The practice of meditation, when combined with a contemplative study of the topics in this book, will help an individual progress through the various stages of spiritual growth that are explained in Chapter 2. Our intention and purpose, when they are in alignment with God and combined with meditation, help us gain insight and wisdom from our experiences. To understand this practice we must commit to understanding our decisions and how we affect others. The description of the stages of spiritual growth is intended to help us recognize milestones and experiences along the way. We learn how to recognize the interaction of our intentions and purpose only after we have shown commitment to living a spiritual life based on a spiritual practice. The last three years of the life of Jesus show us how powerful the combination of spiritual development, experience, and purpose work together. This does not mean that everyone who establishes a spiritual practice is going to live through experiences similar to Jesus. However, the authentic expression of our purpose is our contribution to the enlightenment of humanity. When we act with compassion, we inspire compassion in others. The same is true of any purposeful, moral effort. Our effort helps bring about the same effort in others.
Trying to describe a meditation practice to someone who has never tried to meditate is a challenge. Words like consciousness and awareness, though they have their dictionary definitions, take on a different meaning after we have learned to meditate. At first the language may seem arcane or strange. As you take on a meditation practice, you will eventually have moments when it is like a light being turned on and you will “get it.”
Meditation in its purest form is an active awareness or consciousness without thought-generated content, and is very distinct from the steady stream of thoughts that we experience all day long. Thought-generated content, objects or thought objects, can pull us away from higher forms of consciousness if we are not aware of how they function. It is important to understand that our consciousness is not solely located in the mind. As human beings we also have awareness and consciousness that is heart-centered. Our meditation needs to, and eventually will, access our full spiritual being in a complete manner. Our goal is to reach a place of anticipation, active awareness, active listening, and consciousness that is one with the highest form of consciousness, God. We surrender in those moments to God in such a way that we empty ourselves of anything connected to an ego-centered process. Through meditation we begin to integrate this higher awareness, this higher consciousness, into all aspects of our living being: our intentions, our thoughts, and our actions. Over the course of time we experience a refinement of all the ways that we understand the world, our expectations change, and the ideals we use to guide us move toward perfection.
The pure emptiness of meditation—detachment from the intellect, the mind, and the ego—functions in several ways. The emptiness completely refreshes the consciousness and the physical body and allows God or Christ Consciousness to manifest. In a sense we are being “made new.” Through the elimination of thoughts that crowd our active minds, the rested, empty consciousness of pure meditation allows our inner being to actively listen for the still, small voice of the higher consciousness of God that can guide and inspire us. Wisdom rises up in us in a natural fashion, giving us confidence that whatever our condition or problem, we have an innate ability to make choices that help us and nourish us.
The procedure, or the conscious first steps that begin meditation, are simple and there are a variety of practices that help reinforce the practice of meditation. Chanting or repeating mantras (songs, hymns, psalms, short texts) can energize us physically and help us focus in ways that benefit our spiritual development. The repetitive process of training one’s focus through words, mantras, chanting, or prayers builds discipline and will.
Many people who begin meditation find it boring and simplistic because, at first, the transformation of our being is subtle and almost unrecognizable to us. But profound changes are happening as a result of the practice that will become evident to us over time.
There are specific things we can do to help us become aware of how we change. Sharing our experiences with a small group or spiritual guide can help us reflect on possible changes. Observing changes in our journaling or artistic expression are other examples of how we might monitor change. The most important changes come in relationships, our perception of the world, our perception of other people, and our interior life.
The changes we experience as a result of meditation can be disruptive and difficult. The contradictions and paradoxes present in life sometimes seem to mock our efforts. There are always questions about proper practice, there is the need for patience, there is a need for companionship on the journey, and there is a need for sharing. Toughing it out alone is not ideal because we need the reflection that comes from knowing our effect on others, our effect on the world, and we need to understand the consequences of our decisions, for others as well as ourselves. As much as we might like to believe we can live without affecting others or being affected by others, it is simply not true. We are part of what Martin Luther King calls “an inescapable network of mutuality” (1963).
Belonging to a meditation group and having a spiritual guide sets up a community of accountability, a way of being responsible and mature within our network of mutuality, and within our interpersonal relationships. We are called into relationship by God. This higher form of relationship was embodied in the teachings of Christ. Part of this relationship is to share a journey with people of similar values and ideas. In a community of accountability we hope to find friends who can speak the truth to us about ourselves. We can test our ideas and share the meaning of our lives with others. We get support when we might feel depressed or discouraged. We live out our purpose with others in ways that we cannot by going it alone. Eventually our meditation practice leads us to become more patient, direct, and truthful. Events in our lives seem to function through synchronicities that help us move us forward.
Possible Experiences During Meditation
Frequently, persons who begin meditation experience strong emotions like anger or sadness. Keep in mind that strong emotions do not always require action or immediate resolution. Try to allow yourself to experience the emotions, but at the same time let them pass through you like a wave. Usually the strong feelings will dissipate in a relatively short period of time and you can resume your meditation. If you are bothered by the emotions, or find that you cannot resume meditating, stop your practice and consult a qualified person, like a psychologist, who can help you understand the source of your emotions. Meditation is a natural process that requires a minimal level of effort and by itself will not cause you any harm. Underlying personal issues—psychological, physical, or emotional—can sometimes require a different approach to personal growth and development. If you feel this is the case for you, working with a professional counselor may be necessary before you begin your meditation practice.
Physical manifestations during meditation might include the body rocking back and forth, the palms of the hands becoming warm, or the top of the head becoming hot. Cold flashes, mild vertigo, and shaking are also possible experiences. Non-physical events might come like visions—blissful and sublime, or even frightening—flashes of light behind the eyes, hearing voices or other sounds, or the feeling that someone is present. All of these phenomena are temporary and they are not the goal of meditation. As a general rule we should dismiss them like random thoughts and return to meditation. All meditation experiences move us toward wholeness and the self-realization of God.
Some Evangelical Christians have opposed meditation practices, describing them as “occult” or “non-Christian” and unnecessary. Meditation is not dangerous and does not leave a person susceptible to supernatural or occult experiences that could harm the individual. Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and can be traced back to the time of the Patriarchs in the Judeo-Christian tradition—and to more ancient times in other spiritual traditions. The results of meditation depend on the intention of the person and personal openness to the realization of God. With the proper intention and proper guidance, a person practicing meditation will not be susceptible to anything harmful.
A meditation guide can help you understand what is happening during your meditation and provide guidance if you experience any of the above mentioned types of phenomena. Never underestimate what you know about your own body and mind. If you are unsure about your health in any way, don’t hesitate to consult a physician or therapist. Remember also that many of these phenomena are not the object of meditation and they do not represent advanced understanding or advanced practice. They need to be left behind just like the thoughts that crowd in and interrupt your meditation experience. Put them away and move on.