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If you've always believed Christians don't meditate, think again. In the 1970s, saddened by the numbers of young people leaving the church--many of them drawn to Eastern religions and especially meditation—Trappist monk Thomas Keating realized that few people outside of monasteries even knew that contemplative Christian practices existed.
Hoping to inspire people to return to their roots, Keating worked with other monks to develop a simple, easy-to-learn "centering" prayer for lay people. Drawn from the church's own centuries-old contemplative traditions, the current practice of centering prayer offers practitioners a way to quiet the mind and rest in an intimate communion with God. Keating describes it as "two friends sitting in silence, just being in each other's presence." He also calls this practice a long journey, one in which your relationship with God deepens as you reach different levels of union. Just think of a sacred word to meditate on, and you're on your way.
More on Beliefnet
Centering Prayer guidelines
Interview with Thomas Keating
Dzogchen (pronounced Zog-chen) is the Natural Great Perfection teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, and is practiced by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, among others. This simple, direct-access approach promotes the attitude that our being (or Buddha nature) is complete and our wholeness is innate, "perfect and pure from the beginningless beginning," claims Beliefnet columnist Lama Surya Das, who founded a prominent Dzogchen center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
These Buddhist teachings tell us that we have everything we need, that all is within. Dzogchen does not emphasize the development of special states of concentration, or the cultivation of the mind through mantra chanting or visualization; instead, it emphasizes the inherent freedom and radiance of spiritual being. Often practiced with eyes open, Dzogchen is known for "natural" meditation according to the three principles of Natural Body, Natural Breath and Energy, and Natural HeartMind, through the three points of "Just Sitting," "Just Breathing," and "Just Being." In Tibetan, Dzogchen is called "swift and easy," "the practice of Buddhas," and is the way to awaken the Buddha within us.
Experts say as many as two-thirds of the world’s population pray with beads, and Catholics have been doing it since at least the 12th century. Praying the rosary involves reciting a series of prayers while reflecting deeply on important events in Jesus' and Mary's lives, called "mysteries."
A "mystery," explains author George Weigel, is not something that must be solved like a crime, but rather an "essential truth” that can be grasped only through an encounter with Jesus Christ. So you meditate on one of the mysteries—for example, Christ's birth—while reciting the Our Father, a decade (10) of Hail Marys, and a short prayer called the Glory Be. This series of prayers comprises one decade; a full rosary consists of five decades, plus introductory and concluding prayers. If that sounds like a lot to keep track of, well, that's what the beads are for: you touch one one bead for each prayer you do to keep track of your progress. Many find that praying the rosary is not mindless repetition, but a powerful contemplative experience that brings one closer to God. "Praying the beads can be as simple as breathing," says author Gloria Hutchinson, "and as satisfying as holding a mother's hand."
More on Beliefnet
"Those beads held a transforming power"
How to Pray the Rosary
In the Hindu system of healing, "chakras" are the seven spheres, or vortexes, of energy running up the length of our bodies, mainly near the spine. Keeping these centers uncongested and balanced is an important factor in the health of mind and body. Certain yoga postures are said to be good for clearing chakras.
But meditation is another time-honored way to keep this energy circulating. The word "chakra" means spinning wheel in Sanskrit, and chakras are envisioned as four- to six-inch spheres of energy starting at the base of the spine (the root chakra), followed by the sacral chakra, naval (or solar plexus), heart, third eye, and crown (which resides at the top of the head and is sometimes considered a doorway to God, taking in and pumping out divine love). Chakra meditations are more active than other types of meditation. In them, we visualize these focal points of consciousness, breathe in and out beautiful colors (for each chakra has a color assigned to it), and get acquainted with the marvelous physical bodies we occupy in this lifetime. Chakra meditations are great for beginners since a teacher (or in this case, the narrator of our next audio selection) is always in charge, providing lots of instruction. Concentration is developed since you have to listen, and not tune out.
When someone you know is sick, when you wonder what you can do about all the pain in the world, or when you're dealing with a crisis yourself, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tonglen offers a way to direct your awareness toward healing.
"What keeps us unhappy," says Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, "is our tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain."
Tonglen (the word means "giving and receiving") challenges you to embrace the undesirable aspects of experience and transform them, using the breath. On the inhalation, visualize taking in negativity and suffering; on the exhalation, radiate love and peace. Breathing in negativity might seem counterintuitive, even scary, but by opening your heart in this way you overcome fear and self-absorption while developing your capacity for compassion—for yourself and others. This technique can be practiced in sitting meditation or during everyday activities—for example, while facing a grumpy salesclerk or arguing with a friend.