Tag Archives: Meditatio House

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: 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)’.


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

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

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

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

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

Stay awake…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Meditatio House: 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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