Meditation and the Gospel

The Listener, by James Christensen

Meditation is one of those practices with religious roots that has managed to become popular even in very secular, non-believing spaces, but I haven’t really caught the meditation bug. I’ve done a few guided meditations and have enjoyed them, but in terms of stress release I’d rather just get a massage or play soccer. On a recent podcast I listened to the guest mention that he had tried the floating tank fad and “just got bored.” It was one of those moments when you hear somebody confirm something you haven’t been able to admit to yourself or articulate and you realize that you’re not alone.  

However, I realize I probably haven’t given real, substantive meditation a chance. In my comparative religion class at BYU, the great Roger Keller put the class through a guided meditation session, and his account of his own meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery where he spent days clearing his mind was intriguing. According to him and other accounts I’ve heard, because we’ve swum in a monkey-mind world for so long we don’t even understand what a calm, focused, composed mind feels like (and this was before Twitter), and it takes a lot of intentional meditation time to really do a thorough, Marie Kondo cognitive housecleaning.  

Could I become more sensitive to the whisperings of the spirit if I cleared out the detritus in my mind? I’m open to it, and look forward to a time in my life when I have the bandwidth to undertake the functional equivalent of a Buddhist or monastic retreat. The closest I’ve come to that experience is the mission, where, cut off from almost all music and outside exposure for an extended period of time, the little bit of stimulation I did receive was much more enjoyable and focused (for returned missionaries, think about the first movie, modern music that you viewed/listened to after your release). 

However, Adam and Eve could not have progressed towards Godhood had they stayed in paradise and meditated for thousands of years. While I had a lot more personal contemplation time pre-mission (music and movies notwithstanding), my pace of personal development in those more relaxed, more predictable years was a fraction of what it has been since. The restored gospel places much more emphasis than other faith traditions on the need for action and experiencing both the good and the bad to be able to spiritually progress and eventually become like God. Approaching divinity is not solely a matter of meditating for a long time, although it probably helps.  

For me personally the most direct, undeniable communications with divinity I’ve had were unexpected ones in the midst of storms, or at least in little pockets of calm in the middle of storms, although admittedly this might be a function of my not consistently and systematically applying devotional and spiritual focus time as much as I should, and I’m open to other people experiencing intense connections with divinity in times of relative placidity through their consistent devotions. Maybe for every D&C 121 “O God, where are thou?” there is a D&C 138 “On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures,” both leading to powerful and intimate experiences with God. 

6 comments for “Meditation and the Gospel

  1. For thoughtful approach by a respected LDS author see M. Catherine Thomas, “The God Seed: Probing the Mystery of Spiritual Development” (2014).

  2. I have personally found that revelation comes to me as thoughts in my mind that I did not put there. Call it a brief meditation event as I clear my mind ready to receive the info I requested. It typically comes to me fast. (within seconds if something comes) There is no “spiritual feeling” to these revelations for me, just the answer. (answer is always the briefest info to solve/answer my request) It can get tricky but once you figure it out you get how it works. I get these mostly while praying but not in a quiet meditative state/place. They come while driving, at work, or when I am not expecting them. (sometimes) I tend to mostly pray throughout the day and not in the traditional morning/night kneeling way. I always pray in my mind for my personal prayers since the answer comes that way and I can do it while driving. :) Helps me focus or listen knowing the mode of receiving answers.

    The other couple ways I experience divine for me are spiritual manifestations or “warm fuzzies” that are testifying of truth. This typically happens to me when I am reading, listening to talks or music of religious nature. A spiritual confirmation of truth.

    The last way, and we dont talk about this in the church so at the time I didn’t know what it was when it happened to me, but it is what I call a God-given Pentecostal experience that just happens. Call it warm fuzzies times 100 mixed with pure truth flowing through you at the same time. Best way I can describe it or… Jesus is in the room. Something I didn’t know existed or even happened to anyone so I certainly did not seek it or ask for it. This has only happened to me once but it is really all you need. Maybe it is the baptism by fire? Born again? Dont know, dont care, it was just the most wonderful experience ever. No I was not in a temple or church building when this happened.

    I have often thought that we as members could use meditation more in our lives but once I learned what revelation was and that God was listening and answering without “traditional meditation”, meditation is not going to make me feel any closer to God than asking/receiving.

    I dont need to climb a high mountain, go to a temple, wear special prayer cloths, pray at a wall, to know God knows me and is listening and answering. How much closer can I get than that! I also personally believe this is available to all, not just me. I just happened to figure it out so to speak. Nobody taught me this in the church. There are lots of scriptures to back this up if you look. There are even some church leaders that recently have said revelation typically works this way.

    Now for those who meditate to leave their body to another state of whatever, I know nothing about or tried or experienced.

  3. Two thoughts:
    1. The first movie I saw after my mission? Well, I won’t name it here, but it was (forced upon my by some friends) an Adam Sandler movie, and – well, I am sure that if I had watched it a few months later, I might have liked it. As it is, I now can’t stand to watch any Adam Sandler movie; it was just too much of a shock to my system.

    2. I recall an “investigator” (actually, a dude who just wanted to show off how much smarter he was – we refused to Bible Bash, but because his girlfriend was a member, we kept meeting with him to no avail) who started arguing that JS-H 1:44: “in the midst of my meditation” (where he was pondering on the Angel Moroni’s message) proves that Joseph Smith was actually aware of and made use of Hindu-style mystical meditation type stuff and thus clearly a pagan, not a Christian.

    I was all “I don’t think that’s what he meant by meditation in this passage” but the guy was adamant that it HAD to mean a mystical trance using Hindu chants or something. I was all “whatever” – I was not interested in arguing the point.

  4. Wow, that sounds like quite the discussions with the investigator, Ivan. Not that we’re arguing the point, but I find it interesting that he argued that meditation is pagan. There is plenty of prescient of Christian meditation and mysticism, especially in the Eastern Orthodox groups.

  5. The word “meditation” is kind of ambiguous. Nowadays it generally denotes a more systematic practice, but Joseph Smith and others back in the day would sometimes use it to mean something along the lines of ponder. And, as you note, I doubt Joseph Smith (or hardly anybody in 19th century upstate New York, for that matter) had more than the most cursory awareness of what we would now call “meditation” as a religious and/or systematic, focused practice.

    The first post-mission book I read was “1984,” and I read it in Russia while visiting my family–a strange capstone to my mission, but I ate it up.

  6. An interesting comment made recently at the Bangkok Thailand open house by a “distinguished guest,” presumably Buddhist, was that she particularly liked the “meditation room” (meaning the Celestial Room). How many Latter-day Saints would call it that?
    “Lady Benchapa Krairiksh, chairman of the Board Pratthanadee Foundation (which helps disadvantaged women and girls) in northeast Thailand, said she has waited a ‘long, long, long time’ for this open house. ‘I have a chance today to go inside your temple and see and understand. My favorite room is the meditation room. We are friends of your temple,’ she said.”

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