Tag Archives: Community

Meditatio House: Bere Island (Ego) Laid Bare

The house community has just got back from the annual WCCM Easter retreat held on Bere Island, Ireland. Bere Island is located on Bantry Bay about 2 hours south south west of Cork.

Bere Island is a wonderful place to hold a retreat. Its natural pace is slow. Cows have more to say about setting the tone for the island than any traffic. The island is ancient. It holds lightly and faithfully a contemplative spirit.

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We were part of a group of meditators (old and new) who rented three houses located about 15 minutes via bus from the Bere Island Heritage Centre. Fr. Laurence gave his talks at The Heritage Centre. This centre was also where all the retreatants meditated together.

We were on the island for the entire week leading up to Easter. This week is called Holy Week in the Christian tradition. From Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday we lived together, ate together, and prayed together.

As the week went on we all experienced the challenges that new beds, new people, new living space, and communal travel had to offer. Our differing personalities and temperaments began, in their own unique ways, to ‘feel the pinch’ of the conditions we found ourselves in. By the middle of the week I felt thoroughly overwhelmed by it all.

I felt. Who was this I who was overwhelmed by it all? It could be said that this I was my ego, that conscious part of my inner life which was painfully discovering that it could not have the retreat experience on its own terms. The experience became one of rawness. The vulnerability of my ego to too much change too quickly was laid bare, revealed for all to see.

The way my ego wanted to present itself to the world became too hard to maintain. An ‘in control, warm, loving, and quirky’ persona became instead increasingly anxious and rigid. Rather than ‘how can I love these people’, my rationale was fast turning into ‘how can I survive this week?’

As the week went on I could see the people around me start to fray around the edges. Impatience and frustration began to leak into our relating. Psychological subsistence and the cooking roster met head on. The tendency for us all to end up in the kitchen all at once had me exasperated.

Then came a realisation: this was part and parcel of the community experience for the week. Anger and resentment began to rise in me. Ego felt ‘ripped off’, manipulated, ambushed.

By Good Friday I could see a choice before me: participate as practically and as gently as you can or shut down. In a moment of grace, a moment that the practice of meditation quietly prepares us for, I chose to contribute as I could from moment to moment. Inner movements of perfectionism and anxiety (‘You must do more!’ ‘People think you’re lazy!’ ‘You must be liked!’) began to settle somewhat. I began to accept that I could not do everything (and did not need to). As tiredness and impatience increased I began to trust those around me to understand. I began to risk rejection.

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The art of the spiritual life, of a human life growing in full health, is all about the de-centring of the ego, that is, about our attention being more on loving others than being fixated on ourselves. Sometimes this is just too hard, and that is ok. When it’s too hard we have the opportunity to experience the limitations we have at that moment and to mysteriously grow a little more in the grace of compassion that awaits within all of us.

If this growth in graced compassion is too hard to see and accept, that’s ok as well. Sometimes all we have left is the experience of the ego suffering, experiencing fallibility, failure, and limitation. Easter is here to remind us that Divinity is already in this experience, even if we cannot see or feel it.

Dying to egoism and rising to love does involve psychological pain, or suffering. Good Friday too lives on in us. Good Friday, though, is only part of the story.

The good news is that when ego is experiencing this pain, this disorientation, it can be the very time when the divine life can move powerfully for integration and healing. The illusion of control which ego maintains is exposed as a lie. In this experience we have the chance to let go into Love just a little bit more. It can all be a part of the experience that is the integration of ego with the deeper Self in God.

As a part of the retreat experience there were regular periods of meditation. These periods really helped. Attention on the mantra was attention off the experience of being overwhelmed. It is important to note here that attention off this experience of being overwhelmed was not repression of the experience. It was simply attention on the transformative and integrating consciousness of the Risen Christ within us all. The last three days became easier. The experience of love for myself and others began to return.

Then something else happened. On Sunday, as Fr. Laurence read from John’s account of the first Easter morning, a new, subtle, gentle experience of Christ rose into awareness. This experience was the fruit of both the meditation and the struggle of the week. The words of the Gospel story had new clarity. The experience of Christ risen, mysteriously held within the words themselves, was resonating afresh within. Another veil had fallen.

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I am learning that any growth in the acceptance of Divine Love, so radically and completely given to us at Easter through the death and resurrection of Jesus, frees us to engage struggle with a growing compassion and a gentle curiosity. Growth can be a painful struggle. Peace, joy, and humility are (just some of) this struggle’s fruits.

