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Meditation Goes Mainstream

December 20, 2008

From The Connecticut Post

Like many churchgoers in the Bible Belt, Kristy Robinson teaches Sunday school with her husband and helps prepare communion at their Episcopal church in Franklin, Tenn.

She rounds out her church- and prayer-filled life with another spiritual practice that’s not quite as familiar: meditation.

“I’ll see a difference in my day if I don’t,” says Robinson, who opens each day with 20 minutes of absolute silence.

All the chanting and incense and — yikes — even meditation altars may seem too New Age and mystical for some, but meditation has gone mainstream and been embraced by suburban moms and busy people.

Younger generations get an introduction in yoga classes, careerists escape on meditation retreats and boomers seek tranquility in meditation gardens. Meditation, it seems, is no longer associated as a counterculture activity made hip by the Beatles and favored by flower children.

Some approach meditation through Buddhism or other Eastern religions; more and more Christians meditate through the ancient ritual of centering prayer; while others develop their own style, whether it’s patterned after the breathing techniques of popular guru Deepak Chopra or not.

Most sit still usually focusing on a mantra or on their breathing, but you can even clear your mind while walking around, tending a garden or through movement-based activities, such as tai chi.

A report released this year showed an astonishingly high number of Protestants say they meditate at least once a week. Among the public, 39 percent meditate at least weekly, according to a report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

It’s no surprise that people are seeking paths to peace and serenity in our high-octane, 24-hour world.

“We’re a mentally focused, hard-core, achievement-oriented society,” says Dr. J. David Forbes, a medical doctor and meditation teacher in Nashville, Tenn. “People are finding it hard to quiet the brain down.” Once they do, he says, meditation may lead not only to new insights but also to a healthier, happier life, he says. Studies show daily practice can reduce stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure and even increase life expectancy in the elderly, he says.

Robinson’s mind-clearing ritual helps her figure out her beliefs and hopes, her doubts and wishes.

Meditation has been, at times, eyed with suspicion. The Vatican in 1989 went so far as to say that methods such as Zen, yoga and transcendental meditation, can “degenerate into a cult of the body” and be dangerous.

And the notion that meditation is too way out there for Christians, if not rooted in the Bible, still exists today.

“The idea of emptying the mind is not biblically based,” says Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “There can be a danger.” Referring to meditation’s long association with Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions, Whitney says, “Some of the yoga stuff, where you’re given a mantra, that is rooted in false religions.” He sees no problem with stretching, but once you start chanting, you’re treading on treacherous ground, he says.

His beef is that some people are seeking tools to help them live and de-stress. “That’s very selfish,” he says. “Our lives should be lived to the glory of God.” But for many Christians, meditation fits quite nicely into their religious life. They’re drawn to biblical Scriptures, such as in the Psalms, which says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” For them, meditation has brought deeper meaning to their lives.

“I discovered my true self through meditation,” says Cassandra Finch, a former Nashville television reporter. “Often because we are so busy, we don’t make time for self-discovery.” A Christian who attends an interdenominational church and considers herself nondenominational, Finch, 42, has also been attending a Buddhist center to meditate.

“Going to church is where I’m being talked to. There is not a lot of silent time,” Finch says. “I feel the power and presence of God through my meditation.”

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