Tag Archives: Midnight Oil

Cemetery In My Mind: Midnight Oil

The Australian band Midnight Oil are back together and touring the world. Their Great Circle Tour is circuiting the globe with the band’s distinctive sound and message. Politics, the environment, social justice, and the ‘human condition’: all are featured. Distraction and lethargy are not an option. The prophets have returned to wake up the dead and jolt the living.

I had a search through their catalogue to find a song that might be of use for us. While most of their music is decidedly action-focused, there are some that attempt an ‘introspective kick-in-the pants’. Cemetery in My Mind is one such song.

For me the message of the song is blunt: what do you want to be – death alive or living a life?

There is a dynamic in culture that distracts from purpose, from meaning, from the heart’s calling. It would have us in the mall, the shopping centre, consumers. How many of us seek to salve emptiness with the latest product or device?

Life as going through the motions, life as avoidance of hurts, life as fear of possibilities: all this can make a cemetery of the mind and life.

What of our dreams, our purpose, our meaning, our calling? How do we find these? How do we deepen in them? Is it too late? Purpose, meaning, calling: what is the experience of these things?

When life becomes dry enough, when dreams die, when no direction affects us enough, despite fear we can start to ask deeper questions: ‘You can fall, but can you rise?’

In the now, not in tomorrow, is the heart. In the centre of consciousness, in the centre of mind is the always alive spiritual heart. It has for us purpose, meaning, and calling. Amid distraction, hurt, and fear we can (if we want to) learn to steadily hear it. In the hearing, there is the following.

We cover consciousness and the heart with too much thinking. Too much imagining, reflecting, assessing – all this and more can keep attention from being in touch with the deeper wisdom of the heart. We then forget how to hear the heart, or if we do, the hearing can often be fleeting – like an echo of the sound of something loving and familiar.

Healthy spiritual paths will have practical ways to guide us into the hearing of our hearts. If all we get are ‘mother statements’ – listen to your heart, follow your dreams – with no practical ways, then hope becomes strained and frustration can rise because the path has become ethereal.

Long standing spiritualities and religions do have practical ways to the heart. One such practical way is meditation. How can meditation help? By giving attention to a word or phrase, for at least 20 minutes a day morning and evening, there will be an effect. Regular practice of this way will see the mind, over time, quieten. As thoughts and imaginings soften, there will be more space for feelings to rise and fall, heal and integrate. Thinking will become something that happens more appropriately and less often. In the space now within, a space once occupied by too much thinking and emotional disorder, the heart moves into awareness.

As we become aware, we experience the heart’s drawing and longing. In time and with guidance we can come to understand that certain people, places, and things draw our hearts and cause them to long. The practical ways in which we follow this drawing and longing become our way of purpose, of meaning and calling.

Life can be more than ‘wake work drink sleep retire’.

 


Meditatio House: Love (and Other Bruises)*

At Meditatio House, every weekday morning, we gather to discuss a part of The Rule of Benedict. One day recently our sharing turned to the nature of love and our experiences of love. It reminded me of a quote from John Main. In the quote the experience of meditation is compared with the experience of falling in love:

It [meditation] has often been described as the process whereby we open the eyes of our heart and learn to see with love and the best analogy for it is the analogy of falling in love. The beloved still seems the same to everyone else, but when we love someone deeply and unreservedly we see them in a new light and their slightest gesture can convey to us what no one else can see. Falling in love is such a profound and important experience for all of us because it takes us out of and beyond ourselves into the reality of the other; and profound meditation is of the same order. (John Main, The Door to Silence).

It is wonderful to hear a spiritual teacher speaking positively about the experience of falling in love, emphasising it as an important and natural human experience. However, as I heard about the experiences of others and began to look a little more closely at my own ‘love life’ experiences, a thought occurred to me: a lot of experiences of falling in love that have started in the manner John Main describes have ended with the experience of ‘falling out’ of love. The experience of being “taken out and beyond” ourselves into the other often does not last. After the immediate emotionality of the experience, the disorientation, and the delight in the other can come the getting to know them – their behaviours, their values, personality and temperament. All of this can result in a falling out experience that could be just as quick as the falling in. The experience can be one of suffering and can sometimes end painfully.

