“Meditation is paying sustained, unmixed attention to one thing at a time.” (– Paraphrasing Simone Weil.)
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” (– Anonymous)
“Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated? (– David M. Bader)
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” (– Zen Saying)
In our Essay, Leading a Fulfilled and Happy Life, we say that Meditation is an important lifelong practice. In this Essay, we talk about how Meditation works, describe the various types of meditation, and explain why it is not the same as a prayer.
A prayer is usually a request, a supplication addressed to God or to a saint. The “God” may be monotheistic or a junior god or goddess in a pantheon. The person praying is “below” and ruled by the superior God, who has supernatural powers. The praying person adopts a mental and/or physical posture of submission – bowing, kneeling, even lying prostrate.
A prayer may also be a thanksgiving, a repentance, or an act of praise. Those types of prayer are also done from an attitude of submission.
Meditation, on the other hand, is paying sustained attention to some event, concept, or thing. The thing or event could be a Japanese garden, a babbling brook, a cycling dryer in a laundromat, your own breathing, your body as it does Yoga postures, the arranging of flowers, your character traits, movements of Tai Chi, a game of chess, watching tropical fish swim in a home aquarium, listening to music, coloring in a coloring book, deeply pondering a poem, or musing about truth and beauty. Each meditative activity must be done in an unhurried, respectful manner; and with a positive, open attitude.
There are Meditations that Have Practical Goals. limited, day-to-day goals – to relax, reduce stress, calm the mind, lower blood-pressure and reduce one’s heart rate.
There are also Meditations that Have Spiritual Goals. They are like prayer in that the meditator seeks to contact a Higher Power, a Greater Whole. But they are unlike prayers in that they are not requests for favors. Instead, they seek to enter the Flow of the Process of Continuing Creation: The Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos. Other, shorter names for the same thing include “Nature,” “Brahman,” “The Tao,” and “Gaia.”
It is wrong to retreat into a life devoted to sitting meditation for several hours each day. It is wrong to dwell, or even attempt to dwell, in a transcendent state, as do certain orders of monks (Buddhist and Catholic), nuns, dervishes, and mystics from many religions. Instead, the Path of G>O>D> calls for us to experience spiritual transcendence as a periodic re-charging of our spirit, gathering strength for a more productive life in the active world of Continuing Creation.
Meditation is an important tool in the Practice of the G>O>D> to attain balance and serenity in the midst of action and achievement. Dr. Lawrence LeShan, author of How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery, agrees, writing that withdrawal from active participation in the world is a self-defeating “trap” that many schools of meditation (particularly in the Far East) fall into. 1
Followers of Continuing Creation don’t pray. Instead, we choose to do Spiritual Meditations. When we meditate, we never adopt an attitude of submission or supplication, because each one of us is a distinct and important participant in Continuing Creation. We meditate in Continuing Creation or with Continuing Creation, never to Continuing Creation.
In this Essay, we’ll talk about Meditation first, and then take up Prayer in the second half in this Essay. Along the way, we’ll also talk about Meditations that call themselves Prayers.
(For a lighter, one-page treatment of this topic, see J.X. Mason’s Blog, “The Washing Machine Meditation.”)
J.X. Mason’s Recommended Books on Meditation
There are many books about Meditation. Your author, J.X. Mason, particularly recommends these four:
- How to Meditate, by Professor Lawrence LeShan. This is the best single book on the effects, techniques, and types of Meditation. This slim volume presents, in clear language, the bones of Meditation, with all religious overtones stripped away. LeShan has no use for fuzzy concepts like “vibrations” or “energy” when it comes to Meditation. [Note] Lawrence LeShan, Ibid. [/note]
- The best-selling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. This book beautifully shows how even the mechanical chore of motorcycle maintenance can bloom into a deep Spiritual Meditation. 2
- The much older Candide, written in 1759 by Voltaire. The moral of this tale is to “Cultivate Your Garden,” as the antidote to all the difficulty and suffering in the world. 3
- The Story of a Soul, is an autobiography by St. Therese of Lisieux, in which she explains her “Little Way,” meditation, which consists of doing each small daily task with positive mindfulness. 4
We could say that the theme of the last three books is “the Spirituality of Daily Reality,” which consists of doing the “next right thing” lovingly and with a positive, constructive attitude.
The Role of Meditation for Practitioners of Continuing Creation
Co-Creators in Continuing Creation should not become devoted to (“hooked on”) endless sitting meditation. Instead, we should each try to do our daily work of maintaining and building our culture and technology. We employ periodic meditation as a tool that helps us maintain and build. One way meditation helps us is by providing mindful attention and positivity for each task at hand.
How to Meditate — The Mechanics of Meditation
Set Aside a Time and Place: Most Meditations (but not all) require us to set aside a time and place each day for doing just one meditative activity (e.g., Contemplation, Yoga, Breath-Counting) by itself, apart from all other activities.
