Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence


Meditation

Meditation, the preeminent classical means of strengthening the soul, opening the heart, entering the spiritual, and serving the Divine, probably predates history. As far back as 4,000 years ago, the Old Testament tells of Isaac meditating in a field just prior to meeting Rebecca, his wife-to-be. Meditation, in its multitude of forms, continues as a core practice in certain sectors of most religions, e.g., the Christian Jesus prayer, Hindu Raja Yoga, Buddhist meditation, Muslim Sufi zikr, and Jewish Kabbalah practice. To our great good fortune, we inherit the treasure of meditation methods refined over millennia and readily applicable even in our fast-paced culture. The wide-ranging styles of meditation include silent and spoken repetitions, visualizations, focusing on a physical object, an idea, or a riddle, movement, relaxation, letting go, opening, delving into stillness, and more.

Simplifying the field, we can view all types of meditation as belonging to one of two complementary categories variously termed active and accepting, or concentration and opening, or doing and non-doing, or directed and non-directed. For proper balance we need both kinds. Indeed, the active prepares us for the open and the open lends meaning to the active. The distinguishing factor between the two categories is the posture of attention. In the active forms, we focus our attention on one of the many possible objects of meditation within our awareness. In the accepting forms, we open our attention toward the spiritual reality beyond our awareness. These pages offer examples of both kinds of meditation. Examples on the active side include awareness of bodily sensations, intentional relaxation, and conscious breathing. On the open side we have the practice of stillness and certain forms of prayer. Some meditation practices, such as Climbing Jacob's Ladder, combine both.

We may judge the efficacy of a spiritual path by whether it incorporates some type of meditation or meditative prayer. Without a direct and repeated action on our soul, a path cannot serve our transformation nor offer the hope of access to the truly spiritual. A path may have wonderful psychological and healing effects, but without carrying us toward the true One, at least not within the limited time we have. The path may be religious, communal, or social, yet lack the power to change our hearts and transform our being. Certainly the outward manifestation of good works is a necessary part of the spiritual path, but a lack of practices for purifying and strengthening the soul limits both the inner and outer value of good works.

To maximize the benefit, we aim to practice meditation every day. Regularity matters because it steadily deepens our practice and builds our spiritual commitment. Our attitude toward the daily discipline of meditation gradually evolves from something akin to brushing our teeth into an abiding source of joy in our lives. The duration may range from 20 minutes up to two hours or more. Meditating alone is good. Meditating with others is even better. An inexplicable power emerges through group spiritual practices. The palpable effect multiplies far beyond the number of people in the group. A group of two is good. A group of 100 is extraordinary. Participating in communal prayer or meditation fulfills a major aspect of our obligation to life.

All the major religions incorporate some form of meditation. But many leaders within the religious mainstream treat meditative and contemplative practices with disdain or consider them unnecessary or even destructive. Historically, the shunting aside of meditative practices probably served the leadership hierarchy by allowing them to maintain their roles as intermediaries to the Divine. For the congregation, meditative practices bring up difficult issues that many prefer not to face. Who am I really? What actually goes on in my mind and heart? Do I have to change? Am I responsible for my inner life? Do I have to face all this banality in myself? How can I find my way into the unknown? How can I find the time for meditation or contemplative prayer? All of this and more arise when one embarks on a program of meditation. Much easier to leave it alone and continue to sweep the messiness of our inner lives under a carpet of unconsciousness. In meditation we shine a light on our inner world and, little by little, the dust and weeds and broken machinery begin to clear up. Then glimpses come of a deeper world, a more meaningful way of living, of joy, and even love.

One simple, non-denominational meditation practice is as follows. First, before you even sit down, set your intention. Recall your purpose in meditating. Recall that, like all spiritual practices, meditation is an act of service for yourself, for others, and for that which lies beyond. Then sit comfortably, with your spine upright, but not stiff. Use a chair, a bench, or a cushion. Starting at the top of your head, scan down throughout your body, noticing muscular tensions and letting them loosen. Repeat the relaxation scan two or three times at your own pace. Next, place your attention on the sensations of your breathing, wherever you find them most prominent: the nostrils, the upper chest, or the abdomen. Do not change the breathing, just bring awareness to it and keep with it in a relaxed manner. If you find your attention wandering off into thoughts or sounds or sensations, gently bring it back to the breath, over and over and over again. If you have great difficulty staying with the breath, try counting breaths for a while. Mentally count the breaths from one to ten, and then start over at one. The counting is secondary: keep your primary attention on the sensations of the breath. If you lose count, start over at one. When you can stay with the breath continuously for five or six cycles of ten, you can drop the counting and just be with the breath. That’s it: simple and direct. Gradually your mind will settle down, your consciousness will start to emerge, your heart will relax, and your soul will grow. When the cognizant stillness of consciousness grows pronounced, you might choose to drop attention to the breath and just be in consciousness itself.

All spiritual practices and methods, including meditation, eventually reach a limit. Usually this limit is merely a plateau. To move beyond it requires something different than what brought you there. Perhaps you need more commitment, a new mode of perceiving, or another meditative technique or spiritual practice. Then you move on. But along the way, real barriers will confront you. When you stand before the ineffable, on the outskirts of the formless, no inner exercise or meditation technique will carry you across. Experimentation, exploration, and commitment help. But only the purity of your heart and intention, along with the grace you receive, will open that door. There can be no method for that. Meditation and other practices may transport us to the threshold of the spiritual, but we must find our own way to step across, empty-handed and emptied of ourselves.

Meditation Pages:

Conscious Breathing

Energy Breathing

Energy Body

The Temple of Peace

Climbing Jacob's Ladder

Tracing Back the Radiance

Why Am I?

Earth and Sun

Presence Meditation


        

About Inner Frontier                                    Send us email 

Copyright © 2001 - 2017 Joseph Naft. All rights reserved.