Besides completely revising my views on the nature and purpose of anger, one of the most interesting things I learned in taking the “Free to Live, Free to Love” course last spring was the value and importance of meditation.
Describing the process of meditation is easy. You sit comfortably in a straight backed chair, hands clasped in your lap, preferably in subdued lighting and with your eyes closed. For a minimum of 20, but preferably 25 or 30 minutes (best timed by an alarm clock), you sit completely still. You occupy your mind by mentally repeating a single phrase (your ‘mantra’) over and over again. Fr. John Man, in his “Moment of Christ” suggests the Aramaic word “maranatha” (I Corinthians 16:22) – or you could use its English translation, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
Absolutely nothing else. If your thoughts wander, discard them, and go back to your mantra. Imagine nothing. Desire nothing. Expect nothing. Be aware of everything but pay attention to nothing. Don’t go to sleep. Practice morning and evening. Continue daily for months at a time.
To a twentieth century western mind, of course, this whole thing sounds by now like a most ridiculous waste of time. The difficulty about meditation, in fact, is nothing at all about what has to be done. I have already told you what needs doing. It is in persuading a person to start, let alone to persist. Yet mediation is one of religion’s most revered and widespread practices. The great religions of the East all hold it in honour. Christ’s hours of communion with his Father “rising up a great while before day” surely involved mediation, as do the practices of contemplative monastic orders today, who can trace their ancestry back to apostolic times. Perhaps the twentieth century mind has missed something!
Indeed, that is the truth. After following the meditative path for a while, we begin to understand. The only real world we can live in is in the world of “now”. The everyday perception we think we have of the world is in fact a sham. It is a collection of memories and emotions relating to past experiences—in person, in school, from newspapers, TV, friends and other sources—from which we have constructed a mental and emotional picture of the world outside us that is certain in many points to be prejudiced, obsolete and erroneous. Worse than that, we derive from this erroneous vision of the past, not only a biased interpretation of the present—a kind of hypnotism that means we do not see things as they are, but as we have programmed ourselves to expect to see them—but also a picture of the future which will be one either of negligent optimism, or unrealistic apprehension about what will happen. The blunt truth of the matter is that the future is a subject we know nothing about at all. We simply do not know what any day is going to bring forth. Our best forecasts amount to nothing but guesswork.
The effect of meditation, and the use of a repetitive ‘mantra’, is to confine our attention entirely to the ‘now’. Like a movie camera focussed on a single subject, frame after frame conveys the same message: our attention cannot escape. Our prejudices, emotional scars, and other assorted baggage from the past become inaccessible. So do our apprehensions and fears about the future—those ‘phobias’ that paralyze us if we allow them to run away with our imaginations. And by leaving our inaccurate, fearful, imaginary mental world behind, we find ourselves, perhaps for the first time, more and more aware of the one world we really live in, the world of ‘now’—and of a Presence in the world, a loving presence that we can sense, but will never fully comprehend.
The process may seem tedious—but the journey is worth the effort. Try it!