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Meditation: The Simple Art
by Michele Ritan

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Meditation is a core activity for human beings, regardless of religious or cultural background. So much has been written about meditation: what it is, how to do it, its religious context or spiritual significance, its health benefits. Why the countless words written on this inherently simple thing? Because while simple, meditation is not easy. Although a fundamental act of being human, it also connects us to the sacred, which will always be mysterious, and perhaps a little dangerous.

The dictionary defines meditation as, "a private devotion or spiritual exercise consisting in deep continued reflection on a religious theme." Its root is med, the same as for many words expressing the notion of thought or care. It is related to the Latin word mederi, "to heal," which also underlies all the English "medical" words. Thus, we see that purpose of meditation is healing, the repair of our broken connection between the soul and the divine, or between the mask we present to the world and our true self.

No matter what our childhood experiences were like—primarily positive or negative—most of us experience a sense of division between our true self and the Holy, or what we call God. Jewish and Christian sacred literature describe this separation in the story of Adam and Eve found in the Book of Genesis. In this ancient myth, the first Woman and Man inhabit the Garden of Eden, which symbolizes perfect unity with God. They were unconscious, "not knowing good and evil." The serpent offers knowledge of good and evil, and promises Eve that she and Adam will "be like gods." The price of consciousness, which follows Eve’s eating of the apple, is their expulsion from Paradise. The first Woman and Man, and by implication their descendants, must now seek their lost unity with God throughout their lives.

Many small children express an easy understanding of their connectedness to their true selves and to the divine. However, it seems to be part of the human condition to lose this ability as we mature. As adults, we have to develop a conscious discipline of making the time and space to seek the Holy and find our center.

Other religious traditions promote meditation for different reasons, but each one has some sort of meditation practice. Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, teach various kinds of sitting meditation and yoga techniques. These practices often make use of tools such as a mantra, incense, candles, meditation mats and devotional statues. Christian meditation may use the repetition of a particular short prayer, as well as candles and statues for mental focus.

The important thing to remember is that meditation is not the external objects or materials. It doesn’t matter what tools you use, or if you use none at all. The purpose is to commit to find the time and place to consecrate ("make holy") every part of your life. Each person must find his or her own "right way" to do this.

For many people, choosing a room or corner of a room to dedicate to their sacred journey serves to reinforce this commitment. Look around your home and try out various places until you find one that feels right. The perfect place may be out-of-doors in nature, or even at your office. Choose your sacred place and honor your intention by stating it out loud. You might say, "This is the place where I can bring all of myself to sit in God’s presence." It’s helpful to place objects that support your spiritual journey into your special place. These could be a personal altar, photos of loved ones, statues, candles, or books. As your needs change, the things you bring there will change as well. Your intention will become a part of your sacred place, and even walking past it or thinking about it can connect you for a moment to your true self.

Many people meditate who have no religious affiliation or particular spiritual path. Meditation has been proven to have numerous positive effects on physical and mental health. While a spiritual goal is not necessary for meditation practice, it often finds its way quietly into the mind even when not sought.

Is meditation the same as prayer? It can be for many people. The goal of prayer, like meditation, is unity with the Holy. Julian of Norwich, the remarkable woman mystic who wrote in the fourteenth century, said of prayer:

"When our courteous Lord of his special grace
shows himself to our soul,
we have what we desire,
and then for that time we do not see
what more we should pray for,
but all our intention
and all our powers
are wholly directed to contemplating him.
And as I see it, this is an exalted and
Imperceptible prayer;
For the whole reason we pray
Is to be united into the vision and contemplation
Of him to whom we pray."


Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
(Jon Kabat-Zinn)

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (Jack Kornfield)

Meditation Made Easy (Lorin Roche)

Peace is Every Step (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Altars Made Easy (Peg Streep)

© Copyright Michele Ritan.  All Rights Reserved. 

Michele Ritan has studied world religions and spirituality for many years. She majored in Bible and Religion in college and authored an honors thesis entitled "Biblical and Near Eastern Perspectives on Death." Raised in the Reform Jewish tradition, Michele has experienced other faiths and spiritual paths as an adult.

Sacred space and altar creation are Michele’s special interests. When she had difficulty finding personal altars in both retail stores and on the internet, Michele decided to create a source for them herself. She hopes to develop further educational content for the site as well as to expand the product line of tools for meditation from a broad range of spiritual traditions.



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