Location, Location: Bible & Meditation

Open any number of meditation books by Buddhists or Hindus, and they will recommend making a special, quiet, clean place in your home for your meditation. They also recommend daily meditation at the same time of day. These recommendations capitalize on sound psychological reinforcement principles and is wise advice to help amplify your practice by using familiar triggers to speed your re-entry into special mental spaces.

On the other hand, you also find other meditation books occasionally recommending that practitioners try meditating outdoors in both good and bad weather, on noisy subways, or in other very different settings.   They rightfully claim that such routine-breaking can be valuable for getting beyond limiting habits and plateaus in insight.  Such changes can also expand the ‘sacred’ in one’s life.

Today, reading “Christian Century”, I found an author writing about the same principles for Christians:

“I have been told since my teenage years about the virtues of daily Bible reading. To encourage this habit, I have also been encouraged to do this reading/reflection at the same time and in the same place to help reinforce the habit. For various reasons this is a good and practical suggestion.”
— James McCarty (Christian Century)

McCarty’s article then goes on to suggest, in a similar way to the mediation advice, that breaking the routine and reading the Bible in new, challenging places may also be surprisingly helpful.

Funny, we all recognize the same mental patterns, and then apply them to our special/sacred world.  But we often don’t recognize that those with very different values follow the same principles as ourselves.

Listening to this advice, maybe now that warm weather has come, I will read the Ramayana to my daughter while we sit on the porch rather than in the family bed.

Question to readers: Do/did you have any valued practices in your life where you capitalize(d) on the benefits of  either “same special place” or on “breaking the routine”?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

12 responses to “Location, Location: Bible & Meditation

  1. It’s funny you posted on this, as I was just thinking yesterday about rigorously trying out meditation, and perhaps blogging about the progression as I get better. Now I guess I may want to consider a special place to do it in.

    Usually, for what I do, I don’t bother with a special place or time. I can see the benefit of such an approach, but traveling often and having rather unpredictable work loads makes it tough. Due to this irregularity, sometimes my mental state hinders me from concentration on a particular task. If it’s bad enough, I go with the flow, abandoning the concentration effort until I do something else less taxing for a while. Hey, maybe that’s when I should meditate?

    How often do you meditate, out of curiosity?

  2. “Be here now.” But seriously, I always found the public library a great place to meditate. Out away from familar surroundings but still a quiet and, to me at least, reverent place to think and meditate, sitting there in silence among centuries worth of the world’s wisdom and knowledge. Walks in nature settings or alone early in the morning is a trigger for me. At home I usually sit in silence. Occasionally I will play music softly in the background and sit in my favorite chair, easing almost effortlessly into a hynagogic state where I temporarily lose touch with reality and see and hear things that leave me wondering about the true state of reality … or maybe just the state of my sanity. Obviously I am the type of person who has trouble meditating amidst a noisy crowd. I think thoughts at those times, to be sure, but they hardly are my best ones.

  3. The bible advice is familiar. Quite common. Never stuck for me, though. I’ve tried some meditation and really enjoy yoga, but my practice of either hasn’t taken on any structure. I have ambitions for that, think it will be good for me, but I wonder sometimes if I’d just be imposing a structure that doesn’t make sense for me. I can be very disciplined (read: stubborn) over short periods, but I don’t take to routine and schedules well. Even if I forced myself to do something at the same time everyday, I’m not sure it would make it more familiar, as it wouldn’t be part of an overall routine. I’m thinking about the best equivalent for my unstructured self, perhaps always doing a practice directly after another specific thing.

    I do get the change in location, though. I find being in a new or changing space (like on a moving vehicle) can provoke breakthrough, insights and creativity. I also find that with some music, that it lets the mind think in new ways. While quiet is sometimes better, the combination – certain music in a new space – can be quite powerful.

  4. Writing, I definitely have to do by an almost-spiritual routine, or my day is lost. I rise and make coffee, wait for the house to quiet (no music for me), and turn on the word processor. nothing else.

    Then I free-associate thoughts for about fifteen minutes, until an idea strikes me as worth holding on to. So, this morning, I wrote about the candle wax my son had spilled, near my computer. Nobody will ever see it, but it led me to *something* in my subconscious, and my brain eventually scraped together enough neurons to focus. It’s almost like an act of meditation to me.

    Surely not religious in nature, but it is rather like a ritual.

  5. The Wise Fool :
    I should do a post on “How Long Do you Meditate?”. I have so many thoughts on that question. So you will have till wait till then, if you don’t mind. But to help me before then, may I ask, “Why do you ask?”.
    PS – my answer to Doug may give hints of where my post may go.

