Tag Archives: Contemplation

The Shed: Be, In Time

As time goes on here at the shed I find that I am adapting to the rhythms of nature around me. This has affected the way I move through the day. It’s wonderful to feel a part of the life around me, to be with the trees as they move, the birds as they fly, the possums as they screech at night (so far they haven’t kept me awake).

The shed, because of its position, and its large front window and sliding door, gets a lot of sun (or passive solar). Consequently, I have also become more conscious of the sunlight and the way it moves within the shed’s modest living and working space.

The best time to start work is around 8:30am. At this time the light is starting to come in behind me (as I sit at the desk). I have got into the habit of keeping half of the front curtain drawn at this time so that the sun doesn’t fade the sofa bed. As the morning goes on the light moves from the sofa bed towards the desk; as this happens I can fully open the curtains. The space within becomes illuminated.

Around 11 I can feel the sun starting to warm my shoulders. Half an hour later it’s onto the desk and not too far from the computer screen. Now it’s time to stop for the morning, time for meditation then lunch.

In the early afternoon the birds of the morning return to the back yard trees. If I’m still enough, Wattle Birds will join me for lunch, searching for pollen on a nearby bush. Finches sweep up and back in the air eating insects they see in the sunlight.

Around 1 or so I’ll go for a walk, perhaps to a nearby beach or the river, or the ocean head.

By 2pm the sun has moved enough from the desk and it’s time to begin again. The morning’s brightness has given away to an afternoon’s glow. At this time of year the afternoon’s temperature is pleasant. It becomes easier to get lost in the work (except when the birds start to use a nearby birdbath).

In attending to life now, being in time, the divine presence in life can come alive in us. This is what contemplative practice does.

Life is meant to be contemplative. To experience the gift of divinity within as we attend to creation is a fruit of contemplative practice. We are better able to sense and let go into the God-life as it is in all of creation. Without a regular practice that draws attention into the heart we can forget to attend with the heart in life. In this forgetting we lose out, not only to experiencing divine love now, but also to the experience of being who we truly are. To be here now is to live in the unity that is Being and being – God and us – together.

To be contemplative in life also requires a certain degree of integrated thinking. For too long now life in the West has been dominated by ‘left brained’ thought. The human brain has two hemispheres linked by the corpus callosum.

The left hemisphere deals with the world in abstract ways. It has a narrow focus so as to serve day-to-day activity and function. Left on its own it will calculate and manipulate the world without a sense of its own limitation. It will become ridged in its ideas, ideologically fixed.

The right hemisphere deals more in metaphors. It is the explorer rather than the dissector. It sees the bigger picture of interconnection and relationships. It is about what is unique to the particular, not the particular’s generalisation. It is that part of reasoning that knows the limits of reason. It is the backdrop and frame of balanced function. It provides meaning and context to the day-to-day.

We need both hemispheres operating together if we are to function in a holistic way. Both are needed for healthy reasoning and a healthy emotional life. Consciousness in harmony is about both working together. As the neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist says in The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning

What we call our consciousness moves back and forth between them [the hemispheres] seamlessly, drawing on each as required, and often very rapidly.

Living life contemplatively is about living life with both hemispheres engaged together in attending to life. Healthy attention sees the particular (that bird in the tree) in its context (the web of connection that is the birds and the trees – and everything else). Seeing here is a ‘heart seeing’, a seeing that includes what our eyes see and what our intuition senses.

This kind of whole attending opens us to the possibility of sensing the divine in life. It opens us to revering life as a precious event of fullness and mystery. We become more naturally able to revere each other, even when we seem very different from each other.

Meditation, as a practice of attention for life, helps to integrate the hemispheres so that the experience of life may become contemplative. Life then becomes more and more about not expecting anything, but simply about being here now. That is enough.

 

Phil Keaggy, ‘Be In Time’

Further reading:

Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009).

Iain McGilchrist, The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning (2012). This is an ebook available via Kindle. It is a good summary of the key themes of The Master and His Emissary.


Meditatio House: Stability, Growth, and Change

As some of you may already know, Meditatio House has moved. We have moved from Hamilton Road, Ealing (West London) to Cloudesley Square, Islington (Central London) – Zone 3 to Zone 1 for people familiar with the London Tube zones.

