It turns out meditation is one of those techniques or traditions that crosses all kinds of religious lines. It is mostly associated with Eastern religions, but also has had a long and honored place in the Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam (or at least the mystic path of Islam, Sufism).
Meditation is not a big part of the Protestant tradition of which I’m a part. Oh, you can find some Christians in my area of the faith who engage in contemplative prayer or something called centering prayer. But, truth be told, a lot of us seem to be satisfied with what true contemplatives and people who do serious meditation probably would call drive-by prayer.
A few years ago I attended a weekend-long retreat on contemplative prayer — and confirmed I am not a contemplative, though I was glad to know more about the practice. Nor do I have much experience with meditation, though I saw it practiced in various ways when I lived in India for two years as a boy.
But the world — and increasingly the Western world — is full of opportunities to learn about and engage in meditative practices, both religious and secular.
I think the most engaging book I’ve read on this subject is Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey, by University of Arizona scholar Fenton Johnson. In it, Johnson describes growing up Catholic (in fact, as a neighbor of a famous Catholic monastery in rural Kentucky) but having to find his way back to Catholicism through experiencing the meditative practices of Buddhism.
There also are countless other books by people who have become known as meditation leaders. For instance, Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, a native of India who was educated as a scientist in the United States, has written such books as Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation and Empowering Your Soul Through Meditation.
The common thread, if there is one, among practitioners of meditation seems to be a desire to tap into the benefits — physical, emotional and spiritual — of focusing one’s mind in healthy ways. The term meditation gets used to refer to many kinds of practices, including prayer. So it’s hard to be very specific about what meditation is. But concentrating the mind in some way seems nearly always to be part of it, and it has been adopted even in many parts of the secular world as a tool for achieving better physical and mental health.
It's good to see an article that treats meditation as a universal practice and not the province of a particular faith tradition. That's what St. John's Center for Spiritual Formation is all about. Participants are from many different religious and non-religious backgrounds and current commitments. But we all come together to practice settling the mind and gaining deep insight into how our minds work. And we all benefit as a result.