Christian Meditations from Eastern Tradition
How to Meditate?
Meditation, in its essence, is to be present to the One who is present. Through meditation you are present to your own presence (self) and the presence of the One in whom you live, move and have your being (mystery of the Risen Lord). As you progress in meditation, you come in touch with your own centre and the Lord, the centre of your centre. The words of St. Paul “It is no longer I, but Jesus Christ who dwells in me” becomes more and more real to you.
Meditation is a journey into your interiority. There are proved methods of meditation in both eastern and western traditions. As you grow in meditation, you will see that your whole life is enriched by it. The initial distractions and physical discomfort will give way to joyful sense of connectedness within and without. It requires practice, perseverance and motivation.
By the time a Candidate completes his initial formation, he is expected to have spent about 1825 hours of meditation (daily half an hour for about 10 years). If this time is spent fruitfully in meditation, one would necessarily reach a level of consciousness that would be receptive of the action of the spirit and be generous to contribute tremendously to the spiritual welfare of the human society.
Good desires alone will not work for learning meditation. One has to dedicate a certain time daily and use a suitable method for oneself and persevere even when apparently no results are achieved. Following are some practical suggestions for meditation.
Do you really want to make meditation a part of your daily life? Perhaps in the beginning you meditated because of the timetable and urging of your formators. But such motivation dies away soon and people easily find excuses to renounce meditation in an active pastoral life. If you discover the joy of meditation, its impact upon your life would motivate you to keep yourself anchored from within. Many secular people today use meditation for stress management, mental health etc. Christian meditation aims at deeper spiritual encounter with the Lord.
The golden rule is to find the time, place and posture that helps you to be comfortable and stable to be in meditation for a certain duration of time. Each one has to find methods and postures that suit his body, temperament and context. The following are some helpful suggestions from the wisdom of the past.
Time and place
You need to practice meditation daily for a certain period of time, preferably in a particular place in your room, chapel etc.
- Sit on a chair or squat on the floor and keep your back straight, but not tense
- Keep your eyes half closed or closed depending on what helps you to be more relaxed and concentrated.
- Place your right hand in the left hand, palms upwards, with the tips of the thumbs slightly raised and gently touching. The hands are held about four fingers’ width below the navel. Another variation is to place the hands on your lap gently or hold the thumb touching the point finger in a mudra position.
The lips and teeth are held as usual, but the tongue touches against the back of the upper teeth. This prevents excessive salivation while also preventing the mouth from becoming too dry.
- The head is tipped a little forward with the chin slightly tucked in so that the eyes are cast down.
- The shoulders are level and the elbows are held slightly away from the sides to let air circulate.
Attention to breathing is vital for meditation especially in the beginning. Breathing is an involuntary action which can be voluntarily taken over. You can consciously do your breathing and leave it back to involuntary action. Through your attention to breathing you can enter into your internal world. Breath naturally through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath, and try to become aware of the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
When we sit down to meditate our mind is usually full of disturbing thoughts. The first task is to deal with distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This can be accomplished by practising simple breathing meditation. When you concentrate on your breathing and observe your thoughts, gradually your distracting thoughts will subside and you will experience a sense of inner peace and relaxation. Of course, when you have objectively grave matters to attend to, you will have to settle them before you sit for meditation.
Different methods of meditation
There are many schools of meditation and hundreds of methods in vogue today. Many of these methods take us to an inner experience of serenity and experience of being. They are often practiced for their physical and psychological benefits. When we speak of Christian meditation, we do not mean the method but the content of the experience. We do not look for just the experience of serenity or void, though it may be encountered in our meditation journey. It is the experience of a personal communion with the mystery of Trinity in the person of Christ and fellow humans that the Christian meditation leads us to. Whatever method you choose is to take you to greater closeness and intimacy with Christ. (cf. On some aspects of Christian Meditation, Congregation for the doctrine of Faith, 1989. No. 3,6,7). In fact, the core of Christian meditation is your encounter with the Person of the Risn Lord and your availabiltiy to the action of the Spirit of the Living God. Some of the Eastern methods are excellent means to prepare our interiority a meeting place for this encounter.
The icon of the magi from the east who came to Bethlehem in search of the new born babe is significant here. The eastern search is a prelude to the encounter of the wise men with the Word-made-flesh, a reality unapproachable by human reason.
Incarnation is the key to understand and interpret the process of meditation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. From a Christian perspective, meditation prepares our flesh to give itself to the Word to become visible in the world. The fruits of authentic meditation is greater love and compassion which is the most required balm of healing in a broken world.
A Preparatory Exercise
(Regular practice daily for some time is required to achieve the discipline needed for meditation)
Using breathing and body awareness to enter into your inner sanctuary
- Take a comfortable posture (sitting on a chair or squatting on the floor) with your back straight and eyes closed, hands placed comfortably in a meditative posture.
- Become aware of your being in the presence of the Lord in whom you live, move and have your being.
- Become aware of your body and just observe how your body is feeling right now. If you notice any tense places in your body, breath into these places and imagine them relaxing and dissolving all tension. When you breath in, imagine that you are taking in the power (light/love/peace/healing) of the Lord and diffuse it into your body as you become aware of the various parts of the body.
- Bring your attention to your feet and become aware of them being relaxed…..
- Next your ankles, calves, shin, knees… gently relax them.
- Bring your attention to your thighs and hips.. relax your buttocks and pelvic region.
- Breath in the soothing energy and relax the lower part of the body…
- Now bring your awareness to the back bone and muscles around it and relax.
- Become aware of your abdomen and internal organs and allow them to relax and you breathing and the stomach walls move up and down..like waves in the sea..
- Now come to the chest region, your lungs, heart, shoulders, hands, fingers… feel them so relaxed and light..
- Bring your attention to your neck and throat and let this part be relaxed..
- Loosen your jaws, feel the lips, mouth, tongue resting in your mouth, your cheeks, ears.. relax them completely.
- Relax your eyes, forehead, brain, the whole head region.
- Allow your awareness to scan through your entire body from top to toe and toe to top and feel life energy freely flowing though your entire body.. If any part is tensed…relax that part and release the tension in that area. Feel the energy flowing through it.
- Take a deep breath and as you exhale release any tension that hold you still.. Let go and let your body relax…Breath again and as you exhale, let your mind relax as let go of any thought clinging to your mind.. Let your mind be quiet and slow.
Another deep breath…. and as you exhale bring your attention to your heart Centre…. and enter into the core part of your meditation …with the greater awareness of the presence of
the Lord using images and passages of the Bible, or just in the awareness of the presence of the Lord as the ground of your being …. (You may make use of various meditations to deepen your Christ experience at this stage.)
– Mathew Vattamattam cmf