So then, now that we have been justified by faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; it is through him, by faith, that we have been admitted into God’s favour in which we are living, and look forward exultantly to God’s glory. Not only that; let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance, and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope, and a hope which will not let us down, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

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Meditatio House: Mr Curly and the Space Between

Michael Leunig (Loo-nig), according to his website, “is an Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet.” I, and many, would add the description mystic to this list. Many Australians, and perhaps a few others, have their favourite cartoons from Leunig cut out and stuck to fridges, notice boards and alike. Some of these cartons have followed me to Meditatio House and are accompanying me on the meditatio experience. This one, for instance:


“Mr Curly transports wayfaring pilgrims away from the bad mood of the world to the peaceful shores of Lake Lacuna, a small, mystical and beautiful place of sanity which lies between the large, uncontrollable forces, the great powers, and the major issues. The little goat-drawn cart has been carved from a huge potato.”

Mr. Curly is a recurring character in Leunig’s cartoons. The Curly Flat website describes him thus:

Mr. Curly, of the paradoxically named town of Curly Flat, is a happy and optimistic fellow. Everyone in Curly Flat has the curious cranial feature: “..the curl is the tender, unfurling motion of nature’s growth; the unfolding consciousness; the way in which the heart reaches out into the world”.

Mr. Curly represents our loving, heartfelt best. He is a ‘fool in the world’, someone unaffected by the complications we create. He is fearless. He lives an enlightened playfulness, the playfulness of an integrated state. He is the human heart incarnate on the cartoonist’s page. He is, in his own way, the integration of ego and self that is a fruit of the contemplative way.

Perhaps a Buddhist might call him the image of a Bodhisattva. Some Christians may see him as a representation of the Christ consciousness within. I look at him and feel the pull of the divine life deep within me. Perhaps he’s just Mr. Curly. The bad mood of the world is a stranger to him.

The human and spiritual life is indeed a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage away from something to something else: from woundedness to healing; egoism to otherness; disintegration to integration; isolation to community; from fear to love. It’s a pilgrimage that does not proceed ‘as the crow flies’. It is a meandering journey, one that invites the development of patience and trust, one that reveals the destination as traveling with us.

Mr. Curly holds the reins of a goat. The goat is the force, the energy of the carrying cart. As Mr. Curly holds the reins he also guides the goat. The pilgrims can simply relax and experience the ride. Maybe the goat is a bit like grace – the grace of the goat. We need not be the energy of the pilgrimage. There is a creative energy in Creation that we learn, on the way, to participate in and be with. We learn to let go of the lie that ego is the source of this creative energy.

Lake Lacuna is the ‘unfilled space’, the gap between the forces, powers, and issues that can affect us and too much occupy the mind. It is a space because these forces, powers, and issues are absent. The absence of these things is stillness and silence. We can reclaim our inner stability and our sanity here. And we can experience the presence of Love.

What about the potato cart? Perhaps for the Christian meditator the cart is our mantra. It is a simple word, a word of the earth that grounds us and carries us, with grace, into the lacuna – the absence of things that reveals the presence of God.

Attention on the mantra is like riding the cart. As we meander along, deeper into the experience of the expansion of consciousness beyond ego, we ride the mantra lightly. Its movement becomes familiar to us. It moves with grace. Our lacunic arrival into the absence of distraction and self-consciousness, even if for a brief ‘moment-less moment’, would realise the potato as empty. Upon becoming aware of the lacuna we find ourselves in, it is time once again, to climb aboard the cart and continue our wayfaring journey into this mysterious, ever present silence.


Meditatio House: Everyone is Holding a Mirror

I can be hard on myself. Too hard. This hardness comes from many years of expected too much from myself. Over time there has been some improvement in this state of mind, improvement that happens as my psyche inches into grace.

There is a wonderful song by Luka Bloom called Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. This song has been with me for many years. It’s one which I tend to play when I do feel low. If I am feeling low and somewhat overwhelmed by what is going on around and within me, well that’s when this tendency to be hard on myself can rise, or indeed is already active.

One reason for this tendency is the sustained rejection which I have experienced in life. This happened mainly in my adolescent years. The logic of my hardness goes something like: ‘be good enough and no one will reject you.’ Call it the product of rejection anxiety. Call it perfectionism. Call it ego’s lie. It has been quite a challenge to live by this axiom. Parts of my life have had to fall apart under the strain of hyper-expectation and anxiety for me to learn the art of gentleness (an ongoing journey).

