Tag Archives: experience

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: Goodbye, Farewell, and Community

After calling London home for the last two years I now find myself back in Australia. My time at Meditatio London House has come to an end.

The last two years have been, for me, an exploration and a deepening in the experience of meditation and community.

Through the years I have experienced community, both formal and informal. I have been a part of seminary and novitiate communities, as well as Christian communities intentionally set up to explore what being human together in Christ might mean. I have grown in the maturity of friendship and discovered that friendship is also community.

In other formal, live-in communities that I have been a part of, meditation was not part of the communal prayer life. As a result my meditation practice, while contained within the communal life, was not really a part of it. It was something that I did as an extra.

Meditatio House was and is different. Because the practice of meditation is placed at the heart of the communal life of prayer, divinity active in the meditator at the time of this prayer is also active in the life of the community as we meditate together. In this we experience our being together and discover that our being, in its very nature, is being-in-relationship. This being-in-relationship, the being that we give attention to at the time of meditation, is the same being expressed for each other during the everyday practicalities of life together.

Meditation done together is a powerful way of forgetting ourselves so that we can leave room for each other in our hearts and in our daily routine. We discover through the experience of meditation and community together that the invitation to leave self behind is just as active in the practice of community as it is in the practice of meditation. Meditation is a part of community; community is a part of meditation. The practice of both together is about losing egoism so that we might mature in the inner and outer life of love. Commitment to this together practice is the most important thing. Success is secondary.

Community was important to John Main. He highlighted for us the reality that community is a fruit of meditation. For John Main meditation without a maturing in community was not yet being practiced at depth; meditation was not yet sharing in the human reality of being-in-relationship.

Meditation creates community. Our true nature revealed in stillness is being in relationship. Stillness together shows that we are members of one body, and that body is Christ. (Monastery Without Walls, 29).

True community happens in the process of drawing each other into the light of true being. (Word Into Silence, 73).

A monastery [or contemplative community] is a centre of prayer only to the degree that it is a community of love. (Community of Love, 96)

There were plenty of times during my stay at Meditatio House when I got caught up in putting too much emphasis on my and others performance as community members. I would forget that community, at its heart, is about growing in the grace of acceptance: of ourselves and others and of God’s offer of Godself (Love) to us. In acceptance there is space for healing and transformation.

I discovered that in a community of love any failure at loving makes our growth in love possible. How? When we fail to love, our fear of being ultimately unlovable can stir. If the people around us can show us the compassion and forgiveness that God has for us (even just a little), this deep lie of our own unlovableness can be exposed (become conscious) to us. In this exposure we have the chance to see and accept this unlovableness as the lie it is. With others around us behaving counter to this lie, we have the opportunity to grow in the experience of love. In time the love already within us and for us can move into our awareness and be consciously experienced. In this experience we are then freed to express love for others. This dynamic of love in human relationship is oftentimes imperceptible. All that is needed, however, is for one or two of us to be open just enough to the reality of this love, a love that is always with us.

Meditation creates community out of the energy of paradox. In the light of the experience of meditation we see ourselves and others as united and no longer as alienated. We are then free to act on the basis of what we really see. (Laurence Freeman, John Main: The Expanding Vision, 126)

Just as there is, at the surface, a paradox in saying a mantra that leads to silence, so there is a paradox in living and meditating with others who are disturbing to us. These paradoxical experiences, in time, lead to the peace of an integrated psyche. This is because integration seems to require an inner and relational tension. In meditation this tension is attention on the mantra. In community this tension is attention on the other and what is happening within me for this person to be experienced as disturbing.

This tension becomes the catalyst for change and growth – if we can stay present to it. This tension, when experienced in the present moment, becomes a part of the process of healing. It becomes a doorway into integration. Consequently it is not a tension that saps energy. It becomes the creative tension of the Holy Spirit – a tension moving within us as we meditate and live together.

Another part of my experience at Meditatio House was the opportunity to be in an environment that openly encouraged gifts and gave space for practice. During the course of the last ten years or so the desire in me to be a writer has grown. This continued at Meditatio House. The house gave me the change to practice writing. The life of the house also provided the opportunity to get back into playing guitar. I was also able to practice teaching meditation. These three things: writing, guitar, and teaching are what I am invited to continue doing after life at Meditatio House. And like the talents gifted to everyone, they are gifts for everyone. Our giftedness comes alive in the Spirit when it is done for others.

My thanks and deep appreciation to Laurence, Henriette, and to all the others I lived with while at Meditatio House. We were gift to each other in ways obvious and mysterious, seen plainly and to be seen in time.

 

 

 

 


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 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.


Dithering: Ani DiFranco. Attention to Being as a Cure for Over Thinking

Knowledge gives us meaning. In our search for meaning many of us want know all about the many things and the many stories around us. This can be an important part of life, whether it be important to our work, lifestyle, temperament, compulsions.

The assumption has been that a rational approach is the best way to know and the best way to find the meaning in life. Our system of education is still very much based on the development and exercise of the rational in the pursuit of knowledge. And so we classify and name, gathering more and more information.

When the experience of a groundedness in our own being takes second place to living life rationally we risk rationality becoming the only way to find meaning and reason for existence. Without the balancing of an experience of our common humanity in being, rational pursuits can become overburdened and judgmental.

The journey from gathering and naming, to assuming and then to judging is a short one. We can all too easily and without being aware of it fall into judging people and circumstance with the limited information we have found (or have been given).

As we find meaning in this limited information we have we begin to feel secure and assured. Insecurity is offset by judgment. If we are not careful judgement of difference can become the focus of fear. This is how racism and xenophobia are born.

