Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meditation and Our 30-Day Contemplation

Quick, understated history:
Meditation has been around for a long time.

A little more background:
In different forms, meditation is part of many religious and non-denominational spiritual practices.

My background:
I remember doing a guided meditation in a high school class one time.  Fifteen years later, Kent and I felt guided to start meditating about five years ago.  We simply focused on our breath, learning to be present.  I got serious about the practice when I decided to prepare a lesson about meditation for my LDS Relief Society group.  I studied the scientific research and the recommendations from experienced yogis and my own prophets and church leaders.  I was delighted to find so much support from my own religious leaders for a practice that many who haven't tried consider to be new agey at best, and downright weird or possibly dangerous at worst.  I've gone off and on with the practice these past five years.  I know it's a good habit, and it makes my mind stronger.  I find it relaxing, and I've found some Christian guided meditation downloads that are enjoyable.  Twice I've had a profound spiritual experience while meditating.  I truly feel that through meditation and prayer, I can connect with the Divine and with the divinity inside of me that I've inherited from Him.  I don't always connect spiritually, but I can.  So it is a useful tool in feeding my spirit, and I want to be more consistent with a daily practice.

A cool tidbit:
Search the internet for habits of happy people, and you'l find meditation, mindfulness, or prayer on many of those "Top Ten" lists.  (I sometimes throw yoga into the mix, but to me, that is different than sitting quietly in meditation or a mindfulness practice.  Prayer is also different, but it's pretty closely related to the practice, and I always precede my meditation with a prayer.)

The challenge:
Most teenage girls in the LDS Church participate in what is called the Young Women's Personal Progress program.  (Follow the link to learn what that entails.)  Mothers are encouraged to work through the experiences and set goals alongside their daughters.  I challenged myself to complete one of the eight values each year that I would have daughters in the program.  This includes a ten-hour value project each year.

Recently, in my study of meditation practices, I came across the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The Exercises, composed 1522-1524 AD, were originally meant to be practiced as a 30-day retreat of silence and solitude.  Jesus Christ is the focus of the Exercises, and they are meant to bring the practitioner closer to Christ, to help her/him become a better disciple.

This seems like a perfect project to develop my value of Faith.  I have decided to practice these Exercises in the month of December 2015.  Since I can't disappear for the month, I will be following an adapted system that can be completed in 15 to 30 minutes each day.  I am following the system outlined in Dr. Pam Blackwell's book, Christ-Centered Meditation: Handbook for Spiritual Practice.
Each day starts with a question, followed by a Bible scripture reference, and more specific questions to ponder.  Dr. Blackwell gives the following five suggestions for each day's contemplation:

  1. Read and study each lesson in order.  Commit to making time for this each day.
  2. Spend 15 minutes on each day's activities.
  3. Keep a log, writing at least one page each day.
  4. Don't give up if you miss a day.  Just pick it up again the next day.
  5. Try to do this work at the same time each day.  (For me, that's 6:00 a.m., when my mind is relaxed but alert.)
My teenagers have committed to also go through these Exercises in December.  I am hopeful that we will all draw closer to our Savior.  I expect that doing so during the month of Christmas and looking forward to the new year, we will experience support and an enhanced experience through the many messages of Christ we receive at this season.

My reason for posting this on our blog is that I hope a lot of people will join us in these contemplative exercises next month.  I will post a week's worth of exercises each Sunday.  I invite you to come back to this blog and write in the comments any experiences or insights that you would like to share as you practice this Contemplation yourself.  We have five days left in the month of November.  Take tomorrow to be grateful and to voice your gratitude and your love for others.  Then, commit to joining us in these spiritual exercises by commenting on this post.  And spread the word!  You don't have to be LDS or Catholic or even identify with a religion to practice these exercises.  You simply need the desire to invite the love of God into and through your life.

P.S.  Kent wanted more context.  Here is the first assignment and Day One of the Exercises:

Before or on Day One:  Write in your journal what you think of Christ.  Be sure to date the entry.

Day One
Question:  How can I follow in His steps?
Read:  1 Peter 2: 9, 21
Ponder:  How can I follow in Jesus' steps today?  In all my decisions, I will ask, "What would Christ do?"  I will think of myself as a disciple of Jesus Christ.


VickieG said...

I love this idea. It looks like I need to buy the book to continue with your December challenge; is that correect?

VickieG said...

Christ suffered infinitely; I expect that if I am to be his disciple and follow his example, there will of necessity be suffering. Then why do it; why go through a painful procedure? Will it be worth it? Yes, because we will live in his "marvelous light" and following his example leads back to Heavenly Father with an eternity of love and light.

Mary said...

Thank you for the thought, Mom. Suffering is truly a part of life. The trick is to suffer with grace as Christ did.

To answer your first question, you don't need to buy the book. It's a good guide if you want to start a meditation practice, but for this month's exercises, I'll just post each day on this blog.