Tag Archives: Bonnevaux

The Caravan: Awareness Without Thought (Part 1)

For the last couple of years or so, myself and some other members of The WCCM have been planning a move. Come the middle of April this year I should be arriving at Bonnevaux, the new international retreat centre for The WCCM. I will be there as part of the live-in community. In the meantime, I am living in transitional accommodation in an on-site caravan at a friends place in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (west of Sydney, Australia).

It is a wonderful place, full of trees and wildlife and a generous spirit. It is a place of peace that is giving me and many others a space of quiet and safety. Indeed, the spirit of the place has been stirring in me feelings that I might have not noticed or might have otherwise been tempted to ignore.

As accommodation goes the caravan is refreshingly basic: bed, a small swinging table, limited seating (thanks in no small part to my luggage), pump action tap with sink, two electric hotplates, some cupboard space, and a bar fridge. Volunteering for manual labor comes with the accommodation. This transitional accommodation is for two months.

After living in the caravan for around a week and a half, circumstances have found me back in Sydney this past week and in the house where I used to live. I am due back at the caravan this weekend, and I now find myself in something of a quandary: I am noticing resistance within me around returning. It is not about the caravan nor the Blue Labyrinth itself; more about my reaction to returning.

What am I do to with this resistance? Ignore it? Push it down beyond awareness? Just live with it? What might it be saying?

This occasion of resistance is a good time to practice what many are calling these days mindfulness; or perhaps we could better call it the practice of becoming aware, without thought, of what I am feeling about heading back to the caravan.

Feelings are best felt rather than ignored, suppressed, and repressed. Feelings left unfelt in this way require quite a bit of energy to keep them ‘out of mind’. Over a lifetime, energy used in this way can cause exhaustion, heightened anger and depression, resentment and grief. Repression of feelings also contributes to the ageing and damaging of our bodies. So it’s important to grow in the practice of the regulation of our feelings, allowing them to rise and be felt. However, because we are well versed in repression, this can be a challenge to learn and continue to practice.

Why is it good to feel without thought, and how could this be done – to not think about what I am aware of? Isn’t thought and awareness the same thing? No. Thinking is largely a product of our self-consciousness, while awareness occurs in consciousness. What we repress ends up as unconscious.

A healthy mind is all about being conscious. If we are too self-conscious (a common malady today), our thinking can crowd out our feelings, giving little space for us to simply feel. Anger may rise, for example, and what we could do is quickly start to analyse it: where is this from, why am I feeling this? The result of this is that we are no longer feeling or allowing space for feeling. Thinking can also be a part of suppression and repression; the energy of thinking can contribute to feelings becoming unconscious and unfelt.

So, it follows then, that if we are to give more space to the feeling of feelings and so become more mindful, it would be good to practice the art of not thinking. Easily said than done.

Meditation is the practice of not thinking, or non-thinking. How does this happen? Via the giving and re-giving of attention to a mantra we, in efffect, give the energy invlolved in thought something else to do. Rather than thinking about tomorrow, last week, or today’s to-do list, we practice the art of allowing thinking to recede and quieten via attention on the mantra. What then happens, over time, is that space is freed to feel. Feelings can rise safely and not be subjected to the scruttiny of self-consciousness via thought. In time, too, because they are being safely felt, the intensity of our feelings subside. Another way of saying all this is to say that we are becoming conscious.

So now is the time for me to become aware of what I am feeling. It is important that I put any descriptive words aside and simply feel the feelings. Now is not the time to speculate. Now is the time to simply feel. After feeling words will come. This practice is a fruit of meditation.

 


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.


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