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Monday, February 25, 2013

So Long, Self.

As you can see by my previous posts, there are some differences between meditation and prayer: 
Yet both meditation and prayer, by their very natures, share some common denominators:

The Ultimate Submission = The Ultimate Empowerment

If I were to narrow down a phrase which could summarize the Lord's mortal ministry, it would probably be this:

"Not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42)

The Savior's ultimate act of submission was also his ultimate act of empowerment. As you relinquish your will to that of the Father's, you tap into the ultimate source of empowerment, discernment, peace and guidance. Thus, you see that:
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24–25; see also  Matthew 10:39).
So, let me pose a few questions to you:
  • How are you doing at "losing yourself"...in both meditation and your prayers?
  • How effective are your petitions before God if they are focused on your will, not Father's?
  • How often are you praying for the Gift of Discernment, so that you can better understand Father's will?
  • How often are you "returning and reporting" to Father, repenting of your sins and trying to stay at least as "clean" as possible when approaching His divine throne?
Now, those who know me know that I am a big music buff. One music group I'm personally fond of is MercyMe, an American Contemporary Christian band founded in 1994.

The story behind it's 2006 hit song, "So Long Self", is simple: Just like when maybe you had to break up (or be broken up) with a girlfriend or a boyfriend when you were younger, the ultimate breakup in life is when we break up with ourselves. The song is lyrically about a break-up with sinful human nature -- the natural man (or woman).

Below is the acoustic Youtube version of the song and it's lyrics.  Underlying it's somewhat playful nature is a serious message: There's no room for two -- your ego or Father's will.  Yes, it has to end.  And yes, the blame rests with you.  But there is more to life than simply following your ego; namely, the One who really is worthy.

Are you up to the challenge of sacrificing your ego, your "self", to God (as the Savior mentioned in the Book of Matthew, above)?

If not now, then when?

When will you, too, have enough commitment to Christ to say... 

"So Long, Self"




Well if I come across a little bit distant
It's just because I am
Things just seem to feel a little bit different
You understand
Believe it or not but life is not apparently
About me anyways
But I have met the One who really is worthy
So let me say

Chorus
So long, self
Well, it's been fun, but I have found somebody else
So long, self
There's just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move
So long, self
Don't take this wrong but you are wrong for me, farewell,
Oh well, goodbye, don't cry
So long, self

Stop right there because I know what you're thinking
But no we can't be friends
And even though I know your heart is breaking
This has to end
And come to think of it the blame for all of this
Simply falls on me
For wanting something more in life than all of this
Can't you see

(Chorus)

Don't feel so bad (don't feel so bad)
There'll be better days (there'll be better days)
Don't go away mad (but by all means)
Just go away, go away

(Chorus)


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Meditation, Part 6 - Still Your Mind

For thousands of years, sailors have looked to the stars to understand where they are.  As oceans move beneath them, they take comfort in the fixed mark of the North Star, while here below, nothing ever stops moving.

Entering the presence of the Lord is no different.  To help ensure this event, we must focus on a fixed mark -- one which God has unmistakably identified.  In the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price....through his own words and the events in the lives of those recounted in those scriptures...he has used one word to describe the North Star, the positive point which propels us into his presence:

Peace.

Certainly you've encountered peace before.  It's that moment when a new mother holds her baby for that very first time.  It's standing at a beautiful natural scene, like the Grand Canyon.  It's sitting back on a boat, in the middle of a perfectly calm lake.  It's watching your child, your wife or husband while sleeping. 

Think about this for a few minutes.  Close your eyes, take yourself back to those times, and remember how they felt. 

No wonder it's been said that peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of Christ.
"If our normal tendency is to think from a negative mindset, we need to repent and think again. Worry, anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness and resentment will not enable us to become Christlike. A successful relationship with Jesus is founded on rest, peace, trust, faith and worship." (Graham Cooke)

Why Silence is Golden


In it's most rudimentary form, silence is much like fasting; yet instead of going without food or water, you are instead quieting your mind.  This may be why Paul admonished the Thessalonians to "study to be quiet" (1 Thess. 4:11).
"The greatest mystery a man ever learned is to know how to control the human mind and bring every faculty and power...in subjection to Jesus Christ; this is the greatest mystery we have to learn while in these tabernacles of clay" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 1:46).

