Weekly Edgework #15 - Oct 13, 2004
Everyone meditates all the time. You cannot go through life without meditating. The question is what you are meditating about. You may think you are not meditating when you watch the evening news, but the news stories usually force you to meditate on fear and the commercials on greed. (Paraphrase of Robert Thurman on “Tapestry,” CBC, Sept. 5/04)
I used to think of meditation as an art you needed to learn – that it was contrary to human nature and only a few saints got to master it. But according to Robert Thurman, meditation comes with being human. He suggests that meditation is simply the thoughts that play in the background of our minds while we go through the day. In the foreground of our minds are the immediate tasks and agendas at hand - the people we interact with, the sights we see, the sounds we hear or the words we read. But what is happening simultaneously in the region of the heart, just below the surface, is meditation.
I am intrigued by Thurman’s analysis of the meditation that usually happens in our hearts while we watch the evening news. Most of the news stories chronicle the things that went wrong in the world that day - accidents, death, disease, war, terrorism, stock markets, waiting lists and hurricanes. Good news stories seldom get air time. If they do they are often short statements following a litany of things that have gone wrong in the world that day. And while we listen to that litany we meditate on fear. What if any of those tragic events should affect our lives? Fear sells newspapers, undergirds news broadcasts and is a powerful political tool. So we are asked to meditate on fear, and we do.
And then, of course, there are the constant interruptions of the news broadcasts for commercial messages that help us meditate on greed. They tell us up front that unless you buy a toffee-glazed donut, the latest SUV, the right kind of shampoo, the perfect dream house, the newest tool, or an expensive vacation in the sun you will not be happy. We may think that the commercials don’t affect us, but study after study confirms that advertising that plays on our greed works. If it didn’t the commercials would stop. Toffee glazed donuts sold briskly during the Olympic games! So as the commercials roll we meditate on all the things we don’t have and how that makes us unhappy or unfulfilled. We meditate on greed.
If Thurman is right, and I think he is, we would do well to be selective about what we watch and listen to. At least we should be aware that whenever we expose ourselves to contemporary news, commercials and other advertising, that we are in those very moments with Christ in the desert of temptation. We are being tempted to meditate on, and then give in to, fear and greed. And it will take the same power of the Spirit that strengthened Christ in his desert temptations to keep us from capitulating, that is constructing our lives on the twin towers of fear and greed.
But even before and after the news broadcasts, we meditate, meditate, meditate. While riding my bicycle, building a deck, driving a truck or selling a product my heart is meditating just below the surface. Rehearsing the fear and greed that came with last night’s news, ruminating about my financial situation, or nursing the hurt someone inflicted on me last week or last year. In other words we cannot not meditate.
Given this perspective, I come to a new understanding of some familiar Bible passages that speak about meditation. When David prays in Psalm 19:14, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer, he is not asking the Lord to teach him how to meditate. He is asking that the meditations that automatically take place in his heart be healthy and life-giving. The same could be said about the prayer recorded in Psalm 104:34, May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. The psalmist seems to understand that meditation happens all the time below the surface, at the heart level. His concern is that it be pleasing to God.
All this seems so obvious that I am somewhat embarrassed even to write about it. Yet for me it is a new way of approaching meditation. I used to think of meditation as a planned event. I would set aside fifteen minutes to sit and meditate. But I confess that I have always found programmed meditation difficult, especially if I was trying to meditate consciously on a specific thought, perhaps a Bible passage. Sometimes I “secretly” looked forward to the time of meditation being over so I could get on with my life.
I now see that meditation happens – all the time. I don’t have to train my mind to meditate. It knows all to well how to do that. What I do need to work at is becoming more conscious of what my heart is meditating on and then giving it some direction. The ship of meditation is constantly moving through my heart. If I am not alert to what I am meditating on it is as though my ship of meditation has lost its rudder. It is drifting on the high seas where it could be swamped by heavy waves. Or it is moving toward a rocky shoal where it could sustain severe damage.
So as I go about my life this day, it is my prayer that first of all I would be conscious of what I am meditating about in my heart. And secondly that I would have the strength and discipline to guide that meditation into healthy directions. There is no shortage of meditation time in my life. It is unlimited. The question is what it is that I am meditating on.