Recently the tendency to be hard on myself became quite energetic. This is understandable. I am living on the other side of the world, living with people who are new to me, and in a place and lifestyle which I am still getting used to.

The problem with high expectations is that these expectations can easily turn into judgement and condemnation. When this happened recently, rather than experience this harsh judgement of myself from myself, I projected it outward and onto the others around me. They were the ones doing it, not me. I was unaware that I was doing this. I was just so caught up in the dynamic. A meeting with a wise member of the wider meditation community helped me to name and re-member what was going on. The projection seemed to come full circle when this community elder looked at me and wisely said ‘I’m not judging you!’.

Before the meeting I was questioning (to myself) my fellow community member’s motivations for being a part of the Meditatio House community and judging their personality traits (or at least my perception of them). Ego was having a field day. Humility and the deeper self fell out of awareness. Compassion dried up. Spiritual pride began to rise: ‘I’m better than them, I’m more spiritually mature.’

The people around me were like movie screens onto which I was unconsciously projecting certain traits and feelings held within my own personality that I did not want to see. If I was to see them within myself, well there was the risk of self-judgement and self-rejection. This risk seems heightened when we are caught in the dynamics of ego (as I was).

So what were these traits, feelings? They are a part of the shadow of personality; those hidden aspects which we do not want to know about or live out of, and consequently have difficulty facing. And yet they do exist in the darker places within us.

Arrogance..jealousy..the anxious need to control..shame..perfectionist Prejudice..hatred..anger..harshness..possessiveness..puerile..miser

These seem to be some of the traits and feelings that have been coming up recently for me as I sit with these projections. The energy in motion (emotion) empowering my projections resonates with these names.

This ongoing process of naming and integrating ‘negative’ or ‘dark’ feeling and traits is the fruit of a stable enough grounding in love. The practice of Christian meditation grounds our attention in this love. The glow of the divine love-life soon warms and permeates more and more of our inner life. A soft and enduring light and warmth is experienced as emanating even from those crannies of psyche which we have long turned from in abject shame. Over time there is the graced acceptance of our own lovableness – crannies and all. God never gives up on us. Our psyches come to be built on rock.

We become less dependent on the fractured expressions of love that come to us from ourselves and others. And yet over time our own expressions of love grow gently in this divine fullness within us, and we come to appreciate anew the human expressions of love that happen around us.

The wonderful thing is that once we realise and accept that we are projecting and can come to a place of naming what is feeding these projections, the energy around the projections subsides and the feelings diminish. As these parts of our shadow come out into the light of awareness they are slowly integrated into the overall personality. This is the gift that community can be – if we can stick it out.

Once we come to see that we are projecting it’s like the people around us are holding up to us a mirror. Someone we first judge as arrogant is seen as holding up to us a reflection of our own hidden arrogance; someone whom we may judge as petulant is holding up a mirror reflecting an intolerance of our own temperamental selves.

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As this process unfolds we grow in a forgetfulness of ourselves. We go beyond, transcend, those parts of us that get in the way of love and living. Energy is released from the need to repress the dark within us. Darkness becomes light. Attention grows in a freedom for everyday loving. The mantra’s roots grow even deeper into the heart. Grace enlivens us.

Meditatio House: An Evolving Monasticism

There has been some discussion at Meditatio House lately around the questions: what is an oblate, and how does an oblate differ from a monk?

It seems that from the very beginning of the Rule of Benedict the idea of what a monastic is has been open for development and change. In Benedict’s time to be monastic meant following one of four ways:

A cenobite was a monastic living with other monastics, with an abbot as leader and a rule as a guide.

Anchorites or hermits were monastics mature in mind and body that chose to live alone, often in deserts. Formally cenobites, their life in community had left them mature enough to experience, day by day, the challenges of living alone before themselves and God.

Sarabaites did not live with a rule to provide guidance, or with established leadership. They lived together or alone.

Gyrovagues are described by Benedict as rootless wanderers who often moved from monastery to monastery using the hospitality of cenobites as they went.

Benedict wrote his rule for cenobite monastics. Today these monks are known simply as monks.

