Tag Archives: Christianity

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.

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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).


Meditatio House: Disturbance and Stillness

In the sayings of the Desert Fathers there is a story about three friends. All three were not afraid of hard work. The three friends chose three different ways to engage with the world. One chose to work for peace among people who fought each other. One chose to spend his time serving the sick. The third went to the desert to live in “the stillness of prayer” (1).

The first friend found that he could not make peace among others. The second found serving the sick disheartening. After telling each other of their difficulties they decided to visit the third friend. After explaining to him what had happened, the two asked the third for advice.

After a short silence, [the third friend] poured some water into a bowl and said to them, ‘Look at the water’, and it was disturbed. After a little while he said to them again, ‘Look how still the water is now’, and as they looked into the water, they saw their own faces reflected in it as in a mirror. Then he said to them, ‘It is the same for those who live among men [sic]; disturbances prevent them from seeing their faults. But when a man [sic] is still, especially in the desert, then he sees his failings. (2)

The third friend had discovered in the desert that without inner stillness we cannot come to an appreciation of our faults, our shortcomings, the ways in which we fail. As long as these failings go unacknowledged the roots of our failure will undermine efforts for peace and make a compassionate life hard to maintain. The roots of our faults lie within us.

The third friend came to this discovery because he chose an environment free enough of others’ disturbances so that he might experience his own disturbances – both his faults and their roots. He chose to be with God in the tension of this experience. He did not distract himself from this tension. He was honest enough, true enough. With and in this truthfulness the Divine Life was able to integrate and heal his inner life. Rather than experiencing his mind as a bowl of water always disturbed, the third friend came to experience his inner life as stillness.

The roots of our faults could be seen as those wounds, motivations and beliefs we carry within us that contribute to the distorting of both our vision and our action away from love.

To see our faults is to both observe the action and to experience its roots. It is from this seeing that ‘holy tears’, the tears of own existential remorse, can flow.

At first sight this story seems to be about the promotion of living in the desert as the better way. In a world of disturbance, it seems, we cannot come to stillness, much like a bowl of water that is always disturbed.

Perhaps we could see the whole story of the three friends as a story of integration. The first two friends became disheartened with their choices because they were not yet integrated or still enough within themselves. It took the third friend to show them this and to offer them a way.

The way offered was the way of the desert. What is this desert way? It is a way committed to the minimising of external disturbance and distraction so that we may experience our own inner disturbance and distraction. In the honesty of this experience is the promise of healing and transformation – of a coming to stillness. In this stillness there is a clarity and simplicity of vision that has deep roots in Divine Love. In this stillness ego is quiet enough to be a servant of this Love rather than captive to woundedness and disintegration.

Meditaio House is a community committed to this minimising. We value and encourage silence. We have no TV. We regularly meet to practice and encourage honesty – honesty with ourselves and each other. We have guides, mentors that help us in this desert lifestyle. And we meditate. In meditation we gently experience that within us which prevents honesty.

Meditation helps us to live with each other in self honesty. Disturbances happen. The goal is to learn the art of staying in the tension of these disturbances – the present moment of them – without analysis or judgement. This is what the third friend can teach us all. In this present moment there is God and healing. If we can all do this together enough, then as Fr. Laurence said recently – community itself is therapy.

An old man said, ‘The monk’s cell is like the furnace of Babylon where the three children found the Son of God, and it is like the pillar of cloud where God spoke to Moses.’ (3)

Our cell, both of the heart and our physical living space, is the place where we can all encounter God and be purified in this encounter.

In this cell we grow in attention to stillness and the divinity in this stillness. Like Martha in the story of Martha and Mary (Lk10:38-42) we discover ‘the one thing necessary’: the stillness that is the foundation of contemplative action. Action from this stillness is a gift of love to a disturbed world. It is action which is not a striving. It is action as an expression of being. This is the kind of action (action that Chuang Tzu called ‘non-action’ (4)), which the world needs more of today.

Martha and Mary: He Qi

Martha and Mary: He Qi

(1) Benedicta Ward (trans) The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (1975, 1986), 1.
(2) Ward, 1.
(3) Ward, 25.
(4) ‘Action and Non-Action’ in Thomas Merton (trans) The Way of Chuang Tzu (1965, 1997), 80.


