(From the old blog, and dated April 18th, 2009 at 1:17 AM)
Fundamentalist Christians, after reading the last substantial post, might have clucked to themselves thinking “Yes, I knew it! Meditation is demonic.” So perhaps it’s time to make the links between the world’s spiritual practices.
There are four plausible routes from my where I sit to the convenience store I can see from my window (as well as many more bizarre routes involving things like jumping out of windows or rappelling off the roof or simply going in the opposite direction and circling the earth). I can think of at least three plausible ways I could fry an egg in my kitchen, and another three ways to make toast (not counting extra ingredients). I have at least five different ways to post this entry. Because God is very great and is more than one dimensional, I find it implausible on the face of it that there could be “one true path” to God.
That’s not to say, as spiritual cowboys (and others who haven’t thought about it carefully) often do, that “all spiritual paths are valid”. As close as I am to that convenience store here, I could nonetheless plot out an infinite number of routes that are guaranteed never to get me there. Human history is a bin overflowing with failed notions and errors committed. To claim that all spiritual paths are valid is as implausible as to claim that there is only one true way.
But there’s more here. When I say I “meditate”, I don’t, really, though what I do is indistinguishable from meditation. I do Western contemplative prayer.
If one is steeped in the Western tradition of prayer, sooner or later in among all the words has to enter the thought “why am I praising That which needs no praise? Why am I asking things of That which already knows everything I would ask about? What function does all the noise I make serve, except to display my insolence?” Then, the most natural prayer in the world is silent contemplation of the Divine.
Such prayer is absolutely indistinguishable from most forms of Eastern meditation. There is a trend, in fact, to call it “meditation”, so that the general public knows what is being talked about. Or, worse, to label it “centering prayer” and then to teach it as a technique, much as yoga is taught. But it’s not a technique. It’s a state of mind that simply sprouts after one has tilled the soil long enough.
If my hypothetical fundamentalist mentioned above was strong in his or her
faith, he or she too should have tasted at least something of this silent prayer. (And yes, Christian mystics report all the same problems with disruptive “whatevers” as their Eastern counterparts. If meditation is satanic, so too must be Christian prayer.).
Somewhere after the point where practices converge, so too does theology, which is to say that it disappears. Whether one calls it emptying or repentance or yielding or surrendering, one cannot cling to dogma with a deeply silent mind, not even to the dogma that brought one to silence.
Any sound path will converge at that same point.
But I did say there were plenty of not-so-sound paths. Our hypothetical fundamentalist is on one. Fundamentalisms of every sort are defined by a baggage train of ideas, rules, and beliefs, and a militant insistence that they have a unique claim to the truth. Fundamentalism whirs along on its own route, studiously avoiding everything that might disturb its self-absorption, like, for example, God. Either our fundamentalist will someday pray his or herself out of fundamentalism, or his or her fundamentalist beliefs will stifle prayer.
Another path whirring along on its own course, never actually turning towards that convergence point and beyond, is a sizable proportion of what calls itself New Age. Yes, that mean you, cowboys. If you spend time creating elaborate cosmologies in one’s head, populated by pantheons of Ascended Masters led by St Germaine who predict Earth Changes after which Indigo Children exploit UFO technology to recreate Atlantis (insert any one of a number of other incredibly complex, mentally noisy, evidence-free ideas here)— well, where are you going? You’re carving ever more elaborate cognitive gargoyles to adorn the vast mental castles you build, while everyone who approaches the Ultimate throws everything out.