Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

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: Growing in the God-human’s Yes.

We are living in an age when the possibilities for the development of human consciousness have been radically transformed by the resurrection of Christ. Every human consciousness has undergone this transformation because in his risen and universal consciousness we have access to the Father, the source and goal of human life and indeed all creation. We live in an age of the infinite mystery realised in Christ and in us. Meditation is simply openness to that reality. (John Main, Word Made Flesh, 3. Italics added).

In Christ Jesus (the God human) humanity can now be a full human participant in the divine life. This is the startling gift and message of Easter.

Jesus’ full yes to God (in his life, death and resurrection) can be our yes to God happening within God and us now.

The fullness of divine Love as transformative of the human condition resides in our human consciousness waiting for our acceptance of Jesus’ yes to his Father as our yes. This yes of Christ is what the Christian grows into over a lifetime.

All that stands in the way of what God can do in us (and with us) is our unbelief in what God can do. All other impediment is gone, dissolved in the yes of Jesus.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, that is, by me and by Silvanus and Timothy, was never Yes-and-No; his nature is all Yes. For in him is found the Yes to all God’s promises and therefore it is ‘through him’ that we answer ‘Amen’ to give praise to God. It is God who gives us, with you, a sure place in Christ and has both anointed us and marked us with his seal, giving us as pledge the Spirit in our hearts. (2Cor1:19-22).

In the depths of our being we already are what our egos desire to be of themselves. This is what the Reality of Christ consciousness reveals and makes possible in our human lives. Humility and faithfulness (part of any yes of the human creature to its Creator) are the foundations of the realisation of this revelation in human development. Our deepening acceptance of this (as we grow in the yes of Jesus) is perhaps the key to any ongoing human and Christian transformation in this material part of life. With humility and faith Divine Love transforms us into love here and now.

The resurrection appearances of the Gospels are God’s imprimatur on all of this.

In meditation, as we  give attention to the mantra, we grow in openness to what God has done in Jesus and what God wants to do in us through Jesus. And what is this doing of God? It is nothing less than the transcendence of ego consciousness. Ego consciousness is transcended as we grow in this openness. This transcending of the ego is “the hinge that allows us to swing into the Mind of Christ” (Laurence Freeman). In meditation we transcend into the yes of Christ. Our yes to Jesus and the yes of Jesus to God become one. We then experience ourselves in the divine life and discover this life as Home.

This growing openness is a pilgrimage in itself. It is why we are always beginners in meditation. We are always beginning humbly and faithfully from any point on the way.

The Easter season, Eastertide, is a time to reflect on just what the divine life can do in and for human consciousness and human life. We need more than one day (Easter Sunday) for it all to begin to sink in. It is profoundly and radically freeing. Psychologically, it is the integration of our conscious selves (ego) and the unconscious (where the source of Self and God are at our depths).

Internal and external growth in self-forgetting is key to this process of integration. Meditation and community (where ever we find it) can be where the external and the internal work together for integration, for salvation. Our life at Meditatio House is where we are experiencing this working together – often in ‘fear and trembling’.

Eastertide, as the ongoing celebration of the Risen Christ, is also a celebration of what we have become in this Christ and what we are becoming because of this Christ: Beloved Daughters and Sons of God. In one way or another, Love will have its way.

Waiting for the Sun 6

 


Deeper Well: Emmylou Harris. The Beyond in Life and for Life.

The philosopher Charles Taylor speaks about a “three cornered battle raging in our culture” today. For Taylor, each of these corners is occupied by secular humanists, neo-Neitzcheans, and “those who acknowledge some [transcendent] good beyond life”.

Secular humanists seek the fulfilment of human potential while excluding any notion of transcendence. A true experience of life, they say, contains no impulse to move towards any reality beyond life itself. There is only life. There is no God.

The neo-Neitzscheans emphasise Nietzsche’s idea of ‘the will to power’. To grow involves struggle, a struggle of the will to preserve itself, survive and thrive. It is a struggle happening only within the reality of a person’s earthly existence. There is no afterlife waiting. This material life is all we have. We are all a will using power to grow, to become.

