Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Generic spirituality (part three) - contemplation

The concept of the practice of generic spirituality by Alcoholics Anonymous as a method of recovering from alcoholism was introduced in part one of this series. In part two the generic spiritual principle of ‘introspection’, or ‘self-examination’, was discussed.

Immediately necessary in conscious recovery, introspection continues to be crucial throughout the recovery process. Introspection is a component of both contemplation and altruistic service – which are the next two spiritual principles (or ‘practices’) to be discussed.

For now, contemplation will be defined and reviewed, and later – in part four – we will finish up this series with ‘altruistic service’.

In what follows you will find some background source descriptions of authorities in the areas of prayer, meditation, and spiritual paradigms in general - Emanuel Swedenborg (the 18th century mystic), Father Thomas Merton (a more modern authority on contemplative practice - Trappist style), His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), and the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh - together with some other Swedenborgian individuals; Rev. Kent Rogers, Rev. Eric Sanstrom, Sr., and Wilson Van Dusen.

You will also find specific instructions for various types of meditation - both eastern and western in origin - some of which I hope you will find helpful - keeping in mind that everything is NOT for everybody. Prayer is first - and then the section on meditation - which is much longer. I confess to thinking of prayer and meditation as being virtually identical - which is why I like to lump it all under the term contemplation as a basic generic spiritual practice. For more on prayer than you will see here, please go to my article Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective.

My attempt has been to let the sources speak for themselves, and, to challenge you the reader to look past any linguistic bias you may have to the 'medicine in itself' in an effort to garner what is generic, universal, and ultimately useful to you from this article.

One more caveat: this is very long and I apologize for that (however it could not have been one word shorter and still accomplish what I wanted to). Be prepared to put it down if you get tired of it and come back to it later. Enjoy and peace!

Contemplation: prayer

By ‘contemplation’ is meant two things – prayer and meditation. These are a vital part of conscious recovery. By introspecting we discover and accept our personal need for change AND our need for a power greater than we had previously been able to mobilize.

In conscious recovery using the 12 Steps, prayer and meditation are openly recommended in Step 11.
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Step Eleven, p. 59)
But prayer and meditation come into play in the program long before the 11th step. In fact, introspection (utilized immediately in Step 1) is a form of meditation because it is a harnessing of the power of the mind to consciously rise above its lower self and reflect on the lower self’s behavior. Although prayer is mentioned in Step 1, the first real directions on prayer in A.A.’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are in the last paragraph of the text of Step 3 where we find A.A.'s 'little prayer.'
“Once we have come into agreement with these ideas, it is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three. In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done." (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 40-41)
In my Examiner article, Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective, you will find a discussion illustrating how two very different worldviews produce very similar ideas regarding the practice of prayer. Important to the discussion there are the topics of:
  • our interdependent connection to God and to others,
  • using visualization to help establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to,
  • cultivating the energy of love, mindfulness, and right concentration in prayer,
  • the importance of prostration (a humble body position) in prayer, and,
  • the importance of healthy communities and environments for contemplative prayer.
To summarize, Prayer from a Buddhist/Swedenborgian perspective makes the point that, regardless of one's traditional spiritual roots,
"... prayer plays a vital role in spiritual development and thus in consciousness enhancement. It has tremendous value for the individual, and for the group, as a result of its power to conjoin both individuals and groups not only with each other but also with Ultimate Reality – the nature of which is up to the individual practitioner to discover." (Finkeldey, 2011)
The writings of Fr. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, social activist, and student of comparative religion (whose photograph is shown above), are another excellent source of knowledge concerning contemplation. According to the wikipedia article he was, "... a keen proponent of interfaith understanding" who:
"... pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh." (Thomas Merton in wikipedia, 2011)
One of Merton's most useful works on this topic of contemplation is Contemplative prayer (1969). In it, he stresses the importance of not feeling accomplished at prayer and meditation - of remaining a beginner in our attitude toward the practice. Drawing on his experience with the Buddhists he writes:
"One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperaate need to learn the bare rudiments.... We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!" (Merton, 1969, p. 13)
A.A. literature maintains this 'attitude of the novice' throughout as well as advocating action on this practice as soon as possible. It issues a subtle challenge to the resistant newcomer by saying that, "almost the only scoffers at prayer are those who never tried it enough" (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 97).

