“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Matthew 6:34
I had negative ideas about what meditation is. It seemed too self-focused for me. I used to think of meditation as emptying the mind, or focusing more on oneself or something like that. I don’t need to think about me more. I need to think about the Lord more. How is meditation going to help with that?
Well, one day I decided I needed to just breathe and not let my thoughts get the better of me. I sat and focused on my breath and would chant “Thy will be done” over and over, or “Trust the Lord. Trust the Lord.” again and again to try to drown out the thoughts that were pounding on my mind. But it didn’t help much. It didn’t help because I was still trying to control the situation. That’s not trust. I tried several times with this method. I would start with reading the Word and then “meditate.” Or I would try to meditate for a bit and then read the Word. I didn’t notice a change in how I read the Word or a change in how I felt. I still couldn’t focus, and I still felt overwhelmed. I mentioned to a few friends that I wanted to try meditating and one friend recommended a particular app for meditation, so I decided to give it a try.
The entire focus of the app is on letting the thoughts that inevitably enter your mind come and go. Not chasing them down, not beating yourself up for thinking them, but just noticing them. I am so used to beating myself up for unwanted things that come in to my mind that I would often try to fix it by trying to chase the thoughts away, or drown them out. It never worked.
“If man only believed, as is really true, that all good is from the Lord and all evil from hell, he would neither make the good in him a matter of merit nor would evil be imputed to him; for he would then look to the Lord in all the good he thinks and does, and all the evil that flows in would be cast down to hell from which it comes. But because man does not believe that anything flows into him either from heaven or from hell, and therefore supposes that all things that he thinks and wills are in himself and therefore from himself, he appropriates the evil to himself, and the good that flows in he defiles with merit. (Heaven and Hell 302)
All thoughts are from heaven or from hell. We can’t always tell where thoughts are coming from and we can’t stop some random thought entering our head, but we can train our brain how to react to these thoughts and feelings.
In February and March I practiced meditation for over 50 days in a row and witnessed a drastic change in how well I could focus on any given thing. Most importantly I noticed how it changed my reading of the Word.
Reading the Word can be a chore. I feel like I’m slogging through sometimes and I used to beat myself up about not instantly loving the Word. That’s not helpful. Practicing meditation allows me to observe how I feel about reading the Word thinking “Hmm, okay” and then returning to my reading, and it becomes easier to maintain focus on the Word instead of continuing to beat myself up for not focusing.
With a busy spring I wasn’t able to meditate on a daily basis, but the effects lasted, at least for a while. I travelled overseas by myself in April and noticed a big change in how I got through the stress of travelling. I don’t think anyone loves going through airport security. Most people have their nightmare stories of missing connections, or running through the airport hoping you don’t have a breakdown. I know this sounds pretty obvious, but when I got in line for security I just said to myself “Stressing out about this isn’t going to make it any smoother.” and on the way home, when I had to go through a second round of security checks during my layover I just stood in a long line and knew that worrying about it would not help me catch my flight. I don’t think I could have done this before. It is definitely easier said than done, which is why meditation is a practice. Not something you achieve and are done with. After more than a month of being “too busy to meditate” I noticed my mind slipping back into its old habits of worry. I couldn’t focus on anything and I was worried about how many things I had to do so I did none of them.
There was once an old sailor my grandfather knew
Who had so many things which he wanted to do
That, whenever he thought it was time to begin,
He couldn’t because of the state he was in.
Sound familiar? It’s all too familiar for me. When I started back into my mediation routine I would only give myself 5 minutes and I resented it. That was a waste of 5 minutes that I could have been spending on something else. But interestingly once I moved up to 10 minutes of meditation it became useful again and the days when I don’t start with meditation and reading the Word are less focused and productive days.
Being able to prioritize is just one aspect of meditation, but for me, the most useful thing has been the ability to sit back and just observe my thoughts. Not to chase them out of my head, because then it becomes an anxious game of whack-a-mole, but to just sit with my thoughts and quietly label them. Our thoughts are not our own and when we get stuck in blaming ourselves for thinking them then we fall right into the trap set by the evil spirits: becoming so anxious that you are stuck focusing on that rather than on the Lord. But labeling gives us the perspective to see what thoughts are coming from the Lord and which from hell. Then we aren’t taking ownership for any, but still choosing what to act on.
Many years ago, one of my sisters-in-law was feeling overwhelmed by everything that needed to get done and said “Okay, focus!” and her small son replied, “Mama, we only say focus on the Lord.”
This has stuck with me because he is right. There are so many things to focus on from moment to moment, so many things trying to pull our mind in so many different directions and the only thing that is actually worth focusing on is the Lord. He can pull our minds in to order and give us the perspective we need to continue moving forward. I found meditation to be a tangible tool to help me do this in a way I never have before.
Meditate. Focus on the Lord.
“But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33