How did you come to meditation?
Christopher Andre : First, I always had – and I still have – a calm, introverted, easily contemplative temperament… Then, when I was a medical student, I went through a personal drama: brutal death, in my arm, of my best friend, during a motorcycle accident. I then found refuge in a Benedictine monastery. I discovered there the times of prayer, of silence, of recollection and of community life. I left this retreat with the feeling of having experienced an inner transformation.
These moments, which had greatly intrigued and calmed me, constituted a preparation for meditation. Later, I encountered the Buddhist meditative tradition. I read many books, met the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. Finally, I followed the first scientific studies on mindfulness meditation, secular, easy to access. I trained in it and, in 2004, I introduced it to patients at the Sainte-Anne hospital in Paris.
Since then, I have tried to practice it every day.
How is it different from prayer?
In prayer, we address someone – God – and there is an intention: to ask, to thank, to celebrate… We use words. In mindfulness meditation, it is about becoming present to what is there, to oneself, to one’s breath, to one’s thoughts. In other words, it seems to be the opposite: we don’t speak to anyone, we don’t expect anything, we try to be in what we feel, without having to resort to words. These practices therefore seem contradictory.
However, I think that in reality, they are very complementary. It seems to me that our prayer cannot be deep, just, go up to God, if it is not preceded by a time when we are silent, when we free ourselves from our cogitations.
I think back to a communion mass where there was a happy bazaar, a party atmosphere where people were more concerned with taking pictures or talking with friends. At one point the priest asked, “Open your heart to God! » ; but it was impossible: nobody was really there, in the spiritual opening. I even think that if we are not recollected in the presence of what we are and what we do, we can certainly pray, but in an automatic, disinhabited way.
Do you pray? And, if so, how do you articulate prayer and meditation?
First I meditate, to make myself present in the moment, then I pray. Sometimes I just want to meditate, without the intention of praying. I sit down, I close my eyes… and, unexpectedly, I’m carried away. I suddenly have the feeling of belonging to the world, the impression that the borders between my little person and the Universe are becoming porous, a feeling of existential questioning grips me: “Why am I here breathing? Thus sometimes appear states that call for prayer, feelings of gratitude, of transcendence.
I am a Christian, so I say to myself: “You have opened your soul to greater than yourself, you feel, in a very simple way, that you are a small receiver and that there is a large transmitter that sends signals. I think meditation is good for faith. It is a way of deepening one’s prayer, of opening it up to new paths, perhaps with fewer words and more bodily feeling. Don’t hesitate, go for it!
How has monastic life opened you up to meditation?
Among the Benedictines, I feel like a little parasite who benefits from the large monastic body. I am lucky to be in contact with people of extremely strong faith who, by their presence, their songs, their prayers and their way of life, are a way and an example. I feel a kind of osmosis with them. They have something that I touch bit by bit or at times. I feel like an amateur in the midst of champions of faith! I enjoy being with them. They go beyond the distinction between meditation and prayer: they accomplish the reunion of the two. Great believers and great meditators no longer make this distinction.
How can we combine prayer and meditation?
I think for us ordinary people, it’s all about regularity and repetition. For example, when we sit down facing the sea, we are first of all in the simple peaceful presence. But if we stay a little, we can feel gratitude towards the God who allows us to live this moment. Then, if we push a little further, the feeling of His presence in us and around us.
When I meditate, I often go through three stages: body, mind, soul. Whatever happens, I start by becoming aware of my body: what state it is in, what I feel, how I breathe. Then I examine my ideas: what I want, what worries me. Sometimes all this is enough to nourish my meditation, especially when I am worried or anxious.
But sometimes I feel like I have to push even further. I try to open up to something bigger than me, to tell myself: “All is well. Don’t be afraid of anything, keep moving forward. Sometimes I think to myself, “Anyway, you’re in God’s hands.” So do your best and accept to let yourself go. Breathe, smile, give thanks for all that has already been given to you. Here, I am not in pure meditation, but in prayer. I cling to the bottom of God’s robe!
What has meditation done for your spiritual life?
It has considerably enriched it. As soon as one nourishes one’s interior life through meditation, one ends up with questions of a spiritual order. In this sense, meditation has reactivated, nourished, multiplied my times of prayer. Every evening, when I think of the good things I experienced during the day, I quickly go into “prayer mode”. I think back to three good times and say, “Thank you, Lord, You made it possible for me to experience this. When I feel like I can die, and it doesn’t, I thank Him.
Some time ago, I was awaiting medical results with a very uncertain outcome. I went to pray in the hospital chapel. I meditated then I gave thanks. I said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, I trust You.” But whatever happens to me, thank you for allowing me to experience all that I have experienced. I truly believe that meditation has helped me to experience moments like these more often.
After meditating, sometimes I take the Bible. I will look for passages that I explore ad infinitum. My favorites are the Psalms, the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Book of Jeremiah.
How can meditation help Christians in their faith?
Mindfulness meditation, secular, has occupied a place gradually neglected by the Christian tradition. Today, the Church realizes that she did not see the meditative wave coming, which responds to a need for interiority. To the believer, I would gladly say the same thing as to a patient: meditating will not replace care but will be added to it. Likewise, meditation is not intended to replace prayer but to make it deeper and more fruitful.
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Christophe André: “Meditation enriches my prayer”
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