All this prompts in me questions. As the experience of falling in love can be at times a fickle thing, is the use of this analogy as beneficial as it first appears? If falling in love is an experience that does not last, then why use it to describe a dynamic of intimacy with God in meditation at all? After all, divine Love is not romantic love (right?) and unlike romantic love divine Love does not dissipate like the falling in love experience can (yes?).

While the human experience of romantic love can shift and change, the reality of divine Love remains the same. It is our experience and understanding of divine Love which can shift and change, not the reality of divine Love itself.

Sometimes, if divine Love moves so within us and we are disposed enough, this Love can sweep us up into it like a romantic lover, coaxing and enthralling our soul into ecstasy and delight. In describing these times, erotic language has been the language of choice for many Christian mystics.

The experience of divine Love which is similar to the experience of romantic love for us is not the fickle experience which romantic love can be, but is a gift from the life of God which happens if it happens.

If we go into meditation desiring this experience to happen, seeing it perhaps as the fruit of a ‘successful’ meditation, then we are bound to be disappointed and may start to experience prayer as a dry time and ourselves a bit like a jilted lover. If meditation is to go the distance, if a prayer life is to be fruitful across the whole pilgrimage of life, then everyday cannot be a day for this experience. The intoxication would be drug like. The pleasure seeking ego could attempt to use the experience to anesthetise us to the pain and suffering of life. As a result, compassion would dry up and wisdom fade. A wise God does not use this romantic-like experience as the default in our dance with divine Love.

So too, human relationships that begin with the romantic love experience, if they are to go the distance, need to change. It may be at first pleasurable to imagine a relationship based solely on the erotic, however, like a shooting star, the relationship will not last long in reality.

So if change is inevitable, what happens? As we have already noted, a romantic ‘falling in’ love can become a romantic ‘falling out’ of love. There is also something else that can happen: ‘falling in’ love can become a ‘falling into’ love.

There is a great song from the Australian rock band Midnight Oil called Outbreak of Love which contains some lyrics pointing to the transformation that ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ can be. The lyrics read: “This is the end of the beginning of the outbreak of love”.

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Romantic love can become the intoxicating end of the beginning to a long term (perhaps lifelong) relational adventure in love that falling into love can be. The mystery of ‘falling in’ becoming ‘falling into’ is hidden in the couple’s gentle giving to, commitment to, and experiencing of each other over time. We need the challenge and responsibility of an all-embracing intimacy if we are to grow in this ‘falling into’ love.

It is this long term experience of falling into that is perhaps more consistent with the pilgrimage of contemplative prayer generally and the pilgrimage of meditation. The experience has everything: delight, monotony, challenge, pain, joy, sadness – much like the rest of life. And in this experience of falling into there is something else which consistently underpins the changing human experience of this love: the deep and truly divine Love which ‘falling into’ lovers participate in and yet do not create.

It can require commitment and hard work to remain consciously in the falling into. Falling into is not about trying to create the falling into experience ourselves. Any attempt to create a falling into experience may just be the ego fighting against the reality of a falling out of love experience.

When couples are falling into love, the ongoing experience of their love life becomes integrated into the reality of divine Love, (whether they are aware of this divine Love or not). The two loves become one because falling into love is, ultimately, a falling into divine Love. So, for those of us growing in an awareness of divine Love, the taking of our lover’s hand becomes the taking of the hand of God, not because she/he has become God for us, but because our relationship with our lover is becoming a part of an emerging communion with God. The finite falls into, and becomes, in Christ, the infinite.

Couples who are falling into Love together ultimately reveal the falling into Love journey that life can be for all of us, no matter what our relational choices in life might be. The blossoming awareness of divine Love in us and life is for all. The invitation of life is to discover and live out our own way of falling into. Attention to the mantra is, for many, foundational to this process of discovery.

Andrew

* With thanks to Air Supply.


Tell Me The Truth About You: Midnight Oil. Christmas and Transcendence.

Christmas is a time of year when reports about the human search for meaning and purpose have a turn in the media. Two recent pieces in the Sydney Morning Herald, one on December 21st (see here), the other on December 24th (see here), are examples.

