In its broadest terms, we can think of Christian meditation as a way of calming our minds and hearts to offer the least resistance to the graced event of realising oneness with God is our very life, our very reality.
Because this realisation is a grace, we can't reach it by our own efforts. But what we can do, in a sincere way, is become as vulnerable as possible to the grace event of this awakening. So, meditation can be understood as the process of assuming that interior stance of receptivity and openness to God the Spirit's awakening us to God's life-presence in our lives.
When we sit in meditation, we re-new our faith-awareness that, in some way we can't grasp or understand, God is already perfectly present, all about us and within us. God is not dualistically present, as if God were invisibly here alongside us. Rather, God is here as the reality of our very reality; God is loving us into the present moment; our very being is flowing from God as a gift of God. My very life is flowing from God as a gift from God; the present is flowing from God as a gift from God.
Therefore, to sit in meditation is to sit quietly, to become as attentive as I can be to the immediacy of God in me in the present moment. I try neither to cling to nor reject whatever occurs. I try to stay with the immediacy of all that is occurring
moment by moment - in my thoughts and in my feelings that come up within me. I try not to cling to or reject unpleasant feelings, nor do I cling to pleasant ones, but try to be open to God's presence in the mystery, the gift, of all my thoughts and feelings.
As soon as I realise I am starting to drift away into daydreaming or thinking my thoughts, I simply return to this sustained awareness of being immediate and open to God in the present moment.
Sitting like this is a way of coming to a profound sense of God as the living source of myself, others, and all things.
Meditation is, therefore, the transformative process of shifting from surface, matter-of-fact levels of consciousness to more interior, meditative levels of awareness of the spiritual dimensions of our lives. We can refer to the more surface levels as ego consciousness. By ego consciousness, I mean the self-reflective bodily self in time and space, which is our usual day-by-day consciousness. Ego manifests itself in saying, “I want, I think, I need, I feel, I remember, I like, I don’t like,” and so on.
We begin in ego consciousness, imagining that the union with God we seek is far off. After all, ego consciousness is the subjective perception of being a separate self that has to find God, who is perceived as being other than one’s self. But as ego consciousness yields and gives way to meditative awareness, we begin to recognize the surprising nearness of God. We go beyond surface levels of consciousness, opening up the unconscious, to realise deeper levels of psychic life and inner liberty.
Thus, when we meditate, we enter the mind of Christ from the ground up. We settle into the mystery of the concrete immediacy of our breathing and our bodily being. We are quietly attentive to the thoughts and feelings that arise, endure, and pass away within us. Sitting in this way, we do not fly off into some eternal realm. Rather, we enter into the mind of Christ, which knows and is the divine generosity of the concrete immediacy of ourselves just as we are.
This is why we sit in meditation: so that we might settle into this ordinary mind; so that in becoming, at last, just ourselves, we might realize our eternal oneness with God.
There is no single way to meditate. However, there are certain components that facilitate the process:
Body Posture: Sit still. Sit straight. Place your hands in a comfortable or meaningful position in your lap. Close your eyes or lower them toward the ground. Breathe slowly and naturally.
With respect to your mind, be present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything. Take a stance of observing all your thoughts, feelings and reactions as they pass through you rather than responding unconsciously from them.
And with respect to attitude, maintain nonjudgmental compassion toward yourself- as you discover yourself clinging to and rejecting everything - and nonjudgmental compassion toward others in their powerlessness that is one with yours.
In this stance of humble acceptance, simply re-instate the meditative stance of being present, open and awake each time you realise you've drifted off yet again into the clinging and rejecting of your wandering mind.
There are two methods to help stabilise meditative awareness. The first is to use your awareness of your breathing as an anchoring place in present moment awareness. Each time you realise you have once again drifted off into sleepiness, day-dreaming, or clinging to this or that sensation, thought or feeling, simply renew your awareness of your breathing as a way of re-grounding yourself in meditative awareness of the present moment. The silent, interior repetition of a word or phrase is another traditional method for sustaining present-moment attentiveness.
The ego self struggles in its efforts to sit present and awake, as a way of being open to God’s presence, until the ego exhausts all its own means of overcoming its inability to realise oneness with God. Then, just as all seems lost, we look up to see God with us with open arms. Suddenly, we realise there is no place within us that is not encountered, embraced, and made whole in a love that does not even care to hear our litany of shortcomings and regrets. We are profoundly loved by God without any foundations for being loved, except divine love itself.
There are two well-known contemporary forms of Christian meditation you might like to try - Centering Prayer and John Main's meditation, as outlined in the inset boxes below. If you would like to explore more ways of contemplative prayer, then please see my Prayer Life Series.