Contemplation: meditation

I would like to begin this section on meditation with a description of what meditation is according to the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg offers few details of instruction on what we would think of as the practice or methodology of meditation. In his work Spiritual Experiences he shares about his use of respiration during prayer as a child, while exploring cardiopulmonary harmonies, while deeply engaged in writing, or during absorbing speculations, and later on in life during his conversations with spirits (Swedenborg, 1902, Spiritual Experiences 3464). He writes, “Thus I was introduced by the Lord into interior respirations” (Swedenborg, 1902, ibid.). Mindfulness of breathing is a meditative practice taught by Thich Nhat Hanh and other Buddhists (Hanh, 1996).

Swedenborg is, however, clear on what meditation is in terms of state of mind. For Swedenborg, meditation is spiritual thought, or as he wrote, being “in the thought of [one’s] spirit, which is meditation” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8). The practice or methodology of meditation consists of actions that help us to transcend natural thought and bring us into the state of being “in the thought of our spirit.”. Meditation becomes a spiritual way of being and the practice of meditation, together with introspection and prayer, brings us into that spiritual state.

Swedenborg makes a distinction between natural thought and spiritual thought. Natural thought is the normal kind of thought with which we, here on the natural level of existence, are all very familiar. For all of its wide range of simplicity and complexity it remains, while we are living in this world, natural. Swedenborg explains that, “there is a correspondence between spiritual thought and natural thought” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:3), and that, “spiritual thought flows into the natural thought in the external man, and there presents itself to view” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10551). He also equates being in the rational degree of the mind with being in spiritual thought as can be seen in the following citation:
“When man is in the world, or lives in the body, his rational is distinct from his natural, insomuch that he can be withdrawn from the external sensuous things of the body, and also in some degree from the interior sensuous things of his natural man, andcan be in his rational, thus in spiritual thought.” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 3498, emphasis added)
One of the things that distinguishes natural thought from spiritual thought in the Writings of Swedenborg is language or speech. He writes, “the ideas of thought which man comprehends, and which fall into words, are natural” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2, emphasis added). Elsewhere he writes:
“… the thought of [one’s] spirit, which is meditation… passes, indeed, into the thought of the body, but into silent thought; for it is above bodily thought, and looks upon what belongs to thought from the memory as below itself, drawing therefrom either conclusions or confirmations.” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8, emphasis added)
And again:
“… spiritual ideas… are devoid of words of speech… they are of such a nature that a man can in a moment comprehend more things than he is able to express by speech within a considerable time. These ideas of thought belong to his spirit… There is a correspondence between these two classes of ideas; and by means of this correspondence the spiritual ideas are turned into natural ones when the man is speaking. This is not known to the man, because he does not reflect upon it, and none are able to reflect upon it except those who think interiorly, that is, who think in their spirit abstractedly from the body. Sensuous men are quite unable to do this.”  (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2-3, emphasis added)
It appears, then, that elevating one’s consciousness awareness into that degree of the mind (the rational) in which it is possible to be in spiritual thought may be an experience of very few, if any, natural words. Perhaps this state of mind is what is being referred in the ancient Hindu text “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1:2” where we find the statement that, “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence” (Shearer, 1982, p. 90)

The other emphasis I have found in Swedenborg where the meditative state is being discussed is that of the ‘lulling’ of the senses and of ‘bodily things’. In Divine Love and Wisdom, Swedenborg explains that a “person in whom the spiritual degree has been opened… may come into [angelic wisdom] as the result of a suspension of his bodily sensations and an influx then from above into the spiritual elements of his mind” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 257). Arcana Coelestia paragraph number 3498 (cited above) also mentions being “withdrawn from the external sensuous things of the body, and also in some degree from the interior sensuous things of [the] natural man” in order for consciousness to be elevated to the rational degree (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 3498).

Interestingly, something analogous to this can even happen (one might say ‘involuntarily’) with the “unregenerate… [and] the evil also” in certain states where worldly and bodily things are ‘lulled’ namely “when they are in holy meditation, or when the cupidities are lulled, as happens when they are in misfortunes, in sicknesses, and diseases, and especially at the moment of death” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 2041:3). I include this here to illustrate simply that the meditative state may occur spontaneously apart from spiritual development or practice.

