Meditation

November 18, 2011 | 13 comments
By

We live in a loud, busy world. We are surrounded, connected to, ipods, cell phones, blackberries, and the scrolling headlines of the 24 hour news cycle.

Even when we turn everything off, our minds are still jangling. Nagging lists run through our heads, and we are vaguely uncomfortable in the quiet. We feel anxious, antsy. We feel the need to do something, hear something, tell someone something, anything to not feel empty.

This world is not conducive to contemplation, to meditation. We are encouraged to read the scriptures, fast, pray and meditate. But how do we meditate?

Ensign » 1975 » March. Prayer. Dr. Chauncey C. Riddle, professor of philosophy and dean of the Graduate School at Brigham Young University

The helpmate of mighty prayer is meditation. In meditating, one tries to minimize his involvements with the physical world for a time in order to concentrate on something inner, on ideas and feelings. As a person prays sincerely with the Holy Spirit as his guide, that Spirit will bring to him many thoughts and feelings. This is part of the process of revelation. To take full advantage of this revelation, one would do well to mull over the matter under consideration, piecing together what one already knows with the new insights received.

It is one thing to have a revelation. It is quite another to understand and obey. Understanding comes in the process of careful, prayerful reflections of meditation upon what one has received. To pray is often like asking for food and then being blessed with a sumptuous meal. What would you think of a person who, when thus honored, merely took a sniff, then put the meal on a shelf and left it? Though greatly blessed, he would not be nourished.

So it may be with those who pray and do not meditate. They may have much but may be little edified.

Ensign » 1976 » January. Before Praying. Dr. Arthur R. Bassett, assistant professor of humanities at Brigham Young University

If we stopped talking so much in our prayers would we hear more? What does he have to say to each of us individually? What does God want—for us?

we need to divorce ourselves as much as possible from the noise, the confusion, and the cares of the world. We need to remove all turmoil, outside or inside ourselves, in order that we can be perfectly still. The Lord’s counsel to David is perhaps even more appropriate in our day: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10.)

Initially, this silence may be disturbing to us, and perhaps even frightening. Few seem to be totally comfortable with quietude. Somehow, in our busy society, we have come to be uneasy with quiet moments of inactivity; some even equate silence with waste. Who among us, after an extended period of silence in a fast and testimony meeting, has not heard some brother or sister rise to their feet and exclaim, “I hate to see the time going to waste.” We have designed our meetings for activity; we instruct rather than meditate. Our hymns are filled with metaphors centering in work and activity. We speak of a person’s spiritual status in terms of his or her activity in the Church, i.e., are they “active” or “inactive” in the Church?

It seems significant to me that the leaders of the Church have counseled us to let the time of the sacrament service be a time of complete silence. Such has not always been the case. Earlier in our history, sermons were delivered during the passing of the sacrament dealing with its significance, or devotional music was played as part of the services.

Stillness, however, is essential to inner peace—that peace which opens the way for the Lord to speak in our soul. God speaks much more commonly and effectively to the inner recesses of the soul than he does in open vision. We need to prepare ourselves to listen more when he speaks.

President David O. McKay:

“I think we pay too little attention to the value of meditation, a principle of devotion. … Meditation is the language of the soul. It is defined as ‘a form of private devotion or spiritual exercise, consisting in deep, continued reflection on some religious theme.’ Meditation is a form of prayer. …

“Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord” (Man May Know for Himself, comp. Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969], pp. 22–23).

Fasting is an example of a meditative practice. By fasting, we are deliberately manipulating our bodies so that we are more likely to receive insight and revelation. Food deprivation (or abstinence) results in certain empirically observable physical responses. People all over the world have used fasting as a way to approach the divine. (India, Native American spirit quest, Catholic mystics)

As a mother of young children, my fasting is necessarily limited and requires a great deal of preparation.  I have to have the house clean, food prepared in advance for the children to eat during the fast and for breaking my fast. Everything must be in order.  I know from experience that I have significantly less patience when my blood sugar drops. This is not an issue if you get to spend the day in quiet reflection, but quite different if you have to herd and referee small children, my own and those I serve in Primary.

Some people, due to medical issues, are not able to fast at all. These may include pregnancy, nursing mothers, diabetics, and a number of other conditions.

But there are some simple steps we can take on a regular basis to clear our minds, without fasting. Some of these meditation techniques are borrowed from other traditions.

Joseph Smith, Jr., the founding prophet of the restoration of our church said:

The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation…when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same. (Letter to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, published in Times and Seasons, Feb 1840.  TotPotCJS, p. 264)

Our body is a gift, a tool that can be used to focus our minds through breathing exercises, deliberately slowing breath and pulse, in effect, consciously lowering blood pressure. (Some people use chanting to do this.) I use techniques from yoga to engage in a meditative state for myself and the occasional Relief Society activity.

For example:

Sit up straight.

Roll shoulders back, take a deep breath.

[Neck release exercises]

[Tense and release legs, arms, hands, face]

Roll shoulders back once more.

Roll neck once more.

Rest hands on thighs, palms up and open.

Breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, barely audible.

Find your heartbeat.

Count the beats as you breath in 1-2-3-

And out 1-2-3-4-5-6

In 1-2-3-4

Out 1-2-3-4-5-6

Feel your body become still.

As you focus on your breath, you heart, your mind becomes quiet.

When you are quiet, open you spirit to God. Pray.

