Although meditation is much-talked-about, it is easier said than done for most of us. It can seem too foreign, too complicated, or too strange, but somehow the promised benefits keep drawing us back in to take a look again and again and to wonder:
Can I learn to do this? Will meditation really help me to think more clearly, get in touch with my true self, realize that I am more than my body, more than my mind, part of a greater whole? Can I learn to train my mind, to become more focused, to learn to think and act rather than to simply react? Will I ever be able to sit still long enough to even try?
I believe that we all have what it takes to do this, but we may need a little help. There are many, many different ways to meditate and we need to find the way that is right for us. I've been searching for the right way for myself for a while now and I think that I may have found it. So of course, I 'd like to share it with
you. Perhaps some of you who are searching will find this method of meditation as appealing as I do.
Not long ago, I wrote a post about Mindfulness Meditation, a very low pressure, often non-religious meditation technique. This style appeals to many of us because it can be done anywhere by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Since then, I have come across another form of meditation that encourages spiritual as well as personal development while still managing to be appealing to both religious and non-religious alike. Even for those of us who do not consider ourselves to be religious in a traditional sense, spiritual growth may very well still be a goal. Whether or not we believe in God or adhere to any particular religious belief system, we still want to understand our place in the world and find our unique way of contributing to it. Passage Meditation can help us to do this.
Passage Meditation isn't exactly new, but it is relatively recent. Eknath Easwaran developed and taught this form of meditation for many years beginning in the 1960's as part of his “Eight Point Program” for translating spiritual ideals into everyday life. The program consists of meditation, mantram repetition, slowing down, one-pointed attention, training the senses, putting others first, spiritual companionship and reading, but here I'll just share his take on meditation. (For anyone who is interested, I highly recommend his book “Meditation: A Simple Eight-point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life”)
Whether we are Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or agnostic, most of us hold certain values and strive to live our lives in accordance with them. And regardless of religious background or culture, our values are often strikingly similar. If asked, most of us would say that we value compassion, honesty, fairness, justice, and love. But sometimes, our behavior just doesn't live up to the standards we have set for ourselves and for others. Why?
Life is complicated, and we are often conditioned by our upbringing and our life experiences to react in certain ways. We don't always take the time to think things through and make the best choices. Our energies are scattered and we spend much of our time focused on other things from getting our jobs done to getting dinner on the table. It's easy to lose the connection between our values and our everyday actions.
It has long been said by religious prophets and cognitive psychologists alike that we are what we think. In this hectic world, how much time do we really have to think about love or justice? Our brains are too busy working out what we're going to do on the way home, or how we're going to tell our boss off tomorrow or what we want for supper. World peace and compassion for all living things gets shoved to the back burner. The result? If we focus our attention on money and personal luxuries, we will behave in ways that allow us to accumulate wealth. If we focus our thoughts on perceived slights and envy, then we will become bitter and difficult. If we ruminate about conflicts and annoyances, than we behave angrily and impatiently. But what if instead, we chose to attend to those values that we hold most dear, to focus our minds on those qualities to which we aspire. Won't we eventually begin to behave in accordance with these thoughts as well?
Easwaran believed so and isn't that is what spiritual development is all about? It doesn't necessarily have to involve adherence to the dogma or beliefs of a particular religion (although it can). It is simply a matter of aligning our behavior with our values. To develop spiritually, we need to not only talk about our values, but to live them. Easwaran's meditation technique helps us to do just that, by giving us the opportunity to focus our attention on our values for a set period of time everyday. The more we contemplate these values, the more likely we will be to begin to align our behavior with them.
In Passage Meditation, we are each encouraged to choose a passage from the spiritual writings that best speak to us. The passage should be something meaningful that expresses the values and the right living to which we aspire. Choices range from biblical passages to the sayings of the Buddha to Taoist writings to Native American prayers to inspirational words from spiritual thinkers and philosophers ranging from Mother Teresa to Gandhi to Ralph Waldo Emerson. They may contain overtly religious references or not. What's important is that the words inspire you to transcend your everyday self and to grow and develop into your ideal self - to realize your full human potential.
Once you have chosen a passage, you memorize it and then you slowly repeat it to yourself over and over each day during your meditation. Many people have the mistaken belief that in meditating we are to empty our minds completely – to make the mind a blank. But this isn't really what we are after. Meditation is an effort to train and to tame the mind. Our goal is to be able to focus our attention. Passage Meditation is nice because it not only gives us something to focus on that might hold our attention better than watching our breath, counting or picturing an object during our meditation, but it also helps us to imprint our values and ideals so deeply into our brains that we might actually begin to live up to them.
There are many passages from which to choose. If you have read a lot of inspirational literature, you may have a few ideas already. If not, Easwaran has many suggestions. Check out his book called “God Makes the Rivers to Flow” or go to the Easwaran website. The website has a lot of information not just about passage meditation, but about Easwaran's Eight-Point Program. I encourage you to take a look around, investigate Easwaran's program in more depth and give it a try if you are so moved. If you have any experience with this form of meditation, or, if you try it out and want to let us know what you think, please share your experiences by commenting on this post. Good luck...I wish you all of the best on your journey!