Archive for the 'Spiritual Meditation' Category

Salesian Method of Meditation

Francis de Sales (1567―1622)

Francis de Sales (1567―1622)

Salesian Method of Meditation

Prayer vs. Meditation vs. Contemplation

Prayer, meditation, and contemplation may be defined many ways. In part the definition chosen depends upon who is rendering it, and to what end. For the purposes of this essay, below I offer a working definition of these terms, allowing us to open a discussion concerning Salesian meditation.

There are many kinds of prayer, including: liturgic prayers one chants or says in unison with others during a period of worship; ritual or formal public prayers recited before a meal or meeting or event; sets of formal prayers one may chant or read privately or in a small group; and prayers one might say privately.

One of the shared characteristics of each of the above forms of prayer is they are linguistic in nature: these prayers are composed of words stated or read, aloud or silently. They may be composed contemporaneously (off-the-cuff; unplanned) or formally. They may be private or they may serve a ritual or liturgical function. But they are all linguistic constructs: words.

Sidebar: Words are symbolic constructs, serving as pointers to that which they describe: they are not the object being described. As obvious as this sounds, we frequently forget this in our daily dealings with one another through language. There is always some distance between our interior, subjective world and everything/everyone else. That which connects our interior world to the perceived exterior world is rendered to us both neuro-linguistically and psychologically; and I would argue energetically and spiritually as well. One reason persons may engage in prayer, meditation, and contemplation is to short-circuit this interior/exterior mode of perception, in an attempt to enter direct interior perception ―apperception [1], is more accurate― of the sacred More.

Prayer may be directed outward (a shared public event) or be directed inward (a private event). Meditation on the other hand is an inward directed event.

As an exception to this one might cite guided meditation, in which one person leads others through a meditation. But even in such cases the goal is frequently to train the individuals comprising the group how to conduct their own private meditations at a later date, or to facilitate a meditative technique from which they might continue to benefit in private. Thus, one may argue this is a primarily a means of teaching meditation, not meditation itself.

Furthermore, prayer and meditation are similar to one another in that they each behold an object of attention: that upon which one is focusing. In prayer this is typically a linguistic event. Meditation too may be a linguistic event (repeatedly chanting a verse or mantra), but it may also be a visual (watching a flame, staring into a mandala, or imagining a symbol, such as the Sacred Heart) or sensory event (awareness of one’s breath), or an emotional event (feeling peacefulness or love), or any other event one may imagine.

When meditating, we are focusing our attention upon something, be that a word, a phrase, an image, a scene, another sensory-based experience, or an emotion. The intent is to focus our attention on this object, at the exclusion of all other objects of sensory or cognitive input competing for our attention. This is a kataphatic process ―a state of fullness― an imaginal process in which we are actively engaging and populating our attention.

Contemplation on the other hand is an apophatic state in which we seek emptiness, or the cessation of cognition and awareness. Achieving emptiness is challenging, to say the least. There always seems to be some aspect of the mind which must chatter! Buddhist mediators I’ve read often refer to this as the monkey mind.

Mystics and other contemplatives indicate there is little an individual may do to intentionally bring about an apophatic ―empty― state upon command. Their best counsel is to prepare oneself for the occasion of achieving emptiness, usually through periods of prayer and/or meditation, which are frequently seen as precursors, or means of training, for encountering a contemplative event.

In describing contemplation, I use words such as “event” and “occasion” deliberately. My intention is to suggest the cultivation of a contemplative state yields a rare fruit, short in duration. Often the very onset of the event may itself be sufficient to bring about its conclusion. Such has been my own experience at any rate, and it is one frequently attested to in writings of mystics. One author said he looks for these brief moments of emptiness in the gaps between his train of thoughts; in those brief silences between the near-constant chattering of the monkey mind.

With the foregoing in mind, we will recognize that the Salesian method of meditation is part prayer and part meditation. It will also be self-evident that Salesian meditation is a kataphatic process, deliberately engaging the imagination.

Salesian Method of Meditation

First I am going to offer an outline of the Salesian method of meditation. Then I will explore certain elements of this method, with the hope of highlighting some of what I see at play in this meditative method.