Meditatio House: Being and Self-Making

If there is one thing that meditating and living in community can help us with it’s the awareness of just how the ego can move and work within us and our relating. This is certainly the case for any group of people committed to spending time and energy together – husbands and wives, families, work colleagues. If left alone, ego will always be attempting to influence things towards its own self-interests.

Lately at Meditatio House I have been experiencing a heightened sense of my ego as it dips and weaves in and out of perception and action. This heightened sense is the fruit of living as part of a community that values meditation, silence, and the minimisation of distraction.

I can be in a conversation with someone and, before too long sense self-consciousness (or ego) rise in me. This self-consciousness attempts to grasp and influence perception and action in that moment. It attempts this with a movement of emotion and/or with thoughts and images that rise to influence attention back to my inner life at the surface of consciousness. As this happens I can lose touch with a deeper sense of other-centred connection and being. Ego doesn’t want attention to be in these deeper places and away from it. It wants the light of attention to remain on it. An ego too caught in its own reflection can view a lack of self-consciousness as, ultimately, a threat to its existence.

Recently a request was made to do some raking of autumn leaves. I hesitated to volunteer. Why? Who was hesitating? Who was being served by not volunteering? By not volunteering I missed out on an opportunity to be an active community member. I also missed out on a chance to gently, and with grace, act in a way which truly loved everyone (including myself) rather than do what ego wanted (to stay in my room and read a book). As I read I sensed regret.

Because ego can view a lack of attention as an existential threat, it wants to be in the driver’s seat of the inner life to control where attention goes. And it is very effective at claiming attention, often doing so subtlety and anonymously. Ego is a chameleon, always shifting colour and direction, attempting different ways to influence attention for its own end: that it stays as the indispensable centre of our life and relating.

Sometimes ego can be this gentle ‘inner breeze’ subtlety encouraging attention back to itself. Sometimes the breeze blows stronger. At other times it can be like a hurricane using all the energy it has been given as a whirlwind, sucking attention back to the ‘safer’ surface of things.

In the end, though, ego is a kind of illusion, an enigma that requires attention if it is to be seen as existing. While it is, paradoxically, a necessary part of being human, it’s centrality to our psychology is unnecessary.

Theologian Sarah Bachelard* in her book Resurrection and Moral Imagination describes the ego as “the felt need to grasp at our identity for ourselves”, rather than to “discover ourselves given being” by Divine Being (p99, italics added). Ego avoids this discovery because it means the beginning of the ultimate undermining of its attempts at being central to our psychological life. Divine Being-in-Love is becoming the centre at the expense of egocentricity.

The wonderful thing about the discovery of our self as given being by this divinity is that we experience this giving’s free gift. There is nothing to prove. We don’t have to be good enough for it. We are not required to work for it, to maintain the life of this being through effort. Being is not the ego “self-making”. Any “desire to secure our own righteousness” (or worthiness) is foreign to being and completely unnecessary (Bachelard, 98-99). This need to self-make and in doing so prove ourselves as worthy of attention and of love, is a project of the ego.

Life lived in a deeper and growing grounding in the gift of being and the de-centring of ego, frees life to be a loving adventure to be experienced for its own sake. We are here to participate in the great creative adventure of love. We are not here to prove our human life as worthy of attention, as worthy of this love.

The challenge, of course, is that our humanity, from its earliest stages of development, is trained in this lie of unworthiness, of self-justification. We end up making psychological and relational concessions to this lie. The hardness of this lie and the way it is lived wounds us. This wounding requires healing. This healing is a part of the attention’s journey into being.

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Meditation is a wonderful way in which to practice the grounding of attention in the Goodness of God, in Divine Being. It is the giving of attention to the mantra that grounds attention in Being. It is the giving of attention to Divine Being that nurtures the healing process. As we grow in this grounding and healing there is less and less need for us to justify our own existence. We discover that we never needed to and experience our true liberation in Christ.

Faithful practice sees ego becoming less and less opaque. It grows in a subtle, simple, and graced clarity. This allows the bright jewel of being that each of us uniquely is to shine more and more in the world through ego. As this happens a forgetfulness of self-consciousness grows in us. This forgetfulness is a sign that ego is (with grace) letting go of the desire to be at the centre of things, to have attention all to itself. Ego is finally relaxing into being at the service of the divine within. It can function without attention. Humility grows in us.  Our psyche is being healed and integrated.

