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Spirituality Essay:

Meditation, Part 3    ( February 2011 )

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This is the last of our three-part series on meditation ... an in-depth exploration of the "black box" of the meditation process: just how and why it "works."

I'm always delighted when I notice when a physical law of science or nature shows up, in similar fashion, as an equally true principle in our human lives. Who'd guess that physics texts and psychology manuals would be observing so much common behavior? For example, Newton's "a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force," also applies to us: how our lives would otherwise stagnate without the stimulation of new experiences and others' inputs. The "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" principle applies to us as well ... how our fears or wounds find release through compensating behaviors, seen perhaps most easily in the extreme example of the conservative homophobic legislators and pastors railing so vehemently against gays, while carrying on secret gay affairs.

Electromagnetism's "opposites attract" shows up in so many ways, but perhaps most visibly in whom we're drawn to for love partners - those with qualities and strengths opposite and complementary to our own.

Might we also find physical laws of the universe offering insight into the complex process of how and why meditation "works" ... what exactly is happening in a meditation and why it's so powerful and life-altering.

That famous "nature abhors a vacuum" axiom offers us a very helpful doorway for understanding meditation's incredibly transformative power. In the two previous meditation essays, we observed that though there are many forms of meditation, what's common in all is the deliberate, conscious effort to slow down the mind ... to interrupt the mind's default system, the pinball machine electric chatter, by directing one's focus away from the mind to non-mental activities like observing the breathing and one's body sensations.

Most meditators, in time, are able to get to theplace where the mind processing slows down enough that brief moments will arise where the mind actually comes to a stop. These are the golden moments of meditation. At times, when one's mind becomes truly empty of thought and attention, and (seemingly) of activity ... a "vacuum" is created.

It seems our psyche, like nature, "abhors" this impossible state, and so, something therefore must enter to fill it. That something is beyond words, but which meditators describe as a spiritual state unlike anything else in life. The mind's bearings have momentarily collapsed, the ego has dissolved, and a transcendent feeling of being "one with all" seems to occur.

Meditators may have a hard time describing this state, understandably. But it has a rapturous, ecstatic feeling. Experiences in this vacuous state have included things like seeing one's purpose in life, feeling one's "essence," understanding life and death, and other deeply spiritual experiences.

These, of course, are the exceptional experiences, the ones that shift "who you are" and that often make life forever different. Meditators value their daily practice, the ordinary sessions, for the contributions it makes to a more peaceful day, to living more comfortably and fully "in the here and now," and to a deepening of all the connections and experiences daily life offers.

But those deeper openings and epiphanies that emerge in the totally quiet and empty mind offer a spiritual gift little else in life can replicate.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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