As a novice meditator, I had concluded that I should practice meditation because it was good for me. I had also learned that the ultimate purpose of meditation was to deepen my relationship with God. I didn’t want that! I was scared of and ashamed before God. I preferred to keep Him at a distance and certainly didn’t want to seek Him out. I knew from my own experience that meditation decreased my anxiety. For the time being, that would be my reason to meditate. God might come later. That bought some time.
Sometime later, I enrolled in Yoga Teacher Training. On the first day, we had an evening session in which the instructor, Nayaswami Gyandev, asked the class of about 30 student teachers one simple question. “What do you think of when you hear the word God?” A lengthy and heated discussion ensued. Some vehemently denounced God, some stayed silent, and some (only a few) lovingly defended God. Keep in mind that all of us had agreed–in advance and in writing–that we wanted a spiritually-focused yoga teacher training.
Gyandev, a very wise man, let the discussion rage for over an hour without interfering or attempting to guide it. When it was about 9:00 p.m., and the class had tired itself out, everyone turned to him to hear how he would close the session. Having seen quite a few discussions like this unfold with earlier teacher trainee groups, he calmly said something along these lines: “Your instructors will use the word ‘God’ during your four weeks of training and you will have to accept that. You all agreed to a spiritual approach; we are giving you a spiritual approach, which includes the word God. Good night. See you in the morning.” End of discussion. “Wow,” I thought, “I am not the only one with strong feelings about God.”
I heard about a study conducted some years ago in which one-quarter of respondents believed God to be judgmental towards his children, one quarter believed God to be vindictive, one quarter believed God to be indifferent, and one quarter believed God to be loving. These are all theories (or, as I call them, God Baggage) until disproved or verified. Is not knowing the answer of great importance and relevance to how you conduct your life? Meditation is a tool by which we can test theories about God, ourselves, and others and adjust our conduct accordingly here and now. Ask a question, then listen intently for the answer. In the inner quiet of meditation, it is much easier to perceive a divine response.
If through upbringing, family, friends, culture, or clergy, one learns that God is judgmental, indifferent, vindictive, why indeed would anyone want to draw closer to Him? It is important to examine these preconceptions and see them as theories that can be tested.
In recent years, mindfulness meditation has rocketed into prominence in American society. Proponents insist no religion or spirituality is necessary to practice it. Is this not a deliberate end-run around a super-charged “unmentionable” subject? From my vantage point now of having put in at least 12,000 hours of meditation, I think there is a caveat: “no religion or spirituality is necessary to get started.” Alone in the silence of meditation, questions such as “Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?” grow louder and more persistent. These are spiritual questions that cannot and should not be avoided forever if one wants to know the meaning of life.
Whether your own practice includes or doesn’t include God does not matter–at first. When you are ready, confront your God baggage. Find out if it’s true. You can do so in the tiniest of baby steps. It may be the single most important thing you ever do.