Visions of Daniel
Meditation without Myth
Meditation without Myth: What I Wish They'd Taught Me in Church about Prayer, Meditation, and the Quest for Peace. Crossroad Publishing Company, 2005.
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Meditation practice is now common. Many already do it, and many others want to know how. If for no other reason, the stress of our times is forcing people to find a way to relax, rediscover their center, and maintain a positive outlook. Meditation fits the bill, so teachers from East and West abound and present their particular methods.
Meditation without Myth takes another approach. Although it does describe one particular meditation technique, this book gives an overview of meditative practice and spiritual pursuits in general. Daniel brings his scientist's mind to the matter of spirituality. Cutting across religious traditions and speaking even to those who want nothing to do with organized religion or God, he goes behind all the approaches and shows what they are about.
In three parts, Meditation without Myth explains how to meditate, why meditation works, and what it means. The presentation is made in easy-to-read language and is couched in stories from Daniel's own spiritual journey. The book of 169 pages comprises 20 short chapters.
Part I is called "Taming the Mind." It presents meditative practice as a way of massaging the psyche in order to unleash the power of the human spirit. The basic notion is that within the mind there are two dimensions: psyche and spirit. So the human being is not simply "body and mind" or "body and soul," but "body, psyche, and spirit." Attention to any one of these three facets of the person can free the human spirit. Different spiritual practices emphasize one or another of these three facets.
In the final analysis, spiritual growth has to do with freeing the human spirit--and not necessarily with religion, God, metaphysical entities, or cosmic realms. The human spirit may open onto these other-worldly realities and in some way even participate in them, but they are not the key to growth in spiritual sensitivity.
Among an array of spiritual practices, the book focuses on one meditative technique. Part I also treats many practical matters that relate to meditation: posture, timing, frequency, beginning and ending devotions, silence, social expectations, solitude and loneliness, drugs and alcohol, sex, and overall lifestyle.
Part II presents "The Psychology of Spirituality." Again apart from any appeal to God or other metaphysical entities, two chapters explain how psyche and spirit interact to enhance spiritual sensitivity. Then three chapters describe the path of spiritual integration--from the experience of everyday-ordinary relaxation to the refined attainment of cosmic conscious-ness, enlightenment, or mysticism. But the emphasis throughout is very down-to-earth, practical, this-worldly. This book does not suppose that spirituality is about getting away from this world but, rather, about living more richly in this world. For example, the final chapter in Part II treats "Sex as a Spiritual Exercise."
Part III is entitled "God, Religion, and Spirituality." Here's the issue: if psychology can explain how meditation works, what place is left for relationship with God, religious practice, and metaphysical contacts? Part III takes a hard-nosed look at these matters. It explains how religion and spirituality fit together, what God means, how spiritual practices could enhance a relationship with God, and what spirituality means for those who do not believe in God. Part III also speaks of religiousdoctrines or dogmas, prior lives and the afterlife, faith in the face of life's uncertainty, petitionary prayer, and the meaning of ethical or moral living.
In his Preface, Daniel writes, "This thoroughly humanistic analysis with a natural opening onto theology is, I believe, unique. I cleanly sort of the psychological and the theological and then interrelate them. I know of no other approach that maintains this delicate balance."
The Story of this Book
Gay Spirit Visions of Atlanta asked me to lead their winter meditation retreat in January, 2002. This was the first of what has become an annual event--a silent weekend retreat for gay men in the wintry mountains of North Carolina. For fifteen years, Gay Spirit Visions has sponsored other types of retreats each spring and fall.
When that retreat was over, I realized that from my talks I had a detailed outline that covered the major issues in the spiritual life. That summer I decided to write up that outline, and Meditation without Myth was the result.
What is interesting about this book is that I wrote it in about six to eight weeks. I already had an outline, and the material was very familiar to me, so the writing was easy. In fact, this book is a popularized statement of the psychology of spirituality that I have been developing for the past twenty-five years. So I just wrote away.
I am very pleased to have this material in popular print. I believe that I have a unique angle on spirituality, and I believe that my approach speaks to our daunting challenge of forging a global community in the face of religious diversity. I look forward to the day when my other popular statement, Spirituality for a Secular Society, will also be available.
As always, finding a publisher for the book took longer than writing it did. My presentation of spirituality is not always the warm-fuzzy, inspirational, feel-good kind of thing that many people look for in "spiritual writings." I tend to face the issues head on and to present honest responses, whether comforting or not. So publishers are not eager to publish my material. They prefer books that appeal to--should I say "pander to"?--market tastes. I am most grateful, then, that Crossroad Publishing Company chose to publish this book. It will surely speak to a growing number of people who are sincerely grappling with life and its meaning and for whom warm fuzzies are not enough.
Crossroad is an independent Catholic publishing house. "Independent" means that they are not beholden to any church authorities. For this reason they have a history of publishing challenging religious books.
It is right, I think, that a Catholic house should have published this book, and especially because of its origins in a retreat for gay men. After all, I am Catholic, I was trained in Catholic theology, and I have ministered as a Catholic priest. This book is the fruit of a Catholic boy's life journey. But having resigned from active ministry and having published that gay-positive book, What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, and other pieces critical of the Vatican, I have been black-balled in Catholic circles. So it is gratifying to have some Catholic validation, even if unofficial, of my ideas.
The irony, of course, is that my ideas will likely speak least to hard-line, conservative Catholics and most to the religiously-disenfranchised people who are the true spiritual seekers of our age. Would that religious believers could better appreciate the liberating riches of their own traditions and transform their religions to meet the needs of the twenty-first century! But no: the conservative backlash puts blinders on people's eyes.
I hope that you, at least, who are reading this statement, will find my book helpful and will come to some extent to share my vision.