Is There Value In This For Christian Mysticism?

Different forms of meditation play a part in many spiritual traditions. In Christian Mysticism practice today we find contemplative prayer, the focus of the Julian movement; in monastic communities, many meditative practices play an essential role; silent prayer can be carried out in reflective church services or in small groups. The Buddhists practise Mindfulness of Breathing; a variety of relaxation techniques form part of yoga classes or therapy groups based upon creative visualization or the ‘guided fantasies’ used in transpersonal psychology groups. Leader of the TM Movement Maharishi Mahesh Yogi popularized his own brand of meditation in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and this technique is still practised today by many. ‘Meditating’ may be contrasted with ‘worrying’ – the same mental processes are involved, but directed to a very different end.

There is yet another form of ‘meditation’ which does not rely on sitting still and seeking peace and tranquility. This was used by the Indian mystic and spiritual teacher Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh when he led his sannyasins in a life devoted to his quirky and controversial teachings, again back in the 1970’s. One of his declared beliefs was the importance of expressing all emotions, good and bad, in our progress on the spiritual path. Thus he created a technique called ‘Dynamic Meditation’. There are similarities between this technique and that of ‘rebirthing’ used in some branches of the human potential, personal growth and self-improvement industry. I have myself observed this supposed ’emotional release therapy’ in the past, whilst investigating the practices and beliefs of the sannyasins who followed Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.

In the two sessions which I witnessed, one in London, and one in Medina Rajneesh, (which at that time was Bhagwan’s Hertfordshire base), loud music was played, whilst the participants were encouraged to move their bodies in any way they wished, and to express and release their emotions with a complete lack of inhibition. What followed looked and sounded chaotic. Some tore their clothes off and danced naked – a little like worshippers of Dionysus in Ancient Greece, who rushed up into the mountains in an ecstatic state to worship the god of wine, as shown in Euripides’ play ‘The Bacchae’.

Others gave way to the grief that was locked inside them, curling up in a foetal position and sobbing as if their hearts would break. All of this was meant to serve a cathartic purpose. Some of the group simply danced; some curled themselves into tight balls; and others writhed across the floor like snakes. This overwrought situation depends upon the skill of the group leader in controlling it, and upon his sense of responsibility in bringing things to a conclusion should this be necessary for the safety of all.

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