Tag Archives: Christianity

Ten Bulls 3. Perceiving the Bull

Ten Bull 3 Percieving the Bull

Perhaps we want to analyse this bull experience, reflect on it and understand.

As we reflect we move past this first experience of the bull, and into thought: experiencing the experience.

We see the bull, then lose it in thought.

The bull is gone! All that is left is our thinking about the bull.

The bellow of the bull is in the body. We must learn to stay attentive to this first experience.

As practice goes on we learn not to lose the bellow: the first experience of stubbornness, of greed, of pain, of anger – whatever it might be. We feel the intensity of these in the body.

The bull snorts, ‘flares up’, and we stay with the experience, aware of it even for just a second.

This is hard: to experience it and not to forget it in thought. This is what awareness is.

Slowly, we learn to carry this cross of first experience.

Your cross is not my cross, your bull is not my bull.

When we fall to our knees, Jesus falls with us.

The bull is I, ego. Its flaring is wounded passion, energy misdirected, longing become desire: the roots of egoism.

The bull has been our shield, our defence; lashing out and then hiding, running amuck then vanishing.

One foot meditation, one foot awareness.


Ten Bulls 2. Discovering the Footprints

TenBulls2Discovering the Footprints

As we walk we see footprints, we see traces.

Traces of what? Of the bull.

Who is this bull? What are the footprints?

We have lost touch, we cannot see.

We are unaware of what causes us to get in the way of ourselves and Love.

On the path there are traces, that are mine and not my own.

A footprint, a broken fence, damaged trees, eaten grass: what are these?

They are our reactions in life.

Someone stole my parking space!

Someone is using my cup!

People are ignoring me!

I want that!

All this, and much more, is the bull ‘snorting up’: running down the path and through fences, gorging on the fresh green grass.

The traces are everywhere. Learning to see them is one of the great challenges of spiritual and human life.

And so, we walk on: one foot meditation, one foot experiencing the footprints, the traces.

As we walk on we grow familiar, through experience, with the traces – the signs of where the bull has been.


Ten Bulls 1. The Search for the Bull

TheSearchForTheBull

Why do we search? What are we looking for?

Is there a recognition, however hidden, that something is missing?

But what? Is it happiness? Peace? Meaning? Wholeness? God?

Something is missing, and we can itch with a desire to find; a desire that grasps and tests, that consumes and moves on.

How has this happened?

We live in a divided state, somehow estranged and yet somehow ourselves.

The desire is to find ourselves. But, who am I?

Notice the herdsman: feet pointing one way, head looking the other.

We are divided; self-consciousness is separate from consciousness.

Our head is pointing in the wrong direction. How can we possibly see where we are going?

The two feet are meditation and daily life. With these we walk on our way; sometimes restless, sometimes listless, sometimes happy, and somehow searching.

On we go into the experience of our own division, into the ways in which we live with true nature forgotten.

On this path of life, we live out of habits and attitudes that seem to hinder. We resist people and happenings that could be somehow good for us. What’s going on?

Metanoia: change your mind, turn your head. Be attentive to your feet.

Let the grace in walking turn your head.


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.


Meditatio House: (Stay Awake) and Do What is Appropriate (Part 2)

…and do what is appropriate.

What is the appropriate thing to do in any given moment? How do we know that it is appropriate?

The more attention we give to the moment and the longer we can simply be in the moment with this attention (that is, to stay awake), then the more we learn (through experience) about the now of the moment. We learn what it is about the experience of the now that invites appropriate action.

Zen and Christian spirituality (along with their own meditation practices) are both ways to practice being in the present moment and to develop the necessary sensitivity to live and act in the present moment, the now.

The Christian spiritual master Meister Eckhart has said

The most important hour is always the present. The most significant person is precisely the one sitting across from you right now. The most necessary work is always love.

Love can only happen now.

Christianity teaches that God’s will, in all its manifestations, is simply loving attention in action now. The Divine Life, as love, gives its attention fully to each moment. Our task is to learn to live attentively in this attention, being and acting more and more with and in it.

As I walked out the café gate I saw an older lady looking at a chalk board that was hung on the gate. “Oh, it’s closed” she said. “I was hoping for a coffee.” I looked at the board; on it was written ‘Closed’. I found myself saying “They’re still serving. I’m sure you could go in and get maybe a takeaway.”