Suburban life is now somewhat more cosmopolitan. Down the road is the well-known Chapel Market (one of London’s famous street markets), and all the cafés and trend that is Upper Street, Islington. Angel Tube Station is not far away.

The first room set up at Cloudesley Square was the meditation room. It is somewhat smaller than the one at Ealing. It was important that this room be up and running as soon as possible. The prayer life of the community and our meditation together is central. The meditation room is the heart of the house. As we unpacked the rest of the house meditating together in the meditation room helped to maintain a sense of stability.

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We all need some kind of stability. As our world becomes increasingly mobile and fast changing, for many of us we can no longer rely on our physical circumstance to provide enough stability. I think of my own life here as an example of this: here I am on the other side of the world from Australia (the country of my birth). And in Australia I don’t really have a ‘place’ of my own. I have a hometown, but not a physical home.

For many, stability of environment helps them with the human experience of growth and change. A lack of external stability can make the inner experience of growth and change difficult.

It is said that the internal of the spiritual life is about pitching tents rather than building houses. Growing in the divine life within us means growth and change becomes not only necessary, but expected and eventually welcomed. It is this growth and change that helps to integrate our self-consciousness with its forgotten roots: God and the mystery of our deepest self. To build a house is to settle down within us at one ‘place’ on this journey back into Love. At some point we may decide that we have had enough of change and just want to stay in the one spot, the one place of growth that we have come to.

Pitching a tent is about settling with the knowledge that, at some point, we will be on the move again. Eventually, the God of love and change will entice us to move on, deeper into forgetting ourselves and being re-membered into love. The extent to which we are responsive to this enticement is the extent to which we have embraced inner tent living.

This reality of inner growth and change can make external stability more important. A marriage, a family, a community, a monastery – all of these have been attempts to make the external stable and supple enough to be a support for growth and change. But what can we do if the external is in flux, no longer providing enough support? Alternatively, what can we do if the external has become too rigid, too fixed in its patterns and ways and no longer at the service of growth?

If we somehow lose touch with the divine life in and around us (the initiator of growth) and our attention is too much on our self-consciousness (without a contemplative balance), the danger is that we will become too fixed, rigid, within ourselves as we over-identify with self-consciousness. As this happens, in time, our living environments can begin to reflect this inner fixedness and become, instead, a distraction away from change and growth. A too stiff personality becomes the foundation of living rather than our being in God.

Alternatively, if our external environment is too unstable the danger is that we can become (again) too fixed, hard within ourselves in response to this instability.

Meditation can help. Practicing it is a commitment to tent living. And when a couple, a family, a community practices meditation together it ensures that the external – the physical and relational circumstances of our lives – are to some degree a reflection of our tent living, supple enough to embrace growth and change.

The moving of the Meditatio House community to Cloudesley Square is a reflection of the change that can happen due to the uncertainty of life. It is also an acceptance of the invitation to have the external of life supple enough to nurture our growth together into the Divine Life.

The commitment to meditation, and to meditating together, gives us a stable practice amid internal and external change.

The paradox is that meditation, as a contemplative practice, not only encourages in us growth and change, it also deepens us in the experience of an ultimate stability in God. As we pitch and re-pitch our tents, we carry the home that is the cell of our heart everywhere we go. Home is where the heart is. The heart is the home of divinity and our true selves. Everywhere we go our heart goes too.

Cloudesley Square:


Meditatio House: Woundedness and Essential Goodness

Here on the blog things have been a bit quiet of late. Attention has been elsewhere. The house community has been active with other things: the annual Bere Island WCCM Holy Week Retreat, and moving house. And for me personally, there has been the ongoing experience of grief with the death and passing of my mother.

For me, the Bere Island retreat was many things. Speaking generally I experienced an intensification of my inner reactivity towards others. Inward reactions that would have been more or less held in check until I could (hopefully) re-experience and process them later just poured out. It was a shock, I think, for others to see it and (in their own way) to experience it. It was a different side of the psychological me – the dark side of my moon. Andrew, unfiltered – the gap between feeling and response substantially narrowed. Response became reaction.