Comfortable Position: Meditation consists of placing the body in a comfortable position (either sitting still or smoothly doing intended motions) and then holding the mind’s attention on just one thing for an unhurried period of time, or on a series of things during several intervals of time.
Relax: Set aside distractions and discomforts (including your cellphone!) and center the mind.
Focus: The Meditation should focus on just one thing, or on one stream of things.
Repetition. Meditation often involves repetition. The repetition of a sound, a word, or the drawing a breath. This works because our bodies have natural rhythms – breathing and the heartbeat. Our minds tend to stray, so meditation provides a discipline that returns one’s attention to the breath or to repeated words called a mantra. We watch a brook because the flow repeats. For the same reasons, prayers (like the Hail Mary) are often repeated, as they are in the Catholic Rosary.
Of course, excessive focus can lead to obsession, and excessive repetition can be hypnotic. These unwelcome effects happen both to individuals, and to groups, e.g. to members of a cult.
Lawrence LeShan’s Categories of Meditations
The main thrust of this Essay is to understand Practical Meditations and Spiritual Meditations within the Practice of Continuing Creation. But before we do that, we should describe Lawrence LeShan’s several categories of Meditations:
Sitting Meditations hold the body still. “Contemplation” is an example.
Active Meditations move the body in some pattern. “The Zen Tea Ceremony is an example.
Meditations of the Outer Way focus on something outside the mind – a crystal, a flower, a house.
Meditations of the Inner Way focus on something inside the mind – an idea, a feeling, a concept.
Structured Meditations think about the subject in a defined way – we explore it, count it, repeat it.
Unstructured Meditations take in thoughts about the subject as they come to the mind.
LeShan also divides Meditations into “four “Paths:” The Path Through the Intellect; The Path through the Emotions; The Path through Body; and The Path through Action. We will talk about these four categories later, when we take up Spiritual Meditations.
Dr. LeShan’s classifications can help individuals find the meditations that work best for them. Of course, many Meditations do not exactly fit his categories. There is no perfect classification system.
The Two Roles of Meditation in Continuing Creation
For Followers of Continuing Creation, the most important way to divide Meditations is according to their two main roles: Practical Meditations versus Spiritual Meditations. These “role categories” are our own; they do not come from Dr. LeShan.).
Practical Meditations are those that intend to improve something in a person’s life — often something in one’s thinking or behavior in the real, everyday world.
Spiritual Meditations are those that bring the Meditator into the Flow of Continuing Creation, producing a heightened, even a transcendent awareness of the interconnected Wholeness of the Universe. This awareness is inspirational – stimulating the Meditator to improve his or her character, life, and good work in the World.
Practical Meditations are those that intend to improve something in a person’s life — often something in one’s thinking or behavior in the real, everyday world.
However, many Practical Meditations can also be portals to deeper Spiritual Meditations, which we talk about later in this Essay.
What are the Goals of Practical Meditations?
According to Sam Harris, writing in Waking Up, the roles or goals of Practical Meditation include:
- To keep the mind from wandering; to avoid the “monkey mind” of endless dithering and scurrying about. Studies show that “people are consistently less happy when their minds are aimlessly wandering, even when the content of their thoughts are pleasant.” 5
- To be freely and nonjudgmentally aware of the present, and not entrapped by one’s own thoughts. 6
- To Improve the immune function, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
- To reduce anxiety, depression, neuroticism, and emotional reactivity.” 7
- To reduce worry, anxiety, and anger – all of which are forms of fear.
- To these, we can add improvement of some skill – practical, artistic, athletic, or military.
The Benefits of Practical Meditations
“The Buddha was asked: ‘What have you gained from meditation?” He replied: “Nothing! However, let me tell you what I have lost: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of old age and death.’ ” — Traditional saying
Meditation is an important tool in the Practice of Continuing Creation to attain balance and serenity in the midst of action and achievement. It is one of our Six Steps for Achieving a Happy and Fulfilled Life.
Quite a few studies over the past 20 years have taken brain scans of highly experienced meditators. The results indicate that meditation can in fact meet the above goals. Specifically, these two authors write that Practical Meditations likely have the following effects: 8
- Reduce depression and chronic pain.
- Free the mind from automatic mental conditioning and inner confusion.
- Train the mind to focus more quickly and stay focused longer.
- Reduce the stress of normal daily irritants.
- Calm the person.
- Promote a sense of psychological well-being.
- Improve sleep patterns
- Reduce emotional burnout among health care workers.
- Physically construct links between the brain’s cognitive and affective functions.
- Increase the number of axons (connecting fibers) — between different regions of the brain.
