A couple of years ago I attended a conference where I had the pleasure of listening to Dom Laurence Freeman, OSB, speak about meditation. Dom Laurence is the Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation located in London, England. He has taught, wrote, led conferences and expanded the practice of meditation with those from all walks of life. At this conference he traced the long Christian tradition of meditation, talked about its simplicity, how it transcends thought and engaged his audience in a meditative exercise of silence and stillness. He pointed out that meditation is practised by all major faith communities and by anyone regardless of where they are in their life's journey.
There is a meditation renascence taking place today as an antidote to the stress and strain of modern day life and for many, as a journey of spiritual awakening. After I listened to Dom Laurence I reflected on my own meditative practice which has followed three parallel paths: Reflection, Reflective Meditation and Mindless or Contemplative Meditation. Maybe you have experienced these as well.
Reflection: What I used to call meditation I soon realized was nothing other than a process of reflection. I would identify a problem or someone would give me an issue to resolve and I used to say "let me meditate on this a bit." My mind was very active during this time and I would think through the problem or issue. I would also take a passage from one of my readings whether that be a passage from a leadership, management or spiritual book and my mind would in effect chew on the passage. I would analyze, slice and dice and, come to some conclusion and develop an action around the topic. My mind was preoccupied with the thought content and alternate solutions. I still actively engage my mind in this reflective process - just ask members of my family as I walk or sit around with creases in my forehead.
Reflective Meditation: During Reflective Meditation, my mind is semi-active. I think about an issue, problem or decision not in detail but in its broad context and let the scenario present itself within my mind's eye. I do the same with passages from my readings and use them as a back drop to what I now refer to as Reflective Meditation. During this time my mind is engaged and dances around the topic or passage but I try not to pull it apart or analyze it in anyway but just let the passage speak to me. My mind often skips around and sometimes I dwell on thoughts that are different from the passage. Let's call them what they are - distractions. I just go with them and eventually I come back to my original passage or the presenting thought. The point here is that I reflect on "something" presented to me either verbally or in a reading that still engages my mind.
Mindless Meditation to Spiritual Contemplation: This is a form of meditation that transcends the mind. I have practised this for many years. I call this Mindless Meditation because I work at emptying the mind of all activity - entering into silence and stillness. It wasn't until I read a small book by Dr. Wayne W. Dwyer, "Getting in the Gap” that I discovered another way of approaching this type of meditation. He pointed out that it was the space between the words that mattered and not the word or words one used to relieve mind activity.
Let's take an example from a well-known prayer "Lord make me an instrument of your peace." In my Reflective Meditation method I focus on the sentence and try to understand what it is saying to me and how I can become an instrument of peace. My mind is semi-active but still working like crazy. Once I begin to take the first two words "Lord make" and use these two words as bookends so to speak, I open myself up to the space between the words. I discover a connection with a deeper inner consciousness that goes beyond self to what I call my Spiritual Source - a door is opened to allow the Spirit to come in rather than me banging on the door with an over active mind.
I find Mindless Meditation breaks through the hassle and stress brought on by daily activity and gets to a deep spiritual awaking. It transcends the mind and rationality, and extends the state of human consciousness to a state of unconsciousness to a spiritual dimension, where time and space has no meaning.
In mindless meditation we exist in the moment, in the now, and in that moment or now all time is suspended and we are in a state beyond consciousness, and are gifted with the whisper of the Divine. And, in that state of transcendence the positive aspects of compassion, respectfulness and forgiveness are strengthened.
I now equate mindless meditation with spiritual contemplation which is practised in complete silence, and in those silent moments we are embraced and touched by Divine Love. Richard Rohr, in his work at the Center for Contemplation and Action, explores this type of meditation and it's relationship to contemplative stillness, silence and connection with the Divine.
Mindless meditation or contemplation is difficult because our mind always wants to analyze, judge, wander, and think about someone or something else. In essence our ego gets in the way of "egolessness", and doesn't want to be quiet, be still and listen to our inner self. This type of meditation takes work and daily practise.
Meditation and Business: So how does all this relate to business?
Since meditation has shown to produce a wide range of mental benefits it is no wonder that many of the top producing businesses have made room for on-the-job meditation. Meditation is also used in the sports world as a way to calm the inner self, deal with fear, build relationships, strengthen focus and self-discipline. Phil Jackson, in his book Eleven Rings outlines how he used meditation as a method to reduce tension and prepare for game day.. Phil Jackson is one of the most successful coaches in NBA history.
What to do: There is a place for all three methods depending on what is required. The first two ways have helped me develop breakthrough solutions to problems as well as changing my own behaviour. The last method is quite simple, calms the mind, promotes health, rejuvenates energy and gives greater balance to a busy life. I find this last method takes greater self-discipline but the dividends are bountiful.
All three methods require a calming down of the body. For Mindless Meditation find a quiet place - close your office door, sit on a bench in the park or develop a small oasis in your back yard, or find a comfortable corner in your home, - sit upright with feet on the floor, then take deep breaths to relax the body from head to toe. Some people find it helpful to light a candle or have calm music playing quietly in the background.
As we grow with meditative practice we will find that we can block out the noise around us for brief periods of time - for example when sitting on an airplane or waiting for an appointment, or standing in line - and for a few fleeting minutes or seconds we will slow ourselves down and connect with our inner Spirit. For longer meditations or contemplation many teachers recommend choosing a meaningful word and repeating it over and over until it disappears and you are centred at a place of peace and silence. Choosing a word to ready ourselves to enter into a contemplative dimension is often referred to as Centering Prayer. Dom Laurence, Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating suggests two 20 - 30 minute Heart or Soul Meditations a day, one in the morning and the other in the evening.
Want to learn more: You will discover that the techniques described above are found in most meditation traditions and go back thousands of years and are as relevant today as way back then. There are over a dozen ways to mediate drawn from Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions. The difference among them appears in the purpose and intent one ascribes for the meditation. Here are a few resources you may find helpful:
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC Updated from the archives of Fontanie Learning Solutions.