My sharp experience of community during the week, and the emerging experience of grief being done far away from family and friends, all this made the experience of Holy Week very difficult. Private emotions paraded themselves. Performance anxiety tightened its grip. Perfectionism swirled and coloured sight. Fear of rejection became (once again) a conscious companion. All the buttons were being pushed. My attention was claimed by, and caught in, the emotions, the wounds and the insecurities of my psyche.

Thankfully and wonderfully meditation was there to provide a balance to all this. During meditation attention was focused and re-focused on that essential goodness that is God and Self in communion deep within all of us.

An important part of the experience of the contemplative nature of spirituality is learning to hold together these two aspects of the human condition: our woundedness and our essential goodness. Something deep in us says we are not good, that we don’t deserve to be good. And yet, the more we practice attending to the depths of us, the more our already given goodness is lavished upon us.

As attention on the mantra is deepened, clarified, and focused (thanks to a regular practice) the paradox that is woundedness and essential goodness experienced together becomes, over time, resolved. Deep in goodness awaits the healing and the mercy of Christ. Perhaps we will spend a lot of our time, both during meditation and during life in general (over many years), pulling away from this goodness, this healing, this mercy. Divine love never gives up. If we can keep meditating, the chance of us giving up on ourselves lessens significantly.

It is so important that the mantra take root in the heart. As this happens real and substantive psychological healing takes place. Memories and feelings formally locked up and suppressed can be experienced, healed, and integrated. Energy that was used to suppress, repress, and protect is released for living. Jesus, the Divine Physician at the heart of us, loves us mysteriously and wonderfully into life.

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Bere Island 2016

This healing journey to the truth of us often requires the support of others, of course. A counsellor, a therapist, a spiritual guide, an experienced and wise meditating mentor – all of these can help. The Desert Mothers and Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries were these for many of their fellow monastics. What is important for the healing meditator is that the person they are receiving help from value meditation as a healing way. And it would be wonderful if this valuing was based on their own personal experience of meditation.

During Holy Week I experienced the both/and of the exposure of my reactivity and psychological wounds, along with the stability of attention in the goodness of being. Both happened alongside each other. The paradox of my inner life as both whole and as fractured was experienced. This was hard going. An established meditation practice can anchor us in our wholeness when the psyche becomes too tumultuous.

And remember: the mantra can be employed at any time. We don’t have to wait for our regular meditation time. The mantra sounding in the heart at any time as our psyche twists and turns can release divine healing and comfort in us for us.

Perhaps it would be best to end with some words from John Main: the one who, for many, ‘went on ahead’ into the experience of Christian meditation:

Now we must be very careful that we are not just intoxicated by the ideas of meditation, by the theory. The theory, once we begin to encounter it in practice, in our own heart, will fill us with wonder, but encounter it personally we must. That is why our daily practice is of supreme importance. What we have to learn to do is to take our potentiality absolutely seriously, to understand that the Spirit of Him who created the universe dwells in our hearts and, in silence, is loving to all, and we have to enter our own hearts to discover that Spirit within our own spirit. (The Door to Silence)


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)’.


Third Eye: Florence & the Machine. Seeing and Living Truly

Humanity could be described as ‘embodied spirits’. Both of these words are as important as each other. We are embodied, incarnated. The stuff of life is valuable and sacred. Florence affirms this when she sings: ‘You are flesh and blood!’ And we also have in our mysterious depths that essence of us, that who we are at our deepest; our point of Originality in and with the divine life – our spirit. Is this what Florence appeals to (perhaps unknowingly) when she sings ‘Hey, look up!’ ?

Living truly, from spirit, helps us to see and live in the embodied sacredness of life. This means living relationally – with ourselves, others, creation, and the God within all.

For me this song is about the struggle to live truly, from this spirit as a whole human being. This spirit within us is our ‘original lifeline’. The mysterious spirit within is our Point of Truth, an always present Home to which we can return and, with practice, live life from. It is the ‘where within’ that prayer can help us be attentive to. It is where our spirit and the Divine Spirit are already one.

