Oohhhm, Ooooohhhm, Ooohhhhm. Clear the mind. Breathe from the diaphragm. Relax the shoulders. Feel the warmth from the sun. Ahh, meditation. What would I do without it? I could describe my life up until a couple of years ago and that would give you a pretty good idea.
In the past I admit the idea of meditation brought to mind something mystical and romanticized by Hollywood, an activity Buddhist monks participated in while wearing a turban and sitting in the lotus position with hands resting on knees and chanting. Over the past several years, however, this notion of meditating has lost it's perceived strangeness and I have begun to fit it into my paradigm and equated it with pondering, praying, or quietly thinking. I have used it for stress reduction or relaxation, a tool used in yoga class, and an extremely useful technique during difficult labor and delivery.
Looking deeper into the subject more recently, however, has drastically changed my perspective even more. Far from an authority on the subject, but eager to continue to see it's benefits in my life, I write now a few thoughts and experiences about how it has made a monumental difference in my life. My sources of inspiration are various yoga instructors I've had, reading Depack Choprah (a global leader in the field of mind-body medicine), searching the scriptures, and experimenting on the word ? for myself. I recognize how I am at the very beginning of understanding the power of meditation, barely scratching the surface, a novice. Often I get discouraged when thinking of how far I would like to progress, but I take solace in the experience of author Philip Gourevitch when he wrote,
People will say, Why are you writing about that? You don't even know anything about it. You look at something for the first time, and everyone seems to know more than you do. You think, I must be ignorant…but let me have a look. Your authority is your curiosity.
So here I am writing for the first time on the power of meditation.
Meditation is recognized as a component of almost all religions and has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Why for so many thousands of years have so many seen this as a powerful experience? Perhaps it's one of those things that has to be experienced to be understood.
Meditation can be viewed from many perspectives, but the one that seems the best fit for me personally is the one that is designed with the purpose of creating a direct personal experience with God, to be healed and nourished by God's spirit, a tool on the path of spiritual growth.
I now borrow from author Phil McLemore who wrote extensively on the subject, and paraphrase some of his teachings.
With a spiritual perspective in mind, McLemore asks us to ask ourselves the following question: “What are the barriers to my spiritual growth?” He suggests that one of the barriers is the problem of conditioning patterns of behavior over our lives that narrow our perceptions and responses. Psychologists have estimated that most people only use 5-10 percent of our free agency, the rest being scripted by past experiences and relationships of our lives.
Conditioning means patterns. Our brains love repetitive patterns. When we learn something, chemically it gets locked in, even at a very young age. As children we probably learned how to get our needs met by undesirable actions: manipulating, tantrums, or cajoling. As adults we haven't matured very much even though now our actions seem more sophisticated. In truth these patterns are binding and constricting. If we cycle into them we can't grow spiritually.
Mediation in the system of yoga is about flexibility. Not just physical flexibility, but about not being stuck; being able to expand awareness, have clearer perceptions, and not be restricted by unhealthy patterns, but being able to make choices that are in harmony with God.
What is flexibility? Mental, psychological, spiritual, emotional? Growth and health is manifested in flexibility in all of these areas. Conditioning makes you rigid; you see things a certain way and consequently respond in a certain way. But when you are mentally flexible it propels spiritual growth. Eastern and western thoughts talk about being “asleep” when you are reacting and responding mindlessly, thoughtlessly. You can't sleep your way to spiritual growth. “O that ye would awake,” pleads prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon, “awake from a deep sleep yea, even from the sleep of hell and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.” (2 Nephi 1:13) What is transforming is when you wake up and come in contact with what is holy.
Psychologists refer often to what is called the body mind complex. Plainly stated the body mind complex is the idea that a person is made up of all the thoughts and beliefs that are rolling around in their head. As a result of this perspective many will defend unhealthy personality traits because that's who they think they are, rather than admit that positive changes are possible. An opposing perspective to this idea of the body mind complex is the idea that if you can observe it, you are not it. Your essential nature is the power you have to observe. You are not a mind body swirl of motion and thoughts. You are deeper and more profound than that.
When you enter meditation, have can have a direct experience with God. You can have a spirit to spirit connection and have your divine qualities nourished by him. Coming closer to Christ releases your inner qualities, unfold and push back limitations of conditioning. It is a possible path of liberation, freed from perceptions.
So if by now you are interested in meditation and have little or no experience with it, here is a brief overview on how I got started.
The first couple of times I meditated I felt a little silly, especially when Brian would walk in on me. I found myself relaxing for a moment or two, but then I was keenly aware of how much “thinking” was going on. It was mentally exhausting trying to quiet my mind, and physically tiring as well to remain seated with my back straight for more than 15-20 minutes. The more I tried to think of “nothing” the more my thoughts would jump around from subject to subject.
What are thoughts? They are reviews of the past, projections into the future, our memories, our desires. Phil McLemore states:
The spirit is a present moment reality. Have faith that by stilling the mind, becoming in touch with spirit, that it is going to liberate and nourish you.
