a number of religious traditions. I notice that each of the major religions have a thread in their tapestries that is known as the mystic tradition. Judaism has Abraham Heschel and the Kabbalists. The Muslims have Rumi, a favorite of mine, and the Sufis. In the east there is the Buddha, of course. Because of my own tradition, I have been most drawn to the Christian mystics: Frances of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich to name a few. There are sectarian mystics too: Ralph Waldo Emerson and poet Walt Whitman are a couple of these. So meditation, the common practice for mytics,  isn’t really religious. This is why people can be Christian and practice Zen Buddhism at the same time. The former has a system of beliefs, the latter is a way of being in the world, a path. It is also the reason mystics seem to be able to connect with one another regardless of their individual religious beliefs.

I can’t say that everyone should meditate, but when I come across people who are obsessive thinkers or who are really attached to their own ideas to the point that they can’t hear what you are saying, I want to yell “Stop! For even a minute get off that merry-go-round. Notice the circular way of your thinking.” When I meet people who feel real alone, I want to tell them “Stop! Notice the links you have with other people. Many of them are lonely, too.” When I see folks being careless about how they treat the environment, I want to say, “Stop! Notice the beauty of what God has created.” For me, meditation is a way to stop.

My mother used to talk to me about living in the moment. She never mentioned that she meditated. Perhaps she didn’t need to meditate to stop her thinking and pay attention. But I do, it seems.