I recently finished Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry by Arthur Zajonc. Here are a few brief notes.
It’s rare for me to finish a book and immediately think I need to start over at the beginning and read it again. Yet that’s the case here. I found this book engaging and compelling yet increasingly challenging. I’m convinced there is real value here, but I am equally convinced that I have not assimilated it wholly.
Zajonc begins with some persuasive arguments in favor of contemplation, urging us to take (or make) the time for daily practice. He then gives an overview of the path as he sees it. This is given in simple terms so that even people unfamiliar with meditation can follow it. (By way of reference, perhaps I should mention that I have practiced only the simplest sort of breathing meditation, very erratically, for many years.) That accounts for the introduction and the first chapter. The remainder of the book is devoted to examining steps along the path in greater detail. Perhaps it is unavoidable that each chapter is more esoteric than the one before it. It is a credit to Zajonc’s lucid writing style that this never lapses into incomprehensibility, despite the increasing subtlety of the subject matter.
One of the most praiseworthy aspects of this book is the care the author takes to distinguish the essential nature of his subject from various religious traditions. This is a delicate balancing act. Zajonc connects various aspects of meditation to explicitly spiritual perspectives from around the world, including the “usual suspects” such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, but also Native American spirituality and anthroposophism — without ever committing to one of them. Zajonc also notes that religion “has become an obstacle to many.” It is left to the reader to locate his or her practice within a religious context — and a thoroughly secular reading is also possible.
I also appreciated the many connections drawn between contemplation and social justice. King, Mandela and Gandhi are cited repeatedly. Zajonc is a physicist, and we get some Einstein quotations as well. These were amongst my favorites.
I feel compelled to offer some sort of criticism so this review doesn’t seem overly gushing. All I can say is that, from my personal standpoint, Zajonc seems to articulate a very “solar” perspective. I feel that I need something somewhat more “lunar,” if that makes any sense. I’m sorry I can’t express it better than that. I don’t really know what I mean, as it’s just something I intuitively feel. But perhaps that’s just a matter of locating my practice in my proper religious context — once I figure out what that is.
Perhaps most importantly, this book is convincing. I am both persuaded and inspired to incorporate some form of contemplative practice into my daily life. I look forward to reading this book again.
As I understand it, Jesuits try to spend 60% of their day in contemplation. Of course, they don’t have a 31-month-old child to raise. As far as they know.
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