In 1974, Lawrence LeShan – seen at left – wrote How to Meditate, “one of the first practical guides to meditation.” My first copy cost under $2.00.
(Or you could spend a week’s salary for a seminar on “Transcendental Meditation,” but that’s a whole ‘nother story. . .)
LeShan said the essence of meditation is trying something you know you can’t do. You try to do the impossible, yet you try anyway. Whether you try a mantra meditation, or to experience a rose for 20 minutes, non-verbally, you know ahead of time you can never get it exactly right.
It’s impossible; as impossible – say – as trying to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind, or trying to love your neighbor as yourself.
So what’s the pay-off for all this “reaching for the impossible?”
LeShan cited two main rewards: greater personal efficiency in everyday life, and “the comprehension of a different view of reality than the one we ordinarily use.”
LeShan added that a meditator develops a capacity to transcend the painful, negative aspects of everyday life, and develops an ability to live with a serene “inner peace.”
He said it’s characteristic of the practiced meditator to live with joy and love; “The best of mysticism* also provides a zest, a fervor and gusto in life plus a much higher ability to function in the affairs of everyday life.” But aren’t those the same things that Christians should be looking for? They use different words of course, but the idea seems to be the same.
Put another way, Wouldn’t it be great if Bible-reading led to the same results?
Fortunately, it can.
Unfortunately, in your personal pilgrimage, sooner or later you’ll run up against all those so-called Christians who love to focus on sin – usually somebody else’s – rather than all the positive aspects that the discipline of regular Bible-reading can provide. LeShan had something to say about that as well.
He wrote of one meditation – contemplating a rose on a non-verbal level – that because it was so very hard, the would-be meditator might give himself permission to make mistakes. “You will make them anyway and will be much more comfortable – and get along better with this exercise – if you give yourself permission in advance.” (Permission in advance to “fall short,” that is.)
Or maybe you could say “falling short” is part of the process.
LeShan advised a would-be meditator should treat himself as a “much-loved child that an adult was trying to keep walking on a narrow side-walk.” (The “straight and narrow path?”) The child, “full of energy,” keeps running off to explore the world, but each time the meditator should say, “Oh, that’s how children are. Okay honey, back to the sidewalk.”
Again and again, gently but firmly, the meditator brings himself back to the discipline. With each slip-up or mistake, “you should say the equivalent of ‘oh, that’s where I am now; back to work,’ and come back looking.” With the metaphor of “binding the mind staff in place,” LeShan cautioned would-be meditators to “bind ourselves with humor and compassion at our own lack of discipline.”
(Humor and compassion? How apparently un-Biblical, at least to some people. . .)
But could that idea apply to each and every Pilgrim on his or her quest to reach God, or struggling with the idea of God?
So maybe the “good Christian” should also begin by knowing he’s trying to do something he knows is impossible, physically, emotionally or spiritually. No matter how hard we try, we can never, for more than “one brief shining moment,” love God with all our heart, mind and soul. Nor can we, for more than a moment, fulfill the Second Great Commandment, to love even our most obnoxious neighbors as ourselves.
But we try anyway, and maybe in the process we become more adept at living life in all its abundance, just like Jesus promised in John 10:10.
You might even say it’s a bit like spiritual boot camp (but with “humor and compassion”). . .
My first copy of How to Meditate (LeShan) was published by Bantam Books in 1975.
The LeShan image is courtesy of crtp.org/history.html. The site noted that LeShan began in the 1960s trying to “carefully research and therefore debunk the existence of the paranormal. To his surprise, the scientific journals and serious books in the field implied that the material was valid.”
The boot-camp image is courtesy of: http://cmsimg.marinecorpstimes.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=M6&Date=20120913&Category=NEWS&ArtNo=209130325&Ref=AR&MaxW=640&Border=0&Boot-camp-curriculum-up-review.
* The words “mystic” or “mysticism” seem to give some Christians apoplexy. Try it on a Southern Baptist some time! But seriously, one online dictionary defines a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute.” Again, arguably different words but the same idea. . .