Thursday, August 25, 2011

Naturalist Meditations (Focusing Exercises)

“I’ve found that you can come to know the universe not only by resolving its mysteries, but also by immersing yourself in them.” (21)

-    Brian Greene  The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004)

This afternoon, having gotten off early from work, I went for a walk in a local wood.  The days are getting shorter, and I was out on the cusps of eventide.  All around me, there were subtle signs of Autumn’s approach: I saw green acorns fallen on the ground and, as I was coming down off the ridge, a single red leaf on the ground.  I picked up an acorn and the leaf and brought them home to use as foci in meditation this evening.
Focusing is a crucial part of a mature meditative praxis.  It is what gives depth to our meditation and fleshes it out.  To focus is to ‘meditate on’ some thing; some object or idea or phrase or quote—it is to allow oneself to dwell ‘with’ the object or idea; to ‘participate’ in it, sensually and intellectually—and thereby to allow its potential meanings to infuse us.  Thus it is very important to pick your foci well; it is difficult to undo the intimacy you will accrue as you ‘meditate on’ an object or idea that fascinates you over a period of time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What is Meditation? (A Naturalist's Perspective)

“Meditation is really very simple; there is not much need to elaborate techniques to teach us how to go about it. ... Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”
                                                -          Thomas Merton
                                  Contemplative Prayer (1969)

"Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.  When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual." (29)
                                 -          Carl Sagan
                                      The Demon-Haunted World (1996)

         Perhaps because I’ve written a lot in my blogs about meditation, a couple people have recently asked me, “What is meditation?”  I’ve practiced meditation – under one guise or another – for forty years, and I would now say that meditation is a procedure for centering oneself in oneself, as well as a process through which to come to peace in one’s body and in one’s life in the Earth & Cosmos.  Though I first learned meditation under the guise of wicchan mysticism in the 1970’s, and later learned both Celtic and a monastic meditative practices, I have found meditation to be, at root, a naturalistic experience; i.e.,—there is nothing 'supernatural' about the process itself.  If you are religious, meditation will play into your spirituality and contribute to your adventuring toward whatever goal your religion prescribes for you.  But meditation itself is not a religious practice, and does not need to be expressed in religious terms.