From the book, "God and the Evolving Universe." Reprinted with permission of Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc.

The great Zen master Dogen famously said that Zen practice is more than a means to an end; it is

enlightenment. In the Christian life of virtue and prayer, it is said that "practice rewards nature, and is in turn rewarded by grace." In Taoism, one "guides the world where it most deeply want to go." Or, as the celebrated Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna put it, "The winds of grace are always blowing, but we must raise our sails." These various admonitions point to the same fundamental principles: first, that our present nature, if respected, will support our cultivation of as its latent capacities; and second, that we are assisted in this by a higher presence or power.

And these two principles involve a third: To nurture all of our emergent attributes, we can turn to practices that produce many positive changes at once.. Meditation, for example, can simultaneously calm the mind, promote hormonal balance, sharpen thought, release the imagination, lift the emotions, help strengthen volition, and open ways to greater states of consciousness.

With similar synergistic effect, fitness training can strengthen the heart, improve circulation, lover blood pressure, strengthen bone and skin, promote emotional stability, help clarify thought, and increase vitality. These and other practices do many good things for us, all at once. Like good business deals or scientific theories, they can yield great return on investment. Furthermore, they can be joined with other exercises to yield even greater results. Numerous studies have shown, for example, that physical fitness enhances meditation and, conversely, that meditative techniques promote fitness. The research physician Herbert Benson has found that most people can, by repeating a word such as "one" while exercising on a treadmill, automatically increase their muscular and cardio-respiratory capacity; and the sport psychologist Richard Suinn has demonstrated a similar effect by having subjects "run relaxed." This synergy of physical and mental training is appreciated now by meditation teachers and sportspeople around the world. The same principle holds for other practices. Psychotherapy is recommended now by Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist teachers for certain monks and lay students because the self-awareness it can provide facilitates the mindfulness and self-liberation that contemplative prayer and meditation are meant to promote; while conversely, many psychotherapists now advise their clients to practice meditation so that they might acquire greater detachment from their emotions, impulses, and thoughts.

Disciplines that stand the tests of time typically have this synergistic effect, producing several beneficial results at once, because all of our capacities are connected and therefore influenced, for better or worse, by significant changes in any part of our body or mind. The efficiency of practice, in other words, arises from the underlying unity of human nature and its emergent attributes..{I}n spite of human nature's shortcomings and perversities, which are vividly apparent to us all, its many attributes can and eventually must participate in our further development because that is their destiny, their most basic intent. Human nature, we believe, is meant for integral transformation. The winds of grace are blowing for all of our attributes, but we must raise a sail large enough to catch them.

Basic Elements of Transformative Practice

In spite of differences that arise from their different origins and philosophies, transformative disciplines around the world share several basic elements. Contemplative prayer, for example, involves the same instinctive opening to the Transcendent in Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures.

Witness meditation, during which one observes thoughts, impulses, and emotions with liberating detachment, is practiced by Theravada Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, Indian yogis, Sufis, and contemporary psychologists. And though they are described in different ways and given different names, focused intention and affirmations are required in all such disciplines. Because these fundamental activities, moves, or modalities of practice take different forms, they are best thought of as a set, or families. Here we will emphasize five such "practice families" that, we believe, are especially important for the cultivation of our emergent attributes.
Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus