Mapping the Shore

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come,

I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds,

cleanses me with its noise,

and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.

Rainer Maria Rilke

In yesterday’s reflection, I wrote about three ways to enter into meditation. Here they are:

  • The first is the act of bringing our attention to the present moment. We do this by regulating the breath, stilling the body and calming the mind.
  • The second way of meditating is akin to traditional forms of prayer. This is where we focus our attention on a thing of value, such as the well-being of family and friends or the ability of our body to heal itself.
  • A third way to meditate is when we find ourselves confronting one of life’s big questions, and we turn our attention inward to the well-spring of creativity that is within us all. We adopt what might be called a listening heart. This type of meditation is characterized by the spirit of patience. Over time, this third path to meditation has the capacity to free us from the illusion that we are powerless in the face of pain or difficulty.

The first way can be thought of as belonging to the technique of meditation. The second is in the realm of aesthetics and the effect that beauty has upon us. I look upon the third way as being connected to the spirit of creativity which binds us as human beings. Both the second and third way allow us to transcend the ordinary and glimpse a peace which is extra-odinary. Today, I will expand on what I am calling ‘the second way’.


When I am working in religious settings (seminaries, churches or some theological colleges), the question comes up as to the difference between prayer and meditation. This is a rich topic for consideration; one worthy of an extended exchange of ideas, so I will return to the theme as appropriate. For now, let me offer these ideas:

Most world religions have a meditational aspect. Mystics, including the desert fathers and mothers withdrew from the complexity of towns and cities to find peace and space for contemplation and prayer. Look under the heading ABOUT MEDITATION at the top of the home page to find more detail on this with regards to other cultures.

However, the prayers of religious mystics are often diected outward, away from the world as we know it through our senses. Moreover, religious prayers are commonly directed at a symbolic figurehead thought to have its Being outside of the constraints of time and space.

By contrast, Meditation is directed inward, in a desire to discover the true self. As such, meditation remains in the world of the here and now, which is the root meaning of the word ‘secular’. As I have written elsewhere, meditation is not about escaping the world; it is about entering the world more deeply, beginning by getting to know ourselves better.

Now, I can virtually hear many of you saying, “but that is what I do when I pray. I look into my self (or my soul), and strip myself of pretensions for the sake of God and the world.”

And this, you see, is the shore line. This is the indistinct, ever-changing point at which the sea meets the land. It is the indistinct, ever-changing point at which prayer meet meditation. Impossible fully to map. Don’t even try! The name you give to your contemplation can have religious or secular significance. That is your freedom to know yourself and to know the world through the pathway of your choice.

Be the cartographer of your own heart. And give others the freedom to do the same.


%d bloggers like this: