Here is a rosary of statements made over the centuries by different individuals about the importance of meditation.
First, from the middle of the sixteenth century, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne: ‘We must get away from the crowd out there, but also from the crowd inside ourselves. We are the obstacle that stands between us and an unobstructed view.’
A century later, Blaise Pascal wrote, ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’
Then, in the nineteenth century, Franz Kafka declared, ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quite still and solitary’.
In the twentieth century we have Etty Hillesum who died in Auschwitz at the age of 29. A Dutch Jewess, with no religious background, she found her own way to meditate. Here is something she wrote in her diary:
‘Not thinking but listening to what is going on inside you. If you do that for a while every morning you acquire a kind of calm that illumines the whole day… I listen all day to what is inside me, and even when I am with others I am able to draw strength from the most deeply hidden source within myself…’
And lastly, in our own time, some words from a French writer, Christian Bobbin, whose work has just been published for the first time into English by Pauline Matarasso, under the title The Eighth Day. Of all the spiritual writers I have read he is closest to Rilke, surprising us constantly by his imagery:
‘We need to guard ourselves not only against the world, but against our pre-occupation with ourselves, another door by which the world might creep back in like a prowler in a sleeping house.’
Though there are different techniques for meditating, and each of us has to find the one that works for us, there is a vast cathedral, or mosque, or temple.