On December 21st, Barney Zwartz, former Religion Editor for The Age, wrote an article with the headline ‘A hunger for the spiritual: the Australians finding new meaning in Christmas’. In this piece he explores what the spiritual quest is for many in contemporary Australia (note, for example, the emphasis on the surge of meditation practice currently underway in Australia). As it has been in many Western countries for some time, more and more people on this quest are not turning to Institutional Religion for answers to their questions, hungers, and restlessness. Institutional Religion is still seen as too rigid, too fixed in doctrinaire ways for many to risk their search within stiff ‘old school’ structures. Today’s quest is more generally human than this. Many are seeking outside Religion what Zwartz and others in his article name as the transcendent experience: an experience of going somehow “beyond ourselves”, “beyond the material”, for something (ultimately Divinity) which is “beyond the material world.”

But is this transcendent experience that many seek so far removed from the material? Do we really have to shrug off the ‘yoke’ of what we can touch, taste and see to have a real experience of the transcendent? Towards the end of his article Zwartz, perhaps unknowingly, hints at the answer no in his look at beauty and in his treatment of the cartoonist Leunig’s approach to transcendence. Leunig prescribes going “down towards what is truly grounded, in slowness, in small things, in peace rather than stimulus, small elements of beauty rather than great excellence, to do what is possible and not to overreach”. In this article it is Leunig who speaks to perhaps what the Christmas story is most profoundly about: God, the Divine, personally and fully in the ordinary and the common of human life. It is precisely there where humbling experiences of transcendence can be had. We don’t have to leave the material, to leave it unvalued, to experience the immaterial, the spiritual. The reverse is true.       

Ross Douthat’s December 24th piece ‘Seeking a glimmer of hope in the manger’ (originally published in The New York Times) names this ordinary dynamic of Christmas-inspired transcendence very well. He emphasises the Christmas image of Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus all in the stable as pointing human life and psyche directly to the transcendent and transcendence experience “in the ordinary, the commonplace, the low.” Douthat questions whether specialists in Religion, Science, and Philosophy, at least on their own, can point us to this reality in the low of life.        

Like Douthat and Leunig, Christian Spirituality affirms that transcendence, this ‘moving beyond’, happens when we ‘move into’ the stuff of life. This is the great paradox of an incarnational spirituality like Christianity – transcendence of life and transcendent experience is about engagement with life, all of life. Any experience of the immaterial is simply not possible without the material.

We may know of the Christmas story, whether it be front and centre or echoing dimly. What we may not know is that a manger is where domesticated animals go to feed, and that the messy and painful event of Mary’s giving birth happened not in a stable as we may know it today, so much as a space out the back where animals were often kept in mess and filth. Christianity has Jesus being born into offensive mess, into a reality not ideal. What does this tell us? That Divinity is with us, completely and fully, in the reality of our messy and far from ideal lives – especially in those spaces and places within and around us that we would prefer to avoid and/or reject. It is often those very places and spaces we reject and repress that stop us from living. Divinity so wants to be with us, the whole of us, loving us completely, wanting to see our human and divine destiny’s fulfilled, that this Divinity, in Jesus, has become one of us that we may experience something of what being human really means, discovering and experiencing our own incarnate transcendence in the ordinary stuff of life.

The band Midnight Oil has always struck me as a group of rock musicians keenly aware of the ways in which we are challenged to grow in love and compassion for creation and each other. Their song ‘Tell Me The Truth About You’ is no exception. For me their music has often resonated with the mind and intentions of God. Their music, so regularly ‘muddy and bloody’, and speaking to what being human is about, is wonderfully incarnate. It speaks to me often in the same way that Christmas can – as a vehicle for a deeper truth fully with us, challenging me to be ready for authentic experiences of other-centred transcendence amid the stuff of life.

So could this be the truth about us: that we are human beings becoming divinised, that is, being transformed over the course of life by Divine Love to embody and become this Love in the world, and that transcendent experience is somehow part of this? Christian spirituality says yes. Christmas says yes. Being made divine is simply the way of becoming love. Divinity became human to guide and enable us into our own unique expressions of embodied divinity. Divinity is our human destiny. God affirms this and makes this possible in Jesus.


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