Meditation Overview

Meditation is a spiritual exercise that is found in a variety of mystical traditions. It generally involves asceticism, static physical postures, blocking physical sensory stimulations, and concentrating on thoughts of the divine or ritual exercises, and/or certain mystical centers in the human body.

There are two basic levels of meditative intensity that can be created, the "fast and easy" passive practice that creates in the practitioner a level of peace and well-being and enhanced mundane activity. The other is a far more active spiritual and trancendent practice that might more rightly be termed true meditation, but for which you need to be prepared to commit
your life to total focus, sacrifice and purification. The first is a tool, the latter is a lifestyle.

In western, primarily Christian, traditions true meditation is often enhanced by prolonged fasting, and other "mortifications of the flesh", in order to assert the supremacy of the Soul over all physical and sensory demands. There have been a number of well defined stages of spiritual growth recorded by these mystics, most notably the awakening of the Soul, contemplation, the dark night of the soul, illumination, and spiritual ecstacy.

In the eastern traditions these stages are also recorded, but the methods by which these are attained are far more numerous and complex. In general, meditaiton was taught by a "guru" to a properly qualified pupil who had already followed a pathway of sadhana, or spiritual discipline that ensured purification at all levels. The various Yoga systems describe such disciplines detail, with special emphasis on moral and ethical restraints. To attempt Meditation without this preliminary training, which could last for years, is considered premature and dangerous.

The best known of these was taught by the sage Patanjali (fl. 200 BCE), who taught that to experience True Reality one must transcend the body and the mind. His teachings included a program of physical exercises (to strengthen a meditative posture), breathing techniques (to purify the senses),  withdrawal of the senses, concentration, then meditation culminating in the
mystical communion with the divine. In this process, supernormal powers might be manifested, but they were to be ignored. The ultimate goal of  meditation was the a spiritual illumination that transcended mere individuality, and extending the mind beyond space, time and causality, but also infusing into the practitioner the everyday duties and responsibilities
of the individual -- and therefore allowing to be the practitioner to "be in the world, but not of it".

In the fashion of the passive meditative techniques, perhaps best shown by  the "transcendental meditation" techniques taught by Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi, there is a fixed concetration on a single mental image, sound, or center of the body. Traditionalists condemn this latter form as being neither really spiritual or trancendental in nature, but rather a a quick fix such as might
be expected in a society geared towards easy answers and instant gratification, and is more likely to inhibit further spiritual development (Some Gurus have even accused it of simply being part of the "entertainment industry"). I should note that the schema presented here is a passive meditative technique, but one that should be considered as a tool, and not as an end in and of itself.

Even the desire for spiritual experience generally reflects mundane egoistic attitudes, and the transcending the mundane individual ego is among the first stages of the traditional meditative practices.

Basic Meditation

(Format has been adapted and expanded from material by Sister Ellen Finlay, St. John's Hermitage)
Week 1 Non-expectation meditation - also known as 'still-prayer' and 'calm abiding'. Posture. Meditation using a physical object as a focus or support. Working with thoughts that arise. Remedies for agitation and sluggishness.
Week 2 Non-expectation meditation, pt.2 - Breathing, and using the breath as a focus. Selecting a visual focus from the environment. Motivation and embracing the discipline of meditation.
Week 3 Mantra, or 'Prayer of the heart'. Walking meditation. The obstacles of aversion, attachment, denial, habitual tendencies, feeling stuck, scaring ourselves.
Week 4 Visualization, the use of the imagination. The mind poisons of Anger, greed, delusion. Mediation as a tool for forgiveness.
Week 5 Insight meditation, or 'clear seeing'. Cultivating a mind that penetrates its own depths. Working with personal material.
Week 6 Cultivating compassion. Meditating for the sake of others, and as intercessory prayer. Mindfulness in daily life.

See also the Model for Reflective Reading