Each Monday evening at Meditatio House is a time reserved for some teaching about Christian meditation. After the teaching we have a time of meditation, then some questions and/or reflections about our meditation practice.
This regular Monday night pattern was something begun by John Main. It is a good night for anyone new to Christian meditation to visit the house, or indeed anyone inquiring about meditation as contemplative prayer.
Often we have a recorded teaching given by one of the teachers of meditation within the WCCM. This week we heard from a conference given by Laurence Freeman in 1992 at Gethsemani Abbey, Kentucky, USA. The conference was released as The Ego On Our Spiritual Journey in 2007. Something that Fr. Laurence said during this conference struck me:
The sayings of the Fathers of the Desert are really a constant commentary upon the dangers of an egotistical spirituality. This is perhaps why St John of the Cross tells us to give up all desire, even the desire for God. Not the love of God, not our innate longing for God which we cannot give up, but our desire for God – the desire to possess, to control, to own, to keep God. In this way of prayer, in the simple ascesis of the single word, we strike at the ‘root of sin’, as The Cloud of Unknowing called it, at the root of our ego. We let go.
There is a distinction going on here between the deep longing of our hearts for God and the ego’s desire to “possess…control…own…” to replace this longing with its own version of longing: desiring. Egoic desiring keeps us attached to the ego, identified with the ego, and focused on it and its needs. If we desire God then we are seeking God on ego’s terms. God becomes just another way to get satisfaction. The longing for God, however, is something ego does not create. As Laurence says, it is innate to us, simply an inherent part of what it is to be human. It is pre-ego. The heart ponders patiently and thoughtlessly in its longing, while the ego can grasp, often with indiscreet calculation.
There is a certain kind of impatience in desiring. Desiring can be the ‘quick fix’ of the human psyche. Often it is all about the satisfaction of the ego’s unmet needs for love, attention, approval – unmet needs that go all the way back into childhood. The desiring around these unmet needs can be powerful, and can at times possess us. In this, desire does not serve love. Desire is all about the satisfaction of these unmet needs in a way that serves ego. This is understandable and part of the human story. There is deep compassion in us for these unmet needs. Life is meant to be so much more than this kind of suffering. Ego wants this suffering gone, but on its terms.
What a contemplative practice such as Christian meditation does is assist in the discovery, through experience, of our deeper “innate longing for God”. To be focused on and attached to ego through desiring is to have little or no attention on the depths of us, where this longing has its source. The fulfilment of this longing deeply heals our unmet needs in ways that ego desiring cannot.
As we meditate attention shifts to the source of longing – our heart. As time passes our desiring shifts as well and becomes more and more a longing for Love. This happens as we encounter at our depths the God of our longing. Our longing is fulfilled quietly and mysteriously by God and in time becomes joy. It is a joy that ego cannot create. It is a joy that rises as God fulfils unmet need with the divine life.
This joy is deep and grows in constancy. It is a joy that finds fulfilment in communal expression (where ever our love life with others is). It is a joy that is not only for us, it is part of the other-centred life of God and our deeper Self. It is not necessarily gregarious; it is however, strong, constant and stable. It is faithful joy. It grows as detachment from ego desiring grows. In this it is a sacrament, an outer sign of the inner reality that our desiring is now more a longing being fulfilled by the divine Love Life.
People and things that were once more the ‘objects of our desire’ instead become the focus and instrument of Love through our own loving. Egocentric desiring, often impatient and needy, becomes the patient, wise, and loving longing of the heart – a longing that is experiencing it’s fulfilment into silence. Silence is the ego-less experience of longing fulfilled. In silence the heart no longer longs.
The root of all sin is ego attachment, ego desiring. As we gracefully detach from ego, ego becomes more and more simply the way our deep Self can relate to others and the world. Awe in the ordinary grows. Compassion flows more easily into action. Other-centredness becomes natural. Unmet needs recede and life takes on a gentle, joyful, grateful, playful way.
So if there is anything that will move you, any incentive in love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any warmth of sympathy – I appeal to you, make my joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others. Make your own mind the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil2:1-5).