Meditation, like all spiritual practices, requires faithfulness and love. It is “a slow boat to China”. That quote is the title of a love song by Frank Loesser, “I’d love to get you on a slow boat to China” (1948). It is an appropriate quote since meditation is a journey on which we need to slow down to find the romance. We discover God as lover when we begin to love and care for ourselves, body and soul. There will be many temptations to give up the practice of meditation because we feel that we are not doing it satisfactorily, or because nothing happens during the practice. Beware of perfectionism, another form of D-I-Y salvation. If we stick with this spiritual discipline we will experience the benefits in our awareness of God’s presence in our life. We surely cannot ask for more than that.
The basic and most important instruction how to meditate is given by John Main (see my page on Meditation), and there is great wisdom in his words. In addition to this instruction I would recommend that you consecrate a corner or niche in your home as a place for meditation every day, with a small table, Bible and candle, and an icon or piece of art, if you wish. You will also need a straight back chair, or a cushion or kneeling bench, depending on your sitting posture. The important thing is to sit up straight. I tried for a long time to adopt the lotus pose on a mat, until I realized that my body was not up to it. An upright chair works well, without any discomfort.
For Christians meditation finds its natural context within the spiritual practice of Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading). The fourth stage is silent prayer “Contemplatio”. It is our response of listening to the God who is revealed through scripture. For further explanation please see my blog, Meditation and Lectio Divina (Sacred reading). “Silence and Stillness in Every Season: Daily Readings with John Main” (available from mediomedia.com) is a helpful resource.
Early morning and early evening (before meals) are good times for meditation. Twice a day is a stretch for many people but work slowly towards it and be kind to yourself. Quiet is essential and you may need to secure the cooperation of other members of your household. If you live in a noisy environment try ear plugs. I highly recommend the brand Hearos #33.
Some methods of meditation focus on the breath without saying a word, but in Christian tradition the focus is on a word (in this tradition the prayer word or mantra is from 1 Corinthians 16:22, Maranatha). One may coordinate the saying of the mantra with one’s breath, if that is helpful. I like to say (silently) the first two syllables of the mantra as I breathe in and the last two as I breathe out. The breath (spirit) is the bridge between the body and the mind. The slow and steady rhythm of mantra and breath calms the body and the mind. Saying the mantra provides the focus which is central to the practice. Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing”. The Psalmist prayed, “Grant me an undivided heart, O God.” (Psalm 86:11)
Support is necessary for the spiritual journey. The World Community for Christian Meditation through its website (wccm.org) provides many good resources and there are local meditation groups (also in the Centering Prayer tradition see http:www.contemplativeoutreach.org) which meet for an hour to practice silent prayer together. Being in silent meditation with others who share your path is a wonderful thing. Many of the talks shared at WCCM meetings are from the Benedictine monk, Laurence Freeman, who is the excellent teacher of the community. In my part of the world there are three Christian Meditation groups: LaSalette Shrine Retreat House, Attleboro, Wednesdays at 7 p.m; First Baptist Church, 228 North Main St., Fall River, Thursdays at 7 p.m.; and Trinity Episcopal Church, 139 Ocean Ave., Cranston, R.I. Mondays at 6 p.m.
There are no highly charged ecstatic moments in this tradition of meditation, but I would say that there is a quiet ecstasy underlying the practice. It is indeed a loving journey on “a slow boat to China”.