When I was in High School, I had a particular practice that I engaged in regularly. I would go to the local gym and for hours I would kick a soccer ball in the racquetball court. I would practice touching the ball in different ways and I would imagine aspects of soccer while I did this. As boring as that might sound, I found it quite enthralling (and I still do). The repetition of kicking the ball over and over again had a meditative quality to it.
I have been thinking a lot lately about meditative activities. A way of describing such activities is by what one psychologist calls “flow”.The idea is relatively simple. One is immersed in an activity which engages the whole person and we lose our sense of self-consciousness. There is a little more to the research than that, but we can all identify such activities in our life. Perhaps it is running, reading, or a whole hosts of activities which stimulate us. We can even experience flow at work.
What I would argue is that meditative activities afford us moments of self-forgetting. Past generations engaged in such wholesome activities regularly. Sports is an obvious example, but I would also include dancing within this category. Anyone who has danced with a decent level of skill has experienced the sheer enjoyment of being in harmony with a partner. Something incredible happens when two people dance and their rhythms match. We all need such kind of activities in our life.
So why do I call these activities meditative? I would also add that such activities have value for our spiritual life. The benefit of such activities for one’s spiritual life is an insight shared with Zen Buddhism. In that particular philosophy, such activities calm the mind and help the practitioner achieve a deeper level of fulfillment (commonly called enlightenment). So the practice of meditative activities is to enter into a quiet rhythm of motion and harmony. Mind and body move together in a way that allows the heart to rest.
Although there is a shared appreciation for such activities, Christianity differs in that we are a religion of relationship. Well-being and inner harmony are at the service of a loving commitment to the person of Jesus Christ. Through this commitment, meditative activities become ways of relating to the Lord. The natural is transfigured and elevated through the work of grace. Thus I am saying that dancing can be a guide to making you holy. Maybe that thesis needs to be developed a little more, but I still stand by it.
So let us ask the following questions. Do we dance? Do we play outside for the sheer thrill of the game? Do we spend time in the pursuit of activity, or do we recreate through activities that lack such nutrition such as television and movies? If we are saying yes to the former, maybe we should consider putting time aside for pursuit of meditative activities.