One time I got a call from a priest, irked because I had written something about meditation in the context of Buddhist philosophy.
“I’ve been meditating for 30 years,” he told me. “This isn’t just an eastern thing.
No, it’s not. The idea of uncluttering our minds transcends faiths and cultures. It’s for all of us. And teachings about meditation can be found in any age, whether in Christianity or Judaism, Native American wisdom or world literature.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden.
In his book Wherever You Are There You Go, Jon Kabat-Zinn described meditation as “the systematic cultivation of wakefulness, of present-moment awareness.” It means we pay attention, on purpose, in the here and now, without passing judgment on anything.
Meditation is a path of self-development. It can mean different things to different people. Some may hope to connect to a higher spirit. Others may seek a sense of harmony and oneness with the universe. Still others may want to relieve stress or get rid of chronic headache pain.
A reader named Bernard, who recently visited our book club forums discussion page at www.ohio.com, asked the fundamental question of how one begins to meditate. Bernard wanted to know if he had to chant.
The answer is that there is no single way to meditate, and you don’t have to chant. Another reader, going by the name Strings, added this perspective: “The best advice I can offer for anyone interested in starting is to eliminate any preformed opinions or ideas, and experience it directly. Simply sit, sit, sit. Then use that same mindfulness throughout your daily life and everything you do.”
Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, said in his book that the idea is not to try to get anywhere to make something happen, but just to stop and be present in the moment at hand.
You may experience new things. Or you may not.
On the question of posture, it’s whatever works for you. It is common to sit. But you may also stand, walk or lie down.
In his book, Kabat-Zinn offered a wonderful description of what mountains teach us about meditation.
This is the essence: We hold mountains sacred, yet they also embody a sense of dread. They are harsh yet majestic. They are made of rock, solid and of the earth. They show us the natural world in panoramic view.
Yet “the mountain just sits, being itself,” in Kabat-Zinn’s words. All around, there may be violent storms, snow, unfathomable winds. Still the mountain sits.
Or it may be spring when birds sing and flowers bloom. Still the mountain sits.
The mountain is unmoved by what happens on the surface and around it.
Similarly, we experience periods of ups and downs, lightness and darkness, in our own lives.
“The weather of our own lives is not to be ignored or denied,” Kabat-Zinn wrote. “It is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in high awareness since it can kill us. In holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom than we may have thought possible, right within the storms.
We can become firm and unmoving, he said, while at the same time soft, gentle and flowing.
Other readings on meditation, from various writers, are posted on the forums discussion page. You can also find the latest newsletter which discusses a particular method of meditation.
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