Finally, Swedenborg includes meditation as being one of the “means of separation and purification, and also the ways of withdrawal and removal [from evil]” which is “effected by the Lord in a thousand ways that are most secret” (Swedenborg, 1949, Divine Providence 296:10). The ‘secrecy’ of those thousand most secret ways utilized by the Lord to withdraw us from evil doubtless has to do with the maintenance of our freedom and rationality. Evidently meditation does no harm to freedom and rationality since it has been revealed by Swedenborg as being one of those ways.

I have found little in Swedenborgian collateral literature on the subject of meditation. In 1975, Van Dusen published an article in favor of meditation in The New Philosophy (Van Dusen, 1975). This was followed by an exchange of ‘letters to the editor’ between Van Dusen and Sandstrom wherein Sandstrom cordially took exception to some of the points raised by Van Dusen’s article and Van Dusen cordially explained and defended his views (Sandstrom, 1976a, 1976b; Van Dusen, 1976a, 1976b). In his response to Van Dusen, Sandstrom seems to fear the “Eastern influence” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381). Specifically, Sandstrom’s concern with the “Eastern influence” appears to be that it does not contain enough shunning of evil and in his view advocates a withdrawal “into the realm of the mystical” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381). He also seems to be worried that, “the kind of meditation that seeks to perceive influx… may unwittingly open up a flux from the proprium” (Sandstrom, 1976a, p. 381).

Sandstrom’s concerns certainly have validity in some cases. For example, why waste time meditating if one is not introspecting, seeing one’s evils, and turning away from them? Without charitable mindful living, meditation becomes oxymoronic. As for Sandstrom’s concern regarding withdrawal “into the mystical realm”, while it is true that in some Buddhist traditions there are those very few who choose to become hermits for the purpose of contemplative practice, the vast majority of our eastern friends are well-engaged in a useful life in communities based on loving-kindess and the cultivation of compassion (a.k.a. love to the neighbor). If, in fact, there is a risk in meditation of unwittingly opening up a “flux from the proprium”, would that necessarily be a bad thing? If I can’t see it, how can I turn away from it? According to Swedenborg:
“Every evil that does not become manifest nourishes itself being like fire in wood under the ashes, and like matter in a wound that is not opened; for every evil that is denied an outlet increases and does not abate until the whole has been destroyed.” (Swedenborg, 1949, Divine Providence 278)
Meditating on the Word

In a recent issue of the Swedenborgian periodical Theta Alpha Journal, Rogers offers several visualization-type forms of meditation to be used in meditating on the Word. This involves a preparatory process of meditating on the Lord’s commandments with a view to cleansing and clearing the mind of “self-oriented concerns” and to bringing consciousness to rest “in total trust in the Lord” (Rogers, 2006, p. 18).

This being accomplished, one is then ready to use the imagination to visualize stories from the Word vividly placing oneself in the role of one of the characters in the story, running through the story, and observing whatever this meditation might evoke. Another visualization offered by Rogers is that of visualizing the Lord (in human form) being present in whatever life situation one may be dealing with. He recommends several New Testament stories to use like prescriptions in meditation for various mental/emotional difficulties like depression, addiction, and lack of faith (Rogers, 2006, pp. 19-22). These are all excellent and imaginative ways of making the Word of God a permanent part of the mind and of helping Divine-source energy to manifest in our daily life. As Rogers says:
“Meditating on the word allows us to experience and perceive the Lord with increasing power and depth. Our sense of His presence, His peace, His healing, His love will all increase as we persist in the practice of meditating on His Word. With these things, our joy will increase and this joy will be a gift that we can give to others from the Lord.” (Rogers, 2006, p. 23)
This kind of meditation makes conjunction with the Lord through His Word and via the neighbor more possible. Meditation is a valuable spiritual practice that takes many forms – including self-observation and mindful living. The forms meditation takes are so many, in fact, that I will have to limit the descriptions here to only a few.

Stopping thought

In 1624, a year before his death, the German mystic Jacob Boehme wrote in his work entitled The Supersensual Life:
“Cease from all thy thinking and willing, then thou shalt hear the unspeakable Words of God…. Since it is nought indeed but thine own Hearing and Willing that do hinder thee, so that thou dost not see and hear God.”  (Boehme, 1624, p.1)
This calls to mind the meditative practice of stopping thought. This practice utilizes mindfulness of breathing with a view to calming the mind by stopping the normally incessant stream of inner ‘verbiage production’ we call thought. This is essentially accomplished by giving the mind something else to do, which it then focuses on to the exclusion of everything else.

