Author Archives: Andrew

About Andrew

I am an aspiring contemplative journeying through life practicing a Christian spirituality. I have completed studies in psychology, theology, and counselling. Currently I am in the midst of a masters in theology (specialising in spirituality). I am also an oblate of the World Community for Christian Meditation.

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.

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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.


Meditation Creates Community: A Day Together (Part 1)

Recently a group of meditators gathered for a day at the  Blue Labyrinth Bush Retreat in The Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia. The day included meditation and a labyrinth walk. The day was organised as an offering by the younger meditators of the Australian Christian Meditation Community in Sydney. Also included were a couple of sessions exploring the theme ‘meditation creates community’. Below is part one of the notes that I prepared for those sessions.

*******

The seeds of community lay in our commitments. When people are committed to something together, perhaps to a common cause or a relationship, community could happen.

Community cannot happen if we are by ourselves in our commitments.

The husband and wife who spend little or no time together; or people house sharing, eating separately, and with a TV in each bedroom; or people working for social justice by themselves.   

Community requires a certain amount of time spent together and being present to each other.

So we can say that community can begin to stir when we make the decision to be conscious of and present to each other in our commitments, seeking mutuality and support from one another.

Co-workers who start taking lunch together; or the friendship group that meets for drinks; or the social justice group.

As this turning to each other starts to happen, something else happens: our personalities and temperaments begin to interact. Likes and dislikes begin to emerge. Talking with one person is easier than talking with another person. Given enough time together, some of the judgements, the hurts, the longings, the joys, the annoyances (and more) that live in us will stir and surface.

Within us there is who we truly are and there is what stops us from expressing who we truly are. What stops this expression started as a defence and a protection of who we are in the midst of an overwhelming and primal experience of the world. For most of us, defence and protection has (to some extent) taken over and assumed the role of who we are.

Whatever the case, as we turn to each other, and relating begins to happen, it is then that our egos become involved.

When egos rub there is a choice: we can practice staying present to this experience or we can opt out. Community starts to happen when we remain present to the tension of egos rubbing. We may go through periods of disassociating from the others we are committed to. We may repress the inner tension that is happening as we relate, or we may project it onto others calling them what we dislike or hate in ourselves. In community, we stay present to the patterns and ploys of the ego.

Maybe at this point we might ask ourselves: what is happening, why do I do this? With these questions honesty begins and self-knowledge can grow. For there to be community, there needs to be honesty.

So if community stirs when we are conscious of and present to each other, it begins to be nurtured when we commit to honesty, with ourselves and (when appropriate) with each other.

Many have discovered that, for them, it is too hard to do this without the divine life. This life provides context. And divinity heals us for each other in ways that we cannot do ourselves.

A common prayer life grows in the midst of this. We prayer together so that we might be able to love: ourselves, each other, the world, and God.

It is important that community prayer does not replace individual prayer. Both become a part of each other.

So if community stirs when we are conscious of and present to each other, and it begins to be nurtured when we commit to honesty, for many of us community matures as we pray, both together and alone.

The Chartres Labyrinth at The Blue Labyrinth Bush Retreat


Pilgrim: Eric Clapton and Love Wasted

From the vault: April 2013

Lines From Inbetween

As we live spiritually, life can be a grace filled journey into love: living more and more in it, learning more and more about it. The best learnings come from the experience of love as we journey through life. Life is a pilgrimage of love into love.

On this pilgrimage we slip, we fall, and we fail. The ways of love, of a human life growing in compassion and kindness, can be illusive and even foreign to us. Fear and ego’s self-interest can take our attention away from the life of love within and around us. We can find ourselves focusing on a way of living that is more about meeting our own perceived needs for survival at the expense of others. Compassion can give way to a stubborn selfishness. This selfishness can assume that what we need is a finite resource which only the strong and well prepared can…

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Fox Holes and Bird’s Nests: What is Home?

According to one definition of home, I am currently homeless. I have been moving back and forth between friends and family while the future slowly sorts itself. While this sorting happens, putting down roots doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. It’s not surprising then that lately I have been wondering about what home actually is. Recently I re-read these words from John O’Donohue:

The word home has a wonderful resonance. Home is where you belong. It is your shelter and place of rest, the place where you can be yourself. (Eternal Echoes, 32)

Place and belonging. Home is about place and belonging. We can assume that this place and belonging is only physical. At this point in time I am sensing that, for me, place and belonging is not primarily physical – it is relational. There are wonderful and generous friends who are willing to share their physical home with me, who say that I am a part of the family, that their home is my home. As I grow in accepting this, something else is happening: we are deepening in the ‘place’ of our relationships, the home of our relationships. As this happens we express who we are with each other. In this place of relationship we discover ourselves. There is safety, shelter.

