Editor’s Comment: There exist as many meditation techniques as there are paths, possibly more. A good beginning is to go to a public library for books on the subject. Reading those should give you a sense of what direction you want to start in. Then, you can check out local churches and other religious centers for groups that practice and teach the technique that seems to appeal to you.
Speaking for ourselves, we believe the function of meditation is to “be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46.10) That is, as long as we are distracted by our illusions about ourselves, our nature, and our reality, we will never know our True Nature, which we take to be Unity and Identity with God. So, to hear, we must listen; to listen, we must become quiet. Thus, meditation is about getting quiet.
We suggest setting aside a specific period at least once every day, preferably at the same time every day, to sit still for a short time – start with five minutes, and as that becomes comfortable, increase the duration. Do not attempt to silence your thoughts. You will almost certainly be unable to do so, and the failure will only make you frustrated. Instead, let your mind think whatever it wants, but do not attach yourself to the thoughts as they arise. Just watch them, without comment or opinion, as they pass by, as if they were bubbles rising in water. What you are reaching for is not to be the thinker of the thoughts, but an unattached, disinterested observer of them. Then, eventually, as they get no energy from you, they will cease, and you will be quiet.
Another way is to choose a specific “spiritual” thought or focus – say, an image or name of a Teacher, or of God, or an inspiring word or set of words – and concentrate on that while sitting silently. The idea here is to employ a selected, uplifting thought to crowd out the others. That is, as long as you are going to think anyway, choose to think one positive, highly focused thought. In the words of the Bhagavad Gita, “Fix your mind on Me” (9.34). As we are what we think, so that effort must bring us to where we want to be.
All of these ways are very simple and logical in theory, but frustrating and arduous in practice. Do not expect to see results easily or quickly. Our minds are accustomed to running free, and they chafe at every attempt to control them. Also, we are addicted to our thoughts, and we identify with every one of them, dramatizing them, and experiencing all of the emotions associated with each. There is a part of us which does not want to give any of that up. But with determination, it will come.
You will frequently forget your quiet period at first; and even when you do remember, you will come up with wonderful excuses for not observing it. Be firm, but not angry, with yourself. You will not regret it. In fact, you will find in time that you look forward to this moment, and that you want to extend it beyond five minutes, and even schedule more than one a day. Finally, you will come to live every moment in this way, quietly, gently observing, without attachment. There, your life and your meditation become one and the same.
A note of encouragement: If you really mean to do this, you will receive Help. How it manifests, in what form, whether on the inner or the outer, and so on, varies according to the needs and nature of each of us – but it WILL come! Expect it. Ask for it.
(Since writing this response, we posted a “Meditation Primer” at TZF’s Open Space which may be of interest.)
Editor’s Comment: First, no apology is necessary. Second, you can, and you will, overcome your fear of death by remembering who you are. We have said it before here and elsewhere, but it cannot be said enough: So long as we believe we are the mortal bodies we seem to be inhabiting, we will fear everything which threatens mortality, including, even especially, death.
In Hindu teachings, one frequently encounters Sankara’s observation about a man who comes across a length of rope in the road. Mistaking it for a snake, he is frightened, and reacts accordingly. Misunderstanding our nature and our reality in the same way, we react likewise. We can try to kill the “snake”; we can run from the “snake”; we can devise elaborate schemes to rid the world of snakes; we can develop techniques and drugs to immunize ourselves against snakes. But none of those choices will truly defend us against our fear of snakes, much less against the myriad other perceived threats to the body. The only certain way to extricate ourselves from this dilemma is to Remember our True Identity with the Divine One. Quite simply, the “snake” in the road is not a snake.
Similarly, death is a bodily function, and has nothing to do with us. And, please take notice, we are talking here of a Reality which is already true, right now, this very instant, even as you and I write and read these words. No transformation is necessary. We do not have to earn it; we do not have to do anything to become it. We do not really even have to remember it, to make it true. We are already as “spiritual” as we can ever be.
Then, one asks, why all the postures, diets, practices, and so forth, of the spiritual process? If we already are what we seek to be, what is their function? And the answer is: To enable us to remember. After a lifetime (many lifetimes?) of distractions from the Truth, we are very confused; so confused, we do not even realize we are confused. So confused, indeed, we are afraid of death. All the spiritual practices are designed to clear that confusion away. If ignorance is darkness, then we might say (as so many Teachers have said), the process is Light.
So, you have nothing to fear from death – or, for that matter, from anything else. You were fully alive long before “your” body was born, and you will be fully alive long after it has died. And somewhere deep within you, you know that. Design your spiritual practice – ask for Help in designing your spiritual process – to take you to that place. There, you will see that death does not threaten you, and that all the noise and lights, dread and despair, we generate in its name is silly.