Francis de Sales (1567―1622) was a Roman Catholic bishop and spiritual director who “was not overly concerned for the etiquette of piety, but in offering a way for souls to find union with God” [2] and is best known for his book, Introduction to the Devout Life which was “written for laity and teaches a simple form of meditation known as the Salesian method [which] is sometimes taught in the Episcopal Church as the way to meditate.” [3]

When broken down into five (5) steps, the Salesian method of meditation may be summarized as follows:

  1. Preparation
    • Place yourself in the presence of God.
    • Pray for assistance.
    • Compose the place (i.e. imagine a scene from the life of Jesus).
  2. Considerations: identify those images in the scene that affect you.
  3. Affections and Resolutions: convert feelings into understanding and then resolutions (acts of the will).
  4. Conclusion
    • Thanksgiving.
    • Oblation or offering of the results of the meditation.
    • Petition to fulfill in your life this day its insights.
    • The Spiritual Nosegay: that which we carry through the day from the meditation.
  5. The “spiritual nosegay,” which is a distinctive mark of Salesian meditation, is a clue to Francis de Sales’ spirituality. A nosegay is a little bunch of sweet-smelling flowers that ladies and gentlemen of the period carried with them when they went outdoors, so they could travel without being overcome by the stench of the open sewers that commonly ran along the streets of European cities. [4]

I invite you to spend a few minutes walking through each of these five steps ― imagine how you might engage this process. How do you enter the state? To what end? What might be among the (beneficial) outcomes? What might this meditative process look like? Feel like? How might we more fully engage our senses? (And ought we?) Do you imagine any benefits may derive from such a practice?

Transformative Flow of the Salesian Meditation

Before going into greater detail, I wish to direct your attention to the broad outline of the transformative flow taking place within the Salesian meditation:

  1. Preparation: Visual Imagery (Anchor/Trigger)
  2. Considerations: Emotional Upwelling (Response from our Unconscious)
  3. Affections and Resolutions: Rational-Thinking (Formulating a Plan of Action/Exertion of Will)
  4. Affections and Resolutions: Action-Behavioral Modification (Adoption of New Behavior/Overlaying Old Behavior)

A similar pattern is repeated, in condensed form, throughout the Conclusion:

  1. Thanksgiving: Emotional Upwelling
  2. Oblation: Emotional Upwelling
  3. Petition: Rational-Thinking
  4. Petition: Action-Behavioral Modification
  5. Spiritual Nosegay: Emotional Nosegay & Behavioral Modification

Thus, we are engaging a specific physical and mental state through imaginal entry into a visual scene (other modalities could be used, but most of us are highly visual, so it is a very good general approach to ushering us into the desired, impressionable state).

One inside this imaginal scene, we seek an emotional response, upwelling from our unconscious. Once we have had this experience, we seek to engage our analytical process to ascertain a moral lesson which may be derived from the emotionally charged scene. While in this emotionally charged state, we imagine applying the moral lesson in our own lives. We commit to doing so, setting our will upon doing so.

We then carry a “spiritual nosegay” with us throughout our day, in an attempt to maintain this disposition; a reminder and aromatic trigger (metaphorically speaking) of our desired behavior change.

Entering the Salesian Meditation

Preparation

Preparation begins by adopting a mental attitude or state which will be conducive to our entering into a meditative state. I specifically read this in the first two steps, of (1) placing ourselves in the presence of God; and (2) praying for assistance.

  • Place yourself in the presence of God.

I read this as occupying a physical space in which I have made it my habit to meditate. This may be a dedicated space, indoors or outdoors, although if outdoors the variation in weather and season must be taken into consideration when preparing the site.

I would also associate the specific anchoring of triggers [5] with my physical space which signal that I am about to intentionally enter a sacred space. Such items traditionally include icons, the lighting of candles, and the burning of incense. Gentle music, chimes, or sounds of nature may also be signaling triggers.

Some may find it helpful to ask the Holy Spirit to direct the prayer (Romans 8:26 NRSV “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes [for us] with sighs too deep for words.”)

  • Pray for assistance.

