Nevertheless, I did come across a short essay on the William Arkle blog that caused me a slight bit of consternation. Taken from a newsletter issued by the Wessex Research Group Network, “The Paradox of Meditation” is a brief and succinct piece of writing in which Arkle articulates the valuable and necessary role meditation plays in spiritual growth. Arkle writes:
We may think of meditation as a deliberate way of turning our attention and our nature to those aspects of our being which are neglected by the materialistic society in which we live.
In a spiritually healthy society this would be done naturally in the way that our attention is drawn to subjects like maths, history and science at school. There is some attention to religion but subjects such as spirituality and holism are generally not backed by serious study or serious attitude, but instead treated with conventional politeness.
When we meditate we are trying to support and nourish the higher frequency aspects of our nature and trying to climb out of the prison of fear, ego, doubt, anger and life denial that materialism brings in its wake.
My heart sank as I read these words. Meditation has never been a strong point of mine. Despite repeated efforts in the past, I have never had any success creating anything even approximating a meditative state. Inevitably, my previous attempts at meditation achieved one of the following results: distraction; frustration; sleep.
Try as I might, I could never get myself into that desired zone. Disheartend, I continued reading Arkle’s little essay on meditation.
Instinctively we seek to do our meditation, contemplation and quiet attention in places which are least distracting for spiritual nourishment. Some environments are not only distracting but can be positively helpful.
Thinking I had come across some sort of typo or grammar mistake, I winced slightly after I had read these lines. A second reading revealed the sentences contained no errors but instead reflected a sharp contrast – a placing of black next to white for effect and emphasis.
In the first sentence, Arkle plainly relays the conventional belief of practicing meditation in quiet places in order to attain maximum spiritual benefit. This was certainly my view. As far as I was concerned, meditation could ONLY take place in locked rooms, or cells within a Franciscan abbeys, or atop a mountain while sitting in the lotus position with a lotus flower pinched gingerly between thumb and forefinger; otherwise, it was not really meditation at all. Needless to say, this narrow belief is probably why my past attempts at meditation had all failed so spectacularly in the past.
The second sentence was the one that had thrown me for a loop. The sentence contains a “not only” phrase. Normally, sentences of this pattern state a quality, which is then followed by a second quality that acts to reinforce and support the first. Arkle, however, breaks this ingrained pattern by creating a sharp contrast between the two qualities expressed. This unexpected and somewhat unorthodox mode of contrast is precisely why I had initially assumed the sentence to be grammatically faulty. Yet there was no error; the contast was intentional. Bucking standard belief, meditating in distracting environments can be “positively helpful” according to Arkle.
The first thing that popped into my mind after I had understood the two sentences above was Ernest Hemingway and his habit of writing in cafés rather than in solitary rooms. (Hey, I am a writer, after all.)
For a few minutes, I nursed a newfound belief that I had, perhaps, discovered the solution to my meditation problems. All I needed to do was go to a café or some other place filled with mild distractions and attempt to do there what I had before only tried in quiet rooms behind closed doors. However, I soon rejected this idea; I knew I would never be able to meditate in any place like a café. It would offer too many distractions and effectively nullify any meditative state I might be able to conjure.
Feeling dispirited, I turned off my computer, stood up from my chair, rubbed my eyes, and informed my wife that I was going out for my usual night walk in the farm fields and meadows surrounding our village.
Night walks have become something of a ritual for me. Three of four nights a week, I make my way along the bank of the narrow river near our house and walk to the stand of towering poplar trees about three kilometers away where I usually turn around and trace my way back to the village. Fitted with a headlamp that illuminates the small patch of ground before me, I walk for the better part of an hour on most nights. For the first five or ten minutes, I think about the day’s events or some petty concern or other, but as I make my deeper into the fields and deeper into the night, these thoughts tend to melt away, and deeper thoughts tend to surface.
As I ventured into the fields last night, I was greeted by a nearly full moon that hung low on the horizon. The recent winter thaw had released the earthy smells of the previous autumn into the air; in the distance I could make out the darkened forms of two red deer bounding over the harvested remains of a corn field.
All I could think about during the first ten minutes of my walk was Arkle and meditation, but these thoughts dissolved as I rounded the bend in the river, and I started thinking instead about the world and my place in it and how glorious the moon was in the sky and how magnificent it was to just be walking in that field at that moment and how meaningful all of this was.
The sight of the church steeple in my village was what drew me back to everyday awareness. I stopped walking and realized I was a mere hundred meters from my house. I had been walking for more than hour, but I had only been mildly conscious of the walk itself. As happens every time I go out into the fields at night, I had spent the vast majority of the time in state of deep contemplation. I suddenly wondered if that was what Arkle had meant by concentrated attention.
When I got back into the house, I turned the computer on again and reread Arkle’s essay:
Meditation can also be used as a word to define the extraction of our own significance and purpose from life but is also the concentrated attention required to know the significance of life itself.
I paused for a moment and reflected on whether or not I was actually doing this during my walks, nighttime or otherwise. I continued reading:
But, from the initial purpose of balancing out materialism, meditation should become an intrinsic part of our own individual nature, so that it would be a different thing to different people and something that changes for them continually as they grow and move within themselves.
I leaned back in my chair and smiled. Could it be that my walks were my own idiosyncratic form of meditation? Could it be that I have been meditating this whole time without even realizing it?
Yes, I think it could.