Contemplative practice seeks to live the heart of Christian spirituality: living life open, attentive, and responsive to what the Divine Life in the moment is being attentive to. We simply grow in learning to love in the circumstances of the moment – whatever those circumstances might be.

The morning air was crisp and fresh. Attention, at least for now, was not caught in the compulsions that have it chasing thoughts and being lost in imaginings. The calling birds sung into clam. From deep within me came a soothing. It rose, welling, and enticing. In this silence of the morning an invitation came: “give yourself some loving attention. Be with me while you can.” Time to be, time to be in love – time to have attention turn (in)to Love. I gave Love attention as best as I could. Now, in the moment, attention became the way God loved me, the way I loved God, and the way we loved together.

Another way to practice staying in the present moment is to give attention to our bodily senses in the everyday. Using our senses in this way we can give attention to such things as the feel of a t-shirt on the body or the sensation of feet on the ground while walking. Smells and sounds can also ground us in the now, as can everyday practices such as brushing our teeth, washing up, and ironing. Giving and re-giving attention to these things is a spiritual and human practice that, when done regularly, helps ground us in the now where God is and where our attention can be re-claimed by a Love that wants to act through us.

As well as using our external senses to practice staying awake in the moment, attention can also be turned internally to observe thoughts, emotions, feelings, and imaginings. We can grow, for example, in the practice of observing our everyday reactions to events and people. Reactivity can be like a momentary release of repression revealing to us hidden wounds and attitude we would prefer to forget. In time, as we grow in a gentle, non-judging attention to these rich flashes of the deep of us (something that meditation helps us with), Love in the present moment heals and shapes us. Soon we find enough courage to see and grow in the acceptance of that within us that does not want to love.

Strangers broke into affection in front of me. Straight away I began to feel uncomfortable. “Why do people insist on treating public spaces like a living room?” Then they began to speak in intimacies: ‘I know life’s been a struggle, but I’m here for you.’ ‘Please call me if you need to.’ Their bodies clogged the space. Spontaneity and concern had them lost in their own familial world. Rather than soften, I cursed them for the inconvenience.

The more our senses can stay in the present moment, the more our attention can be shaped by the always present love-life of God. Living attentively in the moment leaves us exposed to a divine dynamic that would have us slowly forgetting ourselves for love’s sake.

The more time I spent in the palliative care room with mum and my family, the more I sensed that the most important thing to do was to be in the moment with mum and her experience of dying. Any time that I found myself away, distracted, or doing something else, these were the times when God and conscience invited me to come back and be present in these last physical moments with her. As I did this I experienced the challenge of my own experience of mum’s death. In the moment with mum was the invitation to simply be in love with her. The more I could be in the moment with mum, the more I was in love with her and my family. The more time spent in this moment meant less regret later.

Life in the present moment is where divinity has the chance to shine in us and through us. The Zen Master Robert Kennedy, while teaching us that evening at the Meditatio Centre*, passionately cried out: ‘Burn bright, breath by breath!’ Our everyday practices of attention now – meditation and attending to the people and everyday things of life – can enliven us and have us burning bright with other-centred loving attention.

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. (Luke12:35-36).

* See ‘Meditatio House: (Stay Awake) and Do What is Appropriate (Part One)’.


Meditatio House: Stay Awake (and Do What is Appropriate) (Part 1)

Recently the community at Meditatio House was privileged to have Robert Kennedy (Zen master and Jesuit priest) with us for lunch. He was to present a workshop at our Meditatio Centre that evening.

Robert Kennedy teaches and practices Zen meditation at Morning Star Zendo in New Jersey.

It was wonderful to spend time with Fr. (and Roshi) Kennedy during the informal time of lunch. Those present had the opportunity to share and ask questions about Zen, Christianity, and meditation.

During this exchange Fr. Kennedy said what he cautiously considered to be the essence of Zen. He described this essence as: “Stay awake, and do what is appropriate.”

Stay awake…

Zen, like all great spiritual traditions, invites us to be in the present moment. Ultimately, the past is memory and the future is fantasy. A human alive to the now is a human fully being and ready to express this being now.

To be awake is the essential work of being present to each moment as it comes, to experience the moment with our senses alive in the moment. Even describing the present as ‘each moment’ is to kind of ‘hem it in’ with a past and a future on either side. Being awake is being awake now with notions of ‘past’ and ‘future’ forgotten.

