Friday 17 July 2015

Meditation is 'power' and therefore a means, not an end - the possibilities and purpose of Christian meditation

Among those who advocate meditation there is a strong tendency to regard the practice as 'good in itself' - but I would argue that, if you take mediation seriously, then it can be seen as a type of power, and power is only good when used for good.

So meditation is a means not an end - and if we mistakenly regard mediation as intrinsically 'a good thing' then it will do more harm than good - because then more people will use meditation for bad ends (for selfish, short-termist, self-gratifying ends) than for good.


One of the ways that people mistake meditation as intrinsically good is that they assume or assert, that it is a way of obtaining knowledge - and knowledge is good.

But this is hard to take seriously as a general statement when one considers the multitude or errors and nonsense which have arisen from meditation, or the ways that people have been influenced to do harm by the experiences of meditative states. On the face of it, there seems, very obviously, no reason to suppose that information obtained from meditation is self-validating, nor even that it is more valid than other kinds of information.


I suppose the situation easily becomes polarised, like most things do; with some people claiming that meditation is nonsense, and probably wicked nonsense - while others (perhaps in reaction to this) claim that meditation is valid, essential, intrinsically good and so on.

So, if one takes seriously - as I do - that meditation is a real and powerful means - that it enables things which would not happen in its absence -- then it becomes essential to put meditation into a Christian framework, to give it a Christian aim and purpose; otherwise meditation will very likely, and very soon, become anti-Christian.


Having said that - since it is hazardous - why bother with meditation at all?

The main reason emerges from those who believe that our standard, typical, modern 'human consciousness' is radically defective and demoralizing; and that we therefore may benefit from other modes of conscious experience.

Modern consciousness is dead and detached - the world is experienced as objective, irrelevant; our subjective minds are felt as separate from the world... This state of mind has practical uses, in terms of performing the necessary functions of modern specialized society.

But the result is the state known as alienation in which we are (solipsistically) aware only of our own consciousnesses; and consciousness becomes a curse, to be avoided either by continual distraction or by intoxication. In other words, the aim of typical modern Man (and we see this all around us) is to 'lose yourself' - to stop being self-aware.


In meditation, a different mode of consciousness may become possible - albeit under limited conditions and for relatively brief periods - a state of mind much closer to the animism of the hunter gatherer culture, in which consciousness is immersed in the experience of life - a non-self-consciousness where we are connected with nature. This is like a waking sleep - and (like a dream) while we are in it we are not aware we are in it - but we may be able to recall the state in memory, and thereby recognize and come to know it.

However, having tasted this un-alienated consciousness in recollection; the proper objective of meditation is actually a third thing; a third state of consciousness in which we participate in the world like a hunter gatherer, and at the same time retain our self-awareness like modern Man.

This higher conscious state (higher because it is more inclusive) may lead to insights, clarification and memorable experiences -- However it is, in most people, meta-stable, precariously balanced, only maintained for brief periods before veering off in one or the other direction into un-consciousness or detached consciousness.


But in and of itself, higher consciousness is not necessarily a good thing (any more than high intelligence is necessarily a good thing) - it is just another and more comprehensive state of consciousness - higher but not of itself better; it offers powers, but those powers are equally capable of being evil as doing good, of harming us as helping us, of going-against God's plan as assisting it.

So the point should not be to 'do meditation' and achieve this 'higher' state - but for already-Christian people to include meditation in their lives, if and when they want or need to do this.


Meditation is a choice, not a necessity; it is not compulsory and cannot be compelled; it is not strictly required for our survival, health or happiness -- But it does offer to Christians the possibility of gaining experience, hence knowledge, of a higher-and-deeper perspective on things, of combining the immersion in life with observation of ourselves.

When meditation (or, indeed, many other spiritual techniques or practices) is advocated in detachment from Christianity; then it can be compared to putting a machine gun into the hands of a child - often a malevolent child -- In other words, while disaster (of one sort or another) is not guaranteed, it is highly likely.

This seems to be what happened to Rudolf Steiner's 'Spiritual Science' of Anthroposophy when it became detached from Steiner's own Christian convictions; and it has become the normal situation in New Age spirituality - meditation is regarded as a necessarily-valuable activity; and the context is either neglected altogether or else is is asserted that any religion can and should be combined with meditative practices.

Meditation has become something that is usually taught in an agnostic context, or an eclectic or syncretic context; it is taught as a thing good in itself.


Meanwhile, many serious Christians are very negative about meditation - seeing it as intrinsically New Age/ Pagan; or else while powerful for good, so hazardous spiritually as to require monastic supervision - and of a kind which is nowadays essentially unavailable to the majority of the Western population who stand to benefit most from Christian meditation.

My position is different. I regard meditation as potentially very valuable for modern Christians who are motivated to practice it - it can indeed become a core aspect of strength and motivation - as well as knowledge - for a modern Christian life; and in a way that is of special value in the alienating and hostile context of the the contemporary Western World.



Nicholas Fulford said...

Meditation stimulates different mind-states.

Many of these states are emotionally powerful and creative. They have a hyper-real quality which can subjectively feel intensely potent or primal. They can also feel extraordinarily gentle and light. The range of mind-states that a person can experience is wide and deep, and I would compare to the range of emotions that can be induced through the best of classical music. Poets, artists, composers and mystics all seem to have found means to enter these states, and the range of work that is produced seems to loosely map to the range of states. In my experience when creating art from one of these states, the objective is to provide a form that allows a person who is encountering the art with a stimulus to enter something akin to the same state.

The traditional arguments against these states from a religious point of view is that they are not grounded and can fly off in all manner of direction. One analogy I read suggested that they are like gasoline which used in an engine can do useful work, but when simply burnt without constraint can do little of use and may start a destructive fire. On the other side, an engine without fuel does no work.

One of the classic works on this from a Christian perspective is, "The Cloud of Unknowing". see

Clear Waters said...

Meditation is a subject that perhaps comes up more often in Orthodoxy than in other sects , because it was practiced in some form by the earliest Christians whom we take most of our traditions directly from and carry them forward without too much alteration. Your post has encouraged me to look into some of this for myself, perhaps parsing words from Evola's 'Meditation on the Peaks' as a handy companion guide.