In a recent series of meditation articles (introduction to meditation part one – relaxation and introduction to meditation part two – meditation techniques), we took a look at the basis of meditation, which is relaxation, and we also took a look at two popular meditation techniques (candle gazing and visualization). In this article we are going to take a slightly different look at meditation; we are going to look at spiritual meditation. Now for most people, they are only interested in meditation as a means of relaxation; but for some of us we want to reconnect with the source (God), and meditation is one of the best ways to do this. So in this article, spiritual meditation, we are going to cover what is spiritual meditation; why do spiritual meditation and how to perform spiritual meditation.
What is Spiritual Meditation?
Spiritual meditation is mediation which aims to place the focus of the meditation on spiritual aspects. So if we look back at our first article on meditation, we note that meditation is simply the process of focusing on one thing at a time. So even if we become immersed in a film, we are meditating. Have you ever gone to the movie theatre and spent two or three hours watching a movie, and got yourself so absorbed that when you came out of the cinema hall, it was a kind of a shock to your system, as if you have been jolted? Well if you have ever felt this way, you have been meditating, on the movie, for two hours!
So we are meditating far more frequently than we may at first realize, but by and large, in today’s society, because of our over busy life style, we tend to dissipate our conscious awareness. Interestingly, when we dissipate our consciousness, as in spread our focus too wide, we become disenchanted, bored and lack luster. Whereas, when we meditate, we focus the beam of our consciousness, which in turn makes us feel more integrated, focused, interested and active.
So meditation, in all of its forms, is a great way to regain a sense of calmness, groundedness and effectiveness, in how we think and feel. However, most people tend to see meditation as simple been a way to de-stress, and know little about the mood boosting effects of meditation, not to mention the mental powers, which come about from regular meditation practice. Meditation is sort of like a mind sharpener. So just as with our physical knifes, in our kitchens, they may become dull over time, so too can our minds become dull and meditation sharpens the mind!
But even going beyond this, most people do not realize that meditation can also be a spiritual activity. Now why do we need to meditate, if we want to know God?
If we look back as the bible, for instance, we see many instances of various prophets climbing mountains and spending time in meditation; indeed even Jesus spends time on the mountain side in meditation. So clearly they are doing this for a reason. Also, if we look at all major religions, we see a similar pattern of time spent in isolated places, mediating upon God.
In a recent article ‘mind your mind’, we outlined how man is made in the image of God and how when we align ourselves with God, we become like him (not that God is a him, but him sounds better than ‘it,’ as neither ‘him’ , ‘her’ or ‘it’ properly describes God anyway). So when we meditate, we clear the distractions from our minds and we focus more on God, because God is always present, just below the distractions of outer life and the complexities of our own minds. We do not have to find God, as if God where somewhere else, rather we have to simply remove ourselves from the equation (ourselves been our lowly egotistical self’s) and there behind the scenes God is ever-present!
So in spiritual meditation, we focus just like in regular mediation, but we make a spiritual focus rather than simply focusing on an outer object.
So let’s put it this way, if we meditate on an external object, we are meditating and this will help us in so many ways to become more focused, peaceful and calm etc. If we focus inwardly, on say an abstract concept or say on a virtue, for example, we will learn something about this thing and we may even become more like this thing. For example, if we meditate on the theme of honesty, we may become more aware of what honesty really means, which in turn may make us more aware of when we are been honest or dishonest, which in turn will help us to become more mentally strong, to develop more mental clarity and also it will give us opportunities to be more honest in our life. However, when we concentrate upon God, we learn more about God and we may even start it resemble him, since God is the master template, upon which all reality is created!
Why Do Spiritual Meditation
When there are so many religions, with various religious practices been advocated, why then practice meditation?
The main reason for practicing spiritual meditation is to develop a deep relationship with God. As long as you only carry out external religious practices, the tendency will be to only have an outer appreciation of God. To truly appreciate God, going within and finding God within ourselves, tends to produce far more intimacy with God. Now there have been some noticeable exceptions, over the years, whereby certain saints are very focused on external religious practices. Well this is fine for them, as they can go deep into these practices and have mystical experiences of God, while practicing external religious practices, but for most of us external practices will only go so deep, so we have to find other ways of getting closer to God, and in some cases meditation helps in this process.
