Category Archives: Christian Meditation

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.

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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


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.

 


Meditatio House: Woundedness and Essential Goodness

Here on the blog things have been a bit quiet of late. Attention has been elsewhere. The house community has been active with other things: the annual Bere Island WCCM Holy Week Retreat, and moving house. And for me personally, there has been the ongoing experience of grief with the death and passing of my mother.

For me, the Bere Island retreat was many things. Speaking generally I experienced an intensification of my inner reactivity towards others. Inward reactions that would have been more or less held in check until I could (hopefully) re-experience and process them later just poured out. It was a shock, I think, for others to see it and (in their own way) to experience it. It was a different side of the psychological me – the dark side of my moon. Andrew, unfiltered – the gap between feeling and response substantially narrowed. Response became reaction.

My sharp experience of community during the week, and the emerging experience of grief being done far away from family and friends, all this made the experience of Holy Week very difficult. Private emotions paraded themselves. Performance anxiety tightened its grip. Perfectionism swirled and coloured sight. Fear of rejection became (once again) a conscious companion. All the buttons were being pushed. My attention was claimed by, and caught in, the emotions, the wounds and the insecurities of my psyche.

Thankfully and wonderfully meditation was there to provide a balance to all this. During meditation attention was focused and re-focused on that essential goodness that is God and Self in communion deep within all of us.

An important part of the experience of the contemplative nature of spirituality is learning to hold together these two aspects of the human condition: our woundedness and our essential goodness. Something deep in us says we are not good, that we don’t deserve to be good. And yet, the more we practice attending to the depths of us, the more our already given goodness is lavished upon us.

As attention on the mantra is deepened, clarified, and focused (thanks to a regular practice) the paradox that is woundedness and essential goodness experienced together becomes, over time, resolved. Deep in goodness awaits the healing and the mercy of Christ. Perhaps we will spend a lot of our time, both during meditation and during life in general (over many years), pulling away from this goodness, this healing, this mercy. Divine love never gives up. If we can keep meditating, the chance of us giving up on ourselves lessens significantly.

It is so important that the mantra take root in the heart. As this happens real and substantive psychological healing takes place. Memories and feelings formally locked up and suppressed can be experienced, healed, and integrated. Energy that was used to suppress, repress, and protect is released for living. Jesus, the Divine Physician at the heart of us, loves us mysteriously and wonderfully into life.

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Bere Island 2016

This healing journey to the truth of us often requires the support of others, of course. A counsellor, a therapist, a spiritual guide, an experienced and wise meditating mentor – all of these can help. The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were these for many of their fellow monastics. What is important for the healing meditator is that the person they are receiving help from value meditation as a healing way. And it would be wonderful if this valuing was based on their own personal experience of meditation.

During Holy Week I experienced the both/and of the exposure of my reactivity and psychological wounds, along with the stability of attention in the goodness of being. Both happened alongside each other. The paradox of my inner life as both whole and as fractured was experienced. This was hard going. An established meditation practice can anchor us in our wholeness when the psyche becomes too tumultuous.

And remember: the mantra can be employed at any time. We don’t have to wait for our regular meditation time. The mantra sounding in the heart at any time as our psyche twists and turns can release divine healing and comfort in us for us.

Perhaps it would be best to end with some words from John Main: the one who, for many, ‘went on ahead’ into the experience of Christian meditation:

Now we must be very careful that we are not just intoxicated by the ideas of meditation, by the theory. The theory, once we begin to encounter it in practice, in our own heart, will fill us with wonder, but encounter it personally we must. That is why our daily practice is of supreme importance. What we have to learn to do is to take our potentiality absolutely seriously, to understand that the Spirit of Him who created the universe dwells in our hearts and, in silence, is loving to all, and we have to enter our own hearts to discover that Spirit within our own spirit. (The Door to Silence)


Meditatio House: From Distraction to Nothing

Martin Laird, in his book Into the Silent Land, has this to say about the contemplative approach to distractions during prayer:

If we cannot weather these distractions in stillness, they will give the impression that the doorway into the silent land is closed. But if we are simply still before them and do not try to push them away or let ourselves be carried away by them, they help deepen our contemplative practice. They initiate us into a certain education by ordeal. (92).

Distractions are needed. It is the way we are with them that matters. The practice of attention on a prayer word/phrase or mantra means less and less attention on distractions. Less attention on distractions means less energy given to distractions. Stillness is then nurtured within us. As we persevere, the way distractions are experienced changes.

Laird describes three doorways into silence that we pass through as we meditate. Each door is guarded, as it were, by distractions. As we grow in faithfulness to the mantra, or prayer word, we come to realise as we pass through the first doorway that:

“…we are not our thoughts and feelings.” Space grows between attention and distraction. What we identify with is shifting. We are growing in ‘looking past’ distraction as reaction to distraction lessens. Peace can rise. So too can anxiousness. Anxiety is normal as identity shifts. In all this faithfulness to the mantra is paramount. Anxiety is simply an ego response to its own decentring. You are not anxiety. All will be well.

This first realisation that we are not our thoughts or feelings comes as we practice saying the mantra. Faithfulness to simply saying the mantra was described by John Main as the ‘first task’ of the meditator. The meditator may spend years saying the mantra, and generally saying it in the head. To have the experience of not being our thoughts or feelings means that the mantra is moving from head to heart, taking our attention with it into the heart.