Practical Meditation and Mindfulness
The third bullet point above, “Train the mind to focus more quickly and stay focused longer,” is a good description of “Mindfulness.” Mindfulness means “living in the now.” Or more specifically, being more aware of the content of each present moment. This awareness should be done without evaluation, judgment, or stress. 9
We hear a lot about Mindfulness these days, but really it is just applying the attention of meditation to most everything a person does. Or at least to every non-harmful thing a person does.
For example, “mindful eating” has been suggested to be a means of maintaining healthy and conscious eating patterns. 10
Meditation can teach the Mind the habit Mindfulness, the habit of Paying Attention.
Mindfulness has five simple steps:
- Step worrying about the past and the future.
- Watch what you’re doing (especially if you are running a chain saw).
- Keep your mind on what you’re doing.
- Do what you are doing.
- Then do the Next Right Thing.
Living in The Now
The first three points above comprise about half of “Living in The Now.” The other half consists of appreciating Living in The Now.
The “Bubble Meditation”
In one type of mindfulness Meditation, we let each thought arise naturally in our mind; and when it appears, we hold it in our mind for a set period of time – perhaps for two minutes. During that interval, we strive to consider just that thought and only that thought. Often, the thoughts that emerge in our minds are visual – the image of a face, or a backyard. Then the next thought might be something quite different – perhaps a memory of feeling jealous about something when you were a teenager. It could be anything. Whatever thought arises, we accept it as it is, without judgment, analysis, or worry.
Dr. LeShan calls this the “Bubble Meditation,” because each successive thought is handled as if it were a bubble, rising slowly from your Scuba air-tank as you sit on the bottom of a peaceful lagoon. You regard each “bubble” of thought, and only that bubble, from the time it leaves your air tank until it arrives at the surface and pops, twenty feet above. It is also described at several websites online. 11
The Bubble Meditation is essentially a disciplined practice of Mindfulness. Like many Mindfulness meditations, the Bubble Meditation can be used to train your brain to be Mindful even when you are not sitting still, but actively doing other things. [ page 85-88]
Dr. LeShan classifies the Bubble Meditation as a “structured” meditation of “inner way.” It is “structured” because each thought-bubble is watched for a defined amount of time. It is of the “inner way” because the things being watched are happening inside the mind. In contrast, watching birds passing in flight would be a “structured” meditation of the “outer way). It is also a “sitting” Meditation, not an “action” Meditation.
Transcendental Meditation, or “TM”
Transcendental Meditation is a mantra-based technique of meditation created by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-1950’s. The TM technique involves repeating a spoken sound or words called a mantra. TM is to be practiced for 15–20 minutes twice per day with the eyes closed. Today, it is taught by certified teachers through a standard course of instruction, which costs a fee that varies by country. It is a non-religious method for relaxation, stress reduction, and self-development. Those goals place TM in the camp of Practical Meditations.
Below is a very good Mantra Meditation suitable for Followers of Continuing Creation:
A Mantra Meditation for Co-Creators in Continuing Creation
May I Find the Flow of Continuing Creation
May I Follow the Flow of Continuing Creation
May I Further the Flow of Continuing Creation
Other Examples of Practical Meditations
The Good Thoughts Meditation — Meditation can consist of rehearsing and practicing your good thoughts. This meditation can be done by chanting, journaling, and reading inspirational texts. All his life, George Washington kept a list of 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior that he habitually consulted to improve his own behavior. Yoga classes and Twelve-Step Meetings are group meditations on good thought and good behavior.
The Body Scan Meditation. The Mayo Clinic’s website describes it like this:
“Lie on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body.” 12
The “Little Way” of Saint Theresa of Lisieux consists of being mindful in everything you do.
“Instead of focusing on large actions, we should bring God into our smallest ones. St. Thérèse even wrote about how much care she put into folding napkins at the dinner table. She completed the task with as much love and attention as if Jesus Himself was coming to dine with her.” 13
Tasks, Arts and Exercises. In Zen Buddhism, the high arts of Ikebana flower arranging, stone gardening, and the Tea Ceremony are all perfect examples of Meditation by doing some practical or artistic activity. The honed skill of a concert pianist or an athlete would also qualify, as do the ancient military skills of karate and Japanese Archery. (Through years of dedicated concentration and practice, Samurai warriors learned to fight without fear of death.)
Reflection, Reminiscence, and even Daydreaming, can all be Practical Meditations when they are principally done to achieve the aims of calm, relaxation, and the reduction of stress. Reflection is a peaceful and positive recalling of past events. Most often, we reflect on past events in our lives, or on our individual characters and how they were formed. We can also reflect (alone or with others) on the larger past events and trends that have given rise to societal or ecological conditions in some part of the world. Reflection, Reminiscence, and Daydreaming can also be portals to deeper Spiritual Meditations.
Self-Talking: Meditation by Holding a Conversation with Yourself
Meditations can be self-talk conversations as well, and there is nothing wrong with them. Humans naturally evolved to hold conversations, increasing their ability to cooperate for increased survival. Verbalizing our thoughts is also a way to make them concrete in our own minds.
