In my previous post, I talked of the need to step away from our stories, drop the persona from time to time. One of methods I use on a daily basis – and have for three decades – is meditation.
I was in high school when the Beatles went to India, and something about their trip to the east instantly resonated with me. I wanted to learn how to meditate, but there weren’t very many resources – no centers where I lived, and just a handful of books. The one I chose didn’t help very much – I now realize it must have been written by an academic, someone who was commenting on commentaries, probably without any personal experience.
Now the situation is just the opposite – an embarrassment of riches. There is plenty of chaff in the wheat – how to sort it out? I thought I would outline three classic styles of meditation, and provide some web links from reputable and expert sources. One is the Buddhist practice of Vipassana, or Insight Meditation. Two are ancient Christian practices, revived and restated for our times by such pioneers as Thomas Merton. It is always an advantage to find a group of like-minded practitioners, and the links given below should lead to some of the centers that have sprung up, for those who are interested.
Vipassana or Insight Meditation
This is a Theravada Buddhist practice that consists of two steps, (1) learning to concentrate the mind by watching the breath, and (2) using the concentrated mind to observe the mind itself, attending to the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that pass through awareness. It is non-sectarian. It requires no profession of faith, or any belief whatsoever, aside from an acceptance that “Know Thyself” is possible and a good idea.
The most influential American teachers of insight meditation are Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein, who founded the Insight Meditation Society in 1975, and are still teaching. An article by Kornfield and a recently published book by Salzberg are good starting places to explore.
“Doing the Buddha’s Practice” by Jack Kornfield. Published as an article in the July 2007 issue of Shambala Sun, available as a free PDF download at the Spirit Rock website: http://www.spiritrock.org/display.asp?pageid=484&catid=3 The site itself has a wealth of information, a list of classes, and hundreds of audio teachings.
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation by Sharon Salzberg
This book was featured in a 28 day online meditation “challenge” in February, 2011 on Tricycle.com. People who register as supporting members ($30/year) can access month-long Q&A and discussions with the author. In addition to the the text, which presents theory and practice over 28 days, there is a CD which includes nine guided meditations.
The World Society for Christian Meditation, formed by John Main, teaches a simple practice of mantra meditation, similar to “the Jesus Prayer,” which was first documented by John Cassian in the 4th century. The simple technique, local groups, a newsletter and a listing of classes are all available at this website: http://www.wccm-usa.org/
In the ’60’s, Thomas Merton was dismayed to see scores of young people looking to eastern traditions for contemplative practice. After years of meeting with Buddhist teachers, he realized a very similar tradition of contemplation for Christians was hiding in The Cloud of Unknowing, a 13th century anonymous tract. There other monks in Merton’s order, Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington, and William Menninger organized Contemplative Outreach to spread the discipline they called, Centering Prayer. http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/PageServer
This is just a starting point for anyone interested. Any number of contemplative groups from all denominations have discovered the power of the web to make their teachings available. Anyone who wants to learn to meditate can use this medium to learn how to do so.