I mentioned recently that I’ve found the practice of meditation to be a most powerful tool against the rigors of anxiety. I first considered meditation after reading a book called “How God Changes the Brain”. The authors write in depth about the benefits of various forms of meditation, both in ways that are centered upon a higher power and ways that are not. Initially, I found the methods outlined in the book to be one part confusing and two parts weird. But there was one type of meditation that stood out to me – something called “centering prayer”.
I was further intruigued by the idea of centering prayer when I discovered that the kindred souls at The Liturgists had recorded a guided meditation based on the concept. The idea of centering prayer is to focus the mind upon a single idea or image and to maintain that focus for as long as possible. Usually, one chooses a singular word to help draw the mind back to the chosen idea. Commonly, the word is something like “love” or “God” or “light”.
If you’re not accustomed to calming the mind and remaining motionless for extended periods of time, (if you’re human, in other words) even twenty minutes of centering prayer is a lofty challenge. I’ve been practicing with limited success for a couple months now, and I find I am capable of maintaining focus for no more than five minutes at best. The beauty of meditation, however, is in its grace. You can suck badly and still enjoy benefits. During a particularly low stretch of days recently, my flailing efforts at centering prayer were the only thing that enabled me to survive.
Why does it work? There exists all sorts of scientific data about the way meditation works as something of a healing balm for the human psyche, but I have a simpler explanation. I believe meditation is effective because it works in a way that is precisely opposite from the way of nearly everything in our society.
Meditation is quiet, methodical. Society is loud and frenzied. Meditation is focused on one thought, forsaking all others. Society is a million flashes of artificial light, vying for our attention, reminding us that there are countless amazing gizmos and shiny trinkets and things to do and things to see, and you could be missing out, YOU COULD BE MISSING OUT!
It occurred to me as I sat down to write this morning, that my attraction to writing, an attraction which has intensified as I grow older and the world grows ever louder, has likely been rooted in its similarities to traditional meditation. Writing, if one is to do it in any sort of volume, requires focus and freedom from distractions. It requires observation. It involves visualization and interpretation. It takes time. Writing takes a lot of time. That’s why I hate it and love it at once. While it offers me refreshing moments of freedom, I struggle to overcome the knowledge that while I am here, in this restful cacoon of letters and words – simultaneously confined and vast – there exists a world about me, an assiduous swarm, a beacon of self-ascribed importance.
This leads me to a related topic which I’ll save for the next post. In a world of a million important ideas, what is it that’s truly important? What is actually worthy of your attention? If you had one thought on which to focus for five minutes, what would it be?