Self-talk Meditations are great for reinforcing our intent, for keeping us mindful of the things that are important. So, while we don’t pray, we can say, “Today, may I be kind.” Or, “May I be accepting.” Or, “May I do my work, and then let go.” And so on, as best befits our needs. But we Practitioners of Continuing Creation would not say, “Jesus, may I be kind today.” Or “Allah, may I be kind today.”
Many Followers like to think of our self-talks as talking to our “inner-selves” or talking to our “better-selves.”
In addition to Practical Meditation, we Co-Creators in Continuing Creation also do Spiritual Meditation. But we do it differently than the Hindu gurus, Buddhist monks and nuns, Christian mystics, and Islamic Sufis do it. Let’s first look at traditional meditation as practiced in the Old Religions, and then at how we do it on the modern Path of Continuing Creation.
Traditional Spiritual Meditations
The Old Religions of Asia undertake meditation with the goal of merging one’s consciousness with the “Great Consciousness” of the universe itself. In Buddhism, this merging is most often called achieving Nirvana. In Buddhism it is most often called achieving Moksha. Christians and Muslims call it “becoming One with God.”
The merging of a person’s Consciousness with ALL consciousness is frequently described as “achieving freedom from the illusion of self.” Even Voltaire (who was neither a Hindu nor a Buddhist, but rather an 18th century philosopher of the French enlightenment) described it in that same way:
“Meditation is the dissolution of thoughts in Eternal awareness or Pure consciousness without objectification, knowing without thinking, merging finitude in infinity.”
In the Practice of Continuing Creation, however, we do not regard the Self as an illusion! For each of us, “Oneself” is a distinct, important, and integral part of Continuing Creation. Merging ourselves with the Whole of All Wholes would have us lose our separate identities. Therefore, traditional Eastern “merging” meditation is not suited to co-creators on the Path of G>O>D, because we seek to be actively constructive in the work of the world.
Spiritual Meditation for Participants in Continuing Creation
In our Spiritual Meditations, we do not try to lose ourselves in the Flow of Continuing Creation, the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos. Instead, we meditate to understand it, immerse ourselves in it, experience it, and feel its Flow.
But swimming in the Flow is not the same as merging with the Flow. When we float, swim, surf, or sail the Flow, and participate in it, our individual minds are not the same as the Flow. Our individual consciousness does not become indistinguishable from The Whole of All Whole. It is not at all clear that a Great Mystical Consciousness even exists.
Being in the Flow is what athletes often call “being in the “zone;” and what musicians often call “being in the groove.” Regardless of the appellation, the Flow is a state in which inspiration and action comes almost automatically. Athletes describe it as riding on “muscle memory.”
This mental state shows up as a slow theta wave on an EEG (electroencephalogram). In this state, the brain produces “neurotropic factors,”molecules that promote the growth and healing of brain neurons. 15
It is important that Being in the Flow is active and creative, not static like “Merging with the Great Consciousness” appears to be. Participants in Continuing Creation choose to meditate on something that is positive and creative, not on a section of a blank wall or an endless repetition of identical breaths.
In the passage paraphrased below, the Unitarian Universalist Minister, the Reverend Doctor Becky Edmiston-Lange, describes what we are talking about:
“If [meditation] is the quality of sustained attention… [spiritual meditation] can occur anywhere and in many different ways… Whatever method we use, the point is to quiet the ego, to free the self from distractions and noise of the ceaseless flow of events and demands, to listen with the third ear, or see with the inner eye, if you will. One could…dance…or chant a chosen mantra… or plumb the nuances of a sacred text…or walk mindfully through the woods…. Because in the state of unmixed attention I am nourished and sustained…. I gain a sense of communion with the source and mystery of life…
– The Reverend Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange, at Emerson Unitarian-Universalist Church, 1/9/2000.
The Right Mindset for Spiritual Meditation
Right Contact: A Spiritual Meditation is intended to Access the Flow of Continuing Creation. It often begins with a simple Reflection on an aspect of Continuing Creation, Nature, the Ecosphere, the Noosphere, Evolution, History and Culture, the sciences, Philosophy, or the outer Universe.
Right Access: Recognize that when you meditate, to access the Flow of Continuing Creation, you are doing so through your own senses and your own mind. That includes your values, your knowledge, your experience, your moral education and training, the opinions of your family and friends (past and present), your “better self,” and your “authentic self.” All those things are themselves part of G>O>D>. So, when you access them, you are accessing G>O>D>.
We Meditate in Continuing Creation, or with Continuing Creation, never to Continuing Creation.
