A reader recently asked me to comment on the relationship between meditation and depression. I’ve already posted on this once, but it seems a worthy topic. Before we can begin in earnest we need to define a few things:
What is meditation?
The ever-reliable Wikipedia describes meditation like this:
Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to a single point of reference. The benefits of the practice can engender a higher state of consciousness. Meditation is recognized as a component of eastern religions, where it has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which can emphasize development of either a high degree of mental concentration, or the apparent converse, mental quiescence.
That’s a pretty decent definition. Meditation can mean the focus or concentration on a specific object, thought, or concept. For the Christian, meditation can mean focus upon the Word of God, and is closely connected with prayer.
So when we hear meditation touted as an alternative to medicine for treating depression, what does that really mean?
The type of meditation determines its benefit for the Christian
As Christians, we have to recognize first off that there are some types of meditation that are good and salutary, some that we may consider spiritually neutral, and others that might be dangerous or even idolatry.
Focus upon the Word of God in prayer is good meditation. It means reflecting upon God’s promises, and learning to trust that His promises are for you, regardless of your mental state. This is obviously a good and salutary thing for us. Connected to that I would add meditation upon the Sacrament of the Altar, as well as various prayer disciplines which may serve to free the mind and spirit for the cares of the day.
There are certain types of meditation that may be neutral. Cognitive therapy, for example, may use a type of meditation to help you change your mindset about a thing. Using a phrase and keeping it in your head in times of distress. One of mine for some time was: “God loves me. I am baptized. He will take care of me.” Simple, but an effective defense against the assaults of the day or of the devil. I suppose that would be called cognitive reframing or something like that. I’m sure there are other kinds of spiritually neutral forms of meditation. I think you could argue that exercise can lead to a form of meditation, for example. Visualization techniques may fall into this category, but I’ll have to ruminate on that one a bit.
Any type of meditation that would lead one away from Christ and the Gospel is dangerous. Any kind of meditation that promises the repeating of certain phrases in order to gain a higher consciousness (e.g. Buddism), is dangerous. Meditation that seems to be at odds with what we know to be true from the Scriptures is dangerous.
Now these three types are fluid in some ways. Anything can be dangerous to the faith, if it replaces Christ and the Gospel. But at the same time, somethings are always dangerous to the faith.
One thing I would like to know more about is yoga. I know yoga has religious roots, but as it is practiced in the West, I’m not sure that is always the case. Have any of our readers ever studied or practiced this topic? If so, let me know. I’d like to hear from you.
Those are my initial thoughts. What are yours?