Ten Bulls 4. Catching the Bull

4. Catching the Bull

The energy that is this flaring, simply be aware of it (without thought) as it erupts: this is catching the bull.

See how the herdsman holds the rope: this is being aware.

As this awareness grows so does our hold on the rope.

Our hold helps us to remain stable as the bull stampedes – again and again.

If it all becomes too much and we let the rope go – this is ok. All will be well.

Be still as you search and you will experience the bull again – without fail.

In all this, learning to stay with the first experience rather than splitting into thought and forgetting, we discover that not only is the bull wild: our bull is also wily and deceptive.

The bull always sleeps with one eye open.

This is why we say the mantra from beginning to end.

Attention on the mantra is experiencing the bull without focusing on the bull: a vital work! Here we become aware (without thought) of its subtleties and tricks.

More and more tricks: pleasure for pleasure’s sake, showing off, distraction and hiding.

For the bull it is all about survival.

Again and again we are dragged off. Keep a hold of the rope; find the rope, again and again!

Saying the mantra is learning to hold the rope.

In community our bulls herd together. They buck and rage, distract and hide.

Together we hold the rope in meditation and daily life.

In time it all becomes a kind of play: serious not solemn. It’s ok to smile, shake your head, and begin again.


Ten Bulls 3. Perceiving the Bull

Ten Bull 3 Percieving the Bull

Perhaps we want to analyse this bull experience, reflect on it and understand.

As we reflect we move past this first experience of the bull, and into thought: experiencing the experience.

We see the bull, then lose it in thought.

The bull is gone! All that is left is our thinking about the bull.

The bellow of the bull is in the body. We must learn to stay attentive to this first experience.

As practice goes on we learn not to lose the bellow: the first experience of stubbornness, of greed, of pain, of anger – whatever it might be. We feel the intensity of these in the body.

The bull snorts, ‘flares up’, and we stay with the experience, aware of it even for just a second.

This is hard: to experience it and not to forget it in thought. This is what awareness is.

Slowly, we learn to carry this cross of first experience.

Your cross is not my cross, your bull is not my bull.

When we fall to our knees, Jesus falls with us.

The bull is I, ego. Its flaring is wounded passion, energy misdirected, longing become desire: the roots of egoism.

The bull has been our shield, our defence; lashing out and then hiding, running amuck then vanishing.

One foot meditation, one foot awareness.


Ten Bulls 2. Discovering the Footprints

TenBulls2Discovering the Footprints

As we walk we see footprints, we see traces.

Traces of what? Of the bull.

Who is this bull? What are the footprints?

We have lost touch, we cannot see.

We are unaware of the ways we get in the way of ourselves and the ways we hinder Love.

On the path there are traces, that are mine and not my own.

A footprint, a broken fence, damaged trees, eaten grass: what are these?

They are our reactions in life.

Someone stole my parking space!

Someone is using my cup!

People are ignoring me!

I want that!

All this, and much more, is the bull ‘snorting up’: running down the path and through fences, gorging on the fresh green grass.

The traces are everywhere. Learning to see them is one of the great challenges of spiritual and human life.

And so, we walk on: one foot meditation, one foot experiencing the footprints, the traces.

As we walk on we grow familiar, through experience, with the traces – the signs of where the bull has been.


Ten Bulls 1. The Search for the Bull

TheSearchForTheBull

Why do we search? What are we looking for?

Is there a recognition, however hidden, that something is missing?

But what? Is it happiness? Peace? Meaning? Wholeness? God?

Something is missing, and we can itch with a desire to find; a desire that grasps and tests, that consumes and moves on.

How has this happened?

We live in a divided state, somehow estranged and yet somehow ourselves.

The desire is to find ourselves. But, who am I?

Notice the herdsman: feet pointing one way, head looking the other.

We are divided; self-consciousness is separate from consciousness.

Our head is pointing in the wrong direction. How can we possibly see where we are going?

Conversion is the turning of the head so that feet and head are together as we walk.

Metanoia: change your mind, turn your head. Be attentive to your feet.

The two feet are meditation and daily life. With these we walk on our way; sometimes restless, sometimes listless, sometimes happy, and somehow searching. As we practice, as we live, our heads slowly turn.

On we go into the experience of our own division, into the ways in which we live with true nature forgotten.

On this path of life, we live out of habits and attitudes that seem to hinder. We resist people and happenings that could be somehow good for us. What’s going on?

Let the grace in walking turn your head.