Right Expectations: Expect no direct response. No voices. But we can expect to find inspiration, guidance, courage, acceptance, serenity, understanding, and wisdom. These can be gained from other minds, living and dead. From history, philosophy, science, folklore, and from those passages in the Ancient Religious scriptures of all faiths, if they are consistent with our own conception of G>O>D> as the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos. Many of those passages are beautiful poetry.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6: 28-29 and 34. New International Version)
We should also expect to spend much of our lives building and improving Continuing Creation.
Acceptance and Serenity
The Serenity Prayer (for us, The Serenity Meditation) teaches us that not everything in the world can be improved; certainly not all at once. What cannot be improved must be accepted. Spiritual Meditation teaches us Acceptance… and the Serenity that can accompany it.
The Serenity Meditation for Co-Creators in Continuing Creation
In G>O>D> may we find the Serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
The Courage to change the things we can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
— Paraphrasing Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian (1892-1971)
We should note that acceptance, serenity, courage, and wisdom are not only Spiritual qualities; they are also Practical qualities. Therefore, isn’t the Serenity Meditation a Practical Meditation? Yes, it is both Spiritual and Practical. The distinction between Practical Meditation and Spiritual Meditation is often blurred. Keep this in mind as you consider list below.
Four Paths for Spiritual Meditations
Lawrence LeShan writes that Spiritual Meditations can proceed down one of four different Paths toward awakened awareness of Continuing Creation, the Whole of All Wholes:
- The Path Through the Intellect
This Path uses the Intellect to go beyond the Intellect. Much as a deep study of Euclidian Geometry eventually leads to Non-Euclidean Geometry; and study of Newtonian Physics eventually leads to Relativity and then to Quantum Mechanics. LeShan cites Jnana yoga and Habad Hasidism as examples of the Path Through the Intellect.” (LeShan pp. 49-50)
- The Path Through the Emotions
Historically, this Path has been the most widely followed. Nuns and Monks in the contemplative Orders will spend hours each day in devotion, deepening their ability to experience and radiate love – love of others and love of God. (LeShan pp.51-52).
This Path of Meditation can be used to improve one’s Virtue and Character. Christians have written hundreds of books with titles like “365 Thoughts for the Day,” or “Morning Meditations,” each of which offers a concept or common human problem as the subject for a daily morning meditation.
- The Path Through the Body
One learns to be aware of one’s body and bodily movements and to heighten this awareness through practice, until, during the period of meditation, this awareness completely fills the field of consciousness to the exclusion of anything else. The best-known examples are Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, and the Sufi Whirling Dances (popularly known as Dervish Dances) of the Sufi mystical tradition. In recent years two Western forms of exercise been developed to improve health and sensory awareness: the Gindler method and the Alexander Technique (LeShan, pg. 52-54.)
This type of meditation intends to enlarge one’s Spiritual Life by expanding our consciousness through increasing our physical awareness of and connectedness to all of creation. For example, consider these common metaphors: a person “runs with the wind,” “surfs the waves,” “climbs like a monkey,” or “flies through the air.”
- The Path Through Action
Earlier, we discussed the skills below that people as Practical Meditations. But they can also be Spiritual Meditations when they yield deep feelings of connectedness to all Continuing Creation:” We’ll repeat them here:
In Zen Buddhism, the high arts of Ikebana flower arranging, stone gardening, and the Tea Ceremony are all perfect examples of Meditation-through-doing.
The honed skill of a concert pianist, or of an Olympic athlete would also qualify, as do the ancient military skills of karate and Japanese Archery. 16
Specific Spiritual Meditations
Your author, J.X. Mason, has had success with the next two Spiritual Meditations. Both seem whimsical, but they work! Meditation does not have to be a harsh discipline.
The Clothes Washer Meditation.
When you’re sitting in a laundromat, or down in your basement, set down your cellphone and regard the glass window of the clothes washer or the dryer. The soap smells are good. Soon you will have clean clothes. See the clothes turn… rising, falling, rising, falling… they have not a care in the world. Do you feel the Gentle Flow? Does it inspire a gentle flow in you? Keep watching.
The Tropical Fish Meditation
The motion of the beautiful fish in an aquarium are like the motions of the clothes. They are partly rhymical, partly random. Like life, no? So gentle, so calming. Take slow, deep breaths as you watch. Need a bit of discipline? Watch the left-most fish until he crosses to the right. Then watch a fish on the right until she crosses to the left. Keep Watching. (There are probably little film strips of fish tanks you can watch on television. The Roku Network has one; YouTube has some too.
Reflection, Reminiscence, and even Daydreaming
These were earlier described as Practical Meditations when they are principally done to achieve the aims of calm, relaxation, and the reduction of stress.
Reflection is a recalling of past events, usually past events in our lives, but also about larger events and trends. When these Meditations deepen into a revelation, or a heightened awareness, about ourselves or about the Processes of Continuing Creation, they become Spiritual Meditations.
