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Calm down, and ponder

31 January 2014

UNHAPPY with life, and wanting something better, we may flounder when it comes to the next step. We know things need to change, but what to do? And, often, people say something like: "Would meditation help?" My response is: "Depends what you mean."

In a society where the word "spiritual" has become largely separated from religion - "He's a very spiritual sort of person, he's not into possessions" - meditation is perceived as the go-to activity when it comes to personal development. But what do we mean by it? It is confusing because everyone uses the word differently - like the word "sport", where one word describes very varied activities.

My definition would be this: "Meditation is putting your mind to work for your psychological and spiritual well-being." It is taking your distracted mind for some simplifying exercise. And we can do this over a nine-day retreat, or in 60 seconds, as we travel on the train or wait for our doctor's appointment. Anywhere, in fact, where we can focus for a moment, gather our scattered selves around a simple truth, and find ourselves calmed, held, and directed. It is all about slowing the blood flow in the posterior parietal lobe and amygdala, apparently.

And placing yet more cards on the table, this is a topical subject for me, as my book One Minute Meditation is just published. I focus on the one-minute possibilities to put meditation into the bloodstream of daily life. Let it no longer be foreign currency to us, something Eastern, something monastic, with its own language and experts, with their special techniques - something we need to take classes in. The hope is that we make meditation our own currency, something normal, understood and used every day, almost without noticing.

There are other forms of meditation, of course; and, in this sphere, the Church should be proud of its tradition of lectio divina. Here is the slow listening to scripture, a practice which treats the Word as sacrament: something to be heard, tasted, and received in ever greater depth by the individual. Here is scripture pondered and planted in your own soil, free from the interpretations and agendas of others.

Our meditation may become something else. When meditation leaves our mind, and fills our being, it has become contemplation, which is different. Meditation is a boundaried thing, but the birthmark of contemplation is a sense of space, and perhaps an object held there. Julian of Norwich contemplatesa hazelnut in the spacious palm of her hand, and concludes: "It lasts, and always will, because God loves it."

One Minute Meditation (White Crow, £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9); 978-1-9101-2103-0).

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