The method used is a simple technique called ‘breath counting’. The practitioner counts each in-breath and out-breath with total mental focus on the count – in is ‘one’, out is ‘two’, in is ‘three’, etc. – up to ‘ten’, and then returns to ‘one’ and starts over again. This is repeated for as long as one wants to practice. Experience shows that, though simple, this practice can actually be quite difficult; for the mind likes to wander and is easily bored and distracted. This often results in losing count. When that happens, one simply starts over at ‘one’ (without self-chastisement) and continues to practice. Initially, the difficulty of this practice is really the only aspect of it that makes it interesting and fends off the boredom. Eventually, however, when mastery is achieved, one begins to realize the benefits of this practice. The first benefit is the training in mental focus and concentration breath counting creates.

Mental focus and concentration is fundamental to any kind of meditation. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, breath counting also teaches the mind what it’s like to, “dwell peacefully in the present moment” (Hanh, 2006c, p. 43). Also, the simple ability to stop thinking can be extremely useful in reducing stress and calming destructive emotional states. Stress and destructive emotional states often produce thoughts of an unhelpful rather than helpful nature – if they are not helpful, why think them?

The practice of breath counting strengthens the mind the way physical exercise strengthens the body and provides a base-practice for other forms of meditation which also utilize the semi-voluntary physical process of breathing. Mindfulness of breathing is central to the meditation techniques taught by Thich Nhat Hanh (Hanh, 1975 and 1996). Stopping or reducing the amount of natural thought may be a part of elevating the mind into the realm of what Swedenborg referred to above as “silent thought” and “spiritual ideas” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 404:8; 1983, Arcana Coelestia 10604:2-3).

Walking meditation

Walking meditation is another mindfulness practice taught by Hanh. In it, walking (another semi-voluntary physical process) is coordinated with mindfulness of breathing by giving the mind the task of counting the of number steps one takes in the space of each in-breath and out-breath. This process also involves periodically lengthening and deepening one’s breathing in relation to one’s steps while walking (Hanh, 1975, p. 124).

These two practices, mindfulness of breathing and of walking, are meditations in themselves. Hanh also utilizes another semi-voluntary physical process in his teaching of meditation – the process of smiling. Smiling is actually a very powerful practice both for the practitioner and for other members of the practitioner’s community. Smiling, and mindfulness of smiling, proliferates happiness – especially if positive emotion really exists behind the smiling. Hanh recommends the use of the ‘half-smile’ “ when you first wake up in the morning… during your free moments… while listening to music… [and] when irritated” as well as during many other activities (Hanh, 1975, pp. 121-122).

Mindfulness of breathing

In other forms, Hanh incorporates words in with the body-based meditations of mindfulness of breathing, walking, and smiling as a way of training the mind to habitually choose positive, mindful thoughts. Here is an example from Hanh’s work Breath! You are alive: Sutra on the full awareness of breathing. This would be practiced in a comfortable sitting position:
1. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” (In, Out)
2. “Breathing in, my breath goes deep. Breathing out, my breath goes slow.” (Deep, Slow)
3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” (Aware of my body, Calming my body)
4. “Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I feel the joy of being alive.” (Alive, Joy of being alive) (Hanh, 1996, p. 79)
One can practice and memorize these thoughts and then use the shortened versions (in parentheses) of the thoughts in practice. I believe that associating what Hanh calls the “energy of mindfulness” with the basic semi-voluntary physical processes of breathing, walking, and smiling is designed to help the energy of mindfulness manifest even when one is not practicing meditation. The energy of mindfulness, and any positive thoughts or attitudes associated with breathing, walking, or smiling (by means of one’s meditative practice), will sometimes be triggered by the simple non-meditative physical acts themselves. There are many modifications of the basic breathing/word type meditative practice taught by Hanh to be used in virtually every activity of daily life from washing the dishes, to hugging, to answering the telephone, and driving the car. Of major importance in all these is the practice of being in the present moment - the only moment in which happiness can be found. As Hanh says, “the moment of chopping wood and carrying water is the moment of happiness. We do not need for these chores to be done to be happy” (Hanh, 1998, pp. 153-154).