Praying is the trigger that signals I am now operating within the sacred space. One of my first intentional acts is to cross myself (touching one’s fingers to the forehead, drawing a downward stroke to one’s solar plexus, and then from shoulder to shoulder, touching the heart at each passing).

As one may imagine, there are a host of possible triggers when praying: physical position, posture, attitude, adoption of specific verbal cadence (chanting, singing), and the specific texts employed, just to name a few. The more frequently one uses these specific anchors/triggers in one’s prayerful meditation, the more strongly they will become linked to the resulting physical, mental, and emotional state [6], thus proving increasingly effective over time.

  • Compose the place (i.e. imagine a scene from the life of Jesus).

Now that one has adopted the state one wishes to enter, one composes the object of one’s meditation. The example given is to imagine a scene from the life of Jesus; but any biblical scene may be employed, as may any church tradition which one finds suitably moving (perhaps an event from the life of a saint, for example).

Considerations

  • Identify those images in the scene that affect you.

We now enter into the scene we have created. The point is to live this as vividly as we may, to make the experience of the imagination as real as possible by smelling, hearing, touching, seeing, and tasting it. But do not overlook additional senses such as equilibrioception (sense of balance), proprioception (the perception of one’s body in space or the body’s position), or thermoception (sense of heat).

Having entered into the scene, we monitor our response to the scene in which we are immersed. We are seeking that which provokes in us a strong emotional reaction. These strong emotions, and that which induces them, we will carry into the next step.

Affections and Resolutions

  • Convert feelings into (1) understanding, and then into (2) resolutions (acts of the will).

(1) Understanding

I read the identification of the strong feeling, as a signal that something in my unconscious is responding to that element of the scene. And because it is my belief that the unconscious is one of the best avenues for the sacred More (Divine; God; Immanent aspect of the Transcendent) to flow into my awareness and experience, I am especially interested in accessing these unconscious objects as directly as I may.

Thus, as the emotion is triggered from within me, I note that with which I associate the emotion, or that which triggered the rising of the emotion. Once I have that scene, event, symbol, or whatever it may be, before my mind’s eye, I evaluate it: what is it? what is it trying to tell me, or show me?

Where this may begin as an unknown, as I inspect it (imagining my senses all reaching out to it, grasping it, listening to it, smelling it, tasting it, watching for any changes) I am awaiting some depth of understanding or apprehension to come to mind. At some point my interaction with this imaginal object (be that “object” of the imagination a person, symbol, experience, etc), it will give rise to some form of understanding or apprehension.

(2) Resolutions (acts of the will)

Once I have come to an understanding/apprehension prompted by the meditative scene, I am to make a resolution. The point of this meditation is to identify an act that I may carry out in my normal waking life. Many scenes from the life of Jesus may call me to show greater compassion to others, for example, or to take real steps to correct an injustice taking place in my community (be that in the church or city council).

Other scenes may call me to begin an internal transformation of character (to be more forgiving, less quick to anger, more generous, etc). Transformation of both self and community are part and parcel of the authentic Christian spiritual experience. Both are important, and one supports the other.

Conclusion

Our meditation concludes by offering thanks, both generally to the Transcendent More (God) and specifically for the fruit of the meditation, and by asking for the wherewithal to carry out our resolution.

  • Thanksgiving

This is the general offering of thanksgiving to the Transcendent More (God), in whatever way we apprehend that More. Praise and blessing are preferred responses to the sacred More; holding affection and joy in your heart for creation and creatures.

Psychologically, this is akin to positive reinforcement. We wish to exit our meditation with a positive and uplifting feeling. The meditation should become a form of nourishment for us. Adopting a state of positive appreciation affects us in this manner.

  • Oblation or offering of the results of the meditation.

This too is a form of thanksgiving. We thank the sacred More that has visited us with the gift of insight for the fruit of this meditation. We are blessed by the fruit of our meditation, and we offer as blessing those fruits we have been granted.

Psychologically, this establishes within us an environment of bounty and thankfulness. We are cultivating within ourselves this creative state of plenty, a cosmos built of and upon loving-kindness.

  • Petition to fulfill in your life this day its insights.