Bonnevaux: The Walls of the Monastery Without Walls

Recently, on his blog, Fr. Laurence Freeman wrote about the “patterns and resonances in life, personal and communal, luring [us] ever deeper into the experience of meaning.” (Not a Nostalgic Reflection). Laurence wrote about the patterns and resonances of The WCCM[1], from its foundations in Montreal (40 years ago), to its growth into the global community that it is today, and the folding into this of Bonnevaux: our new international retreat centre to be, in France.

Bonnevaux is a big part of the growth happening now in The WCCM: our community that is a ‘monastery without walls’. Paradoxically, Bonnevaux has walls – ancient walls. Internationally, Bonnevaux is to be les murs du monastère sans murs (the walls of the monastery without walls).

Paradox cannot be ‘figured out’. It is not something to problem solve, something to be unlocked rationally. Paradox finds a home deeper in us, in the heart; over time it comes to a quiet and mysterious resolution there. And over time, from the heart, a gentle ‘paradoxical wisdom’ is released for us to intuit and live. As we meditate, as we attend into silence, our consciousness is infused with this wisdom of the heart.

In time, Bonnevaux will become the international heart of The WCCM. Its walls will resolve in the wall-less global community of meditators it will serve. In this it will also grow into a global agent and sign for peace. This is the vision. This is what we hope (in faith) that the patterns and resonances happening now are luring us into.

With Bonnevaux we continue on our way as part of the re-emergence of the human reality that Christianity calls the contemplative life. This re-emergence is profoundly needed today. Bonnevaux’s deep Benedictine roots sit well with the Benedictine roots of The WCCM. Benedictine roots are also human and Christian roots: one more paradox.

..I think in a deeper sense we could say that we have become the stewards of this sacred place [Bonnevaux], where the contemplative life has been lived in a spirit of service for hundreds of years. And we are pledging ourselves to continue that vision and that tradition in a contemporary way. (Laurence Freeman)

Some context for us: around 800 years ago, when Bonnevaux was first established, there was a major shift forming in Christianity: the separation of spirituality and theology. This happening has been historically personalised via a 12th century debate that happened between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard. Bernard, a French Cistercian Monk, wanted spirituality and theology to remain united. Abelard, a French philosopher and theologian, supported the rise of theology as a discipline standing largely apart from monasteries. Bernard won the debate, however the die was cast[2].

In the last 40 years or so this separation has begun to be addressed. I see John Main and The WCCM as part of the resolution of this separation. Christian spirituality divorced from theology risks self-indulgence and a certain vagueness. Meanwhile theology apart from authentic spirituality risks staying a rarefied specialisation of the few.

In the broad context of the history of Christianity, it does seem significant that this separation of spirituality and theology that was happening whilst Bonnevaux was being established, is on its way to resolution as we become Bonnevaux’s stewards.

 

 

 

[1] The World Community for Christian Meditation

[2] David Ranson, Across The Great Divide: Bridging Spirituality and Religion Today, 11.


Cemetery In My Mind: Midnight Oil

The Australian band Midnight Oil are back together and touring the world. Their Great Circle Tour is circuiting the globe with the band’s distinctive sound and message. Politics, the environment, social justice, and the ‘human condition’: all are featured. Distraction and lethargy are not an option. The prophets have returned to wake up the dead and jolt the living.

I had a search through their catalogue to find a song that might be of use for us. While most of their music is decidedly action-focused, there are some that attempt an ‘introspective kick-in-the pants’. Cemetery in My Mind is one such song.

For me the message of the song is blunt: what do you want to be – death alive or living a life?

There is a dynamic in culture that distracts from purpose, from meaning, from the heart’s calling. It would have us in the mall, the shopping centre, consumers. How many of us seek to salve emptiness with the latest product or device?

Life as going through the motions, life as avoidance of hurts, life as fear of possibilities: all this can make a cemetery of the mind and life.

What of our dreams, our purpose, our meaning, our calling? How do we find these? How do we deepen in them? Is it too late? Purpose, meaning, calling: what is the experience of these things?

When life becomes dry enough, when dreams die, when no direction affects us enough, despite fear we can start to ask deeper questions: ‘You can fall, but can you rise?’

In the now, not in tomorrow, is the heart. In the centre of consciousness, in the centre of mind is the always alive spiritual heart. It has for us purpose, meaning, and calling. Amid distraction, hurt, and fear we can (if we want to) learn to steadily hear it. In the hearing, there is the following.