Contemplation is the long, detailed examination of some object using the senses (traditionally, the eyes) and the mind. The object could be anything – a rock, flower, insect, house, lake. Contemplation is studying or observing something carefully or thinking deeply about something. Studying a painting in an art museum for a long time is an example of contemplation.
In contemplation, you must examine something in great detail, like a homicide detective would examine a crime scene. As Dr. LeShan writes, “Essentially Contemplation it is learning to look at something actively, dynamically, alertly, but without words,” and without any distractions or interruptions. 17 Done correctly, Contemplation is perhaps the most difficult of all Meditations.
Contemplation is a Spiritual Meditation because it intends to lead to wider, universal connections. Jose Ortega y Gasset described it this way:
“If we continue paying attention to one object, it will become more clearly perceived because we shall keep finding in it more reflections of and connections with the surrounding things… And this is what the depth of something means… The meaning of a thing is the highest form of its coexistence with other things…” 18
Meditations of Affirmation
Can a Meditation within Continuing Creation be an Affirmation? Or even a celebration? Yes, in the sense that achieving connection with Continuing Creation, and coming away with a positive feeling of renewal and recharged commitment, is an Affirmation Meditation. We could also meditate on a subject, like “justice,” and come away with a deeper sense of its importance and universality.
Our Path of Continuing Creation does not have a creed (such as the Nicene Creed) nor a statement of belief that some authority or doctrine asks each of us to affirm. Each Co-Creator is free to express their own truth. Still, I imagine Co-Creators could formulate a general statement of Affirmations. The Unitarian Universalists have a written Statement of Affirmations, but ours would be different.
Meditations of Envisioning and Imagining
Followers of G>O>D> are not supplicants. We are participants. Rather than ask God to do things for a loved one or for a charitable cause, we envision good things happening for them. Perhaps the visualization of a good event will help us do something or act in a way that helps the good things come to pass.
Meditations of Envisioning and Imagining are the source of most of humanities great ideas, scientific breakthroughs, great discoveries, and creative inspirations. People who achieve them are called “Visionaries.”
It is useless to pray for other people, except if it reinforces our own motivation to aid them. (More about this in the PRAYER section of this Essay, below.) It is natural and good to be empathetic, but the best way to show this is to do something for someone, and the second-best way is to counsel and advise them, face-to-face, with sincere care and goodwill.
A Few Additional Spiritual Meditations Described in Dr. LeShan’s Book, How to Meditate
The Breath Counting Meditation (a structured meditation of the Outer way)
The Meditation of the Thousand-Petaled Lotus (Structured, Outer)
The Meditation of “Who Am I?” (Structured, Inner)
Things We Co-Creators Never Do When We Meditate
As we’ve said, Co-Creators in Continuing Creation never devote our lives to Meditation. It is wrong for us to dwell, or even attempt to dwell, in a transcendent state. The true Path of Continuing Creation calls for us to use spiritual transcendence as a periodic re-charging of our spirit, gathering strength for a productive life in our active real world.
We never sacrifice burned animals on altars; but the Hebrews of the Old Testament did:
“Take from this ram the fat, the fat tail, the fat on the internal organs, the long lobe of the liver, both kidneys with the fat on them, and the right thigh. (This is the ram for the ordination.). 24 Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and have them wave them before the Lord as a wave offering. 25 Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the Lord, a food offering presented to the Lord.”
— Exodus 29:21-25: (New International Version)
We also never sacrifice fruits, grains, or vegetables, for that would be a waste of the energy contained in food.
In fact, we never make sacrifices or offering of any kind. Instead, we make donations and contributions (in money, goods, and labor) to needy people, needy animals and plants, and needy ecosystems.
We never petition super-human entities. They are all fictional.
We never bow, kneel, prostrate, abase, or adopt any posture of dependence.
We never act or think toward Continuing Creation with an attitude of subservience, subjugation, abasement, or of lower rank or lower status.
We never swear allegiance or loyalty to a Spiritual Power. Swearing allegiance to one God or another only hardens religious positions and often leads to religious wars. Instead, we center ourselves in the Flow of the Growing> Orderly> Direction> of the Cosmos, while recognizing that others may be in a different part of the Flow, which they sense is the center.
We never address Continuing Creation as “Lord” or “Father.”
Never think or say that we obey Continuing Creation or obey the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos. We are not ruled or commanded by Continuing Creation. We each should obey only our own moral code and democratically determined laws and legal authorities.
If our own moral code conflicts with democratically determined laws, then we have a larger political problem. We should seek to democratically reconcile the two. In the past, this conflict has led to reform movements, revolutions, and even wars.
We never personify Continuing Creation: The Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos.
We never ask to be given something. Rather, we each seek to find something.
We have a Higher Power; and we also have a Higher Purpose
By now, it should be clear that Co-Creators in Continuing Creation: The Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos do not Pray; we Spiritually Meditate. This section describes the Prayers that other people do.