The third group embraces the reality and experience of transcendence, seeing it, ultimately, as a source of goodness. It can be as specific as a belief in God, or be more generalised like a mysterious sense of something ‘other’.

Secular humanists hold the view that we do not need this transcendence to fulfil human potential. Neo-Neitzscheans hold the view that we are our own transcendence. Christian spirituality says that the Divine Life itself is the source of this transcendence. It is a divine dynamic intimate with creation, working for the good and fulfilment of all (whether implicit or explicit, known or unknown), doing so in ways that life by itself cannot do.

This song from Emmylou Harris, for me, is a song about a human journey affected by this divine transcendent dynamic within life. Through it all she sings of looking for water from some mysterious “deeper well”. There is a thirst for this well’s water in the experience of life. Nothing else satisfies. At first the search is full of the will to power – “I went…I fell…I looked…I saw…I found”. It’s a search that “rocked”, “rolled”, “rattled”, and raged – a search that attempted to find in the experiences of life its own dynamic of transcendence, that is, its own way to move beyond life and into something more deeply satisfying.

This attempt ends in the “terrible sight” of a life hitting rock bottom. No material experience, in itself, is this deeper well. For many of us there is a thirst for life that cannot be quelled simply by living life. The eternal of life needs, in some way, to be given attention.

Finally, at the bottom, there is a “reaching out for a holier grail” – something in life that is part of life yet more than life. This reaching out is often the fruit of a fruitless search. Hitting rock bottom can be the discovery that we are finally in the deeper well. After the search exhausts us enough we can be ready enough to accept something of this divinely transcendent dynamic within us. Grace waits in our struggle and search, respecting our freedom, until, through struggle, we become free enough to glimpse and experience what we most deeply hunger for.

Buddy Miller’s guitar work is raw and powerful, giving thrust (and at times desperation) to the search. Emmylou’s vocal is delivered with determination and edgy grace. Her band, Spyboy, when it was together, was a wonder to behold. Grab a copy of their 1998 live album Spyboy to hear more.

Christian spirituality names this deeper well as that mysterious place within us where the Divine Life dwells. The water itself is this Divine Life, a living spring, the wells source. This Divine Life is the source and the fulfilment of all earthly transcendence. Our thirst for this living water is a natural human and spiritual response to the presence of this living water – the heart’s deepest desire. Our thirst, our dissatisfaction, is often our companion on the way to the well within us.

A practice like Christian meditation maintains our attention at the deeper well. Regular practice has us drinking this living, divine water. As we experience this water rising up from the centre of us and all creation, we learn just where else this water is for us in life.

…but no one who drinks the water that I shall give will ever be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will become a spring of water within welling up for eternal life. (John 4:14).

The contemplative drinks of this water in and through their life and prayer practice. The contemplative comes to understand deeply that life is life, God is God, and that God is the water of life. We can all be contemplatives; we can all sing “I drank the water from a deeper well”.


Thank U: Alanis Morissette. Human Life as Transformation Into Love

Here’s an idea:

How about seeing Christianity as a pilgrimage of transformation, as a way into a true experience of the divine life at the heart of all creation? How about seeing Christianity as less about a moral checklist and more about experiencing the wonder of who we can be? How about Christianity as an experience of liberating love, not as an experience of fear that ultimately constricts?

So what does this involve?

The spiritual wisdom at the heart of Christianity advises the following: it involves learning to let go so that we might jump off into deeper life. So what’s that about?

Perhaps it’s about walking through life shedding what stops us from being vulnerable before each other and before the One we call God. It’s a bit like being naked. Naked in this sense is not about no clothes, it’s about humbly seeing and addressing what stops us from being our loving selves with each other. After all, growing in love requires vulnerability or an inner nakedness. This could be something of what Alanis Morissette is saying in this song and video.

