Why Christian Meditation may give us more than we bargained for

When I was a kid, I spent all my time asking God for things. 

Please just let me win this contest.
Please help me pass this test. 
Please can I have a pony?  It would totally fit in our backyard. 

As a teenager, my prayers became more sophisticated.

Please help my friend whose parents just got divorced. 
Please help my mom, because she's sick.
Please can I have a 1966 Ford Mustang? It would totally fit in the garage.

As a grown up, my prayers became a little more altruistic.

Yoga taught me to meditate and it transformed my prayer life. For the first time I could pray without words. It taught me how to just sit with God.  Without agenda.  To just be in His presence.

It has become transformational.

Meditation is actually fairly simple. You simply focus on one thing (like your breathing or a repeated word or phrase) or you focus on nothing.  I began meditation just to see if I could do it, and the practice wound up uncovering some really interesting things for me…

It revealed an uncomfortable amount of responsibility issues.

When I first started meditating, I would sometimes be overcome with anxiety. Whenever I turned off my thoughts, I felt this horrible, sinking fear that planes were going to fall from the sky. Of course, I didn’t realize on an intellectual level that my thoughts were keeping them up there, but when I stopped thinking, the fear was real that something was about to go terribly wrong if I let go of control.

Which showed me just how messed up my normal, everyday thinking was about my level of responsibility.  To be clear, I am not keeping planes in the sky. In fact, I have control over shockingly little but myself. 

With practice, I began to realize that there was a difference between the endless taskmaster that lived in my head and the person who was just me. It was an epiphany that would shift everything. As I started to notice the gap between my mental chatter…what should I make for dinner…did I remember to send that proposal....when is Meredith’s birthday…argh I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning yesterday and my highest, grandest goals, I became aware that there was a glaring difference between the words that ran through my head and...well...me. 

My soul.  What is most real about me.  I began to look forward to turning it all off for a few minutes each day.

Practice turning off the stream of thoughts is a powerful and useful skill. 

You know when someone says something mean and you don’t think of a witty comeback until a few days later? Then you start running all kind of scenarios where you and your brilliant intellect win the day in the skirmish that the other person is completely unaware of?

Or when you start projecting all kinds of terrible things that can happen if you don’t make that deadline that is not humanly possible to make? You know, the one that once you miss it has you living on the street begging for handouts and desperately missing your Tempur-Pedic pillow and longing for a shower?

When you meditate every morning, you become adept at turning those things off.  To see the stream for what it is—fear, anger, judgment, worry—and it becomes easier to just choose something better. You stop getting caught up in that which isn’t real.  Once that distinction happens, you suddenly have so much more control. It is the most powerful tool I’ve found for renewing the mind. There is a reason, people who meditate seem calmer.  They are. They have the ability to see the clanging symbols for what they are.

It is only a thought, and a thought can be changed. 

When I was a kid in science class, I was taught the brain couldn't be changed.  But now, there is a whole effort of research focused on neuroplasticity.  Not only can we change our brains, but we can influence our DNA as well.

Which has huge implications for how we self-identify.  Am I the fat one or the thin one? The smart girl or the comic? The business woman or the mom?  We get so tweaky when things challenge the way we see ourselves, but meditating puts so much of that stuff in perspective as just more chatter.

Learning how to meditate

I meditate for 15 minutes a day now, but I started at two.  I was encouraged to set a timer for two minutes, then extend it when I started being disappointed that it was too short.  I also use the Equanimity app.  It is a simple timer that also tracks the chain of how many days you’ve meditated in a row.  It is strong incentive not to miss a day and get downgraded from “you sit every day” to “you sit most days.” (I know.  More mental self-identity chatter, but it works.) <grin> 

If you've noticed that there is a lot more information on meditation out there it is because people are finding it works.  Newscaster Dan Harris says it makes him "about 10% happier" and I get it.  I've experienced that too.

Why this should interest Christians in particular

When I first started practicing yoga, I got some pushback.  There was fear about this foreign thing stepping into conversations normally reserved for the Church.  (What? Sitting silently??? That's OUR thing.)

The challenge is that it is impossible to meditate when we are so stressed we can't turn off the thoughts.  Yoga offers tools to be able to do that.  To move through breathing from our normal fight-or-flight mode to a calmer state of rest-and-digest.  If you want to go all ‘yoga geek’ about it, Patanjali writes in the first yoga sutra that the purpose of yoga is to ‘still the motions of the mind.’ (So apparently we weren't the first culture to have a worry and stress problem. I mean, how many of us really live out Matthew 6:25?)

There is always going to be a place in our prayer life for intercession and asking God for things, but it occurs to me that we take a major step into maturity when we have the capacity just to be with Him...without having our thoughts running like a squirrel in an attic.  It takes training in focus.  And meditation is the gift that can give us that practice.

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Maira Gall