Meditation is a simple but profound spiritual practice that sits alongside worship and prayer as one of three core spiritual practices.
Because it is simple I will state it simply before describing my own approach to meditation in more detail.
- Come with the intention to be open to the Infinite (to God or the life-energy of the universe)
- Sit alert and comfortable
- Rest in the Infinite
- Let everything be as it is
- Allow thoughts and sensations to pass through without judgement or attention; just be the awareness or the witness.
- Start with 5-10 mins daily; 20 minutes twice daily is ideal
So, in more detail…..
I first encountered meditation in a secular medical setting. The Mind/Body Institute at Harvard was promoting it as a therapeutic practice for a wide variety of physical and psychological conditions. I began to practice it as they suggested for 5-10 minutes each day using a concentration technique – the use of a repeated phrase or mantra. It became something that was very therapeutic for me personally, especially in supporting me in busy medical practice. To begin the day with meditation became an essential practice for me; it encouraged a still centre in my life and work. It enabled me to cope much better with the demands of medicine and to be alongside people with greater presence.
Over the years my practice of meditation has gradually changed and maybe it will continue to do so. At present I like to think of it as practicing the presence of the Infinite. I like the word ‘Infinite’ in this context because it is free from religious overtones and is likely to be acceptable in spiritual, religious or secular settings.
In the early years I think it was very valuable to use a concentration meditation practice. If the mind is anxious or ‘busy’ then it can be calming and stilling to focus on a single thing, to give all of your attention to one thing. This can help thoughts to settle. Often the suggestion is to be aware of the breath, to simply focus on breathing and to follow that without changing its cadence or pattern. This is very simply, it has the advantage of being free from words and as a physical phenomenon is very grounding.
Another concentration practice is to choose and continuously repeat a word or phrase – a mantra. The word or phrase can be of your own choice but I think is best if it is calming or supportive. It can be quite simple such as “be still”; it can be based upon religious belief, for example repeating the name “Jesus”. Choose something that is appropriate for you and repeat it slowly and silently as a focus for your meditation. The World Community for Christian Meditation suggests the use of the word “Maranatha” – a biblical Greek word which means ‘come Lord’. I used a mantra based meditation like this for some years and found it helpful. See www.wccm.org
Another approach to meditation is sometimes called awareness meditation or witness meditation. This is probably the most widely practiced approach to meditation in contemporary spiritual culture. In this type of meditation, we don’t narrow the focus of attention to a single thing but actually the opposite. We open the attention to be fully aware without focusing directly on anything. The intention is simply to be the consciousness that is aware of feelings, sounds or thoughts without dwelling upon them. In this type of meditation anything that arises or that is noticed is simply allowed to pass – letting everything be as it is without following it with our thoughts or attention. This approach strengthens our ability to be the witness or observer of thoughts or sensations and can encourage our freedom to make choices about how we react to things outside of meditation. It can create a kind of spaciousness of the mind with liberating choice-making between our instincts, thoughts and actions.
Centering Prayer is a valuable Christian approach to meditation that works with both concentration and awareness aspects of meditation through the use of a sacred word or phrase that is allowed to settle or dissipate. See www.contemplativeoutreach.org
My approach to meditation as practicing the presence of the infinite is something like this:
- Come with an open mind and heart to be in the presence of the infinite and to be an expression of the infinite. If this is a secular practice for you then this is an openness to the creative energy of the universe, the evolutionary impulse which has given rise to life and consciousness and the qualities that we appreciate including goodness, beauty, truth, love and compassion. Come with gratitude and a desire to filled, inspired, empowered and healed by this energy that course through the universe and courses through you.
- If this is a religious or spiritual practice for you then, again, come with an open heart and mind to be in the presence of the infinite and to be an expression of the infinite. This is a time for resting in God, for resting in the presence of Christ. Allow your own heart and being to be filled with the presence of the one who is love being empowered and healed to live as love.
- Many people ask about posture. This is very simple: be comfortable and alert enough to stay awake if possible.
- Many people ask about method. Method risks control and manipulation. We don’t want to control our mind, we want to rest in the infinite, letting go of all control or manipulation of the mind. Meditation is not about mastering a technique but letting go into the presence of the infinite and resting there. Meditation is abiding in Christ, resting in pure awareness with all objects of attention left to their natural functioning. In meditation we are not aiming to be aware of the thoughts, sensations or other objects of attention. We will be aware of these things but as we gently relax into awareness itself these objects will tend to fade.
- Is there a place for focussing on the breath or a mantra – yes, of course, if this is helpful. Especially at the start of meditation or if thoughts and sensations are intrusive in a way that troubles you. Then let go into pure awareness once more.
To meditate by practicing the presence of the infinite is to regularly and intentionally to surrender to the infinite, to God, to Christ. In that surrendering we open ourselves to continuing growth, development, evolution, transformation out of which we offer our own unique contributions to life and the world.
Jonathan Jelfs, November 2015