It has been good to be with family during this time – and important. With the passing of our mother, Marie, over a year ago now, family dynamics have changed. Mum was, in many ways, the one who held home as a physical place for us. She is no longer physically with us, so the experience of home has changed. The family home experience, for me, is no longer limited to a house. Mum is free in Christ and home is now something more. Home as a spiritual reality echoes a little more surely in the heart. The relationship I have with Mum has moved the place of home into a broader context, one that goes beyond the physical to embrace more of the eternal.

What has been important during this time has been faithfulness to the practice of meditation. It has been an anchor point, important for ongoing stability and peace. As home loses its physical foundation, taking on the relational and the spiritual, the contemplative practice of meditating during the course of each day has helped with the letting go of expectation and anxiety around what is next and what is happening. The grace of meditation grounds life in the home within.

In all of this I am seeing that, for me, being a part of The World Community For Christian Meditation at this time means being a global citizen. The physical of home and belonging that so often flows as gift from the relational and the spiritual is no longer limited to one place, one country.  As the relational and spiritual goes global, so does the physical.

Jesus tells us that, if we want to be his disciples, we must grow in this relational and spiritual sense of home. This home is the heart of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is relational. Where ever there are relationships seeking true love, there is this kingdom. It is where we all belong. Where ever we are being drawn into the heart of relationship is where we must go. This heart is our home. It is where life is. It is the most important thing from which everything else flows. For our lives to proclaim the kingdom we must live into its heart – where ever this heart finds us.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-60).


The Shed: Be, Into Silence (Part 2)

A few years ago I discovered the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo. One of my favourite Endo novels is called Silence. Recently Martin Scorsese adapted the novel into a movie of the same name. The story is set in 17th century Japan. Christianity had gained a minority following and, consequently, was soon seen as a threat. Because of this, Christians were persecuted and killed. The choice was given: renounce Christianity (apostatize) or die.

Silence is about the human struggle to remain faithful to a God that seems silent in the midst of suffering, a suffering that is happening precisely because of a decision to remain faithful to this silent God.

In the movie, Sebastiao Rodriques, a Portuguese Jesuit priest and missionary in Japan, struggles to make sense of what is happening to him and around him. His faith in an all-powerful God is shaken as this God does nothing to stop what is happening. The only ‘answer’ Rodriques gets is silence. What is the point of being faithful to this mute, powerless God? Surely to apostatize would be the better course?

The book and movie wrestle with the assumption that silence means an absence of the divine life. We can have an expectation of how God should act in a given situation, and this expectation can weigh heavily, especially in the midst of suffering. If our expectations of God are unmet, when all we get is silence dressed up as absence, faith can be lost. It can also turn dogmatic.

The challenge is to not turn from this silence, no matter how we may be experiencing it. If we do turn away, we may discover in time that the turning away was all a part of a turning back to what silence actually is.

When I closed my eyes it was twilight. Around the shed, the birds had been back in the trees announcing the end of day. But now as my eyes opened it was dark. All was still. All. Inside and outside. The mantra had settled the mind and darkness had settled the birds. Silence. And in the silence there was a presence. More than that: the silence itself seemed to be a presence, an always present presence; a presence not of my making. I sat, not wanting to break the stillness with movement. In silence, in presence, in stillness, I sat.   

In the movie, Rodriques too begins to sense a divine presence in silence. He discovers a God in the silence who is suffering with all who suffer. God speaks as silent presence, and God is fully present all the time no matter what. In this presence God loves. Love is this presence. In the reality of human suffering, Divine Love suffers with us and makes of suffering a way into the depth and meaning of life. Suffering is not taken away – it can become gift.

Sometimes the events of life can shake us from our expectations of God and our ideas of silence. It’s as if what is happening is breaking down what we have held dear, what has up to that point provided meaning.  It can all be taken from us, leaving us lost and bereft. Suffering can wrench us free from ideas of life and divinity formerly held close. If our humanity is to deepen, if we are to discover more a God in communion with us through everyone and everything, then ideas of life and divinity must change. Only later do we look back and see that we are somehow freer, less fearful, more humble and simple than we were before.