In summary, there are three ways to gain a deep inner connection with God and each one will suit a different personality type. I am not suggesting that spiritual meditation is the only way to find God, but it is one valid way. The other two valid approaches are to go deep into religious practices, whereby one really gets into a deep devotional appreciation of God and the final one is through service, whereby one works for God and ones fellow man. Ultimately these are the only three ways, in which we can get to know God intimately:
- Religious observance
Now I know that some of you might also suggest the mystics and the great artists, who have moving experiences of God through their appreciation of nature or art. Well these can be categorized under meditation. Meditation isn’t simply about the lotus legged Buddhist monk or the chanting western monk; a person who is deeply absorbed in their art or in appreciation of nature, for example, is also deeply in a state of dynamic meditation. This can also be said of people who love animals or astronauts in space, for example. So while the three avenues towards intimacy with God, which I have labelled above, appear restrictive, these are actually only very broad categories, really these three categories cover everything, if you think about it deeply.
So when we meditate upon God, there are just three ways to gain deep access to God. Certainly, it’s not for everyone, and if you don’t feel like meditation then that’s fine. But if you want to become intimate with God, then either pick meditation, service or religious practice, and go deep into whichever one best suits your particular character!
How to do Spiritual Meditation
This is a really vast topic, because different people have different approaches, based both upon religious background and environment. So it is not possible to go into endless detail here.
My personal belief is that there is one God, but that there are many avenues to get us to come towards God. So for me, each religion is valid, because in a deep way they all want us to get to God and that the central teaching tends to be similar, and is largely separated by culture and the historical epoch, upon which the founder of that particular religion, came into physical incarnation.
So for me, all religions point towers God. You may think differently, which is fine, but do take my advice on how to meditate, according to your particular religion, for the principles of spiritual meditation, tend to be the same.
Religious Approaches to Meditation:
There are three key religious approaches to meditation, which are either to meditate upon some abstract aspect of God, such as a quality of God, or you can focus upon devotion or you can focus upon conversation:
- Meditate on an abstract concept regarding God
- Meditate in a devotional way about God
- Meditate on holding a conversation with God
Meditating upon a quality of God, can start with taking a good religious book and reading some of this book, and thinking about it. The Christian Benedictine monks, called this Lectio Divina (divine reading) and there is a lot to be said for reading a religious book and then thinking about what was said therein.
If we look at devotion, then we can see groups like the Hare Krishna’s, who are Hindus, and how they keep on chanting the name of God, until they enter an ecstatic state. A less dramatic version of this is to read about God, or about whoever is the founder of your religion, or a great saint, and then meditate upon their life, their challenges and their great virtues and really get into an emotional state, whereby you become one with them, this is the path of devotional meditation.
Conversation with God takes place, when we refer all things back to God. A very good way to begin with this kind of meditation, is to perform a daily inventory of our life. Usually this is carried out at night time, before bed, whereby we go back over the events of the day, starting from the morning onwards and we examine where we fell down and how we did well etc. This is a great exercise for developing conscious awareness of ourselves, for without conscious awareness there can be no meditation!
Doing this exercise on a daily basis, should start to develop some humility, in us, as we become more aware of how we really think, feel and act, rather than how we might like to think of ourselves. So we begin seeing through the illusion, of who we think we are, and instead we start to see the real person, who we really are. This can be shocking, but the feelings of failure and lowness, which usually accompany this exercise, also pave the way towards conversation with God.
Conversation with God is simple, start holding regular conversations, with God, or any great saint or religious founder. This system became quite popular, following on from St Teresa of Avila, in the seventeenth country, who promoted the idea of a meditation which involved holding a conversation with Jesus Christ. This system has remained popular with the religious order which she founded, the discalced Carmelites, until this day.
Anyway what is great about this form of meditation is that you are forming a relationship with God. You refer all your problems back to God and you learn to seek Gods assistance with every life decision. Now on the face of it, this might make it appear as if you have disempowered yourself, as you are letting going of controlling things. But in reality you are merely passing over control from a tyrant (your ego and lower desires) to a higher power, who will lead you in a better direction.
Developing a relationship with God, is by far the highest form of religious meditation, as it truly dedicates your life to God in an intimate way, which invites God into your heart.