    Doug B :
    “Meditation” has so many different meanings. So much so that when someone says, “I meditate”, you probably have not learned much about them — except that they identify with meditating. For the rest, the person would have to spell all that out.

    All to say, “temporarily losing touch” and “hynagogic” states are what many meditative teachers teach to avoid, yet many use them to refresh and regenerate.

    The other thing, if something is not working, it is almost silly to keep pursuing it — chiropractors don’t like to admit this insight, I’m afraid. 🙂

    We are slowly testing the ways to test the promises of meditation. But many people who value meditation make claims that are as equally untestable as the divine claims of theists.

    Christine :
    Hey, thanx for visiting. Seems like Doug, TWF, you and me all have trouble with structure — well, for too long a period of time. Or, to put a positive spin on it, we don’t easily become captured by structure. Now which is right? I must suspect it is not the virtuous answer. 🙂

    Interesting what you said about Music. Playing familiar music in very different settings is insight provoking! Good point.

    bjanecarp :
    Writing is new to me as a “discipline” — I don’t sit to write out of discipline in the mornings, I love it. In fact, it is actually sort of an addiction. My ideas come to me while I sleep and as I wake in the morning, I can hear my mind composing specific sentences and outlines. Or, when reading, I can hear thoughts forming and I write while the house is quiet until everyone wakes up.

    So our routines sound like they share much, but yours sounds like there is more like High Church ritual and mine sounds more Pentecostal. 🙂

  6. @Sabio
    I ask for lots of reasons, and I’ve got many more questions. How long to meditate is a great question to answer too. In the little resources I remember looking at, most dodged that or suggested just an arbitrary X minutes.

    Back to your question, though, I asked how often primarily as a quick gauge for your “expertise” in meditation and your perceived enjoyment/value of it. Given your great and diverse life experience, I’m looking forward to your response and upcoming post(s).

  7. @TWF:
    Meditation, by my limited experience, is a group of mental exercises of sorts — and like any practice (playing an instrument, doing a martial art, learning a foreign language, programming and many others) the time spent depends on temperament and purpose. But mostly, it is very very important to realize that meditation is not meditation is not meditation. There are tons of varieties. Again, my skills are horrible.

    Though I have not studied with him, for your purposes, you may find ShinZen Young’s on-line (& on phone) meditation instruction to be useful, if not very interesting. It is perfect for someone who travels a lot and computer savvy. Heck, if you are interested, drop me an e-mail and I would study with him with you too — I love anthropological adventures.

  8. You know, it seems like I’ve got more projects than I have time for, but that’s never stopped me from inching along a little in each one. I’m interested, and perhaps after your promised post about meditation length, we’ll coordinate. 🙂 Work is possibly about to get crazy for me, so it may be early summer for me, if you can hold out that long.

    ShinZen sounds like he it right up my ally, with his “interactive, algorithmic approach” for mindfulness. I really enjoy the insights of people who are “cross-pollinated” in different ideas and cultures. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy your work here so much, and it sound’s like ShinZen has got a nice blend of East-meets-West experience combined with almost an engineering pragmatism.

    I had known of only a small handful of types of meditation; like yoga, transcendental, and a kind of generic “sit and try not to think of anything other than breathing.” Why does it not surprise me that I am clueless to its full variety and scope?

  9. This may sound strange. I find it is difficult to turn my mind off. My best places for meditation:

    1. Driving in my car. Sounds crazy because you have to pay attention to the road, where you’re going, traffic rules, etc. Somehow I do that without really thinking about it and get to the point where I can really clear my mind, meditate, and often have great moments of clarity.

    2. Exercising. And I don’t mean taking a walk. I mean getting on the elliptical, listening to blaring music, and working hard enough so that my body is completely depleted afterwards. I could argue a lack of oxygen, I suppose, but some of my most clear, calm, and insightful moments come when I reach this point.

    In both of these instances, when it happens, it is like I experience a gap in time. In both instances, the “place” and “time” include some mundane distraction that keeps my brain from running 500 miles an hour and thinking about a million things at once.

    Wonder why? Is it true meditation? It’s the closest I have come. Relaxation and silence have not worked for me.

  10. @ Jessica, You said:

    “This may sound strange. I find it is difficult to turn my mind off.”

    Are you kidding? I think everyone has this issue — maybe some people don’t realize it, but it doesn’t take much effort to see that is true. That is what the human mind is — a chatter box.

  11. I belong to a meditation group, which sets aside a clean, quiet place for the group to meditate. The ambience of meditation with a group in a set-aside space is very different from that of solitary meditation on the sofa at home.

  12. @ Ahab:
    The group experience can be motivating, inspiring and fun — a nice change when you can find a group you enjoy or at least respect.

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