Many decades ago, when I was a freshman in college and newly involved in the A.R.E., I was excited to hear one evening at our study group meeting that Edgar Cayce’s son Hugh Lynn would be coming to Houston to give a public lecture. I was eager to learn from someone whose writings and lecture tapes had already been so helpful to me. Thinking back now upon that lecture, there is one vivid memory. Hugh Lynn asserted a startling claim. "Everything about your life is predictable—driven completely by your habits of thought, emotion, and behavior. In fact, you really have only one choice today: Whether or not you will meditate."
If we are interested in growth and change—if we are committed to personal transformation—then some kind of regular meditative practice is indispensable. That means creating some "space" in our lives. It’s not so much physical or temporal space, although it’s certainly important to have a supportive place and a regular, uninterrupted time period for the practice. But "space" particularly has to do with creating a new relationship with our thoughts and feelings. It means disengaging from the routines of attitude, emotion, and thinking. It means experiencing directly that "I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts. I have feelings, but I am not those feelings." A new sense-of-self begins to emerge. We remember something about our own deepest nature.
So let’s assume that we’re convinced by:
- Hugh Lynn Cayce’s principle about how change is made possible,
- some 25 centuries of human experience with contemplative practices, and
- a mountain of modern research about the physical and mental health benefits of meditation.
It still leaves us with the question of exactly how to go about doing the practice?
editative practice can be like a two-sided coin. There are two "faces" of the practice, but it’s just one "coin." One face is a mindful openness to the present moment. This approach involves becoming super-alert to physical sensations—for example, the feelings of one’s breath as the belly rises and falls, or the ambient sounds of the environment. It might include a body scan, attentively and slowly moving awareness from the top of one’s head down to the tip of the toes. We gently ask ourselves, "What am I experiencing right now?" And this process is directed not only to the physical sensations of body and environment; it is also turned inward. "What am I noticing right now as a thought or an emotion?" But it’s just noticing, and not letting oneself get caught up and carried away in that mental activity. And all of this open mindfulness is done without judgment or evaluation. Nothing is good or bad. It just is.
The other side of the coin is to become so absorbed in one’s chosen focal point of attention that impressions of the environment and the body fall away. This kind of deep, concentrative work takes a lot of practice, but much can be transformed in us by even short periods of sustained attention to that heart-felt focal point. But what to choose as the object of one’s absorption? The Cayce philosophy of meditation seems to emphasize this second side of the coin, and it urges us to select a focal point that resonates to our highest spiritual ideal—an "affirmation." What words can evoke the feeling and spirit of your ideal? It’s not that we have to come up with some formula or time-tested incantation that will work its magic on us. It’s simply choosing words that have deep personal meaning. For example, if your spiritual ideal is "loving service," then this affirmation from Cayce might work well for you, "Let me ever be a channel of blessings to others." You enter into this deep, absorptive side of meditation when you let the repeated affirmation awaken in you deep feelings of caring and loving. Then you hold in silent attention those feelings, even as you let go of the words—coming back to them only if you notice you’ve drifted away and need reorientation.
Which side of the coin is best? Which is more likely to promote transformative change? The answer might well be that we need both, and that nurturing one’s own meditative life involves learning right timing and approach for moving back and forth between the two—much like we walk forward by shifting effort from one leg to the other. Open, attentive awareness to all the impressions of the present moment. Deep absorption in the feelings and spirit of an ideal. Nurturing our capacity for both is one key to transformational change.