People use meditation and contemplation to gain calmness and perspective, lower blood pressure, augment medical treatments, reach beyond thought and senses to heightened states of awareness, and for many other reasons. Why not use these practices to renew the spiritual aspect of the winter holidays? Since it’s no secret that the holidays offer their fair share of stress, another benefit of meditative practice is to detach in a healthy way from sources of strain and anxiety.
Many religious people find the winter holidays boost their feeling of connection to God. For Christians, the lights of the Christmas tree inspire a sense of the divine. According to William V. Rauscher, “Martin Luther is credited with being inspired by the starry heavens one night, and expressing his feelings to his family by bringing a fir tree into his home, and attaching lighted candles to its branches.” Yechezkel Gold observes, “The Hanukkah lights’ soft glow suffuses the room’s atmosphere. Hanukkah’s genial warmth and beauty are a message exceeding the power of any explanation.”
All too often, such inspired moments are eclipsed by the busyness, materialism, and social obligations that also go with the winter holidays. Suppose we took some time each day for silent communion with God? Or what if those fortunate enough to be able take a few days from their responsibilities scheduled a short, silent winter retreat? Silent meditation calms the “monkey mind” and makes us aware of the presence of spirit.
Best-selling spiritual author Eckhart Tolle holds that “There is a superior intelligence beyond thought.” Father Thomas Keating writes, “Contemplative prayer is the world in which God can do anything. To move into that realm is the greatest adventure.” That realm, or intelligence, is the heart and goal of the world’s meditative traditions.
Happily, these traditions also provide a wide spectrum of everyday benefits as well. Research funded by the National Institute of Health’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that meditation benefits us physically (lower heart rate, faster recovery from stress, reduced muscle tension), mentally (enhanced cognitive abilities, better concentration, sharper memory), and emotionally (better potential for self-actualization, anxiety reduction, increased emotional stability).
Given all this, it’s both prudent and enjoyable to add daily meditation to your prayers of supplication and wellness practices. Two well-known forms of meditation are mindfulness meditation, which involves simply observing (without judgment) the thoughts and sensations that arise as you sit quietly, and meditation on a mentally spoken word, words, or sounds, a form shared by the Judaic, Christian, Muslim, and Indian Vedic Traditions.
Several counselors at the Pastoral Counseling & Consultation Center of Greater Washington are trained in spiritual direction and can provide assistance in learning meditative and contemplative practices.