Thursday, 21 October 2010

Healing versus wholeness

Here's what I said at this week's 'Beyond Words' session.

Anything I say should perhaps come with a health warning: “this may damage your spiritual wellbeing!” Why? Because I am not Jesus of Nazareth. I am a fellow traveller with you and we are all pioneers on this path. I bring some reading/specialist knowledge and some practice/experience which you may not have but I also bring my own past with its failings and its pain and its false assumptions. I tell you this because last week’s session (on the parable of the prodigal son) reminded me that there’s a good deal of the elder son in me and trying too hard is one of my default positions.

I quoted Martin Buber: ‘will and grace are two sides of the same coin’ and that is crucial to the whole human (not to say religious) enterprise. What has stuck with me from last week's parable are the father's words to his sulking elder son: “all that I have is yours”. How to realise that profound truth in ways which set me free to work on ‘home farm’. What happens in our regular practice of meditation (backed up by our sharing with others and our study – perhaps as members of a group) is a process of healing and re-ordering of our deepest selves. I now know where my tendency to try too hard comes from – childhood potty training!! My mother’s frequent injunction was ‘try hard’ and my childish word for any product of this effort was ‘try hards’!!

Now meditation is not therapy. It almost certainly has therapeutic effects but if we aim for them, if we make them our reason for meditating, we get into trouble. Our only aim is simply to ‘be there in the Presence’ – to put ourselves in the way of grace and to live it out in our lives.The Presence (of God if we find that word helpful) is unconditional and our aim is simply to be there unconditionally – to keep on coming home like the prodigal.

As we journey on in this life of ‘being there’ in the Presence, it is helpful to learn what our default positions are so that we can be aware when they are holding us back, tripping us up. For some people their default position can be a serious impediment – an addiction, for example, to alcohol, sex, violence, shopping etc. etc. Or there are hidden default positions which lie dormant until suddenly here they are, operating at full volume and devastating us, making us feel a failure or worse. There is what I have called a ‘kick-back’ experience: times when we get out into the world after meditation and everything goes wrong; our default positions seem to dominate the horizon.

In all this, just as in the more mundane distractions of our meditating, the advice is – be gentle with yourself; forgive yourself. How often shall I forgive someone who sins against me – seven times? No, replies Jesus, seventy times seven. And that applies to my forgiveness of myself. Let go and let be. Welcome the bad as well as the good; trust that underneath are the everlasting arms and that healing is going on.

So the quality of our meditation is a matter of our intention not the quality of our attention. It’s never primarily a question of our ability to concentrate (though that may well improve as we persevere in our practice). It is simply a matter of our intention to be there in the Presence.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Interrupting the flow.

Eating is your chance to multi-task - right?

At the very least we talk while doing it; or watch television together; or if we are eating alone we listen to music, or continue our journey on foot or on the tube. While we are chewing our hands are busy preparing the next mouthful on the plate; it’s on its way to the mouth before what’s in there already has been swallowed; or maybe it hovers on the fork, halfway to the mouth, while we make an important point in the conversation. Thank goodness that somewhere beneath all this activity we do manage to notice something of the quality of the food (the avoidance of harmful substances must be programmed pretty deeply in our brains) but the important thing is that we mustn’t let eating absorb our attention - right? Well that, surely, is what an observer from another planet would think about us humans and the way we eat. “Ah!” the visitor might think, “the future is more important than the present for these humans.”

Have you ever tried eating mindfully (to use a Buddhist word) – noticing what’s on the plate: its smell, its colours and textures; noticing this piece of food on the fork as it approaches the mouth; the feel and taste of it as it passes the lips; what happens to it as you chew and finally swallow; allowing a moment between that and returning to the plate for the next portion? It’s extraordinarily difficult in our doing, achieving, multi-tasking world. You might begin with just a single break in the cycle: a tiny pause between each action as you consume food; interrupting the flow. Apparently it’s a really helpful way to eat if you want to lose weight.

Interrupting the flow, however fleetingly, enables our magnetic centre to grow stronger so its pull is more insistent and more recognizable. Magnetic centre? That place of silence, stillness and space which we all carry deep within us: the place of Being, not doing.