metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

About meditation

Theme: Prayer, Spiritual life, The body, Experience   Place: Media   Period: 1966-1970   Genre: Interview

Q: Is awareness of the present moment vital to mediation?

AA (Archbishop Anthony): I think it is vital to meditation as it is vital to prayer or to living altogether because if you wish to derive from meditation what it can lend you at this present moment, you must not plan ahead, you must not look for the next moment and what you will make of the conclusions reached at this present moment. You must be completely in the now and look very attentively and thoughtfully at what there is now.

Q: This seems so obvious but it is something most of us tend not to do. Do you agree?

AA: Yes, that is quite obvious when we think of it but we don’t do because we are worried, because we are concerned, because we live partly in the emotion of the previous moment or the expectation of the next one, and this is what makes both living, praying and thinking such unreal exercise. We are never where we are, we are either too late or ahead of time.

Q: How can you prepare yourself to meditation?

AA: Well, I think meditation, if you define it by the characteristics I have given, implies first of all that you are completely in the present moment and concerned with what there is within it. And that implies that both your body and your emotions and your thoughts must be collected as completely as possible. And therefore there are forms of preparation that apply to the body and to our emotions and to our thinking. To our body — we must learn both to be completely relaxed and at the same time as alert as possible. The example which I think any Briton will understand is bird-watching, the situation in which you go to watch birds completely open to any impression that you may receive, at the same time so completely alert that you will receive any impression that may come your way. And then psychologically you must learn do the same: learn both to relax and to be aware. And this is really all the preparation but it may make more time than meditation itself.

Q: Do we need instruction to learn how to meditate?

AA: I think, it the same with most of the things. If you are keen, objective, attentive, if you are not centred on yourself but aim at finding, you can go a very long way without being taught. Yet in the beginning there is a great deal of advantage to be taught certain things, for instance, relaxing is a difficult thing to do unless you are helped to learn. The same is true about emotional relaxation, about braking the tensions, the same is true about the countenance one can gain intellectually, the kind of intellectual integrity that comes from being so sure that the only thing that matters is the truth, that one is neither in a hurry to find it nor in any need to twist the little one knows in order to make it fit a pattern which one imagines to be the right one. So there is a great deal one can do in that respect under someone’s guidance. And also to be checked is important because very often you come to certain conclusions which seem to be so obvious to you that you don’t try to question them. Someone else may question the whole thing and show that all your best conclusions are just an intellectual mistake or have been slandered by a preconceived desire to come to certain such conclusion.

Q: I would like to ask you

you could use actual process of meditation for specific aim?

AA: Certainly yes, because when you have learned to be attentive, earnest, to have integrity, to recollect and so forth, you can apply it to scientific research or simply to learning at secondary school level what you have got to learn. And also in human relationships, integrity is integrity, attentiveness and awareness are the same wherever you turn.

Q: Well, if someone would like to learn how to meditate, what should they do?

AA: First of all, I believe, establish himself in such a situation that meditation is possible, that is, go into ones room, shut the door, know exactly the time he will have for his exercise and be absolutely determined that nothing will distract him or take him away. You shut your door, if someone knocks, you don’t answer, if the telephone rings or the bell goes, you don’t budge because you can always say to yourself, If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t go and there is no reason why I should. And make yourself present to yourself or to God, anyhow, establish yourself in the present, and then relax physically and emotionally. That is very important, that is – settle down in an armchair or on a chair, let all the tensions go, remain alert, that is, aware of life, aware of one’s own being, aware of things around but, at the same time, free, unrelated, as it were, the way in which an artist can consider, examine things, look and see, but not feel that you must by obligation do something about what you see and the situation, in which you are. And the same is true about your emotions and your thoughts. You can look at them and say: I am examining them, I am looking at these things, I am not involving myself into them at this present moment. Once you have done this, you are ready or more or less ready to do something about a subject of meditation. Then you can take a phrase from a book, you can take a thought, you can take an image, you can take anything that can be a subject matter and examine it with all the attention you are capable of, from all the angles, which occur to you.

Q: How would you suggest someone should start trying to achieve the art of meditation?

AA: I think you should find the right time first of all and do it regularly. By right time I mean that there are people who are early risers and other people who go to bed very late. Everyone has got his own rhythm and he should choose the moment when he can do things best. The second thing he should do it daily, regularly, ruthlessly, without taking into account either his moods, or his health or anything at all, because this is the way in which you can establish yourself both in the present and in the objective. And then devote to begin with a comparatively short time, say, five-ten minutes to learning to relax and to feel, I am all there. And then increase a little bit this time and then a moment comes when you need a content, that is, the attention, which in the beginning went completely on relaxing, on becoming aware and so on, is freed from the exercise because you have learnt to do it, but then you can not leave it open, empty, otherwise what happens is what Christ describes in the room that was vacated by one devil, put right and rediscovered by the devil seeing it so well ordered he brings seven more devils with him. You must then immediately introduce a subject of meditation, a centre of cohesion for your thoughts, your emotion and your alertness.

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