The Lectionary readings for Sunday have been about John the Baptist proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah and the need for everyone to repent. Repent means to change one’s mind, to go in a different direction. Jesus also begins his preaching by talking about the need to repent. I have often heard repentance being understood as being sorry for your sins, and that is partially what it means, but there is much more to it than that. It is a fundamental recognition of how our mind- what goes on inside our head- is the key factor in our spiritual life. Through meditation we begin to purify our mind and recognize when we are stuck in unwholesome thinking patterns, or when we are stuck in negative mental states like sadness, anger, or fear. The Apostle Paul stated this even more dramatically when he writes in Romans 12 that we need to renew our mind through transformation, or literally our mind needs a metamorphosis. This is achieved through what the early church fathers called silent prayer or contemplation and is now taught in many hospitals and corporate employee training classes. They usually call it meditation. It is found in all the major religions. As I like to say, meditation is the treadmill for our minds.
There is a website called liveanddare.com by Giovanni Dienstmann which gives weekly emails about meditation, or what Dienstmann calls self-mastery. I wanted to share a few things he lists as benefits he has found since he has logged 7,000 hours of meditation. He says that the skill that is mastered with meditation can be equated to a PhD in happiness. Meditation brings benefits in four levels, physical, mental, emotional/psychological, and spiritual. Dienstmann goes on to give his own personal changes that he has experienced through meditation. First is less reactivity. There seems to be no more automatic reactions. Regardless of what happens in the outside world, if an automatic reaction comes up in his body or mind, there is immediately a pause or space right before it. And there is a clear choice of either going with the reaction or just staying quiet. Secondly, he has a fearlessness, confidence, and inner strength. There is a feeling that he can always accept anything that the present moment brings, and the ability to make something good out of it. This allows him to be more in control, less anxious, and less worried. Meditation gives you the confidence that you are larger than your demons. Thirdly is willpower and focus. The core exercise of meditation is to constantly be aware of what is going on in your mind, and directing your attention as desired. So the muscles of self-awareness get exercised regularly in the sitting practice of meditation. Fourth, happiness of meditation is free, always accessible, and never gets boring. When the mind is calm, and one-pointed, we have access to a happiness inherent in ourselves. It depends on nothing external, is more long-lasting, and it doesn’t get old. It’s like being happy for no reason. Being well in your own skin, in all times and places. Dienstmann says before taking on meditation, his dominant mood was that of restlessness and anxiety. Now, years later, his dominant mood is a sense of energetic presence, peace, and contentment. Meditation has removed almost all of his psychological suffering. He no longer has negative self-talk, and he can’t remember the last time he felt sad, depressed, anxious, fearful, or bored.
This new year I once again encourage you to repent, change your mind through meditation and realize the countless benefits to your life. My own understanding and practice of meditation has led me to believe that this is the foundation upon which St. Paul’s admonition is given in Romans, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, then you will know what is the will of God.”