* Sarah Bachelard is an Australian Anglican priest, a Christian meditator, and the founder of Benedictus Contemplative Church.


Deeper Well: Emmylou Harris. The Beyond in Life and for Life.

The philosopher Charles Taylor speaks about a “three cornered battle raging in our culture” today. For Taylor, each of these corners is occupied by secular humanists, neo-Neitzcheans, and “those who acknowledge some [transcendent] good beyond life”.

Secular humanists seek the fulfilment of human potential while excluding any notion of transcendence. A true experience of life, they say, contains no impulse to move towards any reality beyond life itself. There is only life. There is no God.

The neo-Neitzscheans emphasise Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the will to power’. To grow involves struggle, a struggle of the will to preserve itself, survive and thrive. It is a struggle happening only within the reality of a person’s earthly existence. There is no afterlife waiting. This material life is all we have. We are all a will using power to grow, to become.

The third group embraces the reality and experience of transcendence, seeing it, ultimately, as a source of goodness. It can be as specific as a belief in God, or be more generalised like a mysterious sense of something ‘other’.

Secular humanists hold the view that we do not need this transcendence to fulfil human potential. Neo-Neitzscheans hold the view that we are our own transcendence. Christian spirituality says that the Divine Life itself is the source of this transcendence. It is a divine dynamic intimate with creation, working for the good and fulfilment of all (whether implicit or explicit, known or unknown), doing so in ways that life by itself cannot do.

This song from Emmylou Harris, for me, is a song about a human journey affected by this divine transcendent dynamic within life. Through it all she sings of looking for water from some mysterious “deeper well”. There is a thirst for this well’s water in the experience of life. Nothing else satisfies. At first the search is full of the will to power – “I went…I fell…I looked…I saw…I found”. It’s a search that “rocked”, “rolled”, “rattled”, and raged – a search that attempted to find in the experiences of life its own dynamic of transcendence, that is, its own way to move beyond life and into something more deeply satisfying.

This attempt ends in the “terrible sight” of a life hitting rock bottom. No material experience, in itself, is this deeper well. For many of us there is a thirst for life that cannot be quelled simply by living life. The eternal of life needs, in some way, to be given attention.

Finally, at the bottom, there is a “reaching out for a holier grail” – something in life that is part of life yet more than life. This reaching out is often the fruit of a fruitless search. Hitting rock bottom can be the discovery that we are finally in the deeper well. After the search exhausts us enough we can be ready enough to accept something of this divinely transcendent dynamic within us. Grace waits in our struggle and search, respecting our freedom, until, through struggle, we become free enough to glimpse and experience what we most deeply hunger for.

Buddy Miller’s guitar work is raw and powerful, giving thrust (and at times desperation) to the search. Emmylou’s vocal is delivered with determination and edgy grace. Her band, Spyboy, when it was together, was a wonder to behold. Grab a copy of their 1998 live album Spyboy to hear more.

Christian spirituality names this deeper well as that mysterious place within us where the Divine Life dwells. The water itself is this Divine Life, a living spring, the wells source. This Divine Life is the source and the fulfilment of all earthly transcendence. Our thirst for this living water is a natural human and spiritual response to the presence of this living water – the heart’s deepest desire. Our thirst, our dissatisfaction, is often our companion on the way to the well within us.

A practice like Christian meditation maintains our attention at the deeper well. Regular practice has us drinking this living, divine water. As we experience this water rising up from the centre of us and all creation, we learn just where else this water is for us in life.

…but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within welling up for eternal life. (John 4:14).

The contemplative drinks of this water in and through their life and prayer practice. The contemplative comes to understand deeply that life is life, God is God, and that God is the water of life. We can all be contemplatives; we can all sing “I drank the water from a deeper well”.


Meditatio House: Fear and the Blowfly Mind

Many of us may be familiar with the term ‘monkey mind’. Thubten Chodron, Buddhist author, teacher and Abbess, writes that the expression was used by the Buddha

to describe the agitated, easily distracted and incessantly moving behaviour of ordinary human consciousness (Taming the Monkey Mind, 1995).

