The mystics have always understood the importance of meditation. Actually nearly every religion practices some form of meditation. Thomas Merton was a great mystic of our time. He would say meditation practices often open up to the contemplative moment. In those moments we are “touched by God” in the unknowing place. He says this about contemplation in his book, “New Seeds of Contemplation”:
In other words, then, contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressible God. It knows God by seeming to touch Him. Or rather it knows Him as if it had been invisibly touched by Him…. Touched by Him Who has no hands, but Who is pure Reality and the source of all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite Being at the roots of our own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present from God, as a free gift of love. This is the existential contact of which we speak when we use the metaphor of being “touched by God.”
Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and the mercy of the Hidden and Living One. He answers Himself in us and this answer is divine life, divine creativity, making all things new.
There are many forms of meditation. Two of the most common would be active meditation where you let your imagination go and perceive the divine in the imagination. You think of a place or an object or a question and you “see” things that “speak” to you. Another form of meditation is passive where you become an observer to your thoughts. James Finely says we should sit still, sit straight, eyes lowered 45 deg to the ground or closed, breathe in and breathe out neither clinging to or rejecting any thought. In this practice we step outside our thoughts and are not held captive by our thoughts. This is contemplation practice or a means to contemplation.
What I have found over time is this “neither cling to or reject any thought” as an observer is so powerful and can be our normal state. When we make this observer practice our normal way of perceiving we can quickly identify what is ego-centric (or Merton would call the false-self) and what is spirit. Paul in the Christian Bible called it walking in the spirit instead of walking in the flesh. The flesh is our false ego-centric self that believes we are actually separate from the divine. Walking in the spirit is walking in the truth of our divine nature.
Let me share an example…
I was having lunch at a local restaurant and when I was finished I went up to the cashier to pay for my meal. I was standing behind an elderly lady. I wasn’t in a hurry and neither was she. Then this other lady came up beside me and stepped right in front of me. She was an Asian woman (no prejudice here just go with me to make the point) and I actually lived in Japan for a time. In that culture, personal space is a very different thing. It is normal to bump into people and force your way into a line.
I was in Singapore and I noticed the same thing. Singapore is crowded like Japan. We were waiting for a subway and when it stopped and the doors opened, everyone rushed into the car. I was not ready for the rush of people and I actually missed getting on the train. I was standing on the yellow line and expected to be the first to step on the subway. It was a crazy moment.
So now this lady steps in front of me in line. This day, I was aware of what was going on but I really felt like an observer and less a participant. What happened astonished me. I saw all the thoughts connected to the memories of my time in the Orient. I could see my ego-self, judging this lady. No really I am being very honest. I had all those thoughts that were a product of an ego-centric perspective. As the observer I just let them go. I didn’t cling to or reject but just let them pass. They weren’t divine or even real since they were based on a false-self perspective.
Then the most amazing thing happened. I saw this woman as she really was. I loved her in that moment. I saw her beauty and her love for other people. She had been having lunch with a large group of women and I could see them all sitting together having the best time. I wasn’t consciously paying attention to them when I was eating but now I could see their party clearly. Smiles and laughter and joy. This woman was still living in that joy moment and she wasn’t aware of me or anything else. She was perfect and innocent and adorable to me, the real me.
It took me a few moments to process the whole thing. Afterwards I regretted not paying for her lunch. Wouldn’t that have been awesome? That moment as the observer was so powerful. The time spent in meditation practice had a very practical application. Living as the observer allows us to “see” what is real and disregard what isn’t.
What is real? We are all one. We are all living the one life. We are all the divine manifestation of God in this world. We are discovering ourselves as we discover the divine. We are waking up to our true self and letting go of the false-self. We are experiencing this world in a body that is just a tool to experience this physical reality. We are the divine, loving and experiencing the divine creation. We are alive to the divine in all things. We are one.
I want more of those moments. I want to see clearly the illusion we create in the lie of separation and embrace the truth of love. I want to walk in the spirit and let go of the false-self responses. I want to live as the observer and hear my true self as it speaks the truth of the divine reality.