Across the centuries, as cenobite communities became more established, parents would offer their children to monasteries in the hope of a better life for these children. They would be oblatus (Latin) or ‘offered’. When they reached an appropriate age they would be given the choice to remain in the monastery or to leave. Some would remain and yet, for some reason, not take the vows of a cenobite monastic. Others would leave and still maintain contact with the community they had left. They did this, presumably, because they felt that they were still a part of the monastic community that had reared them. Soon this way of living with cenobite monks (whether physically and/or spiritually) became formalised and named as being an oblate. In time one did not need to be reared in a monastery to become an oblate. A more general resonance and association with a monastery was enough.

Today there are many monastic communities around the world that have oblates. They are men and women who are drawn to a monastic spirituality and the way of being monastic that a particular monastic community may embody. Rather than take the vows of a cenobite monk, they vow the life of a cenobite oblate. They are married or single, with families and careers. Their commitment to community is not of a cloistered nature. Their challenge is to live a monastically real commitment to community and divinity in the day to day of their own lives.

The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) offers the option to all meditators of becoming Benedictine oblates. Laurence Freeman (Benedictine monk and current Director of the WCCM) explains that from the very beginning of the life of the WCCM “equal value” was given

to the forms of commitment made by monks or oblates. Oblates in his [John Main, the WCCM’s founder] vision were not merely “attached” to a monastic family; they were fully participatory and contributing members. This represented both a return to an ancient tradition and an important new development*.

This being the case, it follows that a monk and an oblate monastic – in their own unique ways, through their participation in, and contributions to the WCCM monastic family – both have equal opportunity to pursue a full cenobite monastic maturity in their own lives. If this were not the case, it would mean that either one commitment is being valued more than the other, or that one commitment is somehow superior to the other.

What, exactly, is monastic maturity? Monastic maturity is nothing less than human maturity. This is, simply, the forgetting of self. The ego (self-consciousness) comes to be (more or less) integrated with the whole of one’s consciousness. A transformation of the psyche has happened to the extent that the inner life is at the service of divine Love and not the preservation of ego centredness. This Love resides deep in our spiritual centre. It pours forth into the world, through us, from this centre. A communion of divine Being with our being is at this centre. Monastic maturing is about the whole of the person (not just our centre) coming to be in communion with this divine life.

Each maturing human and monastic is a blooming and unique expression of divine Love, co-creating in the world with the divine life.

Each monastic, like everyone with faith in a loving God, can look to this God to be the One who heals, who integrates this inner life via grace. This looking is a searching in life for the God who is already with us. The human struggle to live in loving ways is often all the motivation needed to seek out our own healing.

To be a monastic is to place first in life this searching: to seek God. With all of one’s heart and mind. The rest of life falls into place around this commitment. A monastic, whether monk or oblate, is simply living out the teaching of the Jewish Jesus made to everyone with ears to hear

This is the first [commandment] listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you must love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:29-30).

A monastic seeks God so that we may love God, ourselves, and neighbour in growing fullness. Only God (who is Love) can bring about this fullness in us. In other words, a monastic lives a committed Christianity.

The challenge of this seeking, for oblate and monk alike, is to live a life that nourishes the contemplative roots of our humanity. Nourish the roots and God will be found. Over the centuries of Christianity, the monk monastic has had the advantage of a dedicated and cloistered life that, at its best, serves this contemplative end. The times, however, are a-changing. As we know, to be a cenobite monastic no longer means just to be a monk. Within the WCCM, the commitment of oblate is a facing into the cutting edge of a new expression of monasticism.

John Main laid groundwork for this facing into as he taught with confident perseverance that the Christian meditator meditate for at least 20 minutes (preferably 30 minutes) every morning and every evening of their lives. The WCCM oblate adds to this commitment a prayer life that includes the Office of the church (used by monk monastics for centuries), as well as a commitment to the teaching of Christian meditation. This prayer life contributes to the contemplative shaping of the human and monastic life of the oblate. And that’s when things can get really interesting because a life growing in contemplation is a life open to the life of God. A life open to the life of God is a life invited to change.

Meditatio House is, at its heart, an experiment in the evolving nature of what a lived monasticism can be. Oblates come together here to live out, in a Benedictine way, the journey into monastic and Christian maturity. We are like a flower spending time in a hot house to promote its growth. After this time we, like the flower, return to our garden – our own communities and families. We return to face the challenge of human and monastic maturing in our own environments.