Many Prayers Are Actually Spiritual Meditations.
Consider the well-known Sanskrit Prayer of the Dawn:
“Look well to this day, for it is life, the very life of life. In its brief course lie all the realities and verities of existence: the bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendor of beauty. For yesterday is but a dream, and tomorrow only a vision. But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well, therefore, to this day; for it alone is life! Such is the salutation to the dawn.”
— Sanskrit Prayer of The Dawn
The Sanskrit “Prayer” of The Dawn is really a Spiritual Meditation that is celebratory, positive, and affirming. It is not a prayer because it doesn’t ask for anything. It is not a supplication directed to a God; it is an encouraging instruction from one person to other people. Since it does not request something from some Higher Power, nor say “Thanks” or “I’m sorry” to a Higher Power, it is not a prayer.
There is a trend today, particularly among liberal thinkers, to conflate meditation with prayer. For example, someone might write that a relaxed time spent contemplating a lovely patch of woods is a prayer. For followers of Continuing Creation, however, that is a marvelous Spiritual Meditation.
The beautiful poem below, “The Summer Day,” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Mary Oliver, is a good example of a meditation that almost calls itself a prayer. The author considers calling it a “prayer,” but she sets that aside because she doesn’t need to invoke the word “prayer” to get to her spiritual goal.
While the poem is surely a Spiritual Meditation on Nature, and Nature is one of the three bases (along with Reason and Science) of our Spiritual Practice of Continuing Creation. (The Summer Day was published in Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, 1992, published by Beacon Press.)
The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
There is no supplication, no “asking” in The Summer Day poem, so it is not a prayer. It is not directed to some external Person or Power. Ms. Oliver does speak of “paying attention,” how to “let go,” and how to “live in the now.” She does at one point say she is “blessed,” which is a religious term. But by who or by what? I like to think is it by the Continuing Creation of Nature. I suspect she uses the word “blessed” to show the conventionally religious how well Nature-based spirituality can work.
Another example of a fine, Nature-based Spiritual Meditation is the following one by Black Elk, a Medicine Man and educator of the Ogalala Sioux Nation.
Black Elk’s Circle Poem
Everything the Power of the World does is in a circle.
The sky is round, and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball, and so are the stars.
The Wind in its greatest powers, whirls.
Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours.”
The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle.
The moon does the same, and both are round.
Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing,
And always come back again to where they were.
The life of a man’s a circle from childhood to childhood,
And so it is in everything where Power moves.
Prayer is Usually Self-talk
Most Practitioners of Continuing Creation regard all prayer as self-talk meditation because the only person sure to be hearing what is said is the person praying. Pope Francis has said, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed the hungry. That is how prayer works.” But practitioners of Continuing Creation would say, “We meditate (self-talk) for the hungry. Then we feed the hungry. That is how meditation (self-talk) works.”
Brain Studies of Meditation vs. Prayer
Studies show that both activities – Meditation and Prayer — light up the same areas of the human brain in very similar ways, although prayer also lights up the conversation section of the brain.
By following the course of radioactive dye in the brains of meditating Tibetan Monks, Andrew B. Newberg (Principles of Neurotheology, 2010) found increased activity in the frontal lobe – the area which deals with concentration.
He also saw markedly decreased activity in the parietal lobe, which orients a person in space. Dr. Newberg hypothesizes that the Meditator loses the distinction between himself and the world around him, feeling more “at one” with the universe.
Newberg found the same two things happening in the brains of praying nuns. 19
But such studies do not show that Meditation and Prayer are the same in other respects. The brain can be tricked into perceiving an illusion as something that’s real.
Religious people often say they “talk” to God, and God talks back. It follows from the human tendency to personify God. While speaking words to God, it is rare for them to say that God speaks words back to them. If they were to actually hear a voiced reply, they would likely be suffering from schizophrenia.
But maybe religious people just expect an action from God – “God working in my life.” As in, “God was with me because I survived the tornado, even though my house was totally destroyed.” Really? If God had been on your side, the tornado wouldn’t have hit your house in the first place.
Or people say, “God speaks to me in silent ways, so if I am trying to decide between two jobs, I always pray on it.” But really, you are simply concentrating on it with your own brain. You are searching deep into your own experience, thoughts, and emotions. You may even sleep on it and let your subconscious evaluate the decision. Or you may ask a close friend what he or she thinks.
Who can we turn to for help? Most of us can ask family or friends for help, and we can hopefully get an answer back. But we can never get an answer back from G>O>D> as a whole. G>O>D> (e.g., The Universe, Gaia, or Nature) does not respond to verbal or prayed requests. Only a part of G>O>D>, (maybe your brother-in-law), will give you an actual answer.
Religious people often say, “God speaks to me through other people,” but doesn’t that just mean those other people are bringing their own experience to bear?