"To conquer and subdue, and school ourselves until we bring everything into subjection to the law of Christ, is our work." (Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 1997, p. 205)

Putting Stillness in Context


Let's face it: meditating -- seeking the Lord's presence -- can be so challenging!

One of the toughest aspects is trying to meditate when your head is filled with competing demands to do things.  You can encounter lots of nagging thoughts in your mind, i.e., "Fix this, fix that, do this, do that, worry about this, worry about that," etc.

The human mind is always talking, especially in the conscious state, when you are awake.  The average human being breathes around 21,600 times in 24 hours.  And in those 24 hours, an average person goes through 60,000 thoughts.

When you clear your mind so that there is no background chatter in your head, you discover the inner stillness that is, in all actuality, your normal state.

A Stillness Strategy


There are many processes you can use to meditate, then calming your mind.  Here's a possible one:

  1. Find a place to meditate, in solitude away from any possible distractions.
  2. Find an optimal time to meditate, when you won't be interrupted by family members, friends, phone calls, etc.
  3. Calm your body, ensuring you literally and figuratively feel peace.
  4. Next, close your eyes and listen to the chatter in your head.
  5. Focus in on one of the inner conversations (i.e. chatter).
  6. Ask yourself, is there anything I can do about the subject of the chatter right now (as in, that very instant)?
  7. If the answer is yes (for example, you're about to be bitten by a rattlesnake), deal with it now.
  8. If no, imagine wrapping the thought in a big bubble.  Then imagine that you have a helper in the bubble, and tell them to go away and work on a solution to the problem/task.  Work out when the problem/task needs to be actioned and tell the helper to come back then with suggestions and options on solutions.
  9. Then, flick the bubble into the back of your mind and imagine it getting smaller as it disappears into the background.
  10. Now focus on the next bit of chatter, and do exactly the same thing.
  11. Keep repeating the process until all the chatter goes away into the back of your mind quietly working in the background.
  12. If you send a task away and it comes back early, ask what it wants, then re-do the process and send it back until it goes away consciously.  (This usually means you haven't given clear directions). When you do this, you are not chasing your subconscious away, or shooting duck targets at the circus; you are directing your subconscious to do things.  You are not trying to make it go away or chase it away, which is a mistake people often make who struggle with chatter in the first place. Work with it. Command it. You are the boss, not the monkey chatter.
  13. If you need added help focusing on the calm, just say one word within yourself, and focus on it: "Peace".
  14. In stilling your mind, you'd be wise to take baby steps at first.  Just go for maybe half a minute, or even a minute, without any thoughts.  Just bask in the stillness.  Then the next time you meditate, try for a little bit longer duration.  As you slowly, steadily and methodically try to lengthen your periods of quietude, the more powerful your meditative states will become. 
In this state, your mind can enjoy a condition that is consciously calm and perfectly peaceful, while also being able to solve and work on many complex solutions at the same time in the background.  With your mind clear and "in the moment", you are now focused on the one thing which many fail to ever see:

Your North Star.

Your Next Steps Beyond Meditation


In "Meditation, Part 2", we learned about the Parable of the Empty Cup
.  The moral of the story: we can't receive anything if our cups are filled, if not overflowing, with cares, concerns and worries about ourselves, our families, our jobs, our health, the world, as well as the past, present and future. 

When we eliminate these thoughts, when we are still, we are then able to clearly and unmistakably meditate, which Pres. McKay described as "one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord."

However, all too often, many people expect tremendous spiritual experiences to result once they are consistently enjoying a meditative state.   

My counsel is to avoid such a mindset. "Don't look for solutions to problems in meditation.  Rest in that state beyond problems.  Divine guidance will emerge from that consciousness." (Ellen Grace O'Brian; emphasis mine). 

In my experience, a meditative state is perhaps the best preparation you can have for prayer, where you can enjoy an abundance of divine guidance.  Why?  Because
"Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings. Such words as quiet, still, peaceable, Comforter abound in the scriptures: 'Be still, and know that I am God.' (Ps. 46:10; emphasis mine) And the promise, 'You shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom.'" (D&C 36:2; emphasis mine). (Elder Boyd K. Packer, "Reverence Invites Revelation," Ensign, Nov. 1991, p. 21).
This is why, in my next post, we'll discuss what others have done in the past with their meditative states to approach God...which, in turn, elicited a similar action from God as He drew closer to the mortal.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Meditation, Part 5 - Calming Your Body

How would you like to enter the presence of the Lord?

