Last Autumn a friend asked, "I don't get into all this spirituality so much and I'm not sure I want to. Isn't Christianity about charity, loving action? Why do we need all this meditating?" This question is at the hinge of the forward progress of civilization. It has to do with whether or not we choose to become conscious or just exist; to interiorize or only mimic; to know or just know about. How we see ourselves and live our lives rests on this question because the answer determines whether a Christian seeks to become Christ-like or to remain merely Christian, whether to become Love or remain merely loving, whether to reflect Christ or merely impersonate Him.
IN A NUTSHELL
So, why meditate? The answer in a nutshell is that our egos are not enough to go on. Our egos are that surface part of ourselves by which we brush our teeth, find our way to work, assert our options, form judgments, and conduct a dialogue with ourselves. Our egos are not bad. They serve a useful purpose. The ego gets us through the external, practical part of our day and the ego is the final arbiter of how we decide things. The ego is necessary but not sufficient.
Why is the ego not sufficient? Because it is only the tip of the iceberg of our psyches and of that still deeper place where psyche meets the sacred; the place we call Spirit. The ego is thus wrapped in a veil, a veil of illusion. The illusion is that the ego is all; the ego is center. If this be the case, I become the prime reference point, I become egocentric.
COMMANDMENTS AND PRAYERS
The non-meditating believer will object: "I know that. I believe in God. I try to follow the commandments; I say my prayers." All of this may be true but it fails to grasp the point. Have I entered into myself and wrestled like Jacob with my own demons? Some fundamentalists would say that this is a reason not to meditate. "There are evil entities down there inside me who will become activated against me." Maybe there are satanic forces--and I believe there are--but these can be conquered in the Christ who has already overcome them. Again, it may be true that "I say my prayers" but have I opened myself to real transformation? In the transforming process the power of the Holy Spirit gathers up what has lain in the unconscious and conveys it to the conscious ego which then discerns the meaning and integrates it, i.e., the ego incorporates what it learns into its day-to-day behavior or into a decision-making process.
FROM THE UNCONSCIOUS TO THE CONSCIOUS
Suppose someone comes across an article or a lecture that persuades her of the importance of dreams. Dreams in ancient times were considered the language of God. We have lost this in the Western hemisphere because we have surrendered all to the test of scientific evidence. Science until recently has proven things only by what is empirically observable. Lately that has been changing but for centuries it has shaped our way of seeing things. Suppose someone overcomes all that and decides to explore the dream. Suppose in the dream they are flooded with tidal waves. Suppose they then go to talk with a spiritual director who can tell them of the high probability that they are about to experience a major communication from their unconscious because the sea has usually meant the unconscious in the history of dream, myth, and symbol. Of course the dreamer's own interpretation stands supreme but in this case, the dreamer has the wisdom to seek consultation to inform his/her own interpretation. Suppose then in meditation the person is presenting this experience to God and is reminded of Jesus walking on the water during a violent storm or of the Resurrection appearance by the sea of Tiberias in which Jesus urges his apostles against all their experience to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Suppose then the pray-er experiences a great catch of fish pouring into her soul and emerges to find herself nourished and somehow more insightful and more aware. Suppose she then notices herself greeting the stranger more often and more eucharistically (intentionally, congenially). What happens to the soul's relationship with God when, the next day, she goes to prayer and finds a new question presented by her soul: "Who is this that even the winds and waves obey Him?" By this process the pray-er has moved from mere external observance of the Christian Faith to the beginnings of a real intimacy with the Christ. The agenda has moved from preoccupation with salvation to a more mature adult relationship in which the lover seeks to be transformed in the beloved. This same experience of spiritual transformation of the Christian here applies equally to spiritual seekers in all religious traditions.
OUR NERVOUSNESS WITH KINGS
With all this to recommend it what keeps people from meditation? (I use the term meditation here to mean any form of daily spontaneous prayer.) The answer is simply fear. What is it that we are afraid of? Dissolution. One of the things that constitutes the veil of illusion of the ego is the belief that I am in charge. I make many attempts to carve this in stone in my external life but I sense a threat to the illusion when I start dealing with God. "He's the King, you know" (from"The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis.) When it comes to dealing with kings most of us get a little nervous. Our fear comes in many varieties. Some are afraid that they might start peeling away the layers of the onion only to discover that there is nothing at the center. Some fear that something they view as essential will be taken away, such as their money or lifestyle or ambitions. Others equate spirituality with professional religious life and fear they will have to be a monk or a nun if they get into this too deeply. Still others share the great blemish of modern life: restlessness. They cannot keep still. They are afraid they will not get anything"useful" done while they are at prayer. Others are unable to see the value of it all and so they never begin for lack of vision. Beneath all of these fears is the central one: the fear of dissolution. This is the fear that somehow I will lose my very self in the process. What is true is that I will lose my egocentric self but I will be introduced to something far more wondrous, my True Self, the Ground of My Being, the Spirit of the Living God, Love.
THE QUESTION ANSWERED
When this occurs the answer to the question "Why meditate?" reveals itself. First I become calmer and more focused. I go through my day in a more peaceful fashion. Because of this people like me more and I have a more rewarding day. My renewed sense of focus allows me to accomplish much more in a day than I would have if I had not taken the time to pray. My sense of perspective shifts and I become more sensitive to others. Their concerns take on more importance to me. I actually begin to take other people into account and to desire to love them more. I begin to want to love others for their own sake and not as tools of my ego. When I enter into a transaction with them I am not trying to exploit but to serve the interests of Truth. In addition I become more energized because my system is lining up right; things are in order. As I go along, Scripture begins to open up to me and I enjoy a sense of insight that reassures me that to some extent I know what is going on and I have a certain confidence that I am aligned with the benevolent powers of the universe.
A SWEET AND LIVING KNOWLEDGE
St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic of the sixteenth century, speaks to us of his experience in "The Spiritual Canticle"
"In the inner wine cellar
I drank of my Beloved...
There He gave me His breast;
There He taught me a sweet and living knowledge;
And I gave myself to Him,
keeping nothing back;
There I promised to be His bride.
Now I occupy my soul
And all my energy in His service;...
Now that my every act is love."
People meditate to make their life-journey real. Desiring to be more than observers at the scene of life, they wish to set out on the road themselves. This takes them through the ego's veil of illusion. The Nathaniel Center is here to facilitate that journey.