Six weeks ago I began this series, “A New Way to Teach Meditation”. Please see at least one or two of the earlier posts for more background. (The archive of earlier posts can be found on the lower right hand corner of the home page).
For a brief summary of what has been offered so far:
This new approach to teaching meditation accommodates a much wider range of beliefs than most other approaches to meditation. This approach works just as well for those who believe in God, those who do not, and those who are just plain confused.
But the only way this open minded, interfaith, and pluralistic can work and be credible, is if you apply to your studies the best standards you reasonably can with rigorous honesty, personal integrity, intellectual clarity, human decency, warmth, and love.
Over the past few weeks I have highlighted three specific ways to apply these high standards of rigorous honesty and clarity.
This week I want to ask another question more specifically related to the technique of meditation.
“What do you want to focus on during your meditation?”
Do you focus on the passage of your breath as you inhale and exhale?
Do you favor a certain sacred word or phrase?
Do you prefer a guided meditation where the teacher speaks during the time of meditation?
Do you prefer some image such as a candle, or a religious picture or icon to gaze upon?
Do you prefer to repeat some passage of memorized scripture or poetry during meditation?
Do you prefer to forego one specific focus of meditation but rather allow your mind to shift to whatever body sensation or thought or emotion or external sound is the most prominent in your mind?
Do you prefer to do a careful scan of every aspect of your body as you sit in stillness and silence?
All of these are examples of what is called the “object of meditation.” In other words the object that you focus your mind on as you meditate.
In almost all traditional approaches to meditation the teacher highlights one specific object or general process. It might be the passage of the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen. It might be some word such as “God” or “Love” or “Om.” It might be a phrase such as “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me”, or, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, or the 99 names of God, or anyone of many other choices from the world’s traditions.
But this new approach to meditation is different. The teacher does not direct the student to go with whatever choice the teacher and their tradition calls for. Instead the teacher shares information about the wide range of choices available to the student, and helps the student pick one or to create their own that resonates with their personal journey.
In this process of determining what is to be the object of meditation, the importance becomes apparent of the question raised in the 4th post of this series, “What do you believe is the truth of this life?”
This is because if you believe in God, or are leaning in that direction, that will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation. On the other hand if you do not believe at all, or are leaning towards atheism, then this preference will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation.
If you follow a specific path such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Tibetan or Zen or Vipassana Buddhism, or Taoist, New Age, indigenous North American Indian, or some neo-pagan theme from ancient times, this will shape the choice you make in the object of your meditation.
If you have little to no interest in a specific religious path but think of yourself as “spiritual not religious”. this will shape the choice you make in the object of meditation.
From this explanation you can see how important it is to discern what your beliefs are because the general direction of your beliefs will shape the specific techniques you employ in your practice of meditation.
There is no question this approach is more difficult for most people. Many prefer to have a clear structure laid out for them and to be told to focus on their breath or some word or phrase. But for those people who are put off by the dysfunction and limiting blinders that are part and parcel of even the best organized traditions this new approach works better even if it is more work.
Take the time to think carefully about whether you believe in God or not, whether you follow one particular religious culture or not, or whether you are just plain confused and not sure what to believe. Take the time to discern what it is you really believe is true and what are your most important unanswered questions. Be true to your faith and your doubts.
The role of the teacher is to be a knowledgeable guide in this process to help the student be aware of the full range of the available choices and to provide credible and creative options to consider. Then the teacher works with the student to make decisions that help the student settle on a choice that feels to be deeply true for them.
This new approach to meditation calls for important changes in the way teachers are trained so they have the skill set to help a student with this discernment process.
Please let me know if you are interested in studying meditation or if you are sufficiently experienced that you may wish to learn to teach meditation.
All questions will be responded to. If you wish, your comment or question will be posted for further dialogue.
More Next week
will at meditation practice dot com ( spelled out to limit spam)