I like the quiet moments in Testimony Meetings.  It is a wonderful time to sit quietly and feel the spirit, rather than feel awkward in the silence.

If you don’t have the time, or it would be uncomfortably conspicuous to do neck rolls and shoulder rolls, just settle into your breath. Focus on the breath, the controlled, slow inhale and exhale. With this focus, all distractions drop away, and your heart is open to feel the Spirit, to approach your god.

* Something of this example is lost in print form. Imagine a strong, soothing voice talking you through the exercises. And if this exercise doesn’t help you, feel free to ignore it. I find it useful, but my husband does not.

Tags: , ,

13 Responses to Meditation

  1. Jax on November 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks… I’ll bookmark this one!

  2. Brad on November 19, 2011 at 2:02 am

    Thanks so much for this Rachel. I greatly admire those who practice meditation on a regular basis, but have never been able to do this myself. But I think that it is really important to work at in order to develop a working relationship with God and the spirit, not to mention to learn to control your thoughts, desires, and passions.

  3. Bob on November 19, 2011 at 6:56 am

    I have always enjoyed medition. But excect for TM in the 60s, It’s been more medition in motion. That is, in my younger days, I was very much into backpaking alone, jogging alone, stream fishing alone, etc. All these things used for a drifting thinking. Now, older, more walking alone or quiet music. I do think it’s nice just to let your mind free to go where it wants.

  4. Rachel Whipple on November 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Jax, You’re welcome.
    Brad, I should be more regular in my own practice. It’s always worth the effort.
    Bob, I love the idea of meditation in motion. When I go running, I rarely listen to music. It seems to be better for my soul to just be quiet with the rhythmic feel of my heart, feet, and breath, with just a short thought or phrase echoing through my mind. It makes me a slow runner, but I go for endurance over speed.

  5. Zen Mormon on November 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I started meditation a few years ago to help deal with stress. I started going to a local Zen Temple for meditation instruction and found it exactly what I was looking for. Zen is, and this is naturally a generalization that could be argued for years, not overly concerned with dogma or ritual. I have met Zen Jews, Zen Catholics, and other Zen Mormons. The practice of Zen, specifically zazen, is compatible with our belief system and I saw little reason to reinvent the wheel when a thousand year old practice (sort of) existed I could learn.

    As for the benefits, they are immeasurable in terms of compassion and patience.

  6. Sarah Familia on November 19, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I second the meditation in motion idea. My preferred form of meditation is yoga. I find that both the deep breathing and the body movements free my mind from its daily worries and concerns. By the time I get to shavasana (the part at the end where you lie down and just breathe) my mind is emptied, peaceful, and open to the whisperings of the Spirit.

    Another thing that helps me is being in nature. I like to climb trees. Lying on the grass also helps.

  7. SteveP on November 19, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Rachel, This is great. I’ve tried to meditate off and on for many years. When I’m consistant I notice that it has a profound effect on my ability to think and handle the day to day stress. Thanks for this reminder that I need to get at it again! I’m too signing up for yoga and hope it gets me back into practice.

  8. Dave on November 20, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Does running count? It certainly entails a physiological body response, including perhaps the release of endorphins on long runs. It cleanses mind and body. We might call it active meditation, or perhaps meditation in motion. I had never thought of running as a favored Sunday activity until now. Thank you.

  9. brian larsen on November 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    An interesting article that deals with meditation. Sorry, just got home from a funeral and don’t have more time to comment right now: http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/26/can-meditation-change-your-brain-contemplative-neuroscientists-believe-it-can/

  10. Rachel Whipple on November 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    Thanks for the link, Brian. It looks like the field is just moving out of the realm of anecdote into clinically supported evidence. I like that they mention the connection between meditation and a heightened sense of “lovingkindness”

    “Contemplative neuroscientists say that making a habit of meditation can strengthen brain circuits responsible for maintaining concentration and generating empathy.”

    and

    “In fact, the more hours of experience a meditator had, the scans found, the less active his or her emotional networks were during the distracting sounds, which meant the easier it was to focus.”

  11. Ken on November 21, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I live in Springville,UT and have tried to learn how to meditate on my own without much success. Any suggestions for finding an instructor or mentor?

  12. Rachel Whipple on November 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    Ken, I’m sorry that I don’t have any good suggestions for you. Most of the techniques I learned were from the 200 hour yoga teacher training course I did years ago in San Diego. I like to use yoga to quiet my body and mind, but when I teach at Relief Society activities and other similar meetings, I usually just teach a few exercises to release tension in the neck and shoulders, and focus on breathing. That path is very approachable and immediately rewarding.

    I think the most challenging part is giving ourselves permission to be still. It seems wasteful and unproductive. That’s the appeal of moving meditation like yoga, running, hiking, and fishing. If you can do things like this without music or distraction, allowing yourself to be quiet, you can open your mind to receive insight and revelation. It’s much easier than sitting or kneeling by your bed, struggling to stay focused and awake.

  13. Don Leach on April 15, 2012 at 3:00 am

    I had my first enlightenment at 18. I became a Mormon as a direct result of that enlightenment. I had my second enlightenment at age 29. I wasn’t ready. At age 49 I took a class on meditation, The Zen Way. That was as a result of studying the teachings of Mormon Church General Authorities. As Mormons we are taught how to pray, and how to ponder. But none teach us how to meditate. To my disappointment I readily admit. So I took the class. When asked, I tell people I am a Mormon, a Zen Mormon. It was with enjoyment I read your postings.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.