Meditation is a key component of religious faiths. It leads to a closer union with God and overall better mental and spiritual health. It differs in aim from East to West but shares striking similarities as well as subtle differences to those not familiar with world religions.
In the West it is more prayerlike and focuses on a closer union. These stages of contemplation are to become closer to God and allow the creature to hear the Creator. It is the highest form of mental prayer. As prayer it looks to adore, thank, ask, and offer reparation. It however is a deeper longing to be in union with God. It occurs after many of these intents have been expressed. It occurs when the mind becomes more quiet and focus on deeper spiritual truths found in Scripture emerge. Its central focus is on the Word of God and that serves as the entry into meditation. It is never forced but is a knocking on the door to be open to God’s word and His presence. It looks for union but a union that identifies a distinction between divine and creation.
In the East, the spirituality is to become one with the ground of all being which is quite different than the idea of a personal deity as found in the West. It looks for a union that helps the individual find the collective nature of the divine that is found all being. It is a reunification with the divine and a reabsorption into it.
Yet emerging out of the East’s goal to become re-immersed into the divine, greater care and time was taken into physical preparation. Ideals on concentration, centering and mindfulness are emphasized to retain focus, passiveness and mindfulness of moment. Various postures, mantras and breathing techniques are essential to relax the body and allow it to be freed from physical distractions. Eastern Meditation within its various techniques to promote silence and peace are unique and have value well beyond the religious.
Medically, these relaxation techniques reduce stress and counter the sympathetic response within the body. These practices lower blood pressure and help the body find a better balance with the mind and soul. Balance is key to a healthy body and the balance that is spiritually reached in Eastern meditation is essential to good health.
Many practice these Eastern techniques for stress and anger management and can do so successfully. The relaxed states are not contrary to any Western faiths if the spiritual end is not sought. It was due to this that some Christians have incorporated many of the physical strategies of the East into Western and Christian meditation. Thomas Merton was one who travelled to the East to learn of these techniques in hope of finding ways to utilize within Christianity. Thomas Keating also followed in these steps and developed Centering Prayer which looked to prepare a Christian to enter into a state of prayer and meditation with God.
The similarities of meeting with God in meditation in East and West were hence combined but with different outcomes. Instead of becoming part of one being, the Western school looked to become more in union with God and all His creation but not in a pantheistic form. Creator was still distinguished. An “I” existence was still preserved although union with everything was still sought through God’s presence in everything. Hence God’s presence in everything, an accepted Christian idea, replaced the idea of God is everything and one is part of God.
Mantras in Centering prayer were utilized to meet the spiritual desire of the individual. Dr Benson in his Relaxation Response taught that spirituality is not necessary for healthy meditation but those who find something spiritual or something to connect to can utilize religious mantras of a particular faith to elicit the same mental and physical effects. Hence a Jewish individual could use the word Shalom, or a Christian could say Jesus, or a Muslim could say Allah, as a focusing word. Utilizing other religious texts are also helpful.
Hence, the utilization of Eastern techniques was incorporated into Western Meditation.
With that said, many contend that if taken too far, one can easily fall into Eastern spiritualities so intimately connected with Eastern Meditation. Those of an Eastern spirituality naturally have no issue with this, but those who do not see God as a ground of all being and everything in essence divine, would find this contrary to their faith. Both traditions contend a passive attitude to hear the Divine but in regards to what the divine is and how one interacts is essentially different. In Western culture, caution in intention and exposing the body to more out of body experiences should be avoided. Some in the West in fact refuse to use any Eastern techniques in religious meditation. This is perfectly fine because Western Meditation and its own spiritual look for the quiet is well documented especially in The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. However, visualization, concentration and peace and quiet are still essential in these exercises as one focuses on the Word of God or life of Christ. Various similar ideals of visualizing are utilized as found in the East. There are always similarities to find God in the quiet.
Regardless of the spiritual direction, incorporating Eastern meditation on a physical level only can be beneficial. Businesses look to Eastern meditation to help employees not only be less stressed but also more focused and mindful towards success. Furthermore, the studies from Dr Benson show clearly how meditative states reverse stressful sympathetic responses of fight or flight. Fight or flight responses are good for true danger but with the everyday stressors of modern life, they can be detrimental to health. Chronic stress kills. Meditation is a possible solution to reducing chronic stress.
One who is religious can use Eastern meditation secularly only, or if religious, utilize it for its Eastern roots of spirituality. Those of the East can apply it equally while those in the West can apply it spiritually but with caution, utilizing only partial aspects of it and converting it to a Theist formula with a Theist end. That is the amazing reality of Eastern Meditation. Its techniques void of Eastern spiritual ends can be utilized in other religious traditions as well as purely secular ends for health-and for those who are practice Eastern spirituality, then it is fits every aspect of life without editing.
If you would like to learn more about Eastern Meditation then please review AIHCP’s Spiritual Counseling, Stress Management and Meditation Instructor Programs. If you are more interested in Christian Meditation, then please review AIHCP’s Christian Counseling Program.
The programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking how to better meditate but also help others learn the secrets and techniques of meditation. The program is also beneficial to mental and healthcare professionals looking to incorporate meditation into their practices.,