The Meditative Mind

Book Review:

The Meditative Mind The Varieties of Meditative Experience

by Daniel Goleman

Goleman has written for the NY Times, was former Senior Editor at Phsychology Today and taught at Harvard.  This book is the best survey I have found so far describing meditation and how it is taught in various religions.  He also has a depth chart of the jhanas showing you what can happen as you go deeper into meditation.  He does a short survey of Hindu Bhakti, Jewish Kabbalah, Christian Hesychasm, Sufism, TM, Patanjali’s Yoga and a few others.   I have purchased several used copies of this book and its available to church members if you would like to have a look at it.   He quotes Thomas Merton as saying that what is practiced as “prayer” in Christian churches is but one- albeit the surviving one- of a range of more intensive contemplative practices.  The Desert Fathers meditated with verbal or silent repetition of a single phrase from Scripture, a Christian equivalent of mantra. The most popular prayer was the prayer of the publican, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”  In its short form, Kyrie eleison.


The Prayer of Jesus

The first Christian monks were hermits living in the 4th cent. In the Egyptian desert.  They are called the desert fathers. They practiced what they called the Prayer of Jesus, not the lords prayer but the Prayer of Jesus, which we know as meditation, they called it the art of arts and the science of sciences which leads the seeker toward the highest human perfection.  The practice of the prayer of Jesus, ironically no longer taught or practiced in the church in the west, requires genuine humility, sincerity, endurance and purity.  Hesychius of Jerusalem describes it as  a spiritual art that releases one completely from the passionate thoughts, words, and evil deeds, and gives a sure knowledge of God the Incomprehensible. Practice of the Prayer of jesus brings purity of heart which is the same as guarding the mind, kept perfectly free ofall fantasies.  The way to this purity, says Hesychius, is unceasingly calling upon Christ, with perfect attention, resisting all other thoughts.  Thoughts are described as enemies who are bodiless and invisible, malicious and clever at harming us who enter through the five senses.  A mind caught in the senses or in thought is distant from jesus, to overcome sense consciousness and attain a silent mind is to be with Jesus.  St Nilus says, “He who wishes to see what his mind really is must free himself of all thoughts, then he will see it like a sapphire or the hue of heaven.  His instructions for stilling the mind specify sitting on a low stool in the solitude of ones cell on first awakening and for an hour or more, collect your mind from its customary circling and wandering outside, and quietly lead it into the heart by way of breathing, then abandoning the many and the varied, we shall unite with the One, the Single, and the Unifying, directly in a union which transcends reason.”

Mark 1:35, Jesus got up while it was still very dark, went out to a deserted place and prayed.”