Do Mormons Meditate?

September 8, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 12:56 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Personal Revelation

I am finally getting around to reading my copy of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. It has been excellent so far. Near the end of chapter 1 there was a quote from co-author Bob Wright that was startling to me so I thought I would post on it. Wright described a letter he once received from President McKay’s personal secretary (his aunt, Clare Middlemiss) discussing how President McKay went about seeking inspiration from the Lord:

He had told her that he would come over to the office very early in the morning, never much after 6:00 o’clock, and sometimes earlier than that. Five o’clock regularly. He would sit in his office and meditate. I think that is the word she used, “meditate.” I remember that, because I hadn’t really heard up until then — and still haven’t heard in the Church, in Sunday School or anything else, very often — the word “meditate.” I don’t think we know much about it. We talk about, maybe, pondering. That’s something I’d heard. But it really went to my soul. She said he thought it was best in the morning when he was not tired, but invigorated and quiet, and no phone ringing and no interruptions. He would contemplate and meditate the issues of the day. (26-27, italics mine)

What? How can this be? Am I that out of touch with Mormonism or is Bob Wright missing the boat? I have long been under the impression that meditation is a central aspect of Mormonism. It certainly is for me… How else does one receive any personal revelation? In fact, I hardly consider non-meditative prayers prayer at all. For instance a prayer over dinner with the kids is mostly a ritual, but a real prayer to me only happens during quiet meditative periods. That’s because it is in those meditations that dialogue with God (such as it is) happens.

What do think? Is meditation a central part of Mormonism as I have assumed or is Bob Wright correct in saying that generally we Mormons don’t know much about it?

[Associated radio.blog song: INXS – Meditate]

24 Comments »

  1. I think Mormons use the term “ponder.” I think that it is a fair analysis that the term “meditate” is rather far from regular Mormon discourse.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 8, 2006 @ 1:26 pm

  2. I think meditation conjures up images of sitting cross-legged, pressing your fingers together, and making some low-pitched, resonating sound. Perhaps it is for this reason that many prefer the term “ponder”. I think when one understands the true nature and principle of meditation, it loses its mystical association and becomes an opportunity to communicate through the Spirit.

    I meditate/ponder. And I’m mormon. So the answer to your post, I guess, is yes (at least for me).

    Comment by Connor Boyack — September 8, 2006 @ 1:33 pm

  3. Good point guys. I suppose one issue is with the word “meditate”. I think of meditation and pondering as being two words for the same thing. Wright seems to think they are different things though (If I read him correctly he thinks that meditation implies something deeper or more intense than his idea of pondering).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 8, 2006 @ 1:48 pm

  4. At least one online dictionary agrees with me that ponder and meditate are direct synonyms:

    pon?der? /?p?nd?r/
    -verb (used without object)
    1. to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate (often fol. by over or upon).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 8, 2006 @ 1:51 pm

  5. Oummmmm.

    Oummmmm.

    In fact, I think I have heard meditation being advised quite a bit recently. Sorry, no time to find links to conference talks right now.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — September 8, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

  6. I think we Mormons don’t know much about it. At least I didn’t when I first started to explore it. What I find interesting about the above passage is that McKay meditated early in the morning. This is very similar to eastern practices, in which meditation is optimal right before the sun rises.

    I read a quote from McKay a while ago, in which he recommended meditation – I believe it was in a conference talk. I’m unsure what exactly he was recommending, whether it was a daily practice of meditation or just quiet pondering. And, yes, I do see meditation and pondering as two distinct things.

    As I proponent of meditation, I have tons of sources to recommend, but I’ll not bother you all with that. It seems that people who encounter meditation find their own unique practice that fits their needs. (My first serious foray into meditation was reading Meditation as Medicine by Dharma Khalsa Singh, which helped me heal and overcome some serious health issues.)

    An interesting article in the recent Sunstone also tells the story of Phil McLemore and his encounter with eastern mediation practice, titled Mormon Mantras: A Journey of Spiritual Transformation. Probably one of the few serious pieces on Mormons and meditation, and it’s implications.

    Comment by Dallas Robbins — September 8, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  7. Geoff: As you know I meditate regularly. I both ponder and meditate. My meditation is an exercise to empty the mind, to let it come to no actions and to empty of thoughts and then … well, the experience is a non-cognitive knowing, a way of being-with, a state of being-in-relation-to. However, it remains a challenge and I often find that mind is tougher to tame than to give in to. I believe that the mystic experiences where God is experienced as nothingness and the self is emptied of all content is indeed foreign to Mormonism, but I suggest that emptying the mind so that we know that it is not our mere mind speaking to us is the surest way to know and hear God’s voice. I meditate during exercises, while physically still and often while communing.

