This week, we are getting in the rhythm of routine. How you do this is up to you. Use this time to reflect on yourself, your needs, what you need to work on in your life. Or practice just sitting still, clearing your mind, relaxing. Think about what type of activities and meditations help you center yourself. What is your center?
Knowing yourself is not something that you can just sit down for a few moments and decide. Your being, your perspective, is constantly shifting as you experience new things in life. That is why it is good practice to meditate and self-reflect. Recenter your beliefs, goals, and ambitions so that you can move ahead on a clearer path.
Views on Meditation as an American and a Christian
The Concept of Rest
In American culture, there is an emphasis on productivity and efficiency. Rates of depression, obesity, anxiety, and other afflictions are on the rise because people no longer take the time to rest and take care of themselves personally or within community.
Christianity supports rest on the Sabbath, traditionally Sundays where one does not work and spends the day going to church, praying, and spending time with family. Genesis 2:2-3 “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Even God needs to rest. And He calls this rest “holy” or “sacred.” Americans often perceive rest as laziness or weakness, but in moderation, rest is a sacred practice—a thing of beauty.
There have been increasing shifts in American culture to the generalized “self care” which could be anything from regular exercise to binge-watching TV shows. While it is important to take time to do things you enjoy, doing any random activity isn’t always meditation. For meditation, you must be actively engaged with your mind and your surroundings. It is a practice in stillness, focus, and repetition. Is watching an hour of TV before bed each night going to help reduce your stress? Probably not. It might actually increase stress because of the effects of screen lighting or because of the type of program you’re watching. Meditation goes one step further than self care. It is not just for health; it is a training of the mind and cleansing of the soul.
Meditation vs Christianity
The term “meditation” is often affiliated with Buddhism as a way to reach enlightenment or nirvana. Therefore, some conservative Christians are skeptical of meditation, sometimes equating it to a pagan ritual and sin. However, there are many forms of meditation. The practice in general is a way of recentering and grounding oneself. Christianity, itself, commonly practices meditations such as a variety of prayers, lectio divina, devotional readings, praise songs, and others.
Whether or not your meditation could be considered “sinful” depends on where your mind is focusing. There are a few Buddhist and pagan meditations that I would not recommend for Christians simply because they center at places where a Christian would not center and thus are likely to make a Christian feel out-of-balance.
Some earth-based pagan rituals talk through imagining yourself as a tree or wave, which is fine in a general sense especially if you are considering that as a Christian you are God’s creation and therefore connected to all of God’s creation—the trees, ocean, air, and animals. But if the meditation leads you into believing that you’re going to reincarnate into something else or that if you focus enough you could actually become stone or wood, then you’re centering at a place that is not Christian.
Mantra is a practice of simplifying a text to a single word or syllable and focusing on that word to encapsulate the whole passage. I think this is something Christians can adapt and use to dive deeper into the Bible, but don’t go off saying “Om” repeatedly because first of all—you don’t know what it means. Buddhists believe that a word such as Om can be passed onto students and that by knowing that word, they will come to understand the whole text that the word represents. In the case of Om, it represents the Veda, the three main deities of Hinduism. The repetition of the word is meant to invoke the deities like a Christian prayer. As such, it could be considered idol-worship for a Christian to chant Om because it would be like praying to a false god. However, if you are unaware of the meaning and are focusing your mind elsewhere, I doubt God will smote you.
Shalom as Mantra
You would get more out of a Mantra if you use a word that has more meaning to you and your beliefs. Try something like “shalom.” That’s right–Christianity has neat, powerful words like karma and zen, too! “Shalom” is a Hebrew word in the Bible which has mostly been translated to “peace,” but the Hebrew term encapsulates much more. It was a way of referring to times of peace between nations, but in a sense of wholeness or completeness. It is a completeness not only of body, soul, and mind, but also completeness in fellowship with community, creation, and God. It also refers to inner tranquility and health, and can be used as a greeting to mean, “May peace be with you” or “May you be full of health and prosperity.”
And before some of you start going, “Wait…Hebrew? That’s a Jewish term!” The Bible was originally written in Hebrew, and while Christians have adopted the New Testament in addition to the Old Testament, it does not deny that the things in the Old Testament are true. There are many parallels within the scriptures that link the Old and New Testaments with intimate truth. Shalom is one of those truths that exists throughout all of scripture, appearing over 400 times. Shalom is not just a present condition, it speaks to the Christian idea of New Jerusalem and eternal peace in a perfect, complete world—a world of shalom.
Another meditation that is widely practiced is transcendental meditation. The basis is that you let go of everything and experience an absolute nothingness or nirvana. This nothingness is a distancing of yourself from your mind and feelings, a separation of yourself from others and the world. Clearing your mind of distracting and stressful thoughts is one thing, but if you’re going so far into transcendental meditations that you end up in a mindless trance or levitate, that’s a different matter. As Christians we believe in a living community after death in the New Jerusalem. There is never nothingness because there is always God. He was in the beginning before time began. He is eternal, endless, timeless. As Christians, we want to delve deep into ourselves, into the Bible, and into the world around us; not separate ourselves from it.
Most other forms of meditation I have found are based more on self-reflection and observation of the body and surroundings. These sorts of practices help us see ourselves and our place in the world around us. Practices like the Buddhist Vipassana meditation simply allow you to clear your mind, order your thoughts, and see once again the core of your existence. These are good practices.
There are many Biblical characters that spent hours or days fasting and praying in meditative states. It was through this process that they were able to commune with God, sometimes with words, other times with visions. So don’t be afraid if you experience something that seems supernatural, be open to it, but don’t meditate with the ambition to get a mystical vision.
The Purpose of Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to clear away the stress and clutter of your daily life so that you can realign yourself with your beliefs and calm yourself when faced with stress or danger in order to respond rationally.