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Meditation: On The Newel Post

Newel Post

Jan and I participate in a twice monthly quiet meditation at the First United Church Green Wood.

The location is nestled amid a woods, and the wall-to-wall windows make me feel surrounded by nature yet cozy. The sessions run about an hour and are held on the first and third Saturday’s at 8:30. They consist of about 20 minutes silent reflection, 20 minutes walking meditation, and then a brief devotion time where someone shares a reading and we each take turns reflecting on the passage.

I led a session recently, and I shared these reflections on, well, mail.

In our household we don’t have the most efficient method for dealing with mail — and by mail I mean the good old fashioned pieces of paper that are delivered to our front doorstep. Our usual letter carrier is well tanned and wears a blond ponytail and loads our mailbox full nearly every day. A typical collection includes bills and notices, special offers and sales fliers, reminder postcards from our dentist. From time to time, a magazine arrives about one or another pastime activity we enjoy and, even more infrequently, there are printed catalogs. In January, we eagerly await the arrival of the first new seed catalog of the year since, even in the cold dark days, they remind us that there is a garden out there hiding beneath all that snow. Every few months, maybe twice a year, I’ll receive an actual letter. Some mail is treasured, some tolerated, some merely annoys, but regardless of our attitude, mail happens.

I find that I really look forward to the mail. Frequently my first words upon arriving home are “Did anything come for me today?” It’s an unfair question, I know, since it’s hard to scan the envelopes with someone else in mind.

We have an adequate system but one that’s not overly efficient. We typically bring in the armload of mail and rest it on the newel post at the foot of the stairs. Right at the foot of the stairs is an antique copper pot where we drop the pieces that are destined for the compost. On a small table, we have boxes for our children who still occasionally receive mail at our address.

But all too often, the mail is just brought in from the post box and stacked on top of the post at the foot of the stairs. Depending on how much mail comes on any day, this accumulation can stretch on for several days, maybe a week.The stack grows taller and more precarious until, inevitably, the slightest breeze makes it tip over and scatter to the floor.

That distinctive sound of the mail fluttering to the ground can be heard throughout the house when it happens. It makes a mess but it’s hardly a tragedy.

It struck me today that meditation is a lot like sorting mail.

Some folks speak about “insight meditation” as if the process of meditation directly creates insight. Others speak of “answers to prayer” as if contemplative devotions are like an actual, real-time dialogue. For some folks it might be like that, but for me, meditation is more like sorting mail.

I definitely receive insights and answers when I meditate — so tangibly, in fact, that when I started meditating I kept a clipboard beside me so I could scribble down all the amazing things that occurred to me while I was trying to sit quietly. But the sense I get about these realizations is that I’ve already received them days ago.

They’re like pieces of mail that have been buried in that stack on the newel post.

If God talks to us at all, God is probably chatting away constantly. The Psalmist puts it “The heavens are telling the glory of God.” It’s constant. It’s all around us.

Meditation is a time when I can quiet down the noise floor, the jitters and pre-occupations, the inner drama and, in that quiet, I can listen. I can shut off the situation comedy of my life for a few moments and sort through what I’ve received.

And it’s not even a conscious sorting. Contemplation for me isn’t cogitation. I try to quiet my mind and then when something pops up — because it always does — I pick it up, hold it at arm’s length and consider it. Sometimes, I decide to discard the sensation. Sometimes, I put it aside for another time. But sometimes, and this occurs more frequently than I receive a personal letter, I’ll realize something.

Maybe it’s not a message. Maybe it’s an awareness– addressed to me.

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