Until last year, I had never considered meditation to be a good fit for my busy-minded self when a few books and friends opened my mind. When I started mindfulness meditation*** four months ago, my goals were to increase my self-awareness and calm my “monkey mind.” Now, I see that meditation and faith are complimentary practices and I am surprised by how much they have in common:
Meditation is about coming back, over and over again.
One of the biggest meditation myths is that the goal is to train the mind not to think. Meditation is actually the practice of paying more attention. When I meditate, I often lose my focus on my breath and get lost in thought. I should stop right now and send that email. I really have a lot of other things I should be doing right now. A pumpkin chai sounds really good. Oh no, my back is hurting, I bet I am going to have to stop running. Then what kind of exercise will I do? I wish I wouldn’t have said that to my daughter yesterday. What I do when I lose focus is what matters. Do I allow shame to take over? Do I give up, stand up and start checking off my to-do list? Or, do I observe my thoughts without judgment and come back to the breath? Meditation is coming back, the constant practice of returning. Just like faith: While our goal is to remain in the Spirit, the practice is returning to it. In her book, Real Happiness, Susan Salzberg says,
“The question is not how long you can be with the breath before your attention starts to wander, but what happens in the moment you recognize that the mind has wandered? The real key to being with your breath is being able to begin again.”
Meditation requires a lot of grace.
Grace for thinking about Starbucks when I am supposed to be focusing on my breath. Giving myself grace about my thoughts instead of shaming myself for them. Finding the grace in the unhelpful stories I tell myself. Meditation is grace practice. In meditation, I must step back from my mind so that I can see what needs grace and let go. Grace toward myself, for others and from God are as essential to my meditation practice as they are to my faith.
Practicing it teaches it.
I learn to meditate by meditating. Sure, I’ve read books and articles about it. I’ve even taken a meditation class. But I really learn it by doing it every day. And just when it gets tedious or feels impossible, right when I want to give up, I start growing. Just like faith.
Meditation is stillness.
Sitting cross-legged atop my brown pillow in the corner of my family room, I place my hands on my knees, adjust my spine to upright, close my eyes and…breathe. I listen. Slow. Close. I hear Yahweh, the sound of breathing. Each breath: an invitation. Later, as the day goes on and I am pulled into worry or hurry, I return to my breath, accepting the invitation, hearing Yahweh, meeting God in the stillness.
It calls me to the present moment.
One of the benefits of meditation is cultivating a keen awareness of the present moment. When I am fully alive right now, I see the moment January’s raindrop meets the sidewalk. I look deeper into the eyes of my daughters. I hear the voice of my heart. I taste the paradoxical flavors in my pumpkin chai, the sweet right alongside the spicy. I sense the emotions of those around me – when my friend is anxious or my daughter is sad. Meditation reduces the anxiety and fear that comes from living in the future, and the regret and depression that living in the past brings. It is a vehicle to the right now moment. Just like faith. While faith helps us look forward to the future with eternal hope, it also teaches us to “realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
Meditation and faith. Together, they bring me back to the present, still space of God.
***A little disclaimer: If you are like me and new to meditation, it may be helpful to know that there are many different types of meditation. (I had no idea!) What I am writing about here is mindfulness meditation, a non-sectarian, research-based form of meditation. The end goal of mindfulness: paying more attention to your life.