Dear Donagh…, I love the new look of your website. I remember you said the designer is your nephew. Congratulate him for me.... Now my question. You often write about meditation. In the last few months, for reasons I need not go into, I've become interested. I would like to know how it should be done. It seems there are different approaches and different explanations, even different ideologies and religions. Is there a reliable way that isn't too ideological – I don’t want to get caught up in some weird movement :) I would be interested to hear what you say. Thanks again for your website. It’s neat. George H.
Dear George, And thanks for your question. Yes, many people throughout the world are involved in some practice of meditation. It’s probably a measure of how crazy the world has become! I don’t mean that people are crazy because they meditate; I mean that they meditate because the world around them is crazy. Around them, and partly in them. Meditation is the part of a person that hasn’t gone quite crazy.
There's a bewildering variety of meditation techniques around today. And inevitably, some of them reflect some of the craziness of the world we live in. But we should think about the ones that lead like streams into the big river and ultimately the ocean.
Christians have confidence that the Christian way leads to the ocean of God’s being and love; it has led countless people there. It was known as “the Way” before it was known as Christianity. In our own time it has been given a very clear expression by Dom John Main (1926 – 1982). Christians have always talked about meditation, but usually under the name ‘contemplation’. When people attempted to describe it they usually went into very abstruse explanations, so that it often appeared to be only for specialists. Language is always trying to run away with itself, nowhere more so than in religion and philosophy. The great advantage of John Main’s approach is that he makes it quite practical. In fact, at the front of every publication by the WCCM (World Community for Christian Meditation) they print a very brief description of the method. Here it is. I'm sure they won't mind if I quote it in full.
“Meditate for Thirty Minutes.... Remember: Sit down. Sit still and upright. Close your eyes lightly. Sit relaxed but alert. Silently, interiorly, begin to say a single word. We recommend the prayer-phrase "Maranatha." Recite it as four syllables of equal length. Listen to it as you say it, gently, but continuously. Do not think or imagine anything—spiritual or otherwise. Thoughts and images will likely come, but let them pass. Just keep returning your attention—with humility and simplicity—to saying your word in faith, from the beginning to the end of your meditation.”
This is not the only way that a Christian can meditate, but it is a very effective way. Some people (not the WCCM) might prefer to concentrate simply on the breath. You can regard the breath, if you will, as a wordless mantra. But whatever method you follow, it is vital to be aware that (in John Main’s words), “Meditation is not learning to do, it is learning to be.” There is often a great deal of confusion between descriptions of a method and descriptions of a state of meditation. The paragraph I quoted describes a method. Please don’t try to describe, even to yourself, the state of meditation. If you do, you will begin to talk like Heidegger! You will sound very profound and mystical, but you won't be saying anything. It’s better just to be silent. It’s no big deal. If you were to move your fingertips along the table you would be lost for words to describe that too. But it’s easy to tell someone how to do it. You can find out more if you google ‘wccm’.
Keep going, George, don’t give up!