    I also reguarly ponder. For me, pondering is a way of thinking things through, of weighing options and reviewing what will serve, and then letting my mind rest. It is during the rest period that I gain clarity based upon the pondering that I have done. It is then that the flashes of insight and inspiration come to me. I noticed it especially when I was preparing for lessons, or pondering the temple endowment or scriptures.

    Frankly, I don’t know how to get through life any other way. It is in the stillness of the mind that the voice of God is loudest and most easily recognized. A fast mind is a sick mind; a slow mind is a healthy mind; a still mind is a divine mind.

    Comment by Blake — September 8, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  8. I think if you read the experiences of Prophets like Nephi, or Enos, it becomes obvious that meditation plays a key role in our religion. It may not be a big focus over the pulpit, but the principle is in the scriptures.

    Obviously, there are many Mormons, and many of them meditate. It could certainly be laid out a little clearer in correlated lesson materials if anyone ever felt the need for MORE mormons to meditate. I think it would be positive and a boost to the spirituality of the Church.

    Comment by Doc — September 8, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

  9. I think meditation has long been sanctioned and talked about it church, but usually in the context of “pondering”. It’s advocated regularly, but I think where the church falls a little short in this area is that we don’t teach each other how to meditate (or ponder). It’s really difficult to rid one’s mind of the minutiae if you don’t know how. Where would we go to learn this? Meditation or yoga classes? This is where it gets dicey and I don’t think people want to get into that — too much like practicing different religions or something.

    I like that Blake said that meditation was an emptying of the mind. One of my most spiritual experiences was when I fassted for several days and meditated trying to create within myself an “empty vessel” so that I would have “space” within me to be filled up when I got my patriarchal blessing. (This comes from the fact that I was taught when we receive our patriarchal blessing, it is not the patriarch who is receiving it from Heavenly Father and then saying it to you, but rather HF is filling up your spirit with the blessing and the Patriarch is “reading” it off of you.) So, in order for the patriarch to get a good clear signal off of me, I thought it best to empty out all my usual clutter. And it really worked!! The patriarch (who didn’t know I had been doing or thinking any of this), told me afterwards that even after years of giving blessings, mine came through in a really particularly strong way.

    So mediatation works and it’s advocated, but it’s hard because we’re not taught how to do it.

    Comment by meems — September 9, 2006 @ 2:03 am

  10. After going to an unprogrammed Quaker meeting, it is really hard to sit through an LDS fast and testimony meeting. The Quakers use “expectant waiting” and have comfortable gaps between speakers so that one can digest each the ideas of each person who has shared. I’ve been told that even if someone felt moved to speak right after another finished, they would tend to wait a few minutes to be polite, so as not to infringe on people’s ability to ponder the previous speaker’s words. I wish we did more of that in LDS meetings.

    I get frustrated when I hear someone start their testimony by getting up after a gap and saying, “I don’t want to waste this time…”

    Silence isn’t a waste of time. I wish we had longer gaps in between to ponder what is being said. Some testimony sessions are so rapid-fire that things may not stick very well, since we’ve only heard it, and not had a chance to think much about what was said.

    Comment by Naismith — September 9, 2006 @ 5:57 pm

  11. Dallas: And, yes, I do see meditation and pondering as two distinct things.

    Interesting. I suspect that you wouldn’t find much opposition among Mormons if you said meditation is a more intense version of pondering. (Certainly Enos must have been meditating in his all day and into the night prayer experience, for instance.) I don’t think we must utilize specific eastern practices for our meditation to qualify as meditation though…

    Blake – I see you like to define meditation as a more intense version of pondering too. I can see real value in that approach. As we have discussed before, I completely agree with you that hearing the still small voice of God requires a very quiet mind and that meditation is usually required for a quiet mind and thus is required for most personal revelations to occur.

    Doc – I agree.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 10, 2006 @ 9:25 am

  12. Meems: I think where the church falls a little short in this area is that we don’t teach each other how to meditate (or ponder).

    Good point. It is one thing to mention pondering or meditating but it is another to instruct people how to do it. I’m not sure instructions are needed for most people but pointers on how to quiet ones mind might be useful in some cases. (I fear that too much instruction could lead to a codified specific method of pondering/meditating and that would be a very bad thing in my opinion.) We could use the scriptural narratives to expand on the idea though without getting to constricting (like the Enos narrative I mentioned earlier.)

