From time to time I read about the grand mystics like Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. And I have a picture in my mind of these great souls sitting quietly while the Holy Spirit fills them. The are no words, no prayers – just an openness to the divine presence. But I am a poor meditator and so I need help. I would like you very much to share your experiences of meditation on the Blog – whether you are an incompetent like me, or whether you have made some real progress.
The matter is in my mind because the Radio 4 programme ‘Something Understood’ discussed the question of breath last Sunday. You may have heard it, and it is still available on the Internet. The concept of breath is relevant because it is really the same word as spirit or ghost, and so has at least a verbal connection with the Holy Spirit. And maybe a deeper connection than that.
An expert in probability (John Allen Paulos) calculated that the odds of us inhaling molecules of the last breath of Julius Caesar, when he was assassinated, are better than 99 percent. So breath is something that literally connects us to each other, and all the time.
The programme discussed breath as the taking inside of something from the outside, holding it inside to take life from it, and then returning it to the outside. Our first breath is when we are born, and our last is as we die. A Yoga instructor described it as a sort of cleansing process: yoga breathing helps us to recognise how we are conditioned and so enables us to see how we really are. We, so to speak, come to terms with ourselves. He suggested that the common emphasis in Yoga on physical movement and postures was really beside the point; breathing is at the centre. And, even more importantly, the pauses between breathing – through which we exercise control, and so deepen our awareness.
I have never practised Yoga but this does make sense to me because I regularly use ‘mindfulness meditation’ which puts emphasis on breathing as the quiet place which gives us refuge from our whirling minds. I am confident that these periods during which I become more fully aware of myself are very beneficial, and certainly help to control worries and regrets which might otherwise invade my psyche.
But there is nothing spiritual about these; they appear to me to be only psychological. I am by nature a very verbal person and I cannot see a connection between the necessary silence of such meditation and God. I realise that I must be mistaken about this, but I need an explanation. Or is there no explanation?
So if you are able to use spiritual meditation I would like to know about it. Equally, I would like to know about those who share my problems. I would even like to hear from those who think the whole thing to be a waste of time.