Friday, 20 August 2010

Training the mind

The Daily Telegraph reports research showing that meditation really does re-wire the brain. It refers specifically to something called Integrative Body Mind Training and I ‘google’ it. Someone has adapted ancient Chinese (probably tai chi-like) techniques, bundled them into a package and is now selling the ‘product’ with the advice that it cannot be learned from books or DVDs: one must pay this teacher to learn it.

I think I know how this process goes. One practices meditation in whatever form one has learnt it (whether from a teacher, books or DVDs) and gradually develops one’s own nuances: for example subtle movements and positions of the hands produce different shades of feeling and attitude. Then one starts teaching this modification and, if one is entrepreneurial, marketing it. There is no kenosis here, no giving away in love. I hope that people will benefit from this training but I also hope that people learn that there is more to life than avoiding stress. There is more to spirituality than simply training (important as it undoubtedly is). Whatever a guru may claim, there are many paths to inner awakening and most of them are free. The temptation to become a guru or teacher of spirituality is a subtle one to be treated with extreme caution, especially if one is thinking of charging people for the privilege of hearing what one has to say.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The power to see

Flying home from Zurich on Monday we are joined by about half a dozen Orthodox Jewish families: the young men in their distinctive (what? mid nineteenth century?) garb, the young sons (some perhaps no more than four years old) already sporting their ringlets and skull caps, the wives and daughters otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of us. I find myself suffused with emotion, a mixture of annoyance and resentment perhaps. Pondering this later, it dawns on me that they wished to insist that I see them as Orthodox Jews rather than simply as human beings. I understand now that I had entertained my emotional reaction, given it house room, instead of simply letting it go: letting them and me just be. I might then have recognised the presence of Being in them, in us all: a Presence which transcends their religious position as well as their clothing and my prejudice.

I experience similar emotions when I see a fully veiled Muslim woman. Again people (in this case Muslim men) are demanding that I see the religious commitment rather than the human being. In this case I do not see the person at all. It is a more extreme case of not seeing, of being denied even the possibility of seeing.

I am reminded of a poem by Rene Daumal (quoted in Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, ‘Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening’):
Sometimes a man humbles himself in his heart, submits
the visible to the power to see, and seeks to return to his
source. He seeks, he finds, and he returns to his source.

Bourgeault comments on the phrase ‘submits the visible to the power to see’:
“The observing ‘I’ carried in the magnetic centre, becomes the integral point of your being and around this centre intentional and conscious true self begins to manifest.”

Without this submission of ‘the visible to the power to see’ there is no chance of reconciliation in any conflict, but especially in those which are driven by religious demands.