What are some of these things that we are invited to face and let go as part of a growing into inner naked vulnerability?

Perhaps I’m grumpy and aloof because it’s the best way I have learnt to protect a core of hurt, the best way that I have learnt to survive in a world that demands too much self-reliance.

Perhaps I harbour prejudices against people too different from myself. To question these prejudices would be to somehow ask myself to see difference as too much the same, as too much like me.

Maybe I have ideas about how the world should be; ideas that leave no room for other ideas that would complement the ones I have long held too close.

All these things – personality traits, prejudices, ideologies, and more – can fuse to us like barnacles to the hull of a boat. We identify so strongly with them that if life somehow threatens them fear and anxiety can mobilize within us to ward off the assumed threat.

Often this kind of threat betrays an ego caught in its own wounds and insecurity.

This ego would have us wear these psychological clothes, to keep the barnacles fused and ego protected from any chance of change.

But the grace of Christ is about something else. This grace is about healing and transformation. It is about freedom from this egoism so that we might express more of the self deep in the heart of us, a mysterious self, created in love and wanting to be expressed as love-alive in the full gamut of us.

This deeper, truer self is the real essence of us. Our unique and valuable ego is at its best when growing in a willingness to be an instrument of this essence, this love in the Being of Love.

But we cannot do this transformation. Only grace can. And grace must invite our participation in this transformation if ego itself is to change.

Christian Meditation, with its encouragement to give more and more of our attention to the mantra, is a way in which we can participate in this graced transformation away from ego-centredness and into a human life growing in the naked vulnerability of love.

And in Christ we already have a full yes to grace within us. To meditate is to experience, participate, and grow in this yes. As this happens, tenderly and lovingly we are drawn home to our deepest self.

With the mantra we gently shed egoism and fall into the yes of Christ. There is nothing to fear. The yes of Christ becomes our yes and life becomes more alive. It is in this way that Christian Meditation prepares us to say yes to the rest of life. As this happens our inner yes becomes an outer yes to life and all that it holds.


More Than This: Peter Gabriel. All Grace is Already Given

The theologian Karl Rahner speaks of grace in the form of a ‘supernatural existential.’ The supernatural existential is nothing less than God’s gift of God’s full self to humanity at the moment of our creation. God is lovingly and gratuitously there from our beginning making grace an indispensable part of our human existence. Without grace we are not human. Because grace is there from our beginning it effectively resides in us as the source and answer to our own future restlessness and longing.  It continually and freely makes the possibility of knowing God possible, existing in us as a divine vitality feeding our own search for God and being a part of this search.

In Rahner’s theology, whether or not a person belongs to a religion, whether or not they call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’, whether they identify as atheist or theist, it is possible, by virtue of the supernatural existential, for all of humanity to experience as they live their lives, the abiding presence of God. It is with us as a part of us and yet not us. The human being, consciously or unconsciously, can communicate the divine in their person and action because to not do so is to not be human.

Have a listen to ‘More Than This’ here.

This song from Peter Gabriel, for me, is this grace writ large. There is in life ‘more than this’, more than what we can touch, taste, see. This more, so much a part of what we can touch, taste, and see, draws us into and beyond these things. It draws us into the divine mystery at the heart of everything and everyone. This more is God, grace always with us.

Christian spirituality is about experiencing this more and allowing this more to have an effect on us and our lives. This more, this grace is always with us empowering and making possible our choice for the divine and life.

As we experience this more we come to experience divinity as ‘beyond imagination’, ‘beyond the stars’, beyond the words we use, more that the feelings we feel. As all this ‘falls away’ bit by bit, all that is left is the nothing of God. The mind falls into quiet and the more of God is experienced as a complete gift, as grace.

Christian meditation is a practice that can help our mind fall into this necessary quiet. As this happens our humanity and our lives become present to and alive with this grace already there for us. The experience of connection – with ourselves, others, all creation – is deepened. And it is this very grace that makes Christian meditation possible.

 


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