THE WAY OF PEACE
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Meditation is not the whole of the Way, any more than flour is the whole of cookies. If you want cookies, you must also have butter, sugar, and perhaps eggs, in addition to flour. Flour is essential, however. Likewise as to the Way, meditation is so essential, as to move me to say this: if you have any interest in learning the Way, and do not now have a discipline of meditation, you should start one now — right now — before even reading the rest of this book.
Look at the routines of your daily life, and pick out some time when you can be alone and quiet for at least 20 minutes each day. Plan to give 20 minutes of that time, at the same time every day, to meditation.
If you do not live alone, let your family members or housemates know that you will need to be alone and quiet for 20 minutes of that time each day. When the time comes, see that you do have quiet. Turn off the radio, turn off the TV, and put your phone on “silent.”
Adjust your clothes if need be so that nothing is tight. You can sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting on your knees; or, you can lie flat on your back on the floor; or, you can adopt what is supposedly the ideal position, the lotus position — sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed and your hands resting on your knees, palms open upwards.
Then relax. Breathe deeply and easily.
The meditation session itself …
… entails three phases: focusing and stilling the (physical) body; focusing and stilling the mind; and then focusing and stilling the emotions, or soul.
(1) The first phase has already been accomplished by doing what was said in the previous section.
(2) To focus and still the mind, choose beforehand an “affirmation” or “seed thought,” preferably a simple saying consistent with your “highest,” your “best,” goals in life. This could be a Bible verse, or a line from a favorite poem or song. It should be an expression prone to bring out, from within you, feelings of happiness and love.
Recite the “affirmation” silently or quietly aloud, and then wait, with an attitude of listening. Any time some distracting thought or sensation comes to you, just let it leave you; let it pass out of your experience; and then recite the affirmation again. Continue that until either (a) your time is up — normally, your body will rouse itself at an appropriate time — or (b) you enter the third phase.
(3) A normal person beginning this discipline may not reach this phase for several months. The periods of silence between distracting thoughts and sensations will gradually lengthen, until it is hardly necessary to recite the affirmation any more. At this point, one may perceive that, each distracting thought is preceded by a distracting shift in emotion.
From that point on, reciting the affirmation becomes optional. One’s task is no longer to get the mind back to the chosen idea, but to bring one’s soul back to the chosen emotion. One accomplishes that by the same means as with ideas: just let the distraction pass from you, leave you, and bring your attention back to the desired focus.
At this point, one has attained “silence,” and this is the state one will normally seek to maintain, most of the time, in one’s meditations, from here on. Frankly, it can be almost painfully boring; but it’s necessary. And there is no more to seek to accomplish, nowhere to “go” and nothing to “do,” in meditation, than this.
Note that one has, at this point, begun consciously choosing one’s feelings. That, as we will see, is fundamental to the Way Jesus taught.
Some people report as if their meditation sessions are reliably the same, day after day after day. That certainly has not been my experience. Even the above description may seem like a smooth, one-way path. I experienced, instead, many times of what seemed to be going backwards — distractions more and more this week than there had been last week, and so on. It did take me years before “silence” became frequent and routine. Yet I cannot tell you, today, what my session will be like tomorrow.
The ideal is to have two meditation sessions per day, of 20 minutes each. No more than that is necessary. This much is, apparently, necessary for best results.
Many people do their meditation during their commute, by bus or train, to or from work — more in the morning, however, than in the afternoon. On morning bus rides to work I often see people studying Scripture, which is a good thing for anyone to do — whatever one’s Scriptures are. I also saw a man who, day after day, prayed the Rosary while on the morning bus; that is a form of meditation, too.
One can take advantage of many different kinds of opportunities to get more “silence” into one’s day. Again, the bus or train ride to or from work can be a good occasion. Or, while standing on the bus stop, or waiting in line at the grocery store or bank; while knitting or braiding; while doing household chores; basically, while engaged in any mindless task.
There are books and teachers who will set forth all kinds of hard tasks, or long-range plans, for things they say one can or should work at while in meditation. That’s all needless. What has been described here is enough.
When I first began meditating, almost at once I began having experiences of clairvoyance. If you develop an interest in that sort of thing, beware: avoid any teacher or organization that promises to teach secrets, or demands hefty membership fees. (By “hefty” I mean, say, annual dues more than the amount you normally spend in a week for groceries.) You will gain nothing meaningful from such sources. Like this book, everything worth knowing is available openly, for free.