Meditation & Contemplation
It’s simple but not easy.

As another button under this Interests column indicates, my philosophy centers around mysticism and its experiences that “cannot be uttered,” as the root derivation of the word suggests. I cannot really utter the experiences I’ve had, but I believe meditation and contemplation are vital because they catalyze the likelihood of such experience and awareness. In exploring the practices of the world religions I list under Philosophy, I have come to realize that their many forms of meditation and contemplation can lead to this experience.

Perhaps I must begin by clarifying and defining the two terms, as I was relieved finally to understand them. I had branched out from my Christian upbringing into eastern religious practices. I finally learned that what Christians call “meditation” is like what eastern religions call “contemplation” with a focused concentration on content of a word or phrase or image or poem or story and thus with thinking, imagining, sensing. Often what Christians call “contemplation” is like what eastern religions call “meditation” without a focus except maybe the breathing to bring one back from drifting into thinking, imagining, sensing. I was relieved that I experienced no conflict between the traditions in these practices. In fact, the focused kind of both traditions often dispersed into the unfocused kind. I am comfortable to use and recommend them from either Christian or eastern religions.

As a child, I would see my preacher father lying on the bed with his arms slightly raised off the bed. I would ask why he didn’t relax them completely. He said it was to keep from falling asleep while he “meditated.” I grew up with many Biblical passages on “meditation” and for years practiced daily “Quiet Time,” during which I would dwell on and ponder Jesus’s sayings and parables (like Zen koans) or words or phrases like God is love. We also did repetitive chants that were meditative, like “Amen” or “Kumbaya.” Sometimes my “meditation” seemed to become “contemplation” in the unfocused sense. Likewise, I later read that Hindu contemplation can become “meditation” in the unfocused sense!

I began to experience more of the eastern “meditation.” In the late 50s, I encountered Neo-Hinduism & Zen and tried a little yoga and then found yoga classes in the late 60s. Synchronizing breath with the sun salutation or lying in the corpse pose seemed to encourage more open, unfocused states of awareness. About 1973, I began Transcendental Meditation, in which the mantra’s “repeating itself” in my mind/heart sometimes disappeared, again bringing that open awareness.

As the holistic health movement and health psychology sprang up around 1974, I attended meditation groups, workshops, and a significant conference in St. Louis, at which psychologist Dr. Patricia Carrington presented research on Clinically Standard Meditation (CSM), which she developed after she and her psychiatrist husband had practiced TM. Inspired and equipped with her scientifically developed learning tapes, I returned to my university to do research comparing three groups of volunteers randomly assigned to CSM with mantra choices, Lester Fehmi’s Open Focus method (also with its learning tapes), and a control of Quiet Sitting. (See Psych Prof for article in Journal of Clinical Psychology). Results were minimal with the short time and degree of compliance involved. Interestingly, even regular “quiet sitting” was perceived as lowering anxiety, for example.

My students and I continued other studies of meditative techniques, some even with children & with elders. We found evidence that the Myers-Briggs personality type most drawn to meditation was INFP, i.e., introverted, intuitive, feeling, perceiving more than extroverted, sensing, thinking, judging. I’ve learned so much from the research participants as well as from those for whom I’ve led experiential workshops, e.g. at Transpersonal Psychology conferences or for church groups. For example, I like to present A Meditation Sampler, which gives participants the opportunity to taste different methods & encourages them to find what suits them best. Many people have told me they believe they spontaneously discover meditative states as they gaze at stars, a flickering fire, or waves of the ocean or as they do rhythmic activities like distance running or rocking a baby.

I have so much to learn and practice more faithfully! Over the years, I’ve “sat” in meditation/contemplation with many different kinds of groups—Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Sufi, Native American, etc. What I call a “mystic” or “oneness” or “not-two-ness” or “no-thing-ness” experience seems common to all. I received the Buddhist vows and name Jikei from Soto Zen Shohaku Okumura Roshi. I greatly value time spent in Buddhist temples in Japan. As a member of both an Episcopal church and a Soto Zen center, I sometimes joke that I’m a Buddhapalian or an Episcopagan!

One can practice mindfulness in many ways. I have a little meditation path in my woods for walking or sitting. I also love fast walking on country roads and how a word or phrase couples with that rhythm, centering and clearing my mind/heart. I’m committed to the Japanese tea ritual as a moving meditation, which can be one-pointedly focused and yet flowing from moment to moment and openly aware simultaneously! I believe many kinds of meditative and contemplative practices can begin to generalize to everyday awareness and activities. I believe their greatest value is a very gradual growth toward wisdom and compassion.

Many websites and books are available on this topic.