…or Gospel-Centered Meditation in the Real World
I used to think, somewhat less than consciously perhaps, that my body was really just holding my mind and spirit back, that “I” would be better off when I didn’t have to worry about “it” anymore. It’s never been particularly healthy—and it’s certainly never looked like I thought it should. It really didn’t seem to be contributing much to the equation. I mostly just endured having one.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.
Likewise, some of us feel trapped by emotions we can’t seem to get out from under and betrayed by destructive thought processes we try and try but fail to conquer. In one way or another, many of us are in conflict with some part of ourselves.We fight with, indulge, punish, or ignore those parts we don’t get along with so well.
And it weakens us. Makes us less than whole.
Meditation has helped me start to bridge that gap. It has provided a structure and practice around gospel principles that has made some of the doctrine about pondering a real part of my life.
Much like prayer, Meditation is work.
Fundamentally, that work is about creating space on multiple levels…
Physically, we find a space and make time to sit—to be in our bodies, with our thoughts and feelings and to invite the Spirit into that space. Even the literal physical space we create while we meditate (lengthening the spine, deepening the breath) makes a difference in how we feel.
Mentally and Emotionally the space we create in meditation is about engaging agency. I have a friend who told me a while back that he felt his main function as a parent was helping his kids learn to perceive space for choices. The 4-yr-old hits the 6-yr-old. When asked why, replies “she called me stupid.” To the child the violent reaction to insult was a logical IF:THEN proposition; almost a law of the universe. My friend had quite a task convincing his little one that between the two were actually a number of different options, and space to make a choice.
I’ve realized that even as adults we have a hard time seeing those spaces sometimes. But meditation has helped me tease apart stimulus and response and find the space for agency—studying and understanding why feelings come, giving them permission to be there and then deciding what to do in response.
The Spiritual work of meditation for me is mostly about being in a place to invite the Spirit in. In the scriptures meditation and pondering almost always show up hand in hand with some other covenant-keeping activity: prayer, scripture study, temple worship, the sacrament, service and even work. So it’s less about making space as I meditate and more about trying to always save a spot for that companion.
So what does all that work get you?
There is a Sanskrit word that ancient teachers used to describe what you might call the benefits of meditation. The closest English translation is the word “savor” …which I find quite sweet in itself.
The first savor of meditation is EMBODIMENT. Elder Bednar has said, “Our physical bodies make possible a breadth, a depth, and an intensity of experience that simply could not be obtained in our premortal estate.” And whatever shape it is or isn’t, whatever might hurt or not work right, that intensity of experience is a blessing. Do we endure living in a world of crashing waves, towering canyons, and perfect blue forget-me-nots? Meditation has helped me see living as a physical being with some of the same gratitude and awe with which I see the rest of Creation.
The savor of PRESENCE is about mental focus and emotional availability. It’s about how we show up in the world–for the people we love, and people we don’t even know. There’s a beautiful concept in many meditative traditions called the “Return to the Marketplace.” It holds that all the time on the mountaintop—and all the enlightenment you achieve there—are useless, wasted even, until they’re brought back down into the bustling marketplace of life. Meditation was never designed to be a consuming practice. It’s all about how these little concentrated periods of time where we focus on wholeness within ourselves and unity with God can change how we show up in the rest of our daily lives. Can we really put all our focus on listening to a child’s playground story? Can we remain emotionally available through a hurtful exchange with a spouse? How are we showing up?
The third key savor of meditation is EQUANIMITY. Now, equanimity is a bit difficult to define…and really easy to misconstrue. When I first started trying to describe it to people it ended up coming across as; “whatever happens, whatever state things are in, it’s O.K. Be okay with it.” Super passive and over-simplified, right?
But that’s not what equanimity really is. That’s not what it tastes like.
It finally came to me this week—as I meditated, actually. Equanimity, for me, is the rooted feeling expressed so beautifully by Nephi “…nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.” Equanimity means I can ask this sister in for a visit even though I haven’t showered today and there are dirty dishes piled up in the sink. It means I can grieve when someone I love passes from this life knowing that in no way reflects some kind of weakness in my testimony of the resurrection. Equanimity means over and over my heart is somehow filled with sincere joy as my sisters and friends receive blessings I want with all my heart but don’t seem to be coming.
Because over and under and through all the little “nows” that make up this life is the truth that I KNOW in whom I have trusted. And meditation connects me to that.