While I was on holidays I had opportunity to reflect on my meditation practice and where I’d been experiencing difficulties.
In particular, I’ve been experiencing some double mindedness over the use of non-Christian relaxation techniques on the one hand, and the whole issue of self exploration on the other.
Firstly, regarding non-Christian relaxation techniques, I’ve always found the Zen ‘just sitting’ technique very helpful for stress release, as well as Yoga inspired ‘progressive muscle relaxation’. But because they conflict where I’m at theologically, insofar as Zen and Yoga presuppose pantheism, since becoming a Christian I have often experienced inner tension with their use. A paradox you might say.
But over the holidays this raised some wider issues for me about self exploration in general. To what degree is self exploration, as a form of meditation, legitimately Christian? I mean, in recognizing a crucial distinction between the Creator and the created, between God and the self, isn’t self exploration just a wee bit self absorbed? In fact, aren’t we aiming for the opposite?
Folks like Richard Foster have asserted that meditation on scripture is the highest form of Christian meditation, and given my experience that the experience of Jesus trumps the experience of Matt, I say Amen. But the problem is meditation on scripture can often push the focus away for here, away from now. And it’s right in the now that I’m experiencing stress and the distractions that follow in its wake.
Having sat with this (once again) though, I was drawn back to David Augsburger’s talk of tri-polar spirituality, of a more balanced spirituality that recognises God, self and others as worthy foci. Though monotheistic meditation conflicts with the sort of pantheistic meditation that collapses self into God, this does not mean self exploration is sinful. Quite the contrary, the practice of confessory prayer would be practically impossible without a heavy dose of self reflection. The important thing though, is to have a humble understanding of the self.
In this regard I was drawn back to Ecclesiastes. It is worth reflecting on the limits to our experience, to our ontological dependence on God, to the meaningless of life if our self is our only reference point. God is here, God is now, but God extends beyond my limited experience.
Finally I was drawn to thinking of stress as inner conflict. In the same way as conflict resolution in our social worlds requires active listening, conflict resolution in our psychological worlds also requires active listening: actively listening to God, actively listening to the different sides of ourselves, and actively listening to the way we and others impact on one another. Self does not need to be banished, merely dethroned, and brought into alignment with God. Listening to the breath, the body, just sitting, just listening, this is good – provided we recognise the limits to this experience, and open to being drawn beyond our experience. Make sense? Maybe you’d like to share some of your own thoughts, experiences, unresolved questions.