    Naismith – Thanks for the excellent thoughts. I liked this comment: “Silence isn’t a waste of time.”

    Of course in my ward there is nothing close to silence… we are a giant ward that is about to split and we have 5 full nurseries in the ward right now so there is a lot of rumbling noise in sacrament meeting…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 10, 2006 @ 9:33 am

  13. I meditate. Since I read this thing I found on-line called Mormon Mantras. My mantra is “Be Still.” And I read Eat Pray Love, which really is helpful in meditating.

    I meditate more than I pray now. The other day I was sitting on our little porch at the Inn on the river, and I was meditating so hard Bill scared me when he started talking to me.

    Comment by annegb — September 10, 2006 @ 10:24 am

  14. I meditate more than I pray now.

    Is there a difference? I don’t think there is for me… What I mean is that when I clear my mind it is always in hope/expectation that I’ll be able to have a dialogue with God through the spirit.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 10, 2006 @ 12:07 pm

  15. Hmmn, I am not sure of the exact terminology, but it seems to me that there are two distinct processes that are being discussed here, as if under a single umbrella.

    To me, pondering is thinking ABOUT something–a scripture, a problem, etc. When I do this, it fills my mind, with such intense concentration that I am startled by people around me.

    In contrast, both responses 7 and 9 refer to meditation as “emptying the mind.” So perhaps it is the opposite of pondering…and yet helpful in order to be open and ready to receive revelation.

    It’s probably just a terminology thing.

    Comment by Naismith — September 10, 2006 @ 4:07 pm

  16. Naismith,

    Well I think that the concept of meditating that I am thinking of has more to do with quieting our minds than anything else. That usually means clearing out the noisy clutter so we can create some truly quiet place where we can actually hear and comprehend the whispers of the still small voice of God. I don’t really see a reason to clear our minds of everything so we think about nothing at all. I clear my mind so the unimportant noises can give way to the important but generally quiet voice of God.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 10, 2006 @ 8:49 pm

  17. I’m about half way through the book myself. I find it odd that Paul H. Dunn is so often quoted in the book. When we finish the book, I’d love to discuss this.

    Meditation seems to me to be the answering time in relation to prayer.

    Comment by Matt Witten — September 11, 2006 @ 6:30 am

  18. I would be surprised to find many Mormons who do meditate, and I don’t equate meditation with prayer. Prayer could be a form of meditation if done right, but at the same time, someone could pray and meditate as two different actions (meditating before praying, for example).

    Comment by Kim Siever — September 11, 2006 @ 11:36 am

  19. I call emptying my mind of things sleep.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 11, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

  20. Of course, if one means emptying ones mind of excessive detail and intensity, I find lightly pondering a subject (usually after thinking about it rather more intensely) while on a walk or perhaps while sitting in a quiet chapel to be a rather productive exercise.

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 11, 2006 @ 3:22 pm

  21. For what it is worth, meditate is almost invariably used in a transitive sense in the scriptures, e.g “to meditate upon the word of God”.

    For example:

    “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” (Ps 77:12)

    “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” (1 Tim 4:15)

    “And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about.” (D&C 76:19)

    “I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.” JSH 1:44

    Here is the Online Etymology Dictionary entry:

    meditation
    c.1225, “discourse on a subject,” from L. meditationem (nom. meditatio), from meditatus, pp. of meditari “to meditate, to think over, consider,” from PIE base *med- “to measure, limit, consider, advise” (cf. Gk. medesthai “think about,” medon “ruler,” L. modus “measure, manner,” modestus “moderate,” modernus “modern,” mederi “to heal,” medicus “physician,” Skt. midiur “I judge, estimate,” Welsh meddwl “mind, thinking,” Goth. miton, O.E. metan “to measure”). Meaning “act of meditating, continuous calm thought upon some subject” is from 1390.

    I like the “continuous calm thought upon some subject” definition.

    See also http://scriptures.lds.org/en/search?search=meditate

    Comment by Mark Butler — September 12, 2006 @ 9:32 am

  22. What planet do you guys live on? What missions did you serve in? It’s a generation and jargon gap, people using different words to describe the same thing, nothing more. All mentally functional humans meditate, even if they don’t know it.

    Comment by Steve EM — September 13, 2006 @ 6:28 am

  23. Geoff, did you ever finish David O. Mckay and the rise of modern mormonism? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

    Comment by Matt Witten — October 17, 2006 @ 8:22 am

  24. I would be very interested to communicate with Mormons who meditate. I am writing a book Meditation and the Bible. I teach meditation as well and would like to explore this theme.

    Comment by Dennis Trisker — June 27, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

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