Monday, January 27, 2014

More on Meditation

I always love the question that come in from friends. They not only help remind me that real people are out there reading this (which I can easily forget sitting here in the office just typing away), but also serve to remind of questions I had long ago that I had forgotten about. (They also help start conversations with friends that I love and probably miss dearly.)

Just yesterday a friend (who is both dearly loved and missed) sent me a wonderful question that had actually never been on my radar. She said, "I've been wanting to 'learn' how to meditate forever but I vacillate from feeling like I should innately know how to do it to wanting to take a class- but not knowing which are 'Baha'i Compatible' which I don't even know what that means!"

The reasons that this was never on my radar are because first of all meditation wasn't really on my radar until I began teaching a workshop on it at UVic, and secondly because it never occurred to me that one would need to learn how to meditate, just as it never occurred to me that one might need to learn to pray. Oh, and a third reason is because it's never occurred to me that something might not be "Baha'i compatible". Whatever that might mean.

To start, let's look at the question of meditation itself and how one might learn it. (And this, of course, just my own opinion and nothing official, so feel free to take it or leave it. I won't be offended.) Well, when learning to do something, one presumes that there is a "correct" way to do it. But I don't think that's the case here. Meditation, as you know, is part of prayer. Shoghi Effendi, in his now-famous five steps of prayer, refers to the first step as prayer and meditation. They are a single step, not two. (For a little bit more about that, click here.) And prayer, presumably along with meditation, is described by 'Abdu'l-Baha as "conversation with God". While there may be some general rules in a conversation, such as allowing the other person to speak, listening attentively, thinking about what you will say before speaking,and so on, there is no hard and fast way to have a conversation. There is no "correct" way. Some styles of conversation may be more effective with some people, but not all methods of communication work for all people. So when learning to meditate, we should keep in mind that there is no "correct" method, just that some methods may be more effective for us.

But even though there is no one "correct" way to meditate, this does not mean that we can't learn anything from others. When I began doing my workshop, I immediately went to the internet and searched out various meditation techniques. One style is to sit in a group and chant a mantra together. Another style is to sit in front of a candle and stare at the flame, trying to clear your mind of any extraneous thoughts. You can do the same thing with a flower. (Staring at the petals, not the flame. If the flower is on fire, that might be more disturbing than anything else.) Another method is to sit quietly in the room and try to listen to absolutely every sound you can. You can take a sip of tea, focusing all your attention on the taste, the scent, the colour, and all other aspects of it. You can walk a labyrinth. The methods are endless.

With most styles of straightforward meditation, the general idea is to quiet that inner voice, that on-going running monologue, and learn to pay more conscious attention to the world both around you and within you. That can often take practice to become better and better at it, so we shouldn't become discouraged. Nor should we expect perfection at it. In fact, we should leave our inner perfectionist at the door.

When I combine this with prayer, it generally looks something like this: There is often something I am praying about, or for. I will select an appropriate prayer from the Writings, for they tend to be more conducive to my state of prayer than if I use my own words. Oh, and using your own words is a totally valid and legitimate way of praying. There are many Baha'is who have told me that we are not allowed to use anything but the revealed prayers of the Central Figures of our Faith, but nobody has ever been able to show me anything in the Writings that supports this view, so I only regard that as their own opinion and not binding. So, I say a prayer, and then I sit in quiet contemplation for a few moments. It is during this time that I allow myself to be even more open than usual for a response. It often takes the form of some random idea that just sort of pops into my head. But again, go back to that other article for more information on that process.

So there we have it. While we may "innately" know some methods of meditating, we can learn new ones by talking with others, and they are all good. I have yet to find any that are not. Some may not be all that useful to me, but I am certain that they are good for others. Unless there is a method I don't know about that goes against some law in the Writings, I would endorse all styles. (Ok. I've never heard of a method that endorses drinking whiskey until you can't think anymore, but if there is one, I would suggest that you skip it and try something else.)

But what about classes? Are there any that are not "Baha'i compatible"? I would interpret that as asking if there are any classes that go explicitly against the Writings. I'm not aware of any. (Well, except for the Jack Daniels meditation method.) But there is a bit of a caution. Some groups use the teaching of meditation to try and convert others to their religion. They are not teaching meditation for the sake of helping others. They have what we would call an ulterior motive, or a hidden agenda. This can make many of us feel uncomfortable. Of course, it is only a problem if you are not strong in your own faith. If you are, you can attend a course like that, learn what you want, and then leave when you are satisfied, all the while ignoring the overt attempts at conversion. And if it annoys you, you are free to leave any time you want.

Aside - This is also a problem for us to be aware of with things like our core activities. When we insist on everyone only using Baha'i Writings in a devotional gathering, then we give the strong feeling that we only accept what we believe in. This can make others uncomfortable. If we are expecting people to become Baha'i in a study circle, then that is our hidden agenda, and others can sense it. Clearly. If we teach children or junior youth with the expectations that they will join the Faith at some point, there is no way that the parents would allow us to help shape their spiritual capacities. So we, too, must be aware of this and avoid it like the plague.

For more information on prayer and meditation in general, you can look at the compilation from the Baha'i World Centre entitled Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude, or the book The Divine Art of Living, compiled by Paine. Both are excellent resources.

So thanks go to my friend who asked this question. It really got me to think a bit more about it. And now I need to go off and do my workshop, Meditation 101.

1 comment:

  1. Meditation is an absolutely wonderful practice, but can be very difficult in the beginning....!!

    Meditation San Francisco