This week’s reflection meditation experience was 180 degrees different from last week’s guided meditations on YouTube. Almost exactly one year ago, I went on a religious pilgrimage to Israel with a group of people from my church. It was a truly incredible experience packed with new knowledge and a renewed sense why I believe in my faith. It still seems that I have more questions than answers but this trip was certainly a step (or a leap) in the right direction. While I was there I took copious notes during the day on the places we went and people we talked to. Each night before bed I would write in my journal, synthesizing the notes from that day. I knew that this would be an experience I’d look back on for a long time so it was worth spending the extra hour each night to put it in my journal.
Now, fast-forward one year. I had meant to type up my notes and distribute them to my pilgrimage group but I only got about halfway through my notebook before it got lost in the shuffle of life. Also, I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time reflecting on the trip since our plane touched down back in Boston last year; I had some thoughts here and there but no serious time was spent reflecting on what happened and what I thought about all of it. So I figured that my meditation month would be a great way to revisit and relive that experience. Luckily, two of my meditation days were up in New Hampshire.
I decided that I would spend 1/2 hour meditating each day by reading one day’s journal entry from Israel and then meditating on the time/place/smells/people/knowledge/etc in that entry. Last week I did some hour-long meditations but that seemed a bit aggressive and it was a real struggle, both to stay focused and I started to get pains in my knees and ankles from sitting cross-legged for that long. The half-hour sessions were perfect, just enough time to get into some deep thought without having to stay focused for a full hour. Also it was easier to fit it into my daily routine. Here’s a glimpse at where my mind was over the past week:
- Meditation 1 – Traveling to Israel and Visiting Calvary. It took us about a full day to fly to Israel and even in my meditation I could remember the sights, smells, and initial reactions I had when I stepped foot in the old part of Jerusalem. We stayed in the old city near the Church of the Holy Seplechre where it is believed Calvary was (i.e. where Jesus was crucified)
- Meditation 2 - Bethlehem. Again we went back to the site of Calvary early in the morning, this turned into a daily occurrence because it was so close to where we were staying. Then we spent the whole day in Bethlehem which was my first time that I caught a real glimpse at what is meant by Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Bethlehem is an Israeli city but it is located in Palestine. As an Israeli male in Bethlehem you cannot go in or out without a Palestinian passport (except tour groups apparently), thus the unemployment rate is 70% and there’s a large drug/alcohol/crime problem within the city
- Meditation 3 – The Temple Mount, Mount Zion, and the Pools of Bethesda.We got a lot of history on this day from our tour guide (thanks George!). One image that stuck in my mind was that during those days at passover, 250,000 sheep would be slaughtered (one for each family) as a sacrifice for their sins. The blood was channeled into the Kidron Valley. This image stuck in my mind as I remember being in the Kidron Valley and wondering what it would look like (and smell like) to have the blood of a quarter million sheep running through it. Also, it looked like there could be some rock climbing there as well (return trip?)
- Meditation 4 – Bethany, Mount of Temptation, Jericho, and Tiberias. On this day I renewed my baptism in the Jordan River, rode a camel, and saw some nomads. More importantly, I started to better understand some of the New Testament stories like the Good Samaritan and Lazarus coming back from the dead on the 4th day. They are stories you hear constantly if you’ve grown up in the church, but actually being in some of these places with someone who is very knowledgeable about religion and history it helps the stories become very real, amazing really.
- Meditation 5 - Today I honestly forgot to meditate. I woke up late-ish for work, worked, went on a lunch-time bike ride with some guys at work, worked again, went home with enough time to shovel a PB&J into my mouth and then headed to the climbing gym. I didn’t get home until about 10:30pm at which point I ate some food, showered, talked to Sarah on the phone for a few minutes, and then passed out. It was a great day with good friends and good exercise but I failed on the meditation piece which was the whole point of this month: slow down and spend some time in my own mind.
- Meditation 6 – Magdala, Cana, and Nazareth. This was the day I realized that in order to really experience Israel I had to live here for at least 6 months. The amount of information and stimuli was too much to really soak in within the timeframe we had. Again it was another day full of history and visiting key areas from the New Testament. One aspect I spent a lot of time meditating on was when we visited a church built by Pope John Paul II (the first pope in the past 200 years to visit the holy land, wow) which featured mosaics of Mary and Jesus from each country of the world. The idea was to portray that everyone was welcome here to this church in Israel no matter where you came from. It was interesting to see a Chinese or African Jesus, when in fact he was an Aramaic Jew. The United States had a particularly awful piece of art, not only was it not a mosaic like everyone else, it made Mary look like the white witch from Narnia
- Meditation 7 – Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes. This day was cool because we got to ride a “Jesus Boat” across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum where Jesus did most of his adult teachings and healings. We then spent some time meditating (of all things) on the Mount of Beatitudes. It was an amazing day and the trip was only half-over at this point.
It was amazing how easily reading my journal brought me right back to these places I visited a year ago. If you keep a journal I definitely recommend trying it. Read one of your entries and then spend 20-30 minutes sitting with your eyes closed just going through your memories. What did those events mean to you then, what do they mean to you now, and what might they mean to you in the future? I definitely found value in revisiting these experiences via meditation. I feel like reflecting and meditating on this trip/life experience in Israel was almost as important as going there itself. I don’t know if it’s something I’d do every day but certainly it’s something I think I’ll mix in on a semi-regular basis, especially when I’m outside in nature, I’ve enjoyed those meditation sessions the most.
Next week for me is chakra meditation. I’m not sure how much I buy into the concept of aligning your 7 chakras via white light cleansing energy but I’m always interested in trying new things and having new experiences. We’ll see how it goes, wish me luck.