The Judeo-Christian and Islamic God is like an all-powerful parent, at times angry and at times loving. On the other hand, Continuing Creation: The Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos is like a River. It buoys us up, it floats us, and its current moves us forward if we are well-positioned within it. We must learn to avoid most of the rapids; but we navigate them when necessary. We learn to stay in the main channel – avoiding the rocks and sandbars. We accept that there may be logjams and flash floods.
So, Participants in Continuing Creation understand that a super-person called “God” is not listening to our individual words. Nevertheless, it still is okay for us to “self-talk” in our meditations because we are each a part of G>O>D>, the Growing> Organizing> Direction> of the Cosmos. So, when we talk with ourselves we are legitimately talking with an important part of G>O>D>.
In Meditation we can also say, “May the example or the teaching of the Buddha (or of Jesus, or Marcus Aurelius, or Maya Angelou) as he or she lives in my memory, show me the way to be a better person.
A Gentle Personification of Continuing Creation
If a person insists on having a personified deity, Mother Nature is a softer, more nurturing, peaceful, life-generating semi-deity than the vengeful and punishing Jehovah or Allah!
(Christianity did not have a feminine version of God, so Catholicism created what some scholars call the “Cult of the Virgin Mary” to fill that void.)
The Serenity Prayer
The often-heard Serenity Prayer is famed because it handles a universal human dilemma: When to work for change, when to accepting no-change, and how to decide between them. It provides guidance for life’s root problem, which Hamlet expressed as “To be or not to be.” To live or not to live. To see the glass as half full or half empty.
But We Practitioners in Continuing Creation do not say, “May God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Instead, we say:
May I Find in Continuing Creation the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.
Life is Hard. Do What Works for You.
It’s okay to pray if you’ve been praying a long time, maybe all your life, and it comforts you. We all should do what we can do get through our difficult days. But people who are starting to travel our path of Continuing Creation, should try to transition to Spiritual Meditations instead of prayers.
As we say elsewhere in the Book of Continuing Creation, if you are still intellectually and emotionally attached to a traditional religion, you are certainly free to stay there. Life is difficult, and if you have something that works well for you, by all means stay with that. We are all trying to do the best we can.
But if you are exploring for a new spiritual path, consider ours: Continuing Creation: A Spiritual Path Based on Nature, Reason and Science.
- (Lawrence LeShan, How to Meditate: A Guide to Self-Discovery, 1974, Little, Brown and Company, p. 126.
- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, 1974, 1999, William Morrow and Company.
- Voltaire, Candid, or All for the Best, 1759.
- The Story of a Soul (L’histoire d’une âme): the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Translated by Taylor, Thomas N. Teddington, Middlesex: Echo Library. ISBN 978-1-4068-0771-4. ISBN 1-4068-0771-0.
- Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, 2014, Simon & Schuster, p. 119.
- Sam Harris, Ibid. p. 123.
- Sam Harris, Ibid. p. 122.
- Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz, and Richard J. Davidson, “Mind of the Meditator,” Scientific American, November, 2014, pp. 39-45.
- Ruth A. Baer, “Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review,” available at http://www.wisebrain.org/papers/MindfulnessPsyTx.pdf. See also, Kabat-Zinn J (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York: Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0345539724. See also, J.D. Cresswell, “Mindfulness Interventions,” Annual Review of Psychology (January 2017). 68: 491–516. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139. PMID 27687118. See also “Methodologically rigorous RCTs have demonstrated that mindfulness interventions improve outcomes in multiple domains (e.g., chronic pain, depression relapse, addiction),” American Psychological Association (APA.org, 2012). See also, Kabat-Zinn, “What Is Mindfulness? Definition + Benefits,” Incl. Psychology. In Purser, PositivePsychology.com. 2015.
- K. Pickert, “The art of being mindful. Finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently,” February 2014, Time. Vol. 183 no. 4. pp. 40–6. PMID 24640415.
- Lawrence LeShan, Ibid., pp. 85-88.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se_of_Lisieux#The_%22little_way%22. See also https://wedaretosay.com/what-is-the-little-way-of-st-therese-of-lisieux/.
- Dr. Philip Halapin, M.D., a psychiatrist practicing medicine in Virginia.
- Dr. Philip Halapin, M.D., a psychiatrist practicing medicine in Virginia.
- LeShan, Ibid., p. 54-6.
- LeShan, Ibid, p. 76
- Jose Ortega Y Gasset, Meditations on Quixote, 1961, W.W. Norton & Company, p.89.
- “Meditation Mapped in Monks,” BBC News, 3-1-2002. See also Ryan Buxton, “Neuroscientist Explains The Similarities Between The Brains Of Praying Nuns And Psychedelic Drug Users,” Huffington Post, 05/28/2015. See also, Nicole Spector, “This is Your Brain on Prayer and Meditation,“ NBC News, 10-20-16.