Our ‘third eye’ could be described as that mysterious intuitive perception that both includes and goes beyond the rational. It is a divine gift that originates from our oneness in spirit with the Divine Life. It is human intuition infused with divine wisdom. This song asks us to grow in seeing ourselves as our third eye sees us.

This third eye is appealing to that which Divinity has not created: the lies of worthlessness we have absorbed into the marrow of our bones; the deep memories and psychic wounds that get in the way of us accepting and living in the glory that we already are. We get caught, trapped, in the lies of a real unreality.

We are loved, deeply and completely. No lie can stop this, but a lie can stop our experience of it. This is the power we give to lies.

It is the ‘original tragedy’ of human relating that we are not more expressive of our fully loved and loving roots.

Our third eye sees into the original tragedy of our woundedness – that hole in our hearts where lies fester. Part of healing and integration is allowing this third eyesight into our awareness. Yes, our conscious selves can pull away from what our third eye sees. Yet, with time and living, this deeper intuition can become irrepressible. In this song Florence is chronicling some of her own irrepressible journey towards wholeness.

As the experience of our wounds moves into awareness suffering grows. Some of us actually cling to this suffering, allowing it to define them. Rather than the experience of suffering being a part of healing it becomes a meaning for living. Rather than have love embrace us, the pain of suffering can be worn like a mantle – that piece of experience we clothe ourselves with to keep life, love, and intimacy away. The lie that we simply do not deserve what we already have and are can be stubborn and strong – we make it so. While wearing this mantle, we can reject the people and experiences of life that are inconsistent with the lies we live and believe.

But your pain is a tribute
The only thing you let hold you
Wear it now like a mantle
Always there to remind you

Where is the way out of all this? We can feel the same, like nothing is changing. Something in us doesn’t want to change. And yet, still we try to change as if something in us does want to change.

The true and the loving in us embraces change. To grow in the spirit is to change. We change into who we most deeply are. This change is what we are here for – to become in our whole humanity who we already are in spirit: a unique, glorious, and beautiful life of love. This reality, once touched, once experienced, is too enticing to be ignored.

The contemplative life is a human life enticed by the spirit, a life drawn into becoming true love on earth. Only God can make this happen. It does involve struggle. It is a struggle that grows into the ‘slow burn’ joy that only divinity can fuel.

Prayer in touch with our contemplative and human roots is prayer at the service of our growth into love. This kind of prayer is deep and therapeutic. It is prayer as therapy for the soul.

Meditation is one form of this deep prayer. Attention on the mantra gives divinity within us the time and space needed to heal and integrate the whole of us. As this happens we may need to name and experience thoughts, emotions, and memories that our consciousness has (up to that point) repressed. At these times it is useful to have someone wise to journey with.

Meditation guides attention towards our spirit and its third eye. A fruit of regular meditation practice is an inner life more and more attentive to this third eye, this deep human and divine intuition within us. As we heal and integrate we grow in being able to see a little more clearly with this eye ourselves, and the people and the happenings around us. This seeing is divine gift that happens as we grow in self forgetting.

Christian spirituality describes this self-forgetting seeing with the third eye as having the mind of Christ.

The spiritual person, on the other hand, can assess the value of everything, and that person’s value cannot be assessed by anyone else. For: who has ever known the mind of the Lord? Who has ever been his advisor? But we are those who have the mind of Christ. (1Cor2:14-16)


Meditatio House: Silent Haiku Walking Still

Last week I went on a 7 day silent retreat. It was wonderful. It seems that the more I am able to practice meditation and take the time to stare at the trees, then the more silence is becoming my default.

On the retreat we practiced something called ‘contemplative walking’. Walking contemplatively is the simple practice of walking with attention focused on the act of walking. The walking itself is slow and gentle, though still quite natural. We would walk together in a line that snaked around a garden path. We would walk between meditation sessions or just prior to sessions.

It was hoped that the stillness we would experience in our bodies as we sat to meditate would be taken into the walking. We could then maintain and experience this inner stillness in our bodies as we gently walked. Ideally the walking would act as a ‘kind of bridge’ (as our retreat leader termed it) that would help us to take the stillness of meditation into our each day of general movement.