Editor’s Comment: As we see it, the principal function of church (or synagogue or temple or etc.) attendance is to remind us Who and What we are in Truth, and thereby to reinforce our commitment to the Reach for Self-Realization. Most of us live such distracting and enervating lives the other six days of the week, too often in the shadow of people who have little or no spiritual interests, that we desperately need the few hours of forced, concentrated, uninterrupted focus, accompanied by a healthy dose of fellowship (encouragement and reassurance), which church attendance offers (or should offer). That is what the Sabbath and “a day of rest (re-Creation)” is all about, and we recommend it. Without it, we run the risk of facing death after sixty, seventy, eighty, or whatever years, without a clue as to what we were doing here, and therefore having to do it all over again, here or wherever.
Specifically, as regards which church: There being only One God, and that One being Infinite, the design of the church matters little compared to the sincerity and depth of the seeker’s aspiration. If you really mean to do this, and are truly looking for God, God will find you wherever you are. Speaking for ourselves, our own choice has been to surrender our lives to the spiritual process, and so we consider ourselves to be in church all the time. We do not make a distinction between spiritual activities and other activities. We consider everything we do, every event, every relationship, everything, to be spiritual. It is in this sense that we consider ourselves to be monks. We like the Greek root of the word, suggesting as it does single-pointedness.
To The Zoo Fence: I was raised a Roman Catholic. Now, I think of myself as what you call a seeker. Naturally, this has put my childhood faith and its sacraments into question, particularly communion. I just wanted to say that.
Editor’s Comment: Our experience has been that the best way to confront, analyze, decipher, and finally defuse, most if not all of our fears, concerns, and questions, is to put them into words. Curiously, they always seem more imposing, even more terrifying, hidden in our minds, than they do once they have been voiced into the air. The earth’s atmosphere seems to have a leveling and healing effect on things, which is nice. So, you write that you just want to say it. You may find that will be enough to put the issue into perspective for you.
Speaking for ourselves, our suggestion would be that you consider making a distinction between your “childhood faith” and Roman Catholicism. For us, a lot of our youthful religion was about illustrated bibles in Sunday School, church picnics, wanting to be one of the wise men in the Christmas pageant, and ice cream sundaes on the way home afterwards. All of that undoubtedly served a purpose, but now, to borrow from Paul, it is time to put away the things of our childhood, and consider as adults.
Like all the world’s great religions, Roman Catholicism is an abundant source of spiritual wealth, and under most circumstances, we believe a seeker is ill-advised to throw all of that out simply to avenge a few long-past childhood experiences. But by all means put it into question. We suggest you go to its source, the Gospels, and read them as if you were reading them for the very first time, and as if you were the very first person on earth ever to read them. Thus, do not let yourself find the passages familiar, and do not entertain any memories which they may trigger. Consider Jesus and the Teachings there as if they were absolutely unknown to you. Savor each verse carefully, deliberately, asking yourself what it means to you, what its other meanings might be, what its implications are. Remember, as a Teacher, Jesus was not speaking to your mind, but to your heart. Therefore, learn how to make your heart participate in, and eventually lead, this discussion. Bit by bit, seek out the teachings of the saints, to see how they understood what you are now beginning to understand anew for yourself. Here, for starters, consider the writing of Saint Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, the Cloud of Unknowing, Practising the Presence. Then, reach out to saintly writings from other traditions, and observe how similar they seem to be at base, and consider the implications of that. All of this will be far more difficult than it sounds. Indeed, it may be years before you even fully understand the assignment. But the rewards of consistent, determined, and enthusiastic effort will be bountiful and wonderful.
As regards the sacrament of communion specifically, for us that biblical event (see Matthew 26.26) is about a Teacher explaining that His Identity (and ultimately ours, as well) is the One, and that what you and we perceive as the manifested universe (our lives) is in Reality nothing more or less than That, the Very One Itself. So, he says to us, “this bread is my body” and “this wine is my blood.” In other words, I AM the world, and we can partake in a conscious relationship with Him, with the Infinite One, whenever we wish to do so, simply by addressing our lives, the world, and its things in that manner. Thus, when we eat bread, the Teacher says to us, recognize that it is the One, the Very Self. Likewise, when we drink wine. But, at TZF, we do not think Jesus or any other Teacher meant for us to stop there. Rather, we believe, and our experience confirms, that they would have us do the same when we eat cabbage, split firewood, honk a car horn, type on a computer keyboard, answer the telephone, pat a pet, curse a thief, smell a rose, flush a toilet. I AM THAT means I am that, with no exceptions, in every direction.
So, we consider our lives to be a Sacrament, and every activity, inner or outer, imagined or real, past, present, or future, good or bad, happy or unhappy, tall or short, fat or skinny, to be Sacred Communion. For us, “This Is My Body, This Is My Blood” is one of the most powerful spiritual Teachings ever uttered.