As winter settles in here in London, things are warming up at Meditatio House. With Christmas approaching activity in the community has gone up a gear. We are starting to receive more visitors. Weekends have more things on. Cleaning is happening. Decorations are going up. The food for Christmas is being prepared. Soon I will be an expert in the making of home made sausage rolls.
As activity increases in the house I am more conscious of our action-being balance. Being a contemplative is about being mindful of how we are living the balance between our activity and our being.
The walking spiral used at a recent Meditatio House silent day. Photo by May Ngo.
The majority of people today seem to be living actively at the expense of being. Too much activity apart from the experience of being leads to a life where doing dominates. Part of the witness of Meditatio House is to offer an alternative way: the way that is the integration of activity and being.
Contemplative practice is about the facilitation of this integration. Practices such as coming to stillness, de-centring the ego, and giving attention to being – all of these are meant to bring about a balance between being and activity to the point where our activity does not simply serve doing at beings’ expense.
With practice activity can become more an expression of being. In time activity and being can become seamless. The split between action and being (a split that occurs in our consciousness minds) narrows and fades.
Contemplative practice causes awareness to ‘sink’ into being. Because awareness is a part of consciousness, awareness then becomes a bridge of sorts (because of this ‘sinking’) between being and consciousness. We then become, through awareness, more and more conscious of our being. Being can then be expressed consciously in the activity of our lives. With a practice that fosters a growing awareness of our being in each moment, daily activity becomes expression of being.
In Christian meditation what fosters conscious awareness into being is our attention on the mantra as it sounds within our body and heart. Attention could be described as the ‘pointy-end’ of awareness.
Because the Divine is the source and ground of all being, anyone who is expressing being is also expressing something of the mysterious divine life. Divine Being is the default of all being, regardless of belief.
This phenomenon of action-being integration is similar to the wu wei of Chinese philosophy. Thomas Merton in The Way of Chuang Tzu (1965, 1997) describes wu wei as “perfect action – because it is act without activity.” Merton goes on to say of wu wei
It is not mere passivity, but it is action that seems both effortless and spontaneous because performed ‘rightly,’ in perfect accordance with our nature and with our place in the scheme of things. It is completely free because there is in it no force and no violence. (28).
For me this is another way of describing the expression of being. When freely done there is no force, only expression flowing with and in the energy of life. It is a joy-filled and peaceful happening to express being in action. It is energising because the ego project of survival and control has been put aside. We have forgotten ourselves in a moment of graceful participation in life. The contemplative life, no matter where and how it is practiced, is about these moments in life growing into each other, like ink on paper. Life becomes prayer.
As a contemplative practice Christian meditation is about growing in a consistent attention on being and attention off ego (self-consciousness). Regularity and practice are key because with this attention is re-trained and the mind transformed. The whole of the mind becomes attuned to being. The activity of the body follows the mind and grows in the expression of being at the expense of mere doing. We grow as human beings and become less and less human doings.
Meditatio House is a wonderful place to facilitate this graceful action-being integration:
Firstly, we have our three times a day of meditation. This is the commitment (personal and communal) to faithful attention to being. It is so important to have this routine, especially when things are more active. If we did not, then our day would likely slip further and further into doing. Human beings were not made for excessive doing.
Secondly, we have the community life of the house. So much of this is about growing in self-honesty and trust. When this is happening we are in a better position to discover the ways in which we avoid the pilgrimage into being. Everyone practices an aversion to this pilgrimage because the ego does not want it, and the way invites honesty about why we avoid it. Growth in being allows grace to integrate the whole of us.
Thirdly, Meditatio House is a house of service and hospitality. Here we get a practical experience of just where our being is in relation to the activity we engage in. We walk a line here between looking after others and looking after ourselves. In time we grow in tenderness towards our own inner tendencies. The compassion that we grow in for our selves as we struggle to love with other-centred integrity, becomes more and more available to us as an inner resource for others. In time we discover that this resource of compassion is actually the Divine life within.
The challenge of any life aspiring to contemplation is to discover and cherish ways in the daily round that are about becoming more a human being. Living more humanely is about activity as an expression of being. In this we leave doing behind. Our words and deeds truly grow in goodness.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such ceaseless encouragement and such sure hope, encourage you and strengthen you in every good word and deed. (2Thes2:16,17)