We have all experienced this; the way consciousness can create, roam in, attach to, and identify with a vast array of thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions that move within us. Thubten Chodron uses a quote from the Buddha to further illustrate her monkey mind point:

Just as a monkey swinging through the trees grabs one branch and lets it go only to seize another, so too, that which is called thought, mind or consciousness arises and disappears continually both day and night.’ (S.II,95).

Recently, at Meditatio House, while we were meditating, I was distracted by a fly. It had earlier made its way into the meditation room and was now trying to get out. It was continually flying into the glass bay doors that allow access to the back yard. It would hit the glass and continue to fly, trying to force its way through the invisible barrier in its way. The noise was one long buzz, a buzz which would run for a few seconds until the fly needed to rest. After resting it would start again. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

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The noise reminded me of an expression which I heard a friend of mine from Australia use once to describe an agitated, active human consciousness: the blowfly mind. Australia is (in)famous for its flies – they can be big and loud and are numerous. Imagine half a dozen of the things hitting a glass window, buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. Now that is an analogy for an over-active mind, an analogy easily comparable to a tree full of chattering monkeys!

Spirituality calls these energetic movements of consciousness distractions. But what are they distracting us from, and who is doing the distracting?

Perhaps we are continuing a long-term pattern of being distracted from our own psychological woundedness. It is the ego (the energy of surface consciousness) that can draw attention away from this woundedness. Perhaps there is a well-founded belief that we need protection from these wounds, and that to ‘get on’ with life we cannot afford to waste time on hurts and the past.

We may have begun to call these wounds we are trying to avoid (with distractions) our distractions. The real distractions we may be experiencing as welcome relief.

For me, it was feelings of anxiety being covered over by the ‘welcome relief’ of TV, warped religion, and tertiary study. It was these external activities that fed the ‘necessary’ internal movement (the blowflies) that was distraction from the anxiety.

As the years passed, however, the anxiety became too prominent, too strong for my ego to contain with distraction. This anxiety (essentially a fear of the future) was being intensified, fed by a churning mind. My mind churned life as a problem to solve. I would be safer, I believed, if I could work life out before living it. I wanted to eliminate failure and rejection, or at least minimise them. There had already been too much rejection. Eventually (and with help) I came to see that I was actually living anxiety rather than living life.

These blowflies, as they draw attention to the surface, cause us to forget something else: our deeper self, that mysterious being which is our true selves in God. Ego doesn’t want attention there. More attention on this self is less attention on ego. So the blowflies keep buzzing attention away from this deep mystery of who we are.

The difficulty with this is that in order to experience the reality of the Divine Life we first must be in contact with this mysterious self. This is a foundational insight of spiritual and human life. If our attention is too caught up in ego-driven distraction, then there will be limited opportunity to experience this self, and so God. There may be experiences of awe, wonder, and love which suspend ego and distractions long enough for us to get an experiential ‘glimpse’ of something deeper; however these brief experiences are not enough to build a long term and transformative life of prayer on.

What is needed is a commitment to a prayer practice that trains attention away from distractions. We are then in a better position to experience self and from there the Divine. Engagement with a practice like this can require courage because it will gently invite us to face what we have been distracted from: our own wounds, our own interior life.

I can still remember the first time I realised that what I was feeling, creating, and desperately trying to avoid was anxiety. I was 24 years old. I had a choice: I could continue to avoid anxiety by avoiding life (and thus feed depression), or I could learn to live with the anxiety and, over time and with help, experience the roots of it and allow grace to heal.

Christian meditation is a practice that has as its essential component the training of attention away from distraction. For many of us it is a particularly courageous act to begin and continue with the mantra. The way to the experience of self and, ultimately, into God is also a way that takes many of us through suffering. This suffering, thankfully, is not a dead end, and is not without hope. What is waiting for us is the experience of new life in the deep self. This self was always there, though only known (mostly) on the edge of consciousness.

A deep, persistent longing for God to somehow ‘save me’ would draw me on. Opportunities to ‘walk through fear’ and into life allowed me to experience, bit by bit, this deeper being of my self. Soon, and with guidance, I came to see that this self was in God. My being was held in Being and, in time, I experienced this Being as Love. As anxiety faded a life of love grew. My companion on this journey was the mantra. With it grace quietly healed and with it grace uncovered from my past what I needed to experience and name. And so it continues.

Andrew


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