The movement of the body need not be a distraction to living in stillness. As a meditation practice deepens and we grow in being grounded and attentive to the stillness within us, it becomes quite natural to ‘carry’ this sense of stillness into the movement of each day – no matter what the day might bring. The reality of inner stillness, along with the silence and the peace that can accompany it, can then become more and more palpable to others through us. It’s a stillness we don’t own or possess, of course. We simply live in it more and more without claiming it as our own.

Something else some of us did on this silent retreat was to write haikus. A haiku is a form of simple poetry. First done in Japan, the poem consists of only three lines. The first line contains 5 syllables, the second 7, and the third is back to 5 syllables. This form of writing is about using as few words as possible. In this way the haiku can describe the essence of an experience without having the words get in the way of the description. The writing itself is a way of training attention primarily on the experience of something rather than on the words. Perhaps then something of this experiential essence can be relayed to the reader.

Here is one haiku I wrote about the experience of stillness and contemplative walking on the retreat:

Contemplative walk
Silent still moving body
Tappy tap tap-tap

We would meditate, walk, and then meditate all before breakfast. What I noticed at breakfast was that, although nobody spoke, there was still noise. The ‘tappy tap tap-tap’ is the sound of metal spoons on crockery as we ate our breakfast cereals. The sound was quite noticeable, even intrusive on occasions.

At the time of the experience the haiku is describing, it occurred to me that we had not yet made the connection between the silence and stillness of meditation and the same silence and stillness that we could be present to while we ate breakfast. Noise, noise that we could regulate if enough were aware of it, was covering (for me) the silence and the stillness. The contemplative walk had not been a bridge between meditation and breakfast (at least not that morning). Meditation, the morning contemplative walk, and breakfast were being lived as separate; and a noise as everyday as spoons on crockery was enough to distract my attention.

We can all live out the human tendency to separate noise and silence, stillness and movement. The quiet of a 5am start is soon lost in the 8:30am traffic; silence is experienced as being shattered by a car alarm; a gentle care between couples can appear to vanish as their children begin to scream and shout.

There can be a duality in our experience of stillness and the activity of life. One of our great spiritual and human challenges is to nurture a deep attentiveness to inner stillness and silence that can be lived in the activity and circumstance of each day. Stillness and activity, silence and noise need not be in opposition to each other. A regular meditation practice, one done in and with the ordinariness of each day, is vital to the harmonising of stillness and activity, silence and noise.

I notice this phenomenon of duality at Meditatio House. We can, after meditation, rumble about the hallway and kitchen quickly forgetting what we have just been a part of and, indeed, continue to be a part of after we leave the meditation room: silent stillness, still silence. This is not to say that noise should not be a part of life in the house, or that fun should be silent – far from it.

And yet, at Meditatio House we are invited to be a part of the cultivation of the contemplative life – a life which has at its heart silence and stillness even in the mist of noise and movement.

Meditation is about growing in the ability to live quietly amid noise and to be still while moving. Noise need not stop the experience of quiet; stillness can still be the ground of attention as we move. If this both/and is to be lived, then a connection between meditation as silent stillness and the rest of our lived lives needs to be made and deepened. As this connection grows the ‘someone who meditates’ can become, over time, the ‘contemplative who meditates’.

As the Desert Fathers and Mothers have said:

How we live is how we pray,
how we pray is how we live.


Meditatio House: Sorting Out the Rubbish

To be fit for the great task of life, we must learn to be faithful in humble tasks. (John Main)

The sixth step of humility is that we are content with the lowest [position] and most menial treatment, and regard ourselves as a poor and worthless worker in whatever task we are given… (The Rule of St. Benedict)

At Meditatio House we share around the chores, those things that need to be done to maintain a household. We share in the cooking, the cleaning, and yard tasks, anything that needs doing. This is thoroughly in keeping with the ordinary practice of living, and consistent with the Rule of Benedict. We use the Rule as a guide for our communal commitment and experience.

The Rule of Benedict is a wisdom text for the Christian spiritual life. The Rule is a guide to the integration of communal and personal living so that both serve a human life growing in love and the experience of this love as divine. It is a practical document that sees growing into love as an applied, ordinary, self-forgetting, and relational happening (1).

