meditating on meditation
May 25th, 2010



It was a simple enough question I suppose in many ways. The fact that it was asked gave cause for reflection long after the question was posed. The question was 'How does one meditate?'

The art of meditation, for me, has three approaches. The first and perhaps most difficult is the emptying of the mind of 'all' thoughts. Personally this has proved impossible. When practicing meditation, when actually stopping long enough to sit down, in solitude and silence, and then to begin to 'empty my mind' of all thoughts, it's like my mind takes on a mind of its own, and declares war on this ludicrous idea of being emptied of all thoughts. I`m not sure the mind is meant to be empty of 'all' thoughts.

However, first we must think about thoughts. What are thoughts? Well, thoughts can be many things. Thoughts can be ideas, plans, and conceptions, (which would be my favourite as it seems there is a new thought born ever nano-second in my mind). Thoughts maybe be opinions, experiences, feelings ( boy, do I have opinions, and lots of experiences, and being intuitively inclined, filled with any amount of feelings, so many of each in fact that its sometimes very difficult to keep track of them all). Thoughts also may be any type of expectations, or anxieties or desires, hopes and dreams to do something, meet someone, go somewhere .... thoughts can also be failures, disappointments, loss ....   Thoughts on thoughts is an endless list.

Personally, when trying to empty my mind of all thoughts, attempting not to give 'thoughts' another thought so to speak, ( its possibly something like trying to quit smoking, as soon as you think about quitting you start to crave a cigarette). Well, perish the thought, all of a sudden, its like the Calvary's coming over the hill. Thoughts, in all kinds of guises and disguises, from soldiers to knights in shining armour, to thoughts of staying ahead of the flying dutchman start to appear, ready to take a stand. To stand their ground.

Just when the thought occurs to me not to give thinking thoughts another thought, bam!.  The thoughts just start racing through my mind - must do this - haven't done that - forgot this - I'm hungry - good heavens - the thought just occurred to me that my thought pattern sounds like Homer and I don't mean the Greek poet! Before you know it, a thousand thoughts have crossed my mind, multiplying by the minute. Entertaining any thoughts of emptying my mind of all thoughts is quickly abandoned. All of a sudden I find myself knee deep in a tangle of thoughts. Opps, there goes another one - born just this very minute.   Now what was a thinking about before I lost my train of thought ... oh, yes, meditation.

What works for me is practicing filling my mind with thoughts, or more precisely, a particular thought. When meditating, I find it helpful to concentrate on one thing. As a Christian, sometimes the use of an icon ( religious paintings ) helps to focus the mind. One of my favourite icons is 'On the Road to Emmaus' where two followers of Jesus are walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, (which would have been a very long journey on foot) discussing the events of that day that saw their 'teacher' executed publicly by being nailed to a cross - and left to die in the heat of the unrelenting sun. The Roman authorities, the world superpower of that day, had a very effective way of keeping the 'pax romana' also known as the Roman peace.   It was called crucifixion.

As they walked along the road that day they were joined by a stranger whom they do not immediately recognize. He asked them what is was that they were just talking about. They respond in disblief. They cannot believe he hasn't heard of the events of that day. Everyone was talking about it. How this good man known as Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion and they had watched him die. That was what they were talking about. The whole story is so incredible its hard to imagine someone could have made it up and how it has impacted the world ever since. When they arrived at their destination, dry from the dusty air and hungry because of their effort, travelling such a distance in the heat of the day, they invite this stranger in for a meal and to rest. He accepts their invitation. In the Jewish faith hospitality to the stranger is of vital importance.

On the occasion when Abraham, a man of unequalled importance to the Jewish narrative, entertained some strangers, he discovered they were actually messengers from God.  We tame such messengers by calling them angels and giving them wings. In the Bible 'angels' usually have six wings, not just two, but that's another story.   The reality is that angels come dressed as ordinary human beings and often we don`t recognize them as being sent to us from God to aid us in our times of need. Sorry, my thoughts are getting ahead of me. Back to the two followers of Jesus. As they are sitting at the table sharing a meal, the stranger takes bread and breaks it. Suddenly their eyes are opened and they realize that this stranger is none other than Jesus.  The same Jesus they saw nailed and crucified.  The heard him pronounced dead.  Christians believe Jesus to be God in human form.  They share a meal with the Risen Christ! 

