By Spiritual Disciplines and Contemplation, I mean practices that require silence and self-reflection, more often than not done in private and alone. The practices are things like reading Scripture daily, sitting in silence for an extended period of time, breathing techniques, saying a prayer or mantra over and over, focused walking. There are many, many different disciplines and contemplative techniques and practices, but all of them have one thing in common – focus and concentration.
When I was 15 years old, I developed a fascination with Zen Buddhism. I read a bunch of books on it, along with the teachings of Buddha himself. All of the books said Buddhism makes no sense unless one begins to meditate. So I began to meditate. I went hardcore and decided 20-30 minutes to start was the way to do it – typical 15 year old impulsive behavior. But about weird things for a 15 year old. Most of the techniques I learned were from books rather than a teacher – which is not the way to learn these things. I suffered no ill effects, however, and in many ways saw a lot of benefits from my self-imposed practice.
So over the course of the 35 years since I started meditating, I have done a whole smorgasbord of spiritual disciplines and contemplative techniques. I do something almost every day.
If you read books on contemplation and practices like Centering Prayer, as an example, inevitably you will read about how great you will feel after having done this for a while. One of the authors I have read has called his technique “a gift from God”. I would say most meditation and spiritual disciplines are indeed a gift from God, because there is no better avenue for us personally to connect with, as Meister Eckhart calls it, the flow of God.
But…and as we go along here there is always a “big but”…I often do not experience that flow. Or let me be more specific. Part of the reason I do something meditative every day is because I have had experiences that suggest to me it is worthwhile to meditate in some way every day. But during my time, my mind wanders, I worry about things, I argue with myself as to the value of why I am doing this at all. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I have some short moments of true silence and clarity. It is probably those very short moments that keep me doing it. In the Eastern tradition, a teacher once said that a person can build an entire spiritual life on a single experience of the transcendent.
Often, I have heard people who meditate or participate in a spiritual discipline that their day is different, better, more complete. Sometimes, they might even go so far as to say they are calmer and more grounded.
I don’t think I am calmer or more grounded. Occasionally, I am a nervous wreck and have all kinds of niggling worries and concerns. I get angry easily sometimes, even if I have meditated that morning. I would say the hang time of my meditative endeavors lasts anywhere from 15 seconds to 3.7 minutes once I walk out of the experience in the morning.
And at the same time, I don’t want to play up my conflicted relationship with contemplative practices and spiritual disciplines in some sort of bid to seem like I am punishing myself for the greater good. I actually like doing it most of the time. Most mornings, I read Scripture, do some sort of breath focused prayer or Zen meditation, and journal. I just don’t have a lot of connection to the benefits that everyone else I read seems to speak of.
Which is weird to me. Which is why I don’t always believe everything I read when I read about spiritual things.
All that said, I am less conflicted about the 35-45 minutes I spend doing spiritual disciplines of various sorts (I change it up every 5-7 months or so) than I am about work and leisure.
And with that,
Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of peace to you