Fundamental meaning is found in the experience of our common humanity in being. Our rationality is meant to serve and name this experience, not take the place of it. We need being and rationality working in context and accord.

We now live in a world in which the ways many gather information are being tailor-made to their ideas and assumptions. A Google search will factor in your search history and show you results that are consistent with this history. Facebook will put on your news feed subject matter that is similar to you and your friends likes.

There is more the expectation today that research will be done for us and presented to us ‘efficiently’. This research is telling us that attention spans are getting shorter. As a result, the intelligence of many, it seems, (that very intelligence we have a rational tendency to over rely on) is being ‘dumbed down’.

An excessively rational approach views the mind as akin to a computer data base and limits the mind to the brain (existing only “behind the face”). I had a spiritual mentor once point to the palm of his hand and say “this is my mind”. It was his way of saying that the mind is an embodied reality and experience. Emotions are in the mind and are felt in the body. Thinking is done in the brain. The whole of the body in its feeling and thinking is the mind and the whole of the mind is the body.

If our attention is trained to focus excessively on just one part of the mind – the brain – then it is understandable that we feel the strain of this. Information comes to classify us rather than simply inform us. We come to define ourselves via what we think and how we think. Knowledge is reduced to information “in rotation”. With this idea of knowledge, an idea divorced from the experience and wisdom of being, we attempt to answer life questions independent of this experience of being. The result is dithering. People can become uncertain, indecisive, and agitated.

Meditation focuses attention on our whole being, not just on the mind as ‘brain thinking’. As the experience of being grows in us our idea of mind is transformed. At depth, mind and being are the same experience.

As we practice this attention on being, day after day, the experience becomes one of God within us and all. Our experience of being changes our idea of mind and then loses us in the Being of God. We grow in seeing as God sees and experiencing life as God experiences life: all is one in love. Compassion grows and gently replaces judgement.

We have to begin somewhere. We have to begin with ourselves and by learning to be silent with ourselves. This means simply learning to be, to be ourselves, rather than defining ourselves by what we do or what we think. As an art and a practice, meditation brings us towards this state of simple being through the still, silent repetition of the mantra. (John Main, Word Made Flesh, 8).

This is all we need do: simply and faithfully give and re-give attention to the mantra. All else has been given and awaits our discovery.


Meditatio House: the Spiritual Art of Weed Pulling

I spent some time this week pulling weeds. The physicality of it made it a spiritual experience. It is the body that grounds us in the here and now, making possible our experience of life and of the Divine in life. God and life can only be now and the body cannot be anywhere else.

Any spirituality grounded in human experience (and any authentic spirituality must be) values the use of the body as a way of practicing attention in and on the present moment.

The extent to which we are not in the present moment is the extent to which we are subject to fantasy and illusion. The past and the future are not here. They may be, for some reason, in the mind and heart, however only the present moment is the present moment. We are made for the present moment. In it there is a purpose and meaning and a full living of life that the past and the future cannot provide.

It follows then that our senses must be trained in staying enough with the body and the now. If we are going through the motions of doing something, without awareness of what we are doing now, then something may get done, however we will not be present to the experience. The gift of life and the gift of the divine life (grace) in life will be lost, unnoticed.

As I pulled the weeds I tried to be aware of what I was doing. I looked at my gloved hands as I pulled; I looked carefully so as not to miss any green shoots; I was present to my body with all its stretching and movement (and eventual aches). I also caught myself in daydreams; sung, whistled and hummed; said hello to the birds and apologised to the worm I accidentally cut in half.

I also remembered another time in my life when I was doing the same thing and was feeling quite lonely and depressed. Rather than repress this memory I welcomed it and accepted it as best as I could. As the sadness rose I experienced it and also experienced a compassion that rose to meet and love it. As I weeded, memories integrated and wounds healed. God was there and I was there enough.

The art of any doing as a spiritual practice is all about the forming of good habit first. Whatever else is given is given as gift. The more time we spend practising attending to the moment is more time accepting that each moment is the only true place and is the place to be. In this way we have a much better chance of staying alert, awake to the now in the day for longer. A good present moment habit practised daily sees us less in fantasy and more in reality.

Before enlightenment: hewing wood and drawing water; after enlightenment: hewing wood and drawing water. (Zen proverb).

The path to enlightenment is all about practice, practice, practice – with whatever is at hand. As we practice we come to see that everything is contained in the present moment, so we continue to do the very same things that helped us into the present moment. Anything done with attention teaches the present moment and keeps us there.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.. (Ephesians 1:17,18).

This prayer attributed to St. Paul can only be realised in the present moment. The enlightening of our heart’s eye – the mysterious gift of Divine life and understanding – can only happen in the now.

Meditation is only present moment when we are still enough in mind and body and our attention is on the mantra. It is at this now time of meditation that the enlightenment of the heart and the transformation of the soul happen. We must transcend all within us that would keep attention from this moment. However, we cannot transcend without God. The Christian needs Christ – the human enlightenment of God – if we are to transcend that within us that keeps us from the now: the ego and its use of distractions.

It does seem that the ego would prefer not to pull weeds or do the housework because activities like this have within them the potential of the present moment. Life and divinity in the present moment undermine the ego’s preferred position as the centre of attention. Consequently, we can often experience the same kind of inner resistance around housework (for example) as we do around meditation.

If we must do the ego prefers doing in a daydream, spending the time in the past or the future, or in some kind of alternate ‘now’ (fantasy).

If we are to be with God and grow in love, then an important part of this adventure is weed pulling – or chores of any kind, indeed anything that divinity can use to draw attention into the present moment and into the Divine Life itself.


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.

Bere Is 1

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.

Bere Is 2

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.

Bere Is 3

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)

 Bere Is 4


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