COMMENTARY: A beginner’s guide to meditation

COMMENTARY: A beginner’s guide to meditation

Video Courtesy of ContemplativeTV (Christian Mindfulness)

Blessed is the one who does not walk

In the counsel of the unrighteous …

But delights in the teaching of the Divine.

And on this teaching meditates day and night.

Such a one is like a tree planted by water-streams

That brings forth its fruit in season

And those whose leaf does not wither

Whatever this one does prospers.

Is this the doctrine of some strange Asian religion? The teachings of some self-proclaimed guru? You might be surprised to learn that this description of the power of meditation comes from Psalm 1 in the Hebrew Scriptures and is attributed to Israel’s great King David.

What compelled David to devote himself to meditative practice? Finding his personal life in turmoil, David sought, as many people of all faiths do today, a sense of peace and an enhanced ability to cope with troubles. Initial meditative or contemplative sessions often bring this kind of relief.

Even at the very beginning stages, most meditators discover a sense of something beyond mere respite. They find, as the Prophet Elijah did in the cave at Sinai, that”a still, small voice “speaks to them. It is a voice that seems to transcend religious differences.

The writer and former Taoist monk Deng Ming-Dao likens the meditative experience to a cave: “In a cave all outer sounds are smothered by rock and earth, but this makes the sounds of one’s own heartbeat and breath audible. In the same way, contemplative stillness turns us away from everyday clamor but allows us to hear the subtle in our own lives.” When I began experimenting with meditation as a teenager, I was typically ambivalent. Meditation felt good, but it was also very hard to remain attentive and undistracted. In fact, I gave it up for years. Unlike David, who turned to meditation after suffering rejection and betrayal, I was not broken or desperate enough to keep to a practice. Only after studying and contemplating religious scriptures and gaining a stronger connection to the extraordinary world of spirit did I resume a regular practice.

The Rig Veda, one of Hinduism’s sacred texts, paints a picture of the human metaphysical condition-some would say dilemma-in the story of two birds. The dearest of friends, the birds sit on branches of the same tree. One is incessantly occupied with pecking and eating the fruits dangling there. By these acts of destruction and consumption, the bird participates in the process of dying and living. The other bird simply witnesses and contemplates, uninvolved and unconcerned with consequences. Our nature is, like the first bird, taken up with the business of survival and material concerns. Yet, our nature is also spiritual; like the other bird, we must be in a different place to realize it.

Meditation removes us from the momentary, anxious world where we normally live and brings us to the timeless, serene world of the divinely empowered. Historically this experience was reserved for a select few-shamans, royalty, priestesses and priests, prophets, and acknowledged religious leaders.

Today, it is an open possibility. Meditation books and classes abound, and the Internet buzzes with discussion groups. People can choose from a variety of meditation instructions from Aboriginal to Zen. Dhyani Ywahoo, a Cherokee”wisdom-keeper “who teaches Native American and Buddhist meditation, extracts the essence: “Meditation practice … creates a still pool upon which your nature is reflected. As you continue, the emotions race less and less and the mind becomes transparent. Then begin to clarify channels within … that the sacred wisdom fire may manifest. Whether we refer to the inclusiveness of mind as Great Spirit, Buddha-mind, Christ-mind, Allah, or by another name, essentially there is one truth underlying … the undescribable.” This is the transformative potential of meditative practice. It centers the body in a state of restfulness and acceptance. It provides a breathing space from emotional disturbance. It allows goodwill and love to dwell again in our hearts. It clears the mind and opens receptive channels to universal wisdom and illumination.

The power of meditation is, blessedly, cumulative. Later in his life, David testified to this in Psalm 119, proclaiming: “O, how I love your teaching! … I know more … for your ways are my meditation.”