I remember reading a book which was entitled ‘The Master knocks and Waits for Thee’. It was an old Christian book, with a nice old picture of Jesus on the inner cover and a Latin inscription which reads as ‘magister adest et vocat te’, which is the Latin translation for the phrase above. Now even if you’re not a Christian, just take a look at the picture below, because it contains a symbolic element which is relevant to anybody from any religion. Look carefully at this picture and you will note that there is no knob or handle on the door. Jesus knocks on the door and then he waits outside patiently, but he cannot force his entry, rather the door can only open from within. The symbolism here is actually Trans-religious, in that it applies to all religions, in that it symbolizes that God comes and makes himself known through signs and symbols, in our life, but he can only knock. It is we who can open the door (symbolically to our heart) and let him inside!
So spiritual meditation helps us to open the door of our mind and also, if we are really open to it, the door of our heart to God!
Eastern Approaches to Spiritual Meditation:
So far in this article, we have approached spiritual meditation from a very broad perspective. We have taken this approach, because the theme of this website is to provide integration of different elements, rather than following a more regular approach. In general you either follow a religious approach to spirituality or you follow a radical new age approach to spirituality. Personally while I do not follow religion, rather I’m interest in spirituality, I do feel that there should not be a big distance between religious practices and esoteric practices. In reality we are all human beings, and we are all attempting to grow and develop, and in many cases we are also trying to come closer to God. We may disagree on how to get there, but we want to get there. So rather than sitting in opposition to religion, I have tried so for, in this article, to outline practices which will work for anybody, in any religion, without any fear of going against the rules or doctrine of that religion. But by the same token I could not do an article on spiritual meditation, without mentioning eastern approaches to meditation. In my opinion the eastern approaches to meditation, are fundamentally different from the religious approaches, in that they are energetically dynamic approaches to meditation.
The eastern approach is based upon the concept of a stream of energy, called the kundalini, which runs along the length of the spine. The kundalini contains pranic energy, which we could also label as Qi energy, from a Chinese respective. Also running along the spine, like a string of pearls, are energetic vortices which are commonly called chakras. These chakras cannot be seen with physical eyes, although some psychics claim to see them, nonetheless many people feel energetic activity in these areas. They help to modulate energy. In the normal person the kundalini energy is inactive, staying in is what is known as the base chakra. With advanced meditative practices, this energy can be raised and moved up along the spinal-cord, until it arrives at the Crown chakra, by which stage a high-level of spiritual development, should have been accomplished.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the various esoteric meditative practices here, because they are quite extensive and varied. But I will say that probably everybody on the planet should at least do some form of chakra meditation, in order to integrate the energies of your body. Also I would give a big warning against kundalini meditation! The kundalini is a very powerful energy and can cause a lot of problems. It’s okay to raise the kundalini energy, if your teacher is advanced spiritually and knows what they are doing; but I cringe every time I see advertisements, for kundalini yoga classes, were somebody who probably doesn’t know a lot about kundalini yoga and who probably has never been to India, or trained under a true kundalini yoga guru, tries to tell people to visualize energy building up in the kundalini, and the kundalini moving up the spine. This is akin to telling a five year old to stick their finger into an electrical socket and see what happens!
Please do not practice kundalini yoga, unless you are very convinced that the teacher knows what they’re doing and that they are capable of sustaining and supporting you, when the energy opens up, otherwise you might have a lot of physical and mental emotional and even psychological problems to deal with!
Probably the most interesting aspect of eastern meditation techniques is their insistence upon a dynamic energetic approach to meditation. What I like about this, is that it is a meta-physical approach (not metaphysics in the western sense, but rather the eastern sense whereby it covers the how behind esoteric phenomena) to spirituality.
Religions in general tend to follow a doctrinal approach to spirituality, whereby they suggest that the founders of their religion had all of the necessary experience of God, in order to lead us to God and that they now have the doctrines in place, which we merely have to follow, in order to get to heaven. The problem with this approach, is that it is like painting by numbers, in that you may produce a beautiful picture but it is not your picture!
In order to develop an intimate relationship with God, we have to go beyond religious observance and either enter deeply into the religious practices, or service to our fellow beings or via meditation. However, even if we go deep into religious observance, service or religious meditation we are basically becoming mystics. Mystics, basically meaning people who undergo direct spiritual experiences, which is a great thing. But although we may well experience God, in our life’s, if we follow these practices, we still do not understand the nature of God.
What I like about the eastern approach, is that it takes a practical psychic physics style approach to the energies of the universe and how these energies are a manifestation of God. These energetic approaches, tend to originate from India, and in this sense India’s knowledge of esoterism is light years ahead of regular religious knowledge. So it is a great thing, with eastern meditation to actually become aware of God, not as a mystical experience but rather as a physical manifestation of scientific psychic physics at work!
