Living in the question

'. . . the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.' RAINER MARIA RILKE Letters to a Young Poet

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What is Meditation?


Today I want to speak about meditation.  I often think that that is a word which is most difficult to understand or even know what to think when it is spoken.  There are so many ways of interpreting what is meant when we use it.

What, I wonder are the first things that come to mind when you hear the word meditation?

"silence, stillness, quiet, contemplation, sitting . . ."

I hope that by the end of this morning I may have dispelled some myths about the subject and hopefully made you feel more comfortable with the idea of meditation.
Roger Housden says: 

“Meditation is sometimes described as our natural state. No tradition or technique can claim it for its own.  I did not come to meditation as a Buddhist, a Christian, or anything in particular, as a university student, I used to find myself sitting quietly, eyes open, falling into a state of silent communion with the natural environment.  The experience was not something extraordinary or special, simply the delight of just being there. Far from being a withdrawal from the world, the activity was one of entering more fully and deeply into it, so that I and my environment were part of the same unity.  I was not aware that I was meditating as such.  I just knew it as a simple facility for slipping into the spaciousness behind thoughts.
I only discovered much later that this was what (some) people called meditation.”

When the subject of meditation comes up in conversations, people will often say,  

”Oh I suppose it’s a good idea, but I just don’t have time.”  

Or, “I tried it for awhile, but it never did much for me.”  

Or, “Meditation is boring.  Just sitting and doing nothing.”   

But I am sure that like Roger Housden all of you, at some time or another in your life, has just found yourself being in a meditative state even if you may not have recognised it as such. For some of you it might be an outdoor thing when you are engaged in walking or gardening, for others it might be when reading a book, listening to a piece of music or just sitting.  You will have been at first totally engaged in your activity when suddenly you will realise that you have for a moment lost track of time and sometimes even a sense of where you are and what it is that you are doing.  For me this just shows that we all have the ability to engage in meditation in some form.  There are many different forms of meditation and meditative practices and no doubt some of them will not be to everyone’s liking. It is a bit like food we none of us enjoy just the same things and what is wonderful for some of us may be truly awful to someone else.  (I am thinking here of brussell sprouts)

So if we choose to meditate, in whatever form, then why do it?
- Sri Chinmoy says:
“We meditate for various reasons. Peace of mind we all badly need. Therefore, when we meditate, either consciously or unconsciously we aim at peace of mind. Meditation gives us peace of mind without a tranquilliser. And unlike a tranquilliser, the peace of mind that we get from meditation does not fade away. It lasts for good in some corner of the inmost recesses of our aspiring heart.”

All too often when we feel under par, not quite ourselves we are more likely to visit the doctor hoping for a pill that will give us a quick fix and make us feel better and yet sometimes just giving ourselves some time might be enough to lift our mood and give us that much needed feeling of well being.

Richard Gilbert in his book of meditations says:

There are times when we feel overwhelmed by being,
We are on a treadmill walking hurriedly, going nowhere;
The images of our lives fly past us as on a movie screen,
The hands of the clock we see actually moving--too quickly.

At such times we need to gather ourselves together,
Slacken our pace,
Blank out the screen,
Ignore the clock.

Then we can remind ourselves that we are in charge of our lives,
That it is we who dictate the pace,
We who can choose to stop the rapidly moving screen,
That we can set the rhythm of our own lives.

It will not be easy--it is never easy to convert ourselves,
To turn ourselves around,
To get some kind of handle on the story of our own lives,
To realize that we are the architects of our own fate.

To be sure, there are powers and principalities that confront us;
The demands on our time and energy are endless,
We cannot fully control our environment;
We are, after all, finite and flawed creatures.

But out of that finitude comes a yearning for meaning,
Out of the flawed nature of our being we yearn for purpose,
Out of the hectic rush of events we can still set our own pace.
We are the only ones who can. 


Krishnamurti says: 
“WE HARDLY EVER LISTEN to the sound of a dog's bark or to the cry of a child or the laughter of a man as he passes by. We separate ourselves from everything, and then from this isolation look and listen to all things. It is this separation that is so destructive, for in that lies all conflict and confusion. If you listened to the sound of bells with complete silence you would be riding on it -- or, rather, the sound would carry you across the valley and over the hill. The beauty of it is felt only when you and the sound are not separate, when you are part of it. Meditation is the ending of the separation, but not by any action of will or desire.
Meditation is not a separate thing from life; it is the very essence of life, the very essence of daily living. To listen to the bells, to hear the laughter of a peasant as he walks by with his wife, to listen to the sound of the bell on the bicycle of a little girl as she passes by: it is the whole of life, and not just a frag­ment of it, that meditation opens.”

Much of this would suggest that meditation then is not just about silence, but maybe also it can have something to do with sound and listening. Or even making sound.  Danny Crosby, minister at Altrincham, leads a singing meditation once a month where people move in and out of song, resting in silence as each piece ends.  Now I am not a natural singer and could not lead you in song as Danny does, but at meditation workshops and talks I demonstrate a musical meditation involving instruments and just for a short moment we are going to have a go at that now.

Some of the instruments shown and a large selection of other percussion instruments were handed out.  The members of the congregation took three calming breaths and then became immersed in the sound of their own instrument.  The sound naturally became louder and softer and louder and softer until it naturally came to fade out.  We sat in silence for a few minutes to allow the vibrations of the room to be felt by us all.

I hope this has helped you to see that meditation is far more than just silence, or sitting in an impossible position staring at a candle etc.

But we must not forget that meditation does have a spiritual essence to it.
Richard Gilbert says in the forward to his book:

"In the holy quiet of this hour" is a phrase that reflects my belief that meditation is a precious moment of calm reflection on the intimacies and ultimacies of human existence. It is a prepara­tion for and a reflection on what poet Wallace Stevens calls "moments of inherent excellence," in which we experience our unity with all that is. The beauty of this phrase is that it speaks to people of all theological persuasions.

And Roger Housden says: 

“ Meditation, then, is a progressively deeper recognition of what is already here.  It is not so much an attempt to penetrate the mystery, more an active willingness to be open, receptive and attentive, so that Whatever Is might reveal itself. In the most profound sense, meditation leads to the falling away of our ordinary, habitual self and the recognition of our true identity.”

For me meditation will always be a form of prayer and as the poet Rilke says:
“Prayer is a ray emanating from our being that has been suddenly set ablaze; it is an infinite and aimless direction; it is a violent parallelism of our aspirations that traverses the universe without arriving anywhere.”

May your meditations, in whatever form they may take, be a vehicle for your prayers, today and always.   So may it be.    Amen          

we closed with my favourite hymn - a meditation in itself:

            Breathe on me, Breath of God,
                 Fill me with life anew,
            That I may love what thou dost love,
                 And do what thou wouldst do. 

Rilke  in 'The 7th of his Duino Elegies' said:
"Nowhere, Beloved, will world be but within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external shrinks into less and less.”

-And Sri Chinmoy said:
"We are nothing
In Comparison to
What we shall become
If we pray and meditate
For the remainder of our lives."

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