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Why I Can’t Meditate
People often struggle with meditation, feeling they just can’t do it. But why? Here are five things I’ve noticed in my practice. I believe meditation is life changing and world changing. So it is worthwhile examining our reasons for resistance, if we are feeling drawn to it. There is a way through!
1. There is something else I should be doing. This is a perennial problem. During meditation we think, “This silence stuff is useless; you’re not getting anything done; there is something else more valuable you could do.” And then we start thinking about that something to do, and our inner silence is gone.
For instance, we can think that praying in a different way is the something else I should do. We feel that centering prayer is great, but my tradition tells me I should say other verbal prayers, or pray for people in need, etc. These prayers are fine and good. Perhaps we can devote a few moments before or after meditation to say them. But if we believe that these verbal prayers are more valid than meditation, maybe because they carry the weight of authority from our tradition, or because we are used to the certainty of words vs. silence, then we have not really understood what meditation is (at least from a theistic view) and what its aim is. That aim is God, to be radically, humbly open to God, and to rest in God for a while. At some point words will only get in the way of this more immediate communing of hearts.
2. I cannot rest. A classic definition of meditation is “resting in God.” Yet how many of us can really rest to begin with, much less rest in God? In this culture we are surrounded by more stimuli than ever. Can we give ourselves the permission to rest deeply, at least during our centering prayer/meditation time?
My wife has a great image for resting in God: being like a child at play that runs at times to its parent, just to hold onto them, resting in assurance that they are there, feeling that connection, but then running off again, as our minds do. Can we allow ourselves to be like that child, resting for a while in the lap of its parent, forgetting all else?
3. Body and life are not aligned. Maybe we can’t rest because our bodies have been neglected and our lives are out of whack. Any effort to bring our bodies into alignment with our spirits can help our meditation and relationship with God. This can start with a respectful diet and exercise, which honor the body and attune us to its needs. We might do more, like yoga, tai chi or qigong, which attune us even further
to the body’s energy and calm the body, aligning it with our spiritual intentions for peace, openness, love, rest.
Our lives too need to be aligned with Spirit, otherwise we feel distracted in meditation. Any desire we have that is not aligned with our spiritual nature can act like an idol, with the force of attraction that leads to distraction. Over time, we can make ethical choices that keep our cravings in check, keep us from harming self, others or the planet in any way, so that there is true peace in our lives and all relationships.
4. I am not given. Meditation is called a supreme act of surrender. Not just because I give up thinking and doing during that time, but because I must give myself to God, completely, and not try to hold on to any other light. This level of self-giving in trust is necessary for our spirit consciousness to grow and expand freely, else we will cling to self consciousness. Meditation then becomes a supreme act of freedom, when we are given.
5. I refuse to be a beggar at the gate. That is, I refuse to wait. We want meditation to work every time, to take us into a state of being that maybe we’ve only glimpsed occasionally. We want to feel a connection to God, or Spirit, and feel that God is responding to our efforts, filling us with a definite sense of divine presence, making the time worthwhile. Maybe too we want to feel it follow us into daily life. And because it doesn’t always work like this, we rebel.
We forget that contemplative prayer is mostly God’s doing, not an outcome of our efforts. It is a gift of grace, yet we must do our part. That part is being a beggar at the gate. We sit there in as much poverty and simplicity of spirit as we can create on our own, clearing out the cravings and wanderings over time, trying to center and devote ourselves, but in that beggar state we can only wait, staying open.
We forget that God is an elusive wild bird, and in her own time and way she will alight on us and give assurance, maybe much more. This is called infused contemplation, a pure gift we can only wait for in faith. When the moment comes and the divine bird alights, we must resist the human tendency to take a picture so that we can show it to our friends, or to build tents like Peter at the Transfiguration, trying to contain and frame the moment. Over time, we can learn to let what is wild and free come to us and just be with it, humbly receiving.