For me as a Christian there is so much within this icon to meditate on, but this must suffice for now.   Just reflecting on it fills my mind with all kinds of thoughts about this incredible narrative about a man called Jesus, born in a smelly animal barn, grew up in a place known as garbage town - Nazareth - where the people engaged in acts of civil disobedience as they threw garbage in the streets when the occupying Roman soldiers marched through their town ... the Roman soldiers were forced to march through strewn garbage which would have been somewhat undignified.    The thoughts just keep coming ..... 

On other occasions, when meditating, and wishing to retreat from the busyness, modern technology, my computer and googled images are a great source to draw from.  They assist me in the practice of meditation. Putting together a slide presentation for example, which focuses on a particular topic, helps settle my busy mind.  

To give you a sense of how this migt work, one word that has caught my imagination, and has been a focus of many slide presentations that no-one has viewed but myself.  It is the word `exuberance`. The world is full of this 'exuberance'. Just think of mosquitoes!  At this time of the year you can see 'purple loosestrife' growing wild all over New Brunswick. It is considered harmful to wetlands as it can crowd out native aquatic plants thereby reducing food and habitat for waterfowl, frogs, turtles, fish and muskrats. One purple loosestrife - (wonder where the name came from?) - must google it in a minute or two ... opps, my thoughts are beginning to wander - gee, sometimes my mind has a mind of its own - but back to 'exuberance' and the purple loosestrife where I'm informed by this month's Reader's Digest in an article entitled 'Invades, Breeds and Destroys' that one purple loosestrife plant - just one - can produce, get this ... in one year ... 3000 seeds. Now has someone actually counted the seeds?   That's exuberance.

There is a great exuberance in nature and reflecting.   Meditating on nature has been a great source, a deep well to draw from for my own spiritual development.  Running especially through the seasons and experiencing how each season produces an exuberance entirely of their own has served to ground my faith in a Creator God.

Kay Redfield Jamison in her book 'Exuberance' informs the reader of a great many wonderful things.  Things that assist in building thoughts.   Redfield Jamison's thought pattern is ... well ... exuberant.  She informs us that 'exuberance' comes from the Latin meaning 'to be fruitful and multiply' which for a Christian rings some bells.

The first creation narrative found in the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible carries this command to be fruitful and multiply to Adam ( representative man ) and Eve (representative woman and helpmate .... denoting an equality of the sexes not always evident in organized religion, but I digress ... again).  They are to take care of God`s world which the Creator has declared to be `very good`. Of course human beings have more often than not exploited nature where ever we go and multiply, but that`s another story.

Kay Redfield Jamison informs us that given the right conditions over a seven year period, one pair of poppies will produce 820 million million million descendants and a single pair of spiders over the same time period and again under ideal circumstances will give rise to 427 thousand million million more spiders. Do you ever wonder how many snowflakes it takes to make a New Brunswick wide snow day where nothing moves. Now there`s something to meditate upon. The exuberance of nature can be overwhelming when one actually pauses to look around at the world in which we live.

When meditating, my time is spent more in a contemplation on 'thoughts'.. It is an intentional settling down, calming the body, relaxing the mind and being 'thoughtful' or some would say 'reflective'.  Such an exercise seeks to be a spiritual one where time is spent `pondering` a particular topic. It is first sowing spiritual seeds in my mind and hopefully, cultivating them for an abundant harvest at a later date.

As a preacher, contemplation is a meditative exercise. It is necessary to take and spend quality time in the act of 'intentional thinking' ... thinking thoughts carefully, calmly, and seriously, and not just for an moment or two.  It is about being thoughtful for a prolonged period of time. A time set aside. Such thoughtfulness may involve studying, ruminating and mulling such thoughts over, chewing them well before swallowing and inwardly digesting them.  Such thoughtfulness may even involve going to bed with them. To sleep with contemplative thoughts is to help them settle down in corridors of my mind, embedding themselves, making themselves at home, to become a part of `me` while my mind rests in the Creator`s gift of a good night`s restorative sleep.  Also, going for a run is a wonderful way for me to 'collect' my thoughts.

Such intentional meditation and contemplation involves patience ...  patience with myself.   If I can't be patient with 'little ol' me' it is highly unlikely I will be patient with the world around me. Now there's a word that lends itself for meditation and contemplation ..... PATIENCE ..... most of us, most of the time, don't have much time for it.  


blessings & Peace .... and patience

the running rev