Meditation is a universal wisdom. It is at the heart of all great religious traditions as a challenging recognition of humanity’s true nature. It expresses a radical insight into our essential simplicity. It is not about theory – although ideas and systems of philosophy abound around it. But meditation is not about mastering a complex theory or delving into arcane knowledge. It is not linked to any particular belief system, yet we can validly talk about Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian or Buddhist meditation in a way that affirms both its universality and its diverse manifestations. With some reservations (for example, separating it from consumerism) we can also speak of secular meditation.
Practiced in this all-inclusive light, meditation develops a community of faith composed of people of different beliefs. In a world fragmenting into divisions that frequently deny even the right of the other side to exist, meditation is a perennial wisdom of supreme value. Distinguishing between faith and belief, which are so often confused, helps to see the underlying common ground we stand on with all humanity.
The challenge is, on the one hand, not to dumb down this wisdom in order to boost sales; on the other, not to make it sound either esoteric or specialist. The discovery that children can meditate, having an unrecognised gift for interior silence and stillness that their elders have forgotten, is a major asset to anyone wanting to share the gift of meditation widely. Who can ignore the silence of a group of children in deep meditation as a vivid sign of the spirit coming to teach us? Who can fail to be touched, moved to wonder?
A contemplative practice is something we do for its own sake, for simple love, not for reward. Any benefits are by-products not the reason for the practice. From childhood, then, it can prepare and form children for a balanced and harmonious life in which they will be prepared to avoid the dangers of extremism and addiction. It is also re-formative for those who have already lost their way and fallen into dysfunctional, often self-abusive lifestyles. Contemplation rebalances us. It supports us in the life of the of the via media, the ‘narrow little path of Jesus’ teaching, that leads to the source of life..
All wisdom traditions affirm the value and the necessity of living a middle way. Avoiding extremes is not opting for a life of banality, however, as a culture like ours, addicted to stimulants and novelty, believes. The middle way between extremes becomes increasingly sharp, a fine knife-edge of moderation. Eventually the edge disappears entirely, just as a ‘point’ in mathematics is said to have position but no magnitude. The very small, when it falls over the knife-edge of the middle way, becomes the very great, indeed the infinitely expanding.