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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why Meditation

The popular conversation around meditation is that it's good for reducing stress and developing a calm and relaxed state.  Which is true enough.  But that comes from a particular perspective on meditation, one that derives a lot from Zen Buddhism and the translation of that into a Western-oriented and Western-accessible practice.

Herbert Benson, MD, a cardiologist and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, especially moved forward the idea of integrating spirituality within medicine, and developed the relaxation response.  He popularized a holistic approach to medical care that transformed how patients and medical practitioners alike understood the healing process.

And much of the relaxation response thinking, in combination with a mindfulness approach defines the majority of meditative practices in America.  Guided meditation commentaries abound all over the Internet, and meditation instruction is a Google-search away.

But my experience with meditation isn't about relaxation or stress reduction.  My own experience with spirituality isn't simply about quieting or calming my mind.  Those are useful steps in spiritual practice, but my own experience is about moving toward completion, cultivating the qualities and virtues that lie within me but are underutilized or neglected.

Reducing stress and anxiety and all the negative feelings and emotions helps, but it's not nearly enough to nourish the soul.  It's like removing junk food from your diet: a good start, but not nearly enough to get you healthy.  You have to add in fresh fruits and veggies and all kinds of other good-for-you foods, and then you have a healthy diet.

My experience with meditation is that it sets the stage for not being distracted by my own limiting thoughts so that I can actually open my mind and heart to the unlimited power that is available from G*d...unlimited love and peace and joy, which are available to me when I plug myself in.

Lowering the volume on the noise and distraction inside my head isn't the endgame.  It's just the start.  It's just the beginning of tapping into a source of spiritual energy far greater and far richer than I can manufacture on my own.  It's just the beginning of seeing what I really need, the places I'm empty or lacking or what I'm missing, and letting that spiritual power wash over me and fill me up. It's just the beginning of acknowledging that, as an ordinary human being, I have potential, and a capacity for spiritual completeness, but that's not the place I am right now, and I'm going to have to do some actual work to get there.

There are so many ways to understand G*d and so many discussions that can be had about theology, but my experience is that G*d is this unlimited light, unlimited love, and an unlimited source of all the things I need to fill myself with.  And meditation is simply exposing myself to the warmth and light that's being offered, and letting it transform me, which, by its very nature, it's designed to do.

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