Archive for February, 2020

Meditation for Utilitarian Ends?

Last month’s blog focused on the power of meditation to enhance success in life and work, with a particular focus on sports. Numerous studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of meditation on one’s life and work, not only in sports but also in other arenas.

Yet such studies raise further questions: Is the purpose of meditation to increase success? Should meditation be pursued for utilitarian ends?  Does using meditation to achieve one’s personal goals corrupt an ancient spiritual practice?

There is nothing wrong with coming to spirituality because following a spiritual path will make one’s life better.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, find that relying on a higher power provides the first step necessary for their recovery.  In fact, most seekers come to a spiritual path because of need, believing that through meditation or prayer the need will be met.  And they are right.

At the same time, as sojourners continue on the path, they find the ground shifting under their feet.  They encounter the transition to the second half of the journey, the part of the journey in which they transition from thinking that the spiritual journey is about getting something to realizing it is about their own transformation.  What happens when it becomes difficult to pray or meditate, when the “honeymoon phase” is over? Often people feel they must be doing something wrong and they try harder, only to discover even more dryness and frustration.  They may give up on prayer and meditation altogether, deciding that they’re not cut out for the spiritual path.

Yet spiritual teachers through the ages have taught that this is a normal and predictable part of the spiritual journey.  The spiritual dryness provides an opportunity to be weaned from the expectation that meditation will always result in good feeling, that prayer will always result in the answers one wants.  One learns to listen and let one’s prayers be shaped by the divine presence.  Maturing spirituality involves embracing and letting go, time and again, of ways of meditation, of relationships, of work commitments, of community.

In articulating this transition to the second half of the journey, spiritual teachers help the sojourner understand what is occurring when she experiences it. When the first exhilaration of experiencing the blessings of meditation begins to fade, a deeper foundation can be formed, just as in a marriage when the initial romantic exhilaration begins to fade.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with seeking spirituality for “selfish” reasons.  Anyone who continues on the spiritual path will eventually reach a different place.  He will learn that the spiritual journey is about his own transformation rather than about the success he can procure from it.  He ultimately learns that self-preservation is not the highest good, experiencing the relativization of self to a higher purpose.

Meditation and prayer are good practices, regardless of the reason they are taken up.  May we learn to recognize in ourselves and others the vulnerable transition times, so that we can deepen into the mature spirituality of the second half of the journey.

 

Part of this blog is an excerpt from Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations.  Used with permission of the publisher.