Thich Nhat Hanh gives a Dharma Talk on Mindfulness

His Holiness the Dalai Lama on present moment meditation

The Dalai Lama is also an advocate of present moment mindfulness and mental stabilization in meditation. In his book The universe in a single atom: The convergence of science and spirituality, he explains a basic meditation designed to facilitate the subjective investigation of consciousness itself. He writes:
“In training ourselves to take consciousness itself as the subject of first-person investigation, we must first stabilize the mind. The experience of attending to the mere present moment is a very helpful practice. The focus of this practice is a sustained training to cultivate the ability to hold the mind undistractedly on the immediate, subjective experience of consciousness. This is done as follows.” (Summarized in numbers 1-6 below).
  1. Before sitting, develop a deliberate intention to not be distracted by either the past or the future and make a silent pledge to that effect.
  2. Sit facing a blank wall to aid in not being distracted.
  3. As thoughts arise in the mind, allow them to do so freely without judgment or repression.
  4. Simply observe the thoughts allowing them to arise and dissolve in the mind.
  5. Gradually,… begin to glimpse what feels like a mere absence, a state of mind with no specific, determinable content [this is the basic experience of present moment consciousness].
  6. With practice, learn to prolong the intervals between thoughts.
“In this way a meditator will gradually be able to “grasp” the basic experience of consciousness and take that as the object of meditative investigation.” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2005, pp. 158-159)
Swedenborg would seem to agree with Hanh and the Dalai Lama somewhat when it comes to the importance of being in the ‘present moment’ in the following quote – at least in terms of advising against solicitude (or worrying) about the future. While some worrying about the future is to be expected, Swedenborg appears to be saying here that it is a good habit to break or to avoid if one has not developed it.
“…Solicitude about the future, when confirmed by act, greatly dulls and retards the influx of spiritual life; …(they who do this) attribute to themselves that which is of the Divine Providence; and they …obstruct the influx, and take away from themselves the life of good and truth.” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 5177)
Deity yoga: a visualization

Another meditation technique taught by the Dalai Lama he refers to as “Deity Yoga” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, p. 185). It is similar to, but not the same as, Rogers’ meditation on the Word (see above) in that it utilizes the power of imaginative visualization. His Holiness describes this practice as follows:
“In this practice you imagine 1) replacing your mind as it ordinarily appears, full of troubling emotions, with a mind of pure wisdom motivated by compassion; 2) substituting your body as it ordinarily appears (composed of flesh, blood, and bone) with a body fashioned from compassionately motivated wisdom; 3) developing a sense of a pure self that depends on purely appearing mind and body in an ideal environment, fully engaged in helping others. As this distinctive practice of Tantra calls for visualizing yourself with a Buddha’s body, activities, resources, and surroundings, it is called “taking imagination as the spiritual path.” (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, pp. 185-186)
This could be the Tibetan Buddhist equivalent of meditating on the fundamentalist Christian question, “What would Jesus do?”  Deity Yoga seems harmless enough provided one keeps in mind Swedenborg’s caveat about thinking of God apart from time and space so as to not conclude with the confused idea that one’s self IS God. That would be an “abominable… heresy” (Swedenborg, 1969, Divine Love and Wisdom 130). His Holiness also offers this practice ‘cum grano salis’ (with a grain of salt). He writes:
“This is an imaginative meditation; you are not convinced from the depths that you actually have pure mind, body, and selfhood. Rather, based in clear imagination of ideal body and mind, you are cultivating the sense of being a deity, compassionately helping others”. (Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 2002b, p. 186)
If Deity Yoga makes a prospective practitioner nervous then perhaps it would be best to stay with breathing, walking, smiling, stopping thought, and meditating on the Word of God (or other positive thoughts) as forms of practice. The concept of ‘Deity’ here appears to be derived from the Indian pantheistic cultural milieu out of which Buddhism arose wherein a Deity is any manifestation of the Divine rather than the Absolute Divine.

More meditation on the Word of God

Meditation on the Word of God is the primary way of meditative practice in the Swedenborgian tradition. What exactly is meditation on the Word of God? In the context of enlightenment in the Word, Swedenborg offers the following: “even at this day, every one who, while reading the Word, approaches the Lord alone, and prays to Him, is enlightened in the Word” (Swedenborg, 1904a, Doctrine of the Lord 2).

