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(3 pages total)

Meditation: Fanning the Fire

A man who does me the honor of coming to see me for spiritual direction once said: "I really like coming here. You really do it!" (Spiritual direction, in the Christian tradition, involves helping a person to clarify the spiritual promptings within him or her and is typically carried out through one to one sessions, listening, and encouraging. It is similar to the relationship a person might have with a guru or master in many of the Eastern traditions but is more focused on the existential experience of the directee.) I asked this person what it was that he though "I did." He went on to say that many people preach getting along with one another and talk about respecting the spiritual and healing practices of other traditions, but that he has not seen many really do this.

After our meeting I mused over the meaning of our conversation. The directee was aware of the fact that I have been to Hong Kong to teach health care professionals and that I gave a retreat there. He seemed more taken, however, by the fact that I made and effort on my own to spend some time in a Buddhist monastery on Landau Island while in Hong Kong. He was also well aware of the fact that one will often find me at the Hindu ashram not far from our Roman Catholic monastery here in northeastern Pennsylvania.

As I contemplated these issues, I was very conscious of the fact that my interest in the way that other people worship and open themselves up to healing is really not all that virtuous. I have always been captivated by these matters and am perhaps pursuing them a bit more selfishly than altruistically. Whatever the case may be, a parallel scenario to the one outlined above about really doing began to emerge in my mind.

As a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral medicine, I often treat people with physical as well as emotional disorders. Many of them are caught up in what Westerners refer to as the "fight-flight response." This is a physiological mechanism which mobilizes us to protect ourselves either by fighting off or fleeing from a real or imagined physical or psychological danger. The fight-flight response is stuck in the "on position" for most of us. I typically prescribe some form of meditation practice for my patients caught in this unhealthy mind-body cycle. Those who do their "homework" and practice meditation typically respond very favorably in terms of their physical and emotional well-being. They "really do it," to use the phrase my directee was kind enough to use about me. Those who do not meditate seem to have no fire within, and little progress is made. What progress is made is done so at a much slower pace.

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