by Peter Panagore
There is no perfection in meditation there is only practice. Meditation has practical and measurable benefits. 21st-century science has caught up with this five thousand year old practice that first spread to our western world in the 20th-century. The measurables include a thickened frontal lobe and cognitive improvements in memory function among the elderly after short-term practice.*
Meditation makes you smarter. For thousands of years the psychological and spiritual benefits of meditation have been experienced and documented in the east. These psychological benefits include reduced stress, anxiety, depression, irritability and moodiness, and increased creativity, intelligence, learning ability, moral reasoning, memory, feelings of vitality and rejuvenation, emotional control, self-esteem and alertness, and improved relationships and concentration. Spiritual meditation opens your temple inner door, again, and again and again. Your temple leads to the inner courtyard of God.
Your heart is a temple of God and meditation opens your temple door. Have you ever wanted what the Near-Death Experiences have? The knowing? Knowing comes with seeing the inner courtyard, but meditation is the nearest door to the door of death inside your temple. This inner door, this inner temple already exists in every one, inside of you and me, and meditation is a key that opens that door.
There is no perfection in meditation, there is only practice. The idea of perfection and the difficulty of controlling the mind stops too many people from practice. It is not about success or perfection. It is about practice, showing up, day after day for fifteen minutes. You have fifteen minutes, don’t you? Meditation has been handed down, taught and practiced, for the last 175 generations, essentially unchanged with limited large school variations. The human brains of homosapiens haven’t changed a whole lot in 5,000 years. Humans, people like you and me, tend to only do what works, because we are practical in that way. If it works we keep it; if it doesn’t, we throw it out. Meditation is handed down because it actively, and now measurably, helps with living a better life.
My Catholic School religion teacher, in the spring of my senior year, taught one class on the day after he returned from learning meditation in a nearby Trappist monastery. They’d been tuning up their practice by studying with Shunryū Suzuki also called Suzuki Roshi. He was a zen monk who popularized meditation in the west.
Back when I began my daily practice, in 1977, the bully boys began calling me “peace Panagore” because in American culture, back then, meditation was considered woo woo, crazy man, and nutso! None of that mattered to me, because the benefits of my daily practice of meditation accrued quickly, steadily and remained steadfastly. What matters most in meditation is showing up daily. It does not matter if your meditation works today or does not work today. What matters is the practice and with practice comes mastery. This is true of guitar playing and mathematics. Those 10,000 hours of practice that lead to mastery, as named and popularized by Malcom Gladwell, work for mediation, too.
I don’t expect perfection in my practice. Some days, some weeks, my mind is wild, and if I have three breaths of single mindedness, of inner stillness, of silence, of being the quietude, and sitting in the peace, then all of my meditations are successful, because of that one day. And that one moment of timeless stillness, peace and silence, arrives often enough, with practice. The brain grows stronger and the frontal lobe thickens making meditation easier. It is physiological. Why does the frontal lobe thicken? It thickens because that is the location of your language, it is therefore the location of your chant, of your prayer, of your practice. Your third eye. Your pineal gland. Your sixth and purple chakra. “The eye wherein I see God, God sees me,” wrote Meister Ekhart. The single eye, said Jesus.
The frontal lobe is where your single-mindedness begins. All you must do to begin is begin, and begin tomorrow again, and then daily. One breath at a time, holding your word, your sentence, your mantra, you chant on top of your breath, and breath. Focus your mind and breathe to your words. When your mind wanders, do not fight, just return to your breath and chant. I chant the ancient Jesus prayer. As prayer, meditation opens wider your inner channel, making you a more open and empty vessel, and lets the Light in and through. Meditation is ungrasping all things by holding one thing. It strips oneself of oneself, and let’s God in.
Meditation works as an access door for atheists and for believers, but added for believers is the opening of inner temple door. Why does it open the door for believers? Belief in God gives you the key. Why? I don’t know. It just does, and sometimes, meditation spontaneously opens the temple door to a much surprised atheist, too. That inner peace is real and God loves us all.
Peter Baldwin Panagore earned his BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and a M. Div from Yale University. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ and served churches in suburban Connecticut and Maine. He is the writer, on-air talent, and host of a daily two-minute broadcast on Tenga in Maine, reaching an audience of 350,000 a week. He is the fifth minister of First Radio Parish Church of America (founded in 1926). Visit him at www.dailydevotions.org.