As we pass through Laird’s second doorway we discover that

“Our own interiority is not a cramped space, but a valley of spaciousness.” We are being liberated into the expanse of being within us. Because of ongoing attention to the mantra, being and awareness are coming together, that is, the experience of awareness is becoming less self-conscious. We are not so aware of being aware. We are simply just being aware. It becomes easier to ‘look past’ distractions to the measureless mystery of our own inner vastness.

John Main described this movement through Laird’s second door as the mantra taking root in the heart. The heart is simply a name for that vastness from which thoughts, feelings and images can distract. Being still and being aware without thought (looking past distraction) has the meditator hearing the mantra in this vast heart. We are not thinking the mantra in the head; we are hearing it in the heart. Attention becomes hearing.

Moving through Laird’s third doorway

“…we realise that what beholds this vast and flowing whole is also the whole. We see that these thoughts and feelings that have plagued us, clouded our vision, seduced us, entertained us, have no substance. They too are a manifestation of the vastness in which they appear.”

As we practice with the mantra attention becomes so grounded in this vastness that we experience the reality of our true and deep identity. We are this vastness. Over time thoughts and feelings loosen and unravel and fade to nothing. The still point of divinity is experienced in deep awareness within this vastness. Here, in this no-place where words do not matter, we are no-thing being loved by a God who is not an object.

Here is where we grow in listening to the mantra (to use John Main’s description). The mantra itself is becoming no-thing, without object. In good time it too may fade into this silent vastness. If this happens it is because it has served its purpose. When thoughts and feelings return so should our attention to the mantra. With the mantra we return to stillness and vastness.


Meditatio House: Embers of Senseless Grace

In a meditation group that I am a part of someone recently asked ‘what do I do with my breathing during meditation, while saying the mantra?’ There are no fixed guidelines about this. Some people are attentive to the mantra as they breathe out, others as they breathe in. Still others split the mantra and say ma-ra on their out breath and na-tha on their in breath. It comes down to whatever works for us. The combination of breathing and mantra soon finds a rhythm that we are comfortable with. Our breathing comes to serve attention to the mantra.

As the mantra deepens into our bodies, as it falls over time from head into heart on its gently integrating way, our breathing can fall with it. At this time many are breathing a little more deeply and from gut. Once again, there are no fixed guidelines here.

I hesitate to talk about this because we need to keep things very simple. Meditation is not about sitting back during meditation to consciously experience and evaluate what is going on. Meditation is about growing in a whole-hearted practice of forgetting self-consciousness. It is about losing our conscious selves in the moment of meditation so that we can experience without awareness, that is without active interior sense, the deep silence of God and have this God, this divine Love, effect the all of us. Any inner activity, no matter how well intentioned it may be, is a distraction to growth in silence, to being inwardly transformed for and by this silence.

One of my great challenges in meditation is growing in the letting go of curiosity. My conscious mind can be quick to pick up and look at any experience which might be going on. Again and again I need to come back to the essence: simply and faithfully giving attention to the mantra. Once again, meditation is about the primacy of leaving the conscious self behind. It is not about the gathering of knowledge, of insight. Any wisdom given because of our meditation practice is given as gift. This gift must serve the leaving of conscious self and not become a distraction to it.

Wisdom rises from the heart. A silent intellect, precisely because it is silent, can ‘marinate’ in this wisdom, doing so without reference to itself or this wisdom. Wisdom (which is the love-life of God moving and acting within us) can then enlighten the intellect about the meditation experience while this intellect is passive, that is, while the intellect is not relying on the senses to make sense of the experience. It is in this way that our mind and our intellect are transformed, or divinised, by divine Love. It happens without us knowing about it, without us being aware of it, because the desires to know and be aware are let go, put aside, forgotten. In this way wisdom can have its unimpeded way with us.

Divinisation is the Christ consciousness within becoming more and more uniquely our consciousness. It is in this way that Christians become Christ-ians, or ‘little Christs’. As St. Paul says ‘..it is no longer I, but Christ living in me’ (Gal2:20). This is something our intellect, by itself, will never understand. It makes no sense because it is a ‘senseless’ happening. When inner sense is quiet, when consciousness has forgotten itself, divinisation happens.

A forgotten self-consciousness is thus the meditator’s full yes to this process of divinisation. It is a full yes that we grow into over time as we grow into our own forgetting. This process of forgetting is deeply relational. Any love relationship will invite us to put the other first, to practice the forgetting of our own ego-selves. A relationship with divinity (the relationship within all relationships) is no different.

Because it is so relational and loving, the yes we say to God is a yes of faith. Each time of meditation is a yes of growing faithfulness. To self-consciousness this yes can feel like risk. To our deeper selves this yes is as natural as breathing.

So what of my breathing and its relationship to the mantra? Well, it does seem that wisdom often speaks with analogy. Without analogy we can engage too much in analysis and rationality. So: it’s like sometimes my breath combines with the mantra to quietly breathe the mantra into embers of divine intimacy deep within. While ever attention is on the mantra this continues. As soon as attention falls away from the mantra the divine glow coming from these embers ceases.

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The glow from the embers is warm and consoling. Its warmth is peace and joy. These are some of the fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul writes of to the Galatians (5:22-23). They are available for all. They can be given as we meditate.

This consolation does seem to be gift (a grace), that is, something that I am not creating for myself. The experience of divine intimacy, however, is not the divine life itself. It is best not to conflate the gifts of the Spirit with the life of the Spirit.

We meditate so that the whole of us would be in union with the divine. This union happens in a silence without thought, image, or indeed conscious consolation. Silence is about the absence of these things. On the pilgrimage into silence even the consolations of God are let go and left behind. This is part of the journey. If this were not so prayer would simply be an exercise in waiting to be consoled.


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