How to Meditate
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Guest writer and CAC teacher James Finley continues to share insights on meditation (another word for contemplative prayer).
There is no single way to meditate. There are, however, certain acts and attitudes inherently endowed with the capacity to awaken sustained states of meditative awareness that form the infrastructure of each specific way to meditate. Here are some suggested guidelines.
With respect to the body: Sit still. Sit straight. Place your hands in a comfortable or meaningful position in your lap. Close your eyes or lower them toward the ground. Breathe slowly and naturally. With respect to your mind, be present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything. And with respect to attitude, maintain nonjudgmental compassion toward yourself—as you discover yourself clinging to and rejecting everything—and nonjudgmental compassion toward others in their powerlessness that is one with yours.
Compassion is the love that recognizes and goes forth to identify with the preciousness of all that is lost and broken within ourselves and others. At first it seems as if compassionate love originates with our free decision to be as compassionate as we can be toward ourselves as we sit in meditation. As our practice deepens, we come to realize that in choosing to be compassionate, we are yielding to the compassionate nature of God flowing through us, in and as our compassion toward our self as precious in our frailty.
When we practice meditation, we are like the repentant prodigal son returning to his father’s house (see Luke 15: 11-32). By the time we begin to meditate, we have probably come to realize how foolish we have been in the past. We are sorry about the suffering our foolish ways have caused ourselves and others. We are sincerely intent on not being so foolish in the future. But like the repentant son heading home to beg for his father’s forgiveness, we are still laboring under the illusion that our wayward ways make us unworthy in the eyes of God.
The idea that our weaknesses are obstacles to God’s love is bound up with our egocentric perception of ourselves as outside God’s sustaining love. Entrenched in the ignorance of our imagined otherness from God, we set out to meditate as a way of overcoming one obstacle after another so that we might succeed in reaching God.
The ego self struggles in its efforts to sit present and awake as a way of being open to God’s presence until the ego exhausts all its own means of overcoming its inability to realize oneness with God. Then, just as all seems lost, we look up to see God running toward us with open arms. Suddenly we realize there is no place within us that is not encountered, embraced, and made whole in a love that does not even care to hear our litany of shortcomings and regrets. We are profoundly loved by God without any foundations for being loved, except divine love itself.
Gateway to Silence:
Rest in God resting in me.
Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 203, 279-282.