As this happens the way we live with silence changes. We grow into silence. Silence becomes the way we can be with the God who is transfiguring our humanity for communion with Love.

The invitation then is for us to be present ourselves to this divine presence in us. As this happens, as we give regular attention to it, our deep union with the divine life is realised consciously – we become more and more aware of it. A communion of Spirit and spirit (already given) in time becomes a communion of divinity with the whole of our humanity. Our psyche becomes an inner landscape so transfigured by silence that the divine presence becomes uniquely conscious in us.

Meditation is simply a way to give regular attention to this divine presence in us. It is the putting aside of all ideas about life and God – even the ideas that suffering may have helped us come to. Ideas about union are not union. We become silent so that we may be simply conscious-in-communion with divinity rather than self-conscious with ideas, thoughts, and imaginings.

Perhaps all this may seem like a folly or a panacea, an escape from actually doing anything at all. However, what happens as we attend to this silent presence of Love in us is that we are drawn into a particular kind of action: loving action. In whatever circumstance we find ourselves in Divine Love is always inviting us into loving, kind action here and now. As we meditate we come to know, in our own experience, what this love is – the flavour of it. The invitation to loving action then becomes harder to resist and we end up expressing the love we are becoming.

 


The Shed: Be, Into Silence (Part 1)

It’s November now. It’s been a good couple of months since I got back from the Shed and Mossy Point (see The Shed: Be In Time and Poised for Adventure below). I’ve been giving time to other writing projects and, as a result, I haven’t been contributing much to the blog.

One of the fruits of time in the Shed was a re-connection with silence. I forgot just how much the general activity and sound of life can get in the way of quiet and silence. The Shed and the nature of Mossy Point had in them an invitation to come back into the sustaining silence which we are always in and from which we all come.

One book that I took with me into this time was Silence: A Users Guide (Volume One) by Maggie Ross. Reading this book, in the solitariness of the Shed, was a needed ‘kick in the pants’. It laid bare the need now for more of us to engage in ‘the work of silence’: to prioritize a life committed to cultivating practical silence in life. In silence we encounter the roots of our being, not just in God, but also in creation – a creation which God has fully and lovingly given the divine life to. In silence we remember that we are a part of this creation, especially when we find ourselves in the silence of creation itself.

So many lives today are divorced from our being in silence and the silence of creation. As a result, the union with creation that we all share, a union that this silence can re-acquaint us with, is lost. Add to this our tendencies to over-consume and view the planet as more of a resource than a revered and precious home,  and we can see why this planet’s ecosystems and biodiversity are in trouble. Ross pulls no punches when she maintains that we are ‘sleepwalking towards our own extinction’. At the very least we are meandering towards a planet that can no longer sustain the sum of us as we are now, nor the consequences of our actions as they currently stand.

In the face of this the divine life is fostering contemplatives – in all walks and ways of life. A contemplative is simply someone who accepts deeply that we are human beings. A contemplative is someone committed to the practical living of life from the deep of who we are. They accept that learning to be ourselves involves learning to be receptive and responsive to the deep mind – where the mystery of us is and where we can unfold from. From this deep we can learn to live lives of connection and reverence with each other and the whole planet.

A contemplative is not a consumer.

Encountering our humanity at this depth means somehow entering silence. Human wisdom maintains that in order to enter silence we need to  lay aside self-consciousness with all its thoughts, imaginings, and emotion. We have lived in a time where an over-focus on the self-conscious mind has lead to a forgetting of our deep truth. We are not our thoughts, we are not our feelings.

We are at the point now where the life of the planet and the future of humanity depends on us coming home to the deep of who we are. This is why contemplative practice of any kind is so important right now. Whether it be meditation, gardening, knitting, good conversation – anything that has attention lost (for a time) to our over reliance on self-consciousness. We are too self-conscious.We need relationships and spaces where it is safe to forget ourselves. As we do this we discover that forgetting ourselves is as natural as breathing. And as this happens we remember ourselves: you and me in the depth of us sharing nature with divinity itself; a divinity that is relational and loving.

The future of us on this planet depends on us practicing a turning away from self-consciousness (a denying if you will) and expressing more of our relational and loving selves.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

 

 

 


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