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Why Can`t I Meditate?

John Douglas Simpson, M.A. Simpson

You may eat right, take your vitamins and do water aerobics to keep in shape. But one thing you probably just can t seem to do is meditate. Despite the obvious benefits that meditation offers for health and managing stress easily, most of us have trouble settling into the serene quiet that meditation offers.

The benefits of meditation are indeed numerous, ranging from the physical to the spiritual. On the physical side, it can reduce the stimulus that overloads our bodies with stress hormones and elevated blood pressure. On the spiritual side it can provide a place of quiet exploration, said to be basic for the spiritual quest.

Though meditation has grown significantly in numbers over the last several decades, it is still successfully practiced

The answer may come in the biology of the brain. An increasing amount of research says we form our brains around our experiences. In other words, whether we like it or not, we become biologically tuned, possibly even addicted, to the lives we lead. As our lives become faster and faster it becomes harder to make the jump back to something as slow or as or beneficial as sitting quietly.

For high speed westerners meditation has other challenges. First it was created in both foreign and ancient cultures. We don t have a modern western language for meditation and have to borrow the sights, sounds and rhythms of India and the Far East where the traditions were strongest. Put simply, when we are already trying something new it s hard to relate to exotic languages, chanting and sounds.

Second is a complete blurring of the dividing line between the world of commerce and the world of hearth and home. In his pivotal book, The Pattern Language, architect Christopher Alexander, calls for the fundamental, almost primal need for a transition from street life, to the quiet security of a home.

Home was once a place where we could cast off the pace of the outside world and feel quite safe and secure. If you envision yourself proceeding to your front door through a small Japanese garden, or through the thick, cool walls of a Mediterranean courtyard and you may get a sense of how wonderful this can feel.

Inside the traditional home, people could act out different roles that centered on relaxation and simple pleasures like eating. Meditation doesn t seem so far from the pace of this world. On the other hand, in the modern house, the world of commerce holds equal ground inside in the form of TV, radio, internet and cell phones. You never slow down, you never experience retreat and this gives stress no outlet.

There are a few things you can do to calm your household, even with modern and ancient technology. First, consider going on a quest for music that separates you from the day to day world. Experiment with classical music from the 16th and 17th centuries known as baroque. A lot of baroque music has a tempo close to one beat per second, the pace of the human heart. This has been shown to be beneficial to mood, focus and a sense of relaxation.

Other sounds, particularly those from nature, seem to be incredibly calming. After all, humans listened intently to the sounds of nature for signals of safety or threat.

Water fountains can provide a safe, soothing sound that bespeaks safety. Wind chimes have also been used for thousands of years enliven and change the sense of time in homes and temples.

Modern recordings of the sounds of surf, rivers and birds are also very effective calming devices. These are all accessible to anyone with a CD player or IPod. Electronics extends the range of calming sources of sound and can change our entire perception of our environment. We provide an example of how this works on our web site.

A powerful but less known sound that can change our state of mind is drumming. This is not your 15 year old on a new drum set, but the soul-satisfying, rhythmic drumming of ancient, native instruments. These sounds were refined and improved over millennia. Is it any wonder it is hard to keep still when we hear a great African beat or Tahitian drum? In fact, Ayruvedic medicine teaches that certain drum tones break up stagnate energy there

Whatever audio selections you choose, play these recordings at low volume most of the time. Music and drumming is actually very stimulating to the nervous system. The lower it is played, the more likely it will be calming, centering and not ultimately fatiguing.

However, any music that calms, relaxes and creates a positive state of mind is worth trying. Specialists in the field say that non verbal, non choral music is best. Vocal music engages the active, critical and logical part of the brain, so it should be avoided as a relaxation tool.

If any of these methods help clear your mind of the day s events, it has brought you closer to meditative calm. In fact many spiritual practices in both the east and west claim that all of life is a meditation. The essence of meditation is being aware and clear headed.