What are the elements of this proposed meditative practice? The goal is to become ‘enlightened in the Word’. We can let go of that right away since we know we don’t enlighten ourselves – that’s the Lord’s job. We can become goal-less – as a part of acknowledging the Lord’s Divinity. Reading the Word is self-explanatory but I suspect working from memory is even better since the Word memorized is a permanent part of the mind. Approaching the Lord alone entails an acknowledgement of the Lord’s Divinity, of the holiness of the Word, and of His being the source of all love, wisdom, and of everything that is good and true. Approaching the Lord alone could also involve a visualization, a picture in the mind, of the Divine Human form – perhaps engulfed in the brightest, warmest sunlight one can imagine since, in the spiritual world, the Divine Love and Wisdom proceed, “from the Lord [and] appear as a sun” (Swedenborg, 1969, DLW 86). Finally, there is prayer to the Lord which is “speech with God, and some internal view at the time of the matters of the prayer” (Swedenborg, 1983, Arcana Coelestia 2535).

A meditation session on the Word of God might look something like this. I have used the 23rd Psalm as a structure for this meditation.

Mindfulness Meditation on the 23rd Psalm

1) Sitting in a comfortable position (or lying in a hammock or in a ‘green pasture’), begin with calming the mind by using some version of mindfulness of breathing as explained above by Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow a half-smile to form on your face. Maintain the half-smile throughout.
2) Allow your mind to reflect on the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and all the blessings of peace and joy that His presence in your life brings. Allow yourself to feel safe and taken care of by His Providence in this present moment. Develop a feeling of gratitude for His presence.
3) Allow a prayer to the Lord to emerge from this state of grateful existence in the present moment. Say thank you – and if you need to go beyond that, pray only for heavenly or spiritual things, for example, knowledge of His will for you and the power to carry that out. Maybe an expression of gratitude for His willingness to lead you in His Word would be good.
4) Return to mindfulness of breathing practice, maintaining the half-smile, and after a short time begin to coordinate the words of the 23rd Psalm (which you have previously memorized perfectly) with your in-breaths and out-breaths. You can use the third person voice in which it is written, or you can personalize it a little (my favorite) as follows:
  1. “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.” (In, Out)
  2. “Breathing in, my breath goes deep. Breathing out, my breath goes slow.” (Deep, Slow)
  3. “Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.” (Aware of my body, Calming my body)
  4. “Breathing in, I know I am alive. Breathing out, I feel the joy of being alive.” (Alive, Joy of being alive)
  5. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, I shall not want.”
  6. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You make me lie down in green pastures.”
  7. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You lead me beside the still waters.”
  8. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You restore my soul.”
  9. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, You lead me in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake (not mine).”
  10. “Breathing in, You are my shepherd Lord. Breathing out, and I will dwell in Your house forever.”
5) End your meditation with another prayer of gratitude and, when you’re ready, take your smile and your mindful energy and go find someone to be pleasant to knowing that the Lord will guide you to your next opportunity to practice mindfulness.
This meditation involves more than just reading the Word, approaching the Lord alone, and praying to Him as Swedenborg recommends (Swedenborg, 1904a, Doctrine of the Lord 2) – but there’s nothing wrong with a little spiritual creativity in one’s practice. Hopefully, creativity, the use of imagination, and memorization of the Word for meditative purposes will create vessels in the mind into which the Source of all can flow. As Swedenborg wrote in Spiritual Experiences:
“Reflection constitutes the essence of thinking… the ability to reflect… does not belong to the person who is reflecting, but… it flows in… I was given to see clearly by a spiritual mental image that we are only organic instruments, and that reflection is given by the Lord. It cannot possibly come from any other source.” (Swedenborg, 1902, Spiritual Experiences 2221)
Given reflection by the Lord, we can begin to better see our connection to all things of His creation – especially the people He brings into our lives – and learn the specifics of how best to interact with His creation in a mindful, helpful way.

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Merton, Thomas. (2011). Wikipedia article retrieved from the internet 18 January 2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Merton.

Rogers, K. (2006, April-October). Meditating on the Word. Theta Alpha Journal, 14(1and 2), 18-29. Philadelphia, PA: Theta Alpha.

Sandstrom, E. (1976a, January). Letter to the Editor (comments on Van Dusen’s article on meditation in New Philosophy, [1975], 78, 309-322). New Philosophy, 79, 380-382.

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