Those of us who have studied beyond traditional Christian teaching, realize that we are really two people in one body. Our “true” selves, that deep inside part that lives with our Universal Creator, and our “outside” person which is how we see ourselves and how we present ourselves to the world. The outside person is called the ego. Modern spirituality will tell us that the ego is the part of us that causes all our suffering. Maybe that is true. What I do know is that our egos get in the way of a stress-free, feel good life. Our thoughts are oriented inside and they are all about us and how we feel.
Meditation is a way to get inside our true selves. It came from eastern tradition and has been studied extensively since it has reached our western shores. We know that the practice of meditation, much like yoga (which can be a form of meditation), has a number of physical and mental benefits if practiced consistently.
Generally speaking, meditation can be divided into three main groups: concentration methods, awareness methods, and surrender methods.
Concentration methods, the most universal kind, rely on the principal of attention. We focus our attention on a specific word or thought, or we count our breaths. We might choose a word like Maranatha (Come, Lord). If the mind wonders, simply let the thought go and come back to your word and breathing. Our minds are refreshed by the Universal presence which the word invokes.
Awareness methods are favored in Buddhist practice. In this meditation, we align ourselves with an inner observer and watch our thoughts as they come and go. If we are angry we might label it “angry thinking.” We can stay with the thought, sometimes feeling painful, or let it go and wait for the next thought. This practice is very good for being present to the moment. We learn that what we project to the world is sometimes not such good energy.
A surrender method is simpler than awareness. We don’t name thoughts, we just watch them come up, then watch them go. It is not a prayer of attention, but of intention. This form of meditation is called Centering Prayer founded by Father Thomas Keating. It has a certain fluid, dreamy quality to it. This form of meditation begins and keeps coming back to intention. What is the aim? To be totally open to God. This is my favorite form of meditation.
There is a story about a nun who tried her first twenty minutes of Centering Prayer meditation. She then told Father Keating that she was a total failure since she had ten thousand thoughts. “Lovely,” Father Keating said. “Ten thousand opportunities to return to God!” Think of it like Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will be done, oh Lord, but Thine.”
When we sit quietly, and do it consistently, we come to understand what it means to consent to the presence and action of God within us in whatever form it comes.