In our final petition to the sacred Transcendent More (God), we ask for the grace to stand by our resolution. We are fully invested and affirming that we will take positive steps to bring about our resolution (we are active), but we are also asking for the generous, compassionate support of the creative loving-kindness upon which/within which we are all swimming.

Spiritual Nosegay

  • The Spiritual Nosegay: that which we carry through the day from the meditation.

As a “little bunch of sweet-smelling flowers” or a perfumed handkerchief carried with us, provides around us a pleasing aroma wherever we travel, so too the fruits of our meditation ought to provide us with a sweet-smelling disposition toward the world and all persons  (this includes ourselves).

This may play a role in the process of theosis [7] ― we seek to carry with us throughout our day, a sweet-smelling spiritual nosegay, to refresh us, to inspire us, to help us dwell in our experience of our mediation all day. Where the mind dwells the body will follow. If we wish to transform into more compassionate, loving persons, therein our thoughts must reside.

Sidebar: While Roger Ray only briefly mentions Salesian meditation, for those interested in reading a simple, down to earth introduction to the basic stages of spirituality, from a Christian perspective, I recommend Ray’s short book, “Christian Wisdom for Today: Three Classic Stages of Spirituality” (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999).

May God be gracious to us, and bless us, and make his face to shine upon us.
― Ps. 67:1

Erik+

Footnotes:

[1] APPERCEPTION:

  • Merriam-Webster On-line:
    1. : introspective self-consciousness
    2. : mental perception; especially : the process of understanding something perceived in terms of previous experience
  • Wikipedia On-line: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apperception
    • Apperception (from the Latin ad-, “to, toward” and percipere, “to perceive, gain, secure, learn, or feel”) is any of several aspects of perception and consciousness in such fields as psychology, philosophy and epistemology.

[2] Holmes III, Urban T.: “A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction” (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002) page 105.

[3] Holmes, pg. 106.

[4] Holmes, pg. 106.

[5] anchoring of triggers, Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): “The process of associating an internal response with some external trigger (similar to classical conditioning) so that the response may be quickly, and sometimes covertly, reaccessed” (http://purenlp.com/textonly/glossry2.htm#anchor). We all have developed a multitude of triggers, some we intentionally establish, but most are unconsciously established. One of the practical benefits of utilizing NLP is to reprogram unconscious behavior, so we behave as we consciously choose, not as we unconsciously react. To persons interested in learning more about NLP, I commend “Frogs into Princes” by Bandler and Grinder (see below).

[6] state, Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP): “The total ongoing mental and physical conditions from which a person is acting” (http://purenlp.com/textonly/glossry2.htm#State).

[7] Theosis, “(‘deification,’ ‘divinization’) is the process of a worshiper becoming free of hamartía (‘missing the mark’), being united with God…” (Orthodoxwiki, on-line: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis). I see this as the intentional process of trying to live our lives as if we were channels for the Christ to flow through us, into the world. I suspect this is a goal few will achieve; yet we are the better for striving for it. This is one of the most important reasons I take part in the sacrament of the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

On-line Resources:

Francis de Sales:

“Meditation and Contemplation – What is the Difference?” (Carmelite Sisters, on-line) http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com/2013/meditation-contemplation/

“Christian Meditation” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_meditation

“Christian Contemplation” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_contemplation

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (written by an anonymous author of the 14th century; widely available from many publishers; Christian Classics Ethereal Library: on-line, text or PDF) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous2/cloud.html.

“Linguistics” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics

“Neurolinguistics” (Wikipedia, on-line) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurolinguistics

“Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Mysticism (on-line) http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mysticism/

Theosis (Orthodoxwiki, on-line) http://orthodoxwiki.org/Theosis

Books:

“Christian Wisdom for Today: Three Classic Stages of Spirituality” (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999) Roger L. Ray.

“The Cloud of Unknowing” (written by an anonymous author of the 14th century; widely available from many publishers).

“Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming” (Real People Press, 1979) by Richard Bandler and John Grinder.

“A History of Christian Spirituality: An Analytical Introduction” (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002) Urban T. Holmes, III.