We cover consciousness and the heart with too much thinking. Too much imagining, reflecting, assessing – all this and more can keep attention from being in touch with the deeper wisdom of the heart. We then forget how to hear the heart, or if we do, the hearing can often be fleeting – like an echo of the sound of something loving and familiar.

Healthy spiritual paths will have practical ways to guide us into the hearing of our hearts. If all we get are ‘mother statements’ – listen to your heart, follow your dreams – with no practical ways, then hope becomes strained and frustration can rise because the path has become ethereal.

Long standing spiritualities and religions do have practical ways to the heart. One such practical way is meditation. How can meditation help? By giving attention to a word or phrase, for at least 20 minutes a day morning and evening, there will be an effect. Regular practice of this way will see the mind, over time, quieten. As thoughts and imaginings soften, there will be more space for feelings to rise and fall, heal and integrate. Thinking will become something that happens more appropriately and less often. In the space now within, a space once occupied by too much thinking and emotional disorder, the heart moves into awareness.

As we become aware, we experience the heart’s drawing and longing. In time and with guidance we can come to understand that certain people, places, and things draw our hearts and cause them to long. The practical ways in which we follow this drawing and longing become our way of purpose, of meaning and calling.

Life can be more than ‘wake work drink sleep retire’.

 


Meditation Creates Community: A Day Together (Part 2)

Our retreat day notes continued (from part 1):

In prayer, grace quietly and gently heals the ego. Ego is then, over time, less reactive as we relate with each other. Over time our relating becomes more compassionate, kinder, more loving. We are not so self-conscious; we grow in just being with each other. And over time the lines between prayer and community become blurred. Both become each other.

For meditators, because the practice of meditation is so central to our lives, it follows that as meditators decide for a community life we would begin to meditate together.

This is why the weekly meditation groups of The WCCM are so important. In these groups the meditator’s commitment to community, wherever it may be for them, is included in their meditation practice. In time, the group itself may even become a community.

Perhaps it could be said that a meditating community is a meditation group that lives together.

Meditating together is being alone and together at the same time. Community remains balanced if its members can be both alone and together. Solitude is a part of community.

So how can it be that meditation actually creates community?

Attention on the mantra, in stillness, is a participation in the healing of the ego by grace. Over time ego and heart integrate.

As this happens what is revealed in our own experience is our true nature as human beings: we are “being-in-relationship” – with ourselves, each other, creation, God. Meditation is not reflecting on this experience; in meditation we experience who we truly are without reflection, in growing thought-less-ness, in growing stillness, and in growing silence.

We then take this experience, this new and emerging awareness of our communal human nature, into our daily and ordinary communal relating. There we discover ourselves in a new relating: one that is more and more compassionate and patient and less and less reactive and fearful. This happens as we experience together in meditation our nature as being-in-relationship.

It is not just meditation that creates community. Any practice that has us, together, giving attention into stillness and silence can help us come into contact with divinity, our true nature, and the reality of all creation as a unity.

Our true nature as being-in-relationship is the image of the divine life: being-in-love. Meditation and community enable our relating to become the expression of divine being-in-love.

Yes, it continues to be a struggle. The ego resists who we truly are. However, regular meditation practice, when done as part of the practice of community, reveals and empowers our true nature for each other and the world.

Over time community can become more about the practice of loving as ourselves in the everyday and less about fears of being alone, overwhelmed, or abandoned.

*******

Our retreat day finished with a labyrinth walk together. Our labyrinth walk leader, Donna, suggested that as we walked into the labyrinth we ‘release‘, simply let go, allowing as best as we could whatever was happening as we walked. The centre of the labyrinth was a space for us to ‘receive‘ whatever there was for us there. The walk out was a time to ‘return‘, gently back.

A labyrinth walk can be an invitation to self-knowledge: perhaps impatience at the person in front as they move ‘too slowly’; frustration as our thinking fails to settle into quiet; discomfort as a hidden pain emerges; learning as we realise that we are walking like a task ‘to do’, rather than as a contemplative practice that grace wants to use for our slowing into the moment.

As we walked together, weaving in and out in differing directions, we all walked at our own pace. Some were quicker than others; some would stop to experience their feet in mud (it had been raining). We paused as we let others walk; turned shoulders to give room. A flow of being together emerged.

Like meditation, walking a labyrinth helps attention to move beyond the ‘aware that we are aware’ experience of the  self-conscious mind and into simple awareness. This awareness is an inner space were we be, together; it is a space where the place of community slowly matures.


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