How do we stay awake? We practice in our lives that which anchors sense and experience now. One such way is the practice of Zen meditation.

That evening Fr. Kennedy guided us through a session of Zen meditation. He asked us to use the Zen mantra mu (pronounced ‘moo’ with lips slackened). We said aloud and together this mantra for about five minutes, exclaiming it from deep in the gut as we exhaled. It is in the gut, just below the belly button, where the Zen meditator experiences their centre. After this opening five minutes we repeated mu softly and to ourselves in union with our breathing.

We were asked to keep our eyes open rather than have them closed. Fr. Kennedy invited us to fix our eyes on one point in front of us. He suggested between the shoulder blades of the person in front of us. He asked that we focus on this point and look nowhere else. For the Zen meditator keeping the eyes open and fixed is an aid to staying alert in the now.

As we meditated Fr. Kennedy taught us. This is the way a Zen master can choose to teach – as the student meditates. The teaching serves the now, is in the now. In the practice of being now, the student is taught about the now in both word and experience.

The practice of Christian meditation differs in some aspects to Zen meditation. Some aspects stood out for me after experiencing Fr. Kennedy’s brief introduction to Zen meditation. Rather than saying aloud our mantra, the Christian meditator repeats the mantra internally. Also, our eyes are closed rather than being open with gaze fixed. Finally, any teaching with words is done before and/or after a session of Christian meditation, not during.

What struck me in the (brief and introductory) experience of Zen meditation we had with Fr. Kennedy was the absence of an emphasis on silence. Mu was said aloud, and then whispered; Fr. Kennedy taught while the meditation was happening; the eyes remained open. In the emphasis on the now that Zen teaches, silence seemed to take a back seat.

Within the practice of Christian meditation there seems to be a reversal of this emphasis: the now seems to take a back seat to a coming to stillness and then a moving into silence. The mantra, sounded interiorly and with eyes closed, draws attention into stillness and then into the mystery of silence. Closed eyes assist this journey into silence.

A question arising from this very basic and incomplete comparison of the way in which these two meditation traditions approach meditation is: are silence and the now somehow mutually exclusive? Another way of asking this question is to ask: it possible to view silence and the now as somehow complimentary?

It is possible for Christian and the Zen meditators to answer this question from their own experience of meditation. Being a Christian and a meditator, how can I answer the above question in the light of my own experience?

A fruit of the work of giving attention to the mantra (along with a growth in silence) is consciousness becoming grounded more and more now. The Christian meditator, over time, experiences the past and the future fall away. Indeed, a self-conscious awareness of the present also falls away – self consciousness (or ego) can get in the way of being now.

As this happens we discover, thanks to this non-reflective experience, that silence and the now are part of the same experience. There can be no experience of silence without being now; there can be no experience of being now without silence. Now is silence; silence is now. It could be argued that this insight from experience can be the insight of any meditator from any tradition.

It is assumed that as the Zen meditator continues in their practice, becoming more experienced and more grounded in the now, that there is less reason for the Zen master to teach with words. With eyes open and fixed, and with mu gently said, the Zen meditator falls into the silent now, the now of silence.

In this silent now any meditator from any well-founded tradition of meditation can come to be in the oneness within and beyond all things.

In Christian meditation, as we go beyond any notions of now and silence, we experience the no-where of the Divine Life. In this no-where we discover ourselves in the prayer of the risen Jesus. The light of Christ then shines more brightly in the practicalities of our Christian and human lives.

What happens for the Zen meditator during meditation? This is not for me to say. I don’t even know if or how a Zen master would describe what may be (for them at any time) best left unsaid. Sometimes words are veils that can shroud and distract.


Meditatio House: Imagination, Detachment, and Play

There are many distractions of many kinds that claim our attention during meditation. Often these distractions are related to what we are attached to. Recently, as I sit and meditate, rugby union has been on my mind.

