Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Images

October 5, 2021

The first Jesus-followers strove to figure out this whole Jesus and resurrection and Messiah thing. They heard the first-hand stories and as the movement spread read reports of the resurrection. They began studying the Hebrew Scriptures for signs pointing to Jesus. Along the way, they picked up a few teachings. Such as, you shall have no graven images of Yahweh.

Unlike all the other religions, Jews did not make a picture or statue of their God. Christ-followers picked this up. As we read, for example in the gospel of John, God is spirit, worship in spirit and truth.

Evagrius writing in the 4th Century warns about how images may come to