It's do-able.  It's possible.

In fact, a prophet of the Lord said so.  In June 1967, President David O. McKay said that "Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord." (Pres. David O. McKay, "Consciousness of God: Supreme Goal of Life," Improvement Era, June 1967, p. 80–82).

So, to enter his presence, we must meditate.  To meditate -- to do it the right way -- doesn't involve sitting in a corner, wearing a white robe and chanting while leaning back and forth (as one friend supposes).  It doesn't involve anything "New Agey" (or else, why would a prophet be endorsing it?).  Nor does it mean turning off your cell phone or laptop, sitting in one place for 30 seconds, thinking about what shopping needs to be done, then getting bored and getting up and saying meditation is a waste of time.

No.  If you want to do it right, you need to prepare your heart, shedding your mental and emotional ties to all that is telestial and seeking stillness.  You must also seek and enjoy a still place where you can meditate, and a still time where you can meditate without interruption. 

All these steps are essential preparations for calming your your body, then your mind.

In past blog posts, I've mentioned how essential "stillness" is in meditating.  No wonder the Lord counseled us to:
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalms 46:10)

Calming Your Body


If you seek to pass into the presence of the Lord, you're not going it in an excited state.  In my opinion, no amount of caffeine or sugar-sweetened anythings are going to effectively catalyze your calmed state.  You have to calm your body down.  Relax.  Be still.

One of the best ways to do that is to calm your breathing.

Sometime, open up your scriptures and research all the times the word "breath" or "breathe" is mentioned.

The correlation between breath and the spirit is amazing.  Here are a few examples:
"All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils." (Job 27:3) 
"The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." (Job 33:4) 
"And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7) 
"They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths." (Psalms 135:17) 
"And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life." (Genesis 6:17) 
"Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live." (Ezekiel 37:5) 
"Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord." (Psalms 150:6)
Furthermore, in John 20:22, Jesus "breathed" on his disciples and said to them, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost". 

Breath and Meditation


Breath has substantial relevance in meditation.  Those who have the greatest success meditating find a still place and time in which to meditate.  They then position themselves comfortably, relaxing cross-legged or kneeling.  They next spend 5-10 minutes breathing in through the nose, and out through the mouth. 

Here's what one LDS friend (with considerable meditative experience) recommends:
"Do not worry about your thoughts at this moment; simply focus on thinking "Iiiiiinnnnn" as you breathe in and "Ooouuuuuuttttt" as you breathe out. Some prefer 'aaahhhhhhh' on out because of the abruptness of the ending of the sound 't'.'

On the inhale, count slowly and steadily in your mind to 5. Focus on keeping the inhale going at a steady pace; in other words, do your best to have done 20% of the inhale at the count of '1', 40% at '2' and so forth. You will probably be filling your lungs more than they normally ever are filled from the count between 4 to 5. I get the sensation that my lungs are getting stretched.

Then hold the breath for a similar count of 5. There is a correct way and an incorrect way to hold the breath; There should be no tightening or closing off the airways, it should just be an extended pause between inhale and exhale.

Then exhale, and (you guessed it!) don't let the air all out in a rush. A slow steady exhalation over the same 5 count. During the last 20%, you should be really making an effort to empty your lungs as much as possible. Like the last 20% of the inhale, on this part of the exhale you will realize that in normal breathing you never empty your lungs this much. Over time, work on getting every bit of air out on the exhale that you can without discomfort.

Now comes the hardest part (and the exhale is difficult to get right!) but now you pause again at the exhale for a slow count of 5. When you start doing this, on your next inhale you are almost certainly going to gulp in the air! Be patient with yourself and over time just work towards spending the same amount of time on the inhale, the pause, the exhale, and the second pause. You may need to start counting to only 3. When doing all 4 steps at a slow count of 5 becomes easy, you can increase the count. The most I ever could do and maintain for 5 minutes or more was a count of 8. That was after years of breath meditation!

Early on, you will probably have a lot of difficulty doing this for more than a few minutes. Find what you can do and maintain for 5 to 10 minutes."
The objective is simple:

Take things gradually -- possibly daily, over a period of several weeks or months -- until you are consistently able to quickly reach a very relaxed and calm state.

Yes, this takes a little work.  But the payoff is extraordinary:
"And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." (Isa. 32:17; emphasis mine)