Because of our Meditatio House experience we may see that our environment needs some renewing if we are to keep maturing into God. This has always been the challenge for monk and oblate alike. A contemplative life is a human life open to change. This challenge is happening across the globe for WCCM oblates who seek God – meditating and sincerely living out our life vows of stability, conversion, and obedience in our own communities.

Recently Laurence Freeman took a trip to Turkey. While there he visited the (long empty) cave monasteries of Cappadocia. After the visit, in a column for The Tablet Laurence wrote

If you linger back alone [to the caves] you might experience a sense of wonder and great respect for the intensity of their seeking and also a painful feeling of loss. Where did all this well-directed zeal go? Did it peter out here as some of the monasteries became more dependent on rich local patrons? Or was it whisked away to new places whose time it was to manifest the deepest aspiration of the human for union with God? Is spiritual capital re-invested or does it return to its source?

Spiritual capital is being re-invested today in the places where this zeal for union with God is manifesting. The WCCM is one such place and the life of an oblate of the WCCM is a new monastic expression of this zeal. I feel it in me. My whole life is being shaped by it. This “well-directed zeal” is an expression of monastic equality when it is enacted in the lives of monk and oblate.

The same fruits of monastic maturity that drew people to the desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, such as those in Cappadocia, and to committed monks and nuns for centuries, are also present and growing in the lives of committed oblate monastics today. In time more people will see and come to accept the deep authenticity of the wise and mature oblate monastic.

* This quote is taken from the article Monastics in the World. See recommended links: Oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation.

Meditatio House: A Humble Practice (Part One)

Christian spirituality continues to value the art of humility. Why is this? Perhaps because humility is like the needle on a compass. When we are living authentic humility it means that we are living life more from the deep Self (our True North) and less from egocentricity.

There are times when the ego wants to be all of us. It can fool us into the belief that our identity is all about it and nothing else. An egocentric life means that there is little or no room for a person to co-operate with the broader reality of  divine Love working in life for the deep good of all. Egocentricity at its worst can only work willfully, insecurely, and faithlessly for its own perceived good and at the expense of others. It sees the good as a limited commodity, something that must be taken now for its own needs.

Humility can grow in us when we experience and accept the limits of what ego can and cannot do. Humility can grow in us when we experience events in life that are more important, or somehow bigger, than our own limited perspective. It grows when we are blessed with the experience of unconditional Love (a love ego cannot create). Experience, experience, experience. When ego alone cannot solve our problems or give us what we most deeply need, often the fruit of the experience of this lack is the sense of our own limited humanity. Many times this is a sense that emerges from the soil of our own suffering. Often we suffer because we have fallen for the lie that ego can provide the answers to all the questions and problems of life. It cannot. Ego alone lacks the wisdom and context needed.

We are of humus, earthly and grounded and also of divinity. This both/and of earth and divinity is the wondrous tension we live everyday. Being humble, experiencing and accepting our finite human reality does, paradoxically, help provide a stable ground for the expression and experience of our deeper Self – that ‘no-thing’ of us which is our deepest part, that mysterious identity Christians share with God in Christ. Living from this identity on earth is life to the full. Living from ego is surviving on scraps.


What I am discovering at Meditatio House is that the community and the people who come here are bigger than my ego. This can be an ongoing discovery for anyone who lives with others and wants to be involved in their lives.  The simple structure of each day – three times a day of meditation, lunch together, household chores, the welcoming of visitors and fellow meditators, and the times of service with the wider meditation community beyond Meditatio House – all of this can gently counter that life of energy within me that would rather protect itself from exposure to newness and people it does not know. Much of the dynamics of my ego are about maintaining safety and preserving energy – on its terms. What Meditatio House is about is providing a safe and loving environment for the regular de-centering of attention off ego and onto a life growing in practical service for others. As this happens I continue to learn that in relational love there need be no fear. And I experience an ‘unlocking’, a releasing, of the energetic life within as the knot of ego continues to gently (and with grace) untie and unravel – the journey of a lifetime. As this happens energy becomes less something to preserve and more something to participate in.

The scrooge within me continues to give way to largesse. What ego sees as risk (an energetic and involved life), my deeper Self sees as normal. So much of life is about the conversion of ego back into a freely giving and loving participate in life – what we were as children before the struggle to survive became too much for us.

Self needs the ego if Self is to love in this world. Ego needs the Self if it is to lovingly serve and so experience true purpose. With grace and struggle, and in growing humility, Self and ego  come together. This coming together, this integration, is the manifesting in us of Love on earth for the world.



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