Tag Archives: Self Consciousness

The Caravan: Awareness Without Thought (Part 1)

For the last couple of years or so, myself and some other members of The WCCM have been planning a move. Come the middle of April this year I should be arriving at Bonnevaux, the new international retreat centre for The WCCM. I will be there as part of the live-in community. In the meantime, I am living in transitional accommodation in an on-site caravan at a friends place in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales (west of Sydney, Australia).

Where I’m living is a wonderful place, full of trees and wildlife and a generous spirit. It is a place of peace that is giving me and many others a space of quiet and safety. Indeed, the spirit of the place has been stirring in me feelings that I might have not noticed or might have otherwise been tempted to ignore.

As accommodation goes the caravan is refreshingly basic: bed, a small swinging table, limited seating (thanks in no small part to my luggage), pump action tap with sink, two electric hotplates, some cupboard space, and a bar fridge. Volunteering for manual labor comes with the accommodation. This transitional accommodation is for two months.

After living in the caravan for around a week and a half, circumstances have found me back in Sydney this past week and in the house where I used to live. I am due back at the caravan this weekend, and I now find myself in something of a quandary: I am noticing resistance within me around returning. It is not about the caravan itself; more about my reaction to returning.

What am I do to with this resistance? Ignore it? Push it down beyond awareness? Just live with it? What might it be saying?

This occasion of resistance is a good time to practice what many are calling these days mindfulness; or perhaps we could call it the practice of becoming aware, without thought, of what I am feeling about heading back to the caravan.

How could this be done – to not think about what I am aware of? Isn’t thought and awareness the same thing? No. Thinking is largely a product of our self-consciousness, while awareness occurs in consciousness. What we repress ends up as unconscious.

Feelings are best felt rather than ignored, suppressed, and repressed. Feelings left unfelt in this way require quite a bit of energy to keep them ‘out of mind’. Over a lifetime, energy used in this way can cause exhaustion, anger, resentment, even grief and depression. Repression of feelings also contributes to the ageing and damaging of our bodies. So it’s important to grow in the practice of the regulation of our feelings, allowing them to rise and be felt. However, because we are well versed in repression, this can be a challenge to learn and continue to practice.

A healthy mind is all about being conscious. If we are too self-conscious (a common malady today), our thinking can crowd out our feelings, giving little space for us to simply feel. Anger may rise, for example, and what we could do is quickly start to analyse it: where is this from, why am I feeling this? The result of this is that we are no longer feeling or allowing space for feeling. Thinking can also be a part of suppression and repression; over-thinking contributes to feelings becoming unconscious and unfelt.

So, it follows then, that if we are to give more space to the feeling of feelings and so become more mindful, it would be good to practice the art of not thinking. Easily said than done.

Meditation is the practice of not thinking, or non-thinking. How does this happen? Via the giving and re-giving of attention to a mantra we, in efffect, give the energy invlolved in thought something else to do. Rather than thinking about tomorrow, last week, or today’s to-do list, we practice the art of allowing thinking to recede and quieten via attention on the mantra. What then happens, over time, is that space is freed to feel. Feelings can rise safely and not be subjected to the scruttiny of self-consciousness via thought. In time, too, because they are being safely felt, the intensity of our feelings subside. Another way of saying all this is to say that we are becoming conscious.

So now is the time for me to become aware of what I am feeling. It is important that I put any descriptive words aside and simply feel the feelings. Now is not the time to speculate. Now is the time to simply feel. After feeling words will come. This practice is a fruit of meditation.


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.

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Meditatio House: Embers of Senseless Grace

In a meditation group that I am a part of someone recently asked ‘what do I do with my breathing during meditation, while saying the mantra?’ There are no fixed guidelines about this. Some people are attentive to the mantra as they breathe out, others as they breathe in. Still others split the mantra and say ma-ra on their out breath and na-tha on their in breath. It comes down to whatever works for us. The combination of breathing and mantra soon finds a rhythm that we are comfortable with. Our breathing comes to serve attention to the mantra.

As the mantra deepens into our bodies, as it falls over time from head into heart on its gently integrating way, our breathing can fall with it. At this time many are breathing a little more deeply and from gut. Once again, there are no fixed guidelines here.

I hesitate to talk about this because we need to keep things very simple. Meditation is not about sitting back during meditation to consciously experience and evaluate what is going on. Meditation is about growing in a whole-hearted practice of forgetting self-consciousness. It is about losing our conscious selves in the moment of meditation so that we can experience without awareness, that is without active interior sense, the deep silence of God and have this God, this divine Love, effect the all of us. Any inner activity, no matter how well intentioned it may be, is a distraction to growth in silence, to being inwardly transformed for and by this silence.

One of my great challenges in meditation is growing in the letting go of curiosity. My conscious mind can be quick to pick up and look at any experience which might be going on. Again and again I need to come back to the essence: simply and faithfully giving attention to the mantra. Once again, meditation is about the primacy of leaving the conscious self behind. It is not about the gathering of knowledge, of insight. Any wisdom given because of our meditation practice is given as gift. This gift must serve the leaving of conscious self and not become a distraction to it.

Wisdom rises from the heart. A silent intellect, precisely because it is silent, can ‘marinate’ in this wisdom, doing so without reference to itself or this wisdom. Wisdom (which is the love-life of God moving and acting within us) can then enlighten the intellect about the meditation experience while this intellect is passive, that is, while the intellect is not relying on the senses to make sense of the experience. It is in this way that our mind and our intellect are transformed, or divinised, by divine Love. It happens without us knowing about it, without us being aware of it, because the desires to know and be aware are let go, put aside, forgotten. In this way wisdom can have its unimpeded way with us.

Divinisation is the Christ consciousness within becoming more and more uniquely our consciousness. It is in this way that Christians become Christ-ians, or ‘little Christs’. As St. Paul says ‘..it is no longer I, but Christ living in me’ (Gal2:20). This is something our intellect, by itself, will never understand. It makes no sense because it is a ‘senseless’ happening. When inner sense is quiet, when consciousness has forgotten itself, divinisation happens.

A forgotten self-consciousness is thus the meditator’s full yes to this process of divinisation. It is a full yes that we grow into over time as we grow into our own forgetting. This process of forgetting is deeply relational. Any love relationship will invite us to put the other first, to practice the forgetting of our own ego-selves. A relationship with divinity (the relationship within all relationships) is no different.

Because it is so relational and loving, the yes we say to God is a yes of faith. Each time of meditation is a yes of growing faithfulness. To self-consciousness this yes can feel like risk. To our deeper selves this yes is as natural as breathing.

So what of my breathing and its relationship to the mantra? Well, it does seem that wisdom often speaks with analogy. Without analogy we can engage too much in analysis and rationality. So: it’s like sometimes my breath combines with the mantra to quietly breathe the mantra into embers of divine intimacy deep within. While ever attention is on the mantra this continues. As soon as attention falls away from the mantra the divine glow coming from these embers ceases.

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The glow from the embers is warm and consoling. Its warmth is peace and joy. These are some of the fruits of the Spirit that St. Paul writes of to the Galatians (5:22-23). They are available for all. They can be given as we meditate.

This consolation does seem to be gift (a grace), that is, something that I am not creating for myself. The experience of divine intimacy, however, is not the divine life itself. It is best not to conflate the gifts of the Spirit with the life of the Spirit.

We meditate so that the whole of us would be in union with the divine. This union happens in a silence without thought, image, or indeed conscious consolation. Silence is about the absence of these things. On the pilgrimage into silence even the consolations of God are let go and left behind. This is part of the journey. If this were not so prayer would simply be an exercise in waiting to be consoled.


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