With moments of clear headedness, if you ever choose to meditate in a more traditional and quiet form, you will find it much easier to do so. The jump from the sounds of your home to actual meditation won t be too far to take.

Drums of Redemption: An Introduction to African Christianity

Journal of Third World Studies , Spring 1998 by Zongo, Opportune

Sindima, Harvey J. Drums of Redemption: An Introduction to African Christianity. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. 211 pp.

Harvey Sindima took on the commendable task of writing about Africa`s connection with Christianity. This topic up till fairly recently, and as he himself puts it, was very little known because of what he refers to as a lack or a distortion of general knowledge concerning Africa`s past (p. 1).

In very eloquent language and using refreshing and substantial evidence, Sindima highlights Africa`s contributions to the development of Christian thought and practice during the first five hundred years of Christianity. In addition, he discusses a less known period in the history of African Christianity: the eighth century through medieval times to the fifteenth century. This period is usually been ascribed to Islamic conquests and influence in North Africa. He also expands on the documentation of the word of Western missionaries in Africa, their societies or agencies (from the fifteenth century to the present), including the work of two important groups of missionaries: the early African evangelists and Africans of the diaspora.

As a move to set the book apart from the others on African Christianity, most of which have tended to have one perspective (that is, historical, theological, or sociological), Sindima perceptively and carefully integrates various perspectives and issues into the text, making sure to cover mostly the main points and prevent tedious details from overwhelming his presentation of the ideas and the evidence. Indeed, some of the greatest strengths of the book lie in the amount of informative evidence from Western and African sources that he unearthed and successfully allowed to speak to the issues he advances. The presentation of the information in a limpid and non-threatening way so that beginners and advanced readers can easily understand also contributes to making this book one of the most solid contributions to African, cultural, historical, and religious studies.

The book is divided into two parts. The first one deals with the historical development of African Christianity while the second examines responses to the missionary enterprise in the continent and the theological work that followed it.

In the introduction, the author starts from the premise that Christianity continues to grow in Africa. He cites from documents of such well respected organizations such as the Center for African Christianity in Nairobi, which states that there are over 205 million Christians in Africa today, and from statistics which predict that by the turn of the century, the Christian population in Africa will be over 350 million (representing the largest concentration of Christians in the world). He then goes on to explicate the book`s perspective and the necessity of such a perspective in the study of the history of African Christianity. According to him, he has chosen, among other things, to highlight Africa`s connection to Christianity and call attention to the work of early African evangelists, for example, because a lack or distortion of general knowledge concerning Africa`s past has primarily consisted in separating the southern regions of the continent from the northern, treating the latter as part of Western cu lture and civilization. Basically, histories of Christian missions say little or nothing about Africa`s contribution to Christianity and evangelization in the continent (pp. xixii).

Part I of the book, entitled "History" has five chapters. In Chapter 1, the author presents a brief background to the beginnings of African Christianity. He examines documents and issues that relate to the origin of missionary activity in Africa and highlights the expansion of two of the early churches in Africa, that of Egypt and Lybia. He also details numerous persecutions, particularly during the first three centuries of early African Christians because they refused to worship and sacrifice to the emperors (p. 8).

"The Ethiopian Church," the title of the second chapter, reviews the story of Ethiopian Christianity and tries to put in proper perspective historical facts concerning the origin and development of the faith in Ethiopia. In this section, Sindima, among other topics, focuses on the structuring of the Ethiopian church, its problems with Canon Law, the history and success of the Ethiopian church and people in their battle against Canon Law, and the influence of the latter on nationalist movements in Africa and the diaspora. These included Ras Tafarianism, the 1879 Zulu defeat of the British army in Isandhlwana, and the Ethiopian defeat of the invading Italian army (p. 44). For four centuries, under Canon Law, the author explains, Ethiopians could not have their own archbishops or bishops. The latter were sent from Alexandria. Furthermore, once in place, each appointed bishop ignored the custom and language of their (Ethiopian) flock as well as the traditions of the Ethiopian church and people (p. 42). 3-

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