The three basic dynamics of the Rule are prayer, reading, and work. Prayer is central and has a communal foundation; reading is food for the intellect and heart; and work (anything from writing to lawn mowing) asks for a focus that is less on self and more on the needs of the community at hand. These three dynamics are, of course, interchangeable: prayer is also a work and work, when done with present moment attention, is prayer; reading can also be a work of attention, and a prayer (Lectio Divina). And so on.

One task we take turns at doing is dealing with the rubbish and food scraps. There are three bins in our kitchen: one for plastics, one for paper, and one for non-recyclable rubbish. There is also a couple of ‘bucket bins’ near the sink that receive compostable scraps and non-compostable scraps. Once a week everything gets sorted into separate containers which then get put out onto the street for collection. There is even a street container for non-recyclable scraps (other scraps are put in the compost out the back). This scrap container can be particularly messy and smelly.

Of all the household tasks we do, maintaining the rubbish and preparing it for collection would have to be the most menial.

The Rule sees this sorting of the household rubbish as part of our growth in self-knowledge and humility.

It is a task that has the potential to help create in someone a deeper appreciation of their own humanity. All a person need do is be faithful to the task and gently attentive to their responses and reactions whilst doing it. As we work with our bodies we can become aware of what God is doing with our soul.

Our lives, like scraps and rubbish, can be rather commonplace and somewhat messy. The conscious mind (or ego) can tend to avoid (largely via repression) the ‘mess’ of us and be inclined to reject the reality that we are just another ordinary, everyday, commonplace person.

Yet contemplative prayer and community can help us to see that the ordinary and everyday is where we experience our deep, mysterious and divinely given uniqueness. It is a uniqueness that the ego does not create, although the ego does try to cover it up with its own version of uniqueness (a version that generally wants to avoid the mess and rubbish).

The discovery of our unique selves can involve facing, experiencing, and accepting our own psychological mess. This process engenders humility. Ego shuns humility because it would mean this repressed mess is becoming conscious and being integrated (faced, experienced, and accepted). Meditation and community living assist this integration via their focus on keeping us attentive to God and our deep selves in an other-centred context.

Psychological integration that happens in other-centred environments (one such as a prayerful community) means the slow death of egocentricity. This can be quite a challenge for us.

Egocentricity is that pattern of life where a person has been fooled into the belief that ego is the centre of consciousness and must remain as such if the person is to survive and thrive. The hidden assumption is that all of life’s happenings must first pass through the prism of the conscious mind. For this to even have a chance of happening ego must exert lots of energy to maintain the illusion that it is the centre of our universe. We are all, to some extent, egocentric.

When our inner mess starts to leak into our conscious mind (as it does) this is a threat to ego’s command and control illusion. So it pushes back with repression and more attempts at control. This can last only so long. As our mess seeps in, ego’s control falters. As egocentricity is threatened this gives opportunity for a growth in humility. This is why egocentricity sees humility as weakness: humility is about the de-centring of ego. And as humility grows, it lays the ground for a healthy maturing into other-centredness and God.

Without humility there can be no authentic transformation in God and no discovery of our true selves in God. A lack of humility is a sign that we are still too caught up in the operations of egocentricity.

The root of the word ‘humility’ is the Latin word humus, which means soil or earth. In other words, to be down to earth, being realistic, honest and truthful, to avoid the temptation to act as if we are the divine centre of the universe (2).

Food scraps, though messy and smelly, are tomorrow’s rich humus.

Doing menial and messy everyday tasks can run counter to ego’s attempts at avoiding the mess of life, its own de-centring, and humility. Continuing in these menial and messy tasks, then, is important if we are to continue away from egocentricity and into the heart of God.

Sorting the rubbish is a down to earth practice. It can encourage in us a developing self-honesty. In this way it is not unlike meditation. Meditation is about engaging in the daily, down to earth practice of experiencing and embracing the truth of life; doing so faithfully with diminishing expectation. This can sound like a waste of time to an ego that wants enlightenment yesterday and on its terms.

(1) The community at Meditatio House produce a blog called The Rule of Benedict: Reflections From Christian Meditators. Have a look.

(2) Peter Ng, ‘The Contemplative Executive’, in John Main: The Expanding Vision (29).


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