At the moment, in London, the 2015 Rugby World Cup is on. Every four years the top twenty rugby nations get together and play for the chance to win the Web Ellis Trophy. Australia – the team I support, and number two in the world – is through to the semi-finals after a fortunate ‘win at the death’ against Scotland.

image4

My attachment to rugby union runs deep. The secondary school I attended (from age 12 to 18) has always been a ‘rugby school’. Consequently, during the formative years of my teens, a strong attachment to rugby developed. The highs and lows of the Wallabies (the animal after which the Australian team takes its name) became my highs and lows. Consequently, the Rugby World Cup became a distinct time of emotional attachment. During the 1999 World Cup (which Australia won) my then spiritual director politely suggested to me that it would be a wonderful thing if I could take the same passion that I had for the Wallabies into life generally.

Lately at Meditaito House, during meditation, my mind has wandered onto the rugby pitch and imagined a sweeping backline move for a try or a strong shove from a dominant scrum. I have found these imaginings quite gratifying and felt quite self-satisfied after imagining them.

…meditation is our pathway into surrendering the very self, the separate, self-conscious identity that looks for experiences to ‘have’ in the first place. Meditation is a radical opening into a new possibility for being – being given and received as gift, being centred in and wholly transparent to the life of God. (1)

These words from meditator and theologian Sarah Bachelard are a challenging reminder to me at this time. There is a “separate, self-conscious identity” in me (in us all) that is using my attachment to the Wallabies and the world cup as a way to distract attention during meditation. This separate self-identity can be called ego.

The temptation to be gratified by the imaginings of this “separate, self-conscious identity” can be at times too great. Perhaps a new parent, during meditation, may find their imagination straying to their new ‘bundle of joy’ (assuming, of course, this new parent is not too tired to meditate at all). Perhaps a person obsessed with technology will get lost in the gratification that a new phone or computer is ‘providing’. And the feelings that a new love interest is generating in us can indeed be more immediately and powerfully gratifying than the ‘nothing’ happening as we meditate.

We all have attachments. It’s part of being human. Our attachments reveal themselves in our imagination. A life growing in awareness has the chance see this, accept it, be humbled by it, and begin to smile gently at it.

And yet if we surrender to our imaginings, we could experience the bliss and gratification of a being lost in attachment and imagination. Why meditate at all if I can feel this alive while entertaining imagination?

To seek and to be with God, to experience who we most deeply are, and to grow in true love, we need to go beyond using imagination in this way. Imagination used in this way can keep us from God, ourselves, and love – caught in self-consciousness as alienation from these realities.

The bliss and gratification of imagination is not the deep contentment and inner stability that we receive as gift while we attend to, and integrate with, the divine life within us; it is not the meaning and purpose that loving others can give us.

If we are to grow in becoming “centred in and wholly transparent to the life of God” imagination needs to be put aside and our attachments must fade. This is the work of meditation. It is the fruit of a commitment to a daily practice of attention on a mantra.

Over time attention on the mantra has the mind growing still and silent. Attention on the mantra draws attention deeper into being until the whole of us is lost in being and we become silence.

Rather than exercising the mind so that we might have an experience, we instead learn the value of being. Instead of awareness caught in imagination and attachment at the self-conscious level, during meditation awareness can come to transcend this self-consciousness, go beyond it. Rather than being aware of reflecting on an experience, we become free to attend without self-reflection to being. In this attending to being we have forgotten ourselves and commune with the Ground of Being – God.

‘Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it. What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self.’ (Luke 9:24-5).

The life we are invited to lose is a life based on attachment and its use of imagination, a life that tries to make a separate self-conscious identity the centre of living.

Winning the whole world is the practice of a self-consciousness wanting to have, to own, to possess. However, a life of being is a life “being given and received as gift”. We are all a part of the gift of life for life’s sake. We cannot win a gift. Life being simply lived, rather than acquired, is life expressing the adventure of being. This adventure can happen anywhere and at any time – even on the rugby field. Attention lost in the adventure of life is awareness lost in being.

Perhaps the Wallabies (and professional sport people in general) and their supporters (including me) could see sport more as a creative and playful part of the adventure of life and less as an expression of hardnosed competitiveness for the achievement of reward. It is easier to do this when attention is on being; much harder if attention is caught in self-consciousness (with its attendant imaginings and attachments).

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people. All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao. (68) (2)

Detachment is about living life “in the spirit of play” and becoming like children (cf. Matthew 18:2-4).

(1) Sarah Bachelard in, John Main: The Expanding Vision (Laurence Freeman and Stefan Reynolds, eds), 70.
(2) Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching (Translated by Stephen Mitchell).


%d bloggers like this: