For some people, there appears to be no presence of God in the world and in their lives. No God in religious ceremony. No God in sacred writing. No God in prayer. If you cannot find God in these ways then you might wonder, ‘Can I find God in meditation?’
The various traditions teaching meditation tend to emphasise one approach over others.
Asian forms of meditation tend to be technical, for example the voluntary focusing of attention on an object of no consequence, as a way of quieting the mind to all other attachments.
On the other hand, Western world religious forms of meditation typically concentrate on a religious image or scriptural text.
The risk in meditation is that the centre of attention might be lost. Whatever technique is used it is generally agreed that without some sort of focus you might easily simply fall asleep, or wander aimlessly in inner subjectivity. This why it takes a lot of meditation practice to get good at it.
Essence of meditation
Meditation practice involves learning to neglect the roaming and undisciplined thoughts that reflect one’s ordinary concerns. It is generally agreed that, by training the mind in this way, one is opening one’s self up to something beyond worldly attachments.
Meditation has been described as putting “the thinking-ego-mind on slow”. In other words, the process is attempting not to think, and not to identify with any thought that happens to occur. In this way, one begins to notice what else is present beyond ordinary consciousness. Meditation means giving attention to this inner perception. Through much practise in quietening the mind, one can begin to discover less tangible things.
“Meditation is to dive all the way within, beyond thought, to the source of thought and pure consciousness. It enlarges the container, every time you transcend. When you come out, you come out refreshed, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life.” (David Lynch, film director)
It has been suggested that there is an internal wisdom guiding the process.
When (someone) is not taken up with worldly things but sees in light on a more internal level, what is right and fair is the basis of his thought; and if he sees in light on a still more internal level, what is spiritually true and good is the basis of it. (Emanuel Swedenborg, spiritual philosopher)
Photism and meditation
Some people who practice meditation say they can experience an inner experience of a bright light. This phenomenon is known as photism.
According to a well-known text-book on the psychology of religion by David M.Wulff, those researching photism report that in the majority of cases, whatever the individual’s usual world-view, photism inspires overwhelming feelings of awe and reverence.
Swedenborg – who used meditation a lot although did not always call it by this name – wrote that at these times he often inwardly experienced an orange flame. For him it appeared to affirm that the love of God was present within his life.
Interpreting experiences in meditation
What many people call ‘God’ comes in many guises. The term is not always part of everyone’s language these days. Instead of using this noun, some people use one or more adjectives to describe their experience in deep meditation – adjectives like ‘the One’, ‘the Sublime’, ‘the Infinite’, ‘the Creative’, ‘the Ultimate’, and ‘the Cosmic’ – often using capitalisation to indicate they are referring to something that transcends and is beyond the self.
Historically, this usage of language appears to come from Eastern spirituality. For example, an author of an ancient Chinese text wrote of meditation in terms of maintaining a sense of oneness and having heavenly thoughts.
“When you enlarge your mind and let go of it, when you relax your vital breath and expand it, when your body is calm and unmoving: And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances. … This is called “revolving the vital breath”: Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly.” (Guan Zhong)
Actually, my sense of English grammar is upset when I hear this. The ‘One’ what? And so I want to re-word what they say to add a noun – producing something like ‘the sublime Spirit’, ‘the infinite Source’, ‘the creative Origin’, ‘the ultimate Being’ or ‘the cosmic Force’.
Need for right religious teaching
The general stance of Western religion is to teach people about God as revealed in sacred writings. You need to know about something before you can recognise it.
Whether you find God in meditation may depend on what you mean by God. What words we use as adults seem to depend on what we understand by them. The term ‘God’ can signify for example a judging and vengeful figure, a hidden spirit of divine providence, or a glorious creator of everything
I would suggest that the individual who in a meditative state has a higher state of consciousness and has a clearer intuition of what is good and true. However, the understanding will be limited in line with what he or she knows.
Swedenborg expresses this idea in terms of the Word of God which for him is what is divinely true:
“The person in whom the internal level lies open is in possession of the internal sense of the Word, though he does not know he is, and as a consequence has enlightenment when he reads the Word. But this depends on how much light he can receive by means of the cognitions or knowledge residing with him.”
How you answer the question about finding God in meditation thus appears to depend on the framework of ideas with which you are familiar. Someone who is religious is more likely to speak of feeling God’s presence in meditation.
“I deepen my experience of God through prayer, meditation, and forgiveness” (Marianne Williamson, writer about the Course in Miracles)
“By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God.” (Francis de Sales, bishop)
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands