For in the end,
We will conserve only what we
We will love only what we understand,
We will understand only what
we are taught.
— Baba Dioum
I recently watched video program by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr in which he outlined the 4 steps or stages of meditation. He did this as prequel to an exercise in which he instructed students to find an object they wished to commune with (outdoors is a good place to do this) and use the object as the "focal point" of the meditation. The focal point is similar to the mantra or a special word (as in centering prayer), in that it allows the meditator to have one point of "thinking" for the busy mind to return to in order to drop into non-thinking. The focal point allows the meditator to practice observing without judging, which leads to the ability to 1) observe the self, with subsequent 2) experiencing the self. Baba Dioum's wisdom (above) describes the process. Words in bold type are Bab Dioum's poetic concepts applied to outcomes of Rohr's meditation stages.
The ultimate goal of meditation is to allow the mind to move from conscious duality, that is, a reference place that judges in order to see differences and define thoughts (FORM) to conscious nonduality, which is a mental reference point without judgment that allows for all thoughts and no thoughts (FORMLESS). This latter is the contemplative mind.
The Teaching (which tells the process of reconciliation):
The stages Fr Rohr asked his students to attempt in their mediation were as follows:
Stage I - Be aware of the object without defining it. To be aware without allowing the mind to react is to begin to REST in a larger consciousness.
Stage II - (The Understanding) Continue to observe the object without judgment. This is a continuation of Stage I, the difficulty of meditation is to achieve a lasting state of nonjudgmental awareness. This Stage leads to respect for the object and a feeling of JOY within the student. "The judging mind is incapable of joy." RR
Stage III - (The Loving) Allow the object to speak to you, to reveal itself to you, to name itself. This stage further requires the student to let go of the defining/judging mind. If we are listening to the object (or truly listening to another person, for that matter) we are, in a sense, waiting for them to define things for us. Here, we practice withholding judgment as the object speaks to us on a level that invites us into a new way of experiencing the object without thinking it or defining it. We sense our self in relationship with or communion with the object. The outcome of Stage III is deep respect for the object and for our relationship with the object. We realize that we are One with the object. We discover that the source of all thought and feeling about the object is our self. This stage elicits a deep feeling of connectedness and LOVE. In Stage III we realize our self as the source of loving kindness. "The way you love anything is the way you love everything." RR
Stage IV - (The Conserving) Contented Consciousness. Stage IV is often an unconscious experience. It is a stage of completely resting in the spacious universe within. We are One with all else, there are no definitions or judgments. This is nondual consciousness in its completely experiential capacity. At this stage we feel an expansiveness or spaciousness about our self. It is, indeed, our formless being (pure Spirit or energy) that we encounter here.
When you think about these stages of meditation, you may recognize that these are the same stages described for Lectio Divina, divine reading of scripture. Yes, this is exactly the same approach. In lectio divina, the words on a page are the object. Lectio - we read it or become aware of it, Meditatio - we meditate on it or simply sit in non-judgment of it, Oratio - it speaks to us, tells us something deeper than words and Contemplatio - we rest in com-union with the message in "the eternal presence of God."
This practice of silent prayer and meditation takes many forms and is as ancient as humans are human. This is the practice of evolving, maturing the Spiritual self or the formless self in BEING that which is eternally JOYful, unconditionally LOVE-ing and eternally in harmonious/PEACE-ful relationship (communion) with all of Life. What is reconciled within will find its reflection without.
May the practice lead you to this place of REST, JOY, LOVE, COM-UNION waiting patiently within for your awareness. And may you find, there, sacred union with the Divine that IS you and also so much more than you. Namaste!