This is an excerpt from the book that I am currently writing.
Our various evening activities ended abruptly with the sudden emergence of our home into total darkness. The raging storm outside had caused a tree branch, somewhere in town, to break free and collide with a power line. With the aid of a flashlight we gathered into the center of the house where my parents had lit a candle and placed it on a table. We sat quietly around the flickering light source as we listened to the beating rain and the moaning wind; along with other more ominous and uncertain sounds.
Someone suggested that we say a prayer, and so, by candlelight–much like past generations had done–we prayed to God for peace and safety. All was chaos outside, but a calmness permeated our home. We were safe and dry. We had each other and we knew that the storm would pass.
I had to relearn this lesson many years later, with the storms that were raging around and within myself. The storms were now financial, spiritual, and emotional. The accusatory voice in my head had gathered enough evidence over 40 years to now pass judgement on my seemingly sorry life and sentence me to hopelessness.
My depression produced irrational choices that seemed to prevent me from providing for my family and even hoping to be able to do so in the future. My weaknesses seemed to flog me until I was shaking with anxiety, and the uncertainty of the future seemed to press upon me to the extent that I had a hard time even breathing.
I went to several doctors who found nothing physically wrong with me. And my wife lovingly encouraged me to get counseling by hinting at divorce if I didn’t.
My counselor helped me to forgive my wife, and also see that I was so worried about the future and the past, that I wasn’t able to focus at all on the present–the only place where you can actually make changes and find peace of mind. The mental storm was raging and I was out in it, instead of gathering myself around my inner light.
The first thing my counselor taught me to do was to meditate. This forced me to stop and to breathe. I learned that when we are stressed we don’t breathe properly–we tend to hold our breath and tense up. But if we instead focus on steady breathing, it has the opposite–calming affect on the body. I learned to focus on different muscles in my body and cause them to relax.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
I was also taught that during meditation I was not to judge anything. My goal during this time, was to focus inward on my breathing and relaxing my body. And when thoughts did come into my head, crying for attention, I could observe them, but I was not to judge them or react to them. I was just to acknowledge their existence and allow them to pass. This was my time to be still.
I struggled with this, not only because it is hard to be still, but because I didn’t understand the value of ‘focusing on nothing’. Why not focus on plans I was making? Or just read a book? These are all good things to do as well, but meditation has another benefit. It helps me to recognize that I am not that negative voice in my head. Even though it seems to live in my mind, there is space between it and me. It’s urgent and egotistical requests don’t need to be satisfied. I can notice it’s suggestions and then let them pass. I can learn to differentiate this negative impatient voice from my own thoughts.
Once the negative voice is no longer center stage, we may then begin to notice something else–another voice or perhaps a feeling–some have called it a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) that doesn’t cry out for attention. But it seems to know all things and is made up of love and light. It is like a candle at the center of your being.
“Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors
through which we pass into the presence of the Lord.”
(David O. McKay, 1967, Conf Report pg 104)
One of my favorite Latter Day Saint authors and speakers, S. Michael Wilcox, teaches a great and much needed lesson with his book 10 Great Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven. He shows that not all truth is found within one religion or even one group of religions. He explains that ‘Truth is too grand to be found in such small dimensions. It is scattered around the world, God distributes his wonders as widely as the sower throwing grain. God would have the harvest cover the whole field.’ He then uses a compass drawing tool to make an analogy of how we can keep one foot of our compass securely placed in our beliefs and extend the other end of the compass to encircle truth wherever it is to be found.
“I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it”
(2 Nephi 29:12)
“As we reach out with the searching foot, we will be surprised to discover there are areas (of thought, behavior, practices, or beliefs) in which other traditions have reached a more mature level than our own. This requires a good deal of healthy humility and a fair assessment of the achievements of others.” As an example he said, “The mind is a wonderful instrument. In this particular area Eastern religious practice has achieved a higher maturity than we have.”
In my own experience, I have heard much about prayer, but very little about meditation. I knew that the scriptures mention meditation. But I always viewed it as simply a synonym for prayer that other belief groups misconstrued into a strange practice they used in place of prayer. I never understood that it could be and is a separate yet complimentary practice to prayer.
It is mentioned in the very first book of the Bible as a regular practice that Isaac engaged in (Genesis 24:63). And Joseph Smith in the 1800s credits meditation as being the catalyst for some of the greatest revelations in the The Doctrine and Covenants.
“And while we meditated upon these things,
the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened,
and the glory of the Lord shone round about”
(Doctrine & Covenants 76:19)
Spencer W Kimball received the revelation to extend the priesthood to all races “after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple” (Official Declaration 2)
David O. McKay said, “We don’t take sufficient time to meditate. I get up early in the morning … , five o’clock, when my mind and spirit are clear and rested. Then I meditate. You can come closer to the Lord than you imagine when you learn to meditate. Let your spirits be taught by the Spirit.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 130)
God’s presence is that inner candle that we only encounter when we turn off all of the distractions and tune out the storms. He is our partner and co-creator and His presence can be felt as we center ourselves and trust in his power to deliver us from the chaos of life. And that candle light grows brighter as our eyes adjust and our understanding expands. We soon realize that we aren’t “focusing on nothing”, but are removing the impediments to a rich and fulfilling connection to the true source of life and love.
Meditation can help us to know what to pray about. There is a story in the Book of Mormon where Jesus’ disciples are described as praying ‘without ceasing’, but not using very many words. And more than that–the few words that they are speaking in prayer are being inspired by God as they speak them back to God. Truly this is a special kind of prayer. Here is the verse:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.(3 Nephi 19:24)
I sometimes think of prayer as more of asking and receiving; and I think of meditation as a way to show gratitude and acceptance for what we’ve received. Meditation is kind of like opening the gift that God has given us through prayer. We ‘count our many blessings’ carefully in our minds and marvel at the meaning and the timing of each gift. And we let the revealed truths sink into our hearts.
After God gives us guidance or inspiration, we should believe Him and stop running around acting scared. If we are inspired to act in some way, then, as the Battle Hymn of the Republic states, “Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.” Some times we are only comforted or told to be patient. This is when calming ourselves through meditation and staying positive through pondering the revelations we’ve already received is important. Again, we are showing our appreciation and acceptance of his words.
I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.
Taking time to regularly meditate has changed my morning ritual of reading and praying into more of a relationship with God. It’s no longer about the number of verses or chapters I read. It is nothing mechanical. Meditation helps me to push aside the fears and the shadows so that I can connect and receive the light and knowledge that I need for that very day–even as the storm rages outside.