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Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly…


So I was talking to a friend the other day who was exploring meditation for the first time. He mentioned his explorations to his mother who then launched into him about why does he want to be a Buddhist and give up all his worldly possessions. He was hurt by her assumption and tried to explain that he didn’t want to become Buddhist. He just wanted to be happier and find some peace. She told him to go pray on it. He was quite upset about this and asked me what I thought.

I, of course, had a response. Practicing mediation makes you a Buddhist about as much as swimming in a lake makes you a fish.

While I really commend Buddhism for bringing awareness of meditation to the West, I’m looking for my Christian brothers and sisters to speak up about Christian contemplative practices. Christians meditate too!!  Meditation is not just a “Buddhist thing”; it’s just more widely advertised.

Meditation is to allow you to listen and become aware of the stories we tell ourselves. Meditation that has the majority of Buddhist terms stripped out  is referred to as “mindfulness”. It’s still the practice of stopping our hectic lives and really *listening* to the present moment instead of making it into something else we have to go *do*. It’s about clearing away the clutter in our heads to bring about clarity and peace of mind.

Recently, I’ve been exploring Christian Contemplation practices and I’ve found a book which I really like. Now, Thomas Merton is really the Father of Christian Contemplation practices, but this book is by one of his students, Cynthia Bourgeault. The book is called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” and the forward is written by Thomas Merton himself. I love the title and I love Cynthia’s voice throughout the book. She is familiar with Eastern meditative practices does a tender job of explaining the two. While Thomas knew D.T. Suzuki, he personally felt more at home in Christianity. However, he said he felt Christianity had undervalued the mystical traditions and gone more towards “the reification of concepts, idolization of the reflexive consciousness, flight from being into verbalism, mathematics, and rationalization”.  Eastern traditions have retained more of the “beyond words” aspects of mysticism, explaining why they’re still so popular today.

Cynthia writes: Dying to self means being willing to let go of what I want (or think I want) in order to create space for God to direct, lead and guide me into a truer way of being.

I feel that Eastern traditions and Judeo – Christian beliefs are brothers and sisters in the family of spiritual nurturance.  You may feel more in common with one than the other, but neither one should be disowned and abolished. One emphasizes dealing with your own thoughts and how you hide your inner radiance with stories that feed only egos and beliefs which have never been examined. The other emphasizes listening to the still, small voice of the Divine and how you can radiate that outward to others.  You can’t hear the voice of the Divine to share with others if you’re consumed with listening to the stories you’re still telling yourself and not existing in the present moment.. You can work hard and unearth all the wisdom inside of you but unless you take the next step and express that Divine Compassion, your wisdom as well still be covered up. Cynthia talks about both as allowing for us to be “continuously dying to self”.

While she points to Jesus’ struggle in the garden of Gethsemane, I find this to be something that I could find in any Buddhist book. (Without the reference to an external creator, of course). But the sentiment is exactly the same.

I really feel Cynthia’s book does a great job of bridging the gaps in understanding of these philosophies. There isn’t much instruction that I’ve ever heard about contemplation practices in Christianity in common church – goers. She explains why Christian contemplation is isn’t some “New Age” thing but a real, heartfelt tradition that more Christians could learn about in the hopes that it enriches their spiritual lives.

Feel free to talk to your local spiritual minister if you’re intrigued by the concept of Christian contemplation, but don’t feel like if you don’t that you’re not still one of God’s children if you also chose to include some traditionally Buddhist type meditations in your practice.
The mere fact that meditation and mindfulness practices have become so well-known is because people don’t currently have a practice which settles their minds. If you’re in pain, you seek a remedy for that pain. I wouldn’t avoid taking a medicine that is the remedy for my pain simply because I’d have to switch brands; if it works, it just works!

Do what feels true for you. You are the only one who can judge if you are being true to your own inner wisdom.  I’m hoping this prompts you to explore and ask “Does this work for me?”



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