The days of old full of religious prayer, beseeching to a far-off God to do our will, seem to be fading for many. There is a wisdom within that has emerged hinting to us that God (Divine, Soul, Spirit, Self) is “closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet.”
Nearly twenty years ago now, I was reading what became a bestselling and globally influential book – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Although I had previously read many spiritual texts, it was my first tango with meditation and taking pauses for silent absorption and contemplation. That book and many other teachings predicate our realization of Self with this profound stilling.
One of those days while I was turning the pages with their beautiful symbols inviting the reader to pause and reflect—the spell of thoughts broke. I was no longer in the stream. I sat (in a lotus posture—thinking at the time this would make it all work better) and for the first-time recall seeing the seemingly endless barrage of thinking that had plagued me all these years.
I was in a wholly new position, that of a witness. As a witness of thought, it struck me deeply that I must be something much more than what had been running through my mind. I was so identified with thinking that I truly mistook thought for who I was. Occupying a head and not a body, it turns out, is beyond limiting and difficult. In that moment, I recall a sense of peace wash over, a dropping into my extremities and a relief from the anguish and identification with the many tortuous, anxiety-provoking, and on-edge thoughts that had occupied my mind.
As I walked out into the morning bustle that day to go to work—at the American Psychological Association ironically—colors were brighter, the sun seemed as though it had gained an additional flare, and the trees glistened with their leaves greener, a halo effect of light around them. Most notably though, I heard birds singing. I had walked this path day after day to reach my office and had no recollection of birds, let alone their melody. The thought came: have they always been there and I just didn’t notice? This thought floated by and didn’t sadden me though, as it may have in the past. I was just grateful to now hear.
Even the American Psychological Association wasn’t clued in at the time to just how meditation could and would be at the heart of relieving so many people's psychological suffering. The focus, as it is in varying degrees today, was still very much on the mental level of treatment and life. The spiritual wasn’t nearly as revered for its value in healing the person and returning them to Self. Up to that point, I had in a small measure devoted myself to spiritual study—it called to me when nothing else would. But my estimation of its import permanently shifted that day. It became a living, breathing, healing influence, undeniably tangible and practical.
Although that moment of profound clarity has passed, it is an anchor, and meditation has become a practice of returning to and deepening that awareness of Self. Meditation has also become a kind of prayer. Not the kind where you beg, beseech, and plead to a God to do the will you have determined from a limited perspective—coming from our sometimes pleasing, often times disturbing, and routinely righteous mind. Rather, a stilling, a resting in the highest within yourself and a hearing of its voice. That has become my ongoing practice—to step back, practice that presence, and allow it to go before and behind with its words, its ideas, and its gifts.
I see more and more that my will and my thoughts aren’t the most intelligent. There is, however, an intelligence that I have come to know through meditation—and it is whole, unceasingly loving, and good. Meditation as a practice intentionally creates the conditions for the experience of it in my life—for a type of prayer and communion that has more practical import and possibility than any of the thoughts I could think.
Michael Wright is Founder of Shine FWD., a soul-centered coaching and leadership development practice based in NYC. Michael was formerly an international human rights attorney and social worker and led numerous mission-driven projects with the United Nations, Harvard University, the American Psychological Association, and the Shriver Center. More about Michael at shinefwd.com.
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