However, because of their emphasis on esoteric techniques and theories, sometimes the energetic approach can become dry and mechanical. So while they give a lot of knowledge, some systems of eastern meditation may even give the practitioner psychic powers, but all of this is useless if they miss out on the mystical experience of God.
Another aspect of eastern meditation, which bridges the gap between pure mysticism and eastern psychic meditation practices, is yogic meditation and the Indian system of gurudum.
Guru merely means teacher in India, so your math’s teacher is your guru, when it comes to maths. But also on a spiritual level, the guru is the teacher who takes us to a higher spiritual level. Now some of these gurus are great and others are not so great. So just like eastern psychic meditation systems, some gurus can only bestow knowledge and psychic powers on their followers, whereas other gurus can truly bestow spiritual blessings. So if you want to follow an Indian guru, do not follow blindly, but rather pray, meditate and reflect so as to make sure that the choice of guru is a good one, because when we follow a guru, to some degree, we become reliant upon them.
Also, there is a thing called yogic meditation. Most gurus just follow religious practices but some propose meditation. Kriya yoga is one popular example, and it was popularized widely in the west by Paramahansa Yogananda, and as far as I am aware it is very effective.
Personally I follow a system which is known as Sahaj Marg (meaning simple way) and you can find out more here. It is a system of raja yoga (meaning mental yoga), and it consists of morning meditation and evening cleaning. The cleaning is an active meditation, which is carried out in the evenings for around 15 to 30 minutes and it consists of the thought that light is coming into the front of the body and that grey vapour is leaving the back of the body. At the same time one thinks about all the complexities leaving the back and that spiritual light is coming into the front of the body, using one’s will, to put in the good and push out the bad.
In the morning we do a mediation which lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to 1 hour, depending upon the practitioner, and here it is a passive meditation whereby we visualize light in the heart. On top, of this, in sahaj marg, we receive yogic transmission, which is a dynamic energetic transmission of energy, in the meditation, which assists the process of meditation. For more information on this system, you can check out the information in http://en-in.heartfulness.org
Final Thoughts on Spiritual Meditation
So in this article we have looked back and forth across a wide range of topics. The thing with meditation is that it is a vast topic. Most people are confused and think that meditation only means relaxation, when in fact even regular meditation has all sorts of mood enhancing and mental power enhancing properties. On another level meditation can also be used for spiritual benefit and it is quite possible to grow within your religion, without breaking away from the mainstream in any way, merely by approaching your religion in a more active way either via religious observance, service to humanity or meditation.
We then have eastern meditation systems, which are very dynamic, when compared to regular religious practice, but which can be a little heartless unless combined with some element of mystical practice. Finally, we have some eastern esoteric systems, which do a pretty good job of combining mystical practice with psychic techniques.
Human consciousness is a vast field of action, and when we look at themes such as meditation and spiritual meditation, in particular, we are really entering into an infinite domain. My recommendation is to have a go at spiritual meditation. Don’t try everything, just pick one approach and try to get deep into it. Probably this aspect of trying to get deep into something, is actually better than emphasizing some amazing esoteric practice! Just pick out one thing and focus on it. Try and practice it diligently over the course of a few weeks; if it feels good, then continue and if not then try a different approach.
When we think about spiritual meditation, it is easy to either get lost in endless technicalities or to end up arguing with either ourselves or other people, over the religious truths or the exact perfect understanding of the universe. Well all of this is deceptive and time wasting. Ultimately, as human beings we are not capable of understanding everything and also we tend to have religious prejudices, which blinker our viewpoint. The big picture lies in moving closer to God, rather than in moving away from God. So rather than judging yourself or someone else, focus on getting closer to God, in a way which works well for you and your personality.
Following meditation, in no way detracts from whatever religious practice, you may be following. So don’t worry if people think you are strange for trying out spiritual meditation. Betting closer to God is not a sin!
Finally, for those of you who have no interest in religion, then also meditation is good, because you are free of religious prejudice, so you will very likely be more open to the what you receive, in meditation, in an unfiltered way. But are you free of secular prejudice? Open your mind to the possibilities that there may well be a God! Not a silly, woolly headed father Christmas styled God, but rather an infinite trans-personal, trans-dimensional consciousness to Guide you!
So either way try out spiritual meditation today, and you may well be surprised with the result which take place within you!