Walking barefoot across shaded trails of Redwood Valley, California, alongside the yellow-spotted brown salamanders and beneath the trunks of ancient sequoias, Rebecca Cole-Turner found meditation.
Now a minister and mystic, she attributes her sense of deeper meaning to those days in Oakland, walking amid the spring trees, observing, thinking and eventually writing poetry.
“I’ve always been someone who felt the sense of the sacred, the holy, stillness and silence from being in nature,” Cole-Turner said. “And when you go into one of those ancient redwood groves, there’s an inward sense of awe. As a child, it created an opening of being much more of a contemplative person.”
More than five decades after she entered those valleys, Cole-Turner, alongside her husband, Ron, will come to Chautauqua Institution to lead a week of Christian meditation for the Mystic Heart Meditation Program at 7:15 a.m. Monday through Friday at the Main Gate Welcome Center. A clinical psychologist and, as of this past April, ordained minister, she employs 1,700-year-old techniques — as ancient the some of the oldest redwoods — to simulate the experience she once found in her childhood forest.
Cole-Turner’s favored meditative form is the mantra. She said she will instruct the class to take a word and say it to themselves in four equal syllables (single syllable words are repeated four times) as they breathe. Cole-Turner said many Christians choose “maranatha,” the Aramaic word meaning “our Lord has come,” in which case they would say “mar” on the inhale and the “a” on the exhale. Repeat for “ath” and “a.” Over time, the mantra winds the speaker into a meditative state.
“As one practices that and breathes gently, slowly, they are able to begin letting go of all thoughts and all images and other words,” Cole-Turner said. “It’s not that when one has a distraction during meditation, you would want to fight that distraction. Rather, you would like to aim at letting them go, whatever the distraction is … you would continue return to the inward saying of the prayer word.”
Although Cole-Turner spent as much of her youth in church as she did in the redwood forests, it took years before she could combine the two. Although Christian meditation dates to at least the fourth century, the Protestant church did not embrace the practice until the 1980s, Cole-Turner said.
Now, as a spiritual leader and a psychologist, Cole-Turner encourages everyone she works with, regardless of their faith, to meditate twice a day as a way of connecting to their inner self and spirituality.
“Whatever religious background a person has, meditation is going to help them discover their own tradition more deeply,” Cole-Turner said. “The benefits, not only spiritually, but emotionally, psychologically, physically, are deep regardless of whatever tradition one practices.”