The goal, then, is to get control of your thinking. When your mind is in pure silence, you are in your essential state. Your mind does not want to be narrowed down, it likes where it is. Get control of your thoughts; find a single point of concentration. For me it took seven or eight nights before I began to see improvement, but it became easier and easier to discipline myself and not get distracted. Don't get discouraged!
First, plan to meditate in place where you won't be disturbed. Mornings are suggested, but I have found that I have the quietest and most peaceful moments at night when the kids are in bed. But whenever you can do it is understandable. Come into a comfortable sitting position, hold your neck and back straight. Use a cushion or chair if needed, and sit with your head upright. Start with ten, twelve, or fifteen minutes, but twenty is ideal. Close your eyes. Because it's a spiritual practice, start with a brief devotional prayer with intent to communicate with God. Breathe diaphragmatically. Inhale, expanding your belly, exhale and feel it recede. Let your shoulders fall down, your shoulder blades like butterfly wings falling down your back. Imagine your spine as a great hollow tube, extending down through your tailbone into the center of the earth, and up out the top of your head and up into the sky. Practice abdominal breathing for a minute to get the rhythm. This is the second step: bring awareness to your breath.
Next you may want to use a mantra. Find a word, phrase, or scripture that is uplifting, and begin the mantra in your mind. It has been suggested that the mantra be two syllables, so you can get it in sync with your breathing, but I have used much longer mantras, even several phrases together. What is important is to release the desire to control it. Let it flow with your breath.
Here are a couple of mantras that I have used. My purpose when creating them was to make sure that the statements were simple, to the point, clear, and unchangeable.
- I decide to experience my full abundance (or peace, security, warmth, or love of others) no matter what occurs with ease.
- I decide to feel completely peaceful this moment no matter what occurs
- I allow myself to accept others (or unconditionally love, or approve of others) and myself no matter what
- Feelings of happiness come from the ability to love
- I allow myself to receive Gods approval at all times with ease
However, I personally find more power in holding in mind various scripture phrases, such as:
- “Believe in God. Believe that he is ?” (Mosiah 4:9)
- “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
- “God is love” (1 John 4:8)
What will be most effective is a phrase that you come up with, something that rings true to you, whatever brings you peace and clarity. Undoubtedly your thoughts will intrude and you may feel discouraged, but don't get upset. Gently return to your focus. At first your mind will be drawn away repeatedly. Gently come back each time. After a couple of weeks of practice your mind will calm down and you will be able to have focus. You will be able to observe thoughts, body sensations, emotions. You will begin hearing the mantra more than producing it in your mind. Your point of focus will become more and more subtle. When you feel like you are getting down to just one thought, remember that you are still thinking, and your intention is to get into the state of pure spirit. When you hear the mantra instead of saying it, it becomes more subtle and disappears altogether, and you will find yourself in silence.
If you are asking yourself, “Do I deserve this kind of spiritual experience?” or “Is this really possible?” I say to you Yes! I have noticed my scripture studies richer, a stronger presence of the spirit, spiritual growth and healing, and my prayers are more profound. I recognize my nothingness and that I am less than the dust of the earth. I know that God's ways are higher than my ways, and that “man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.” (Mosiah 4:9) But I hunger and thirst for a stronger connection to the heavens. In the book of Alma the great missionary Ammon joyously cries:
Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for our joy is full; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men? (Alma 26:16)
I know that as we ponder on the things of the Lord, the eyes of our understanding will be opened.
I finish with the following story written by Orson F. Whitney:
I should like to begin by relating a marvelous vision Joseph Smith the Prophet had concerning the Twelve Apostles in his day, which has profound significance for me. Heber C. Kimball recorded, The following vision was manifested to him [Joseph Smith] as near as I can recollect. He saw the Twelve going forth, and they appeared to be in a far distant land. After some time they unexpectedly met together, apparently in great tribulation, their clothes all ragged, and their knees and feet sore. They formed into a circle, and all stood with their eyes fixed upon the ground. The Savior appeared and stood in their midst and wept over them, and wanted to show Himself to them, but they did not discover Him.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, p. 93; see also History of the Church, 2:381.)
A message that can possibly be inferred is that because the Twelve had suffered so much, had endured so greatly, and had so exhausted themselves in leading the battle of righteousness, they were bowed down and did not look up. Had they only looked up they might have beheld the Lord Jesus, who wanted them to see him, weeping over them, suffering with them, and standing in their midst.”
What does a conversation with Jesus look like? Here are some random thoughts I've been pondering about various spiritual experiences in the scriptures:
- In the Joseph Smith History he describes himself as, “entirely overcome…when I came to myself again ?”
- Paul, talking in the third person, also says, ” ?whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth ?” (2 Corinthians 12:2) How could you not know?
- Isaiah was shown a vision and he says to himself, I can't figure this out. He ?s disoriented.
- Brigham Young saw Joseph Smith in a vision. He said he “felt” his warmth.
- When Moroni left Joseph, he went up into a conduit into heaven. Was there a gaping hole in the roof of the Smith home?
If God comes to talk to you, and stands behind you, do you need to turn around? It doesn't matter, there is no front and back. When the Lord wants to communicate to us, the limitations of our body are no longer relevant; he talks to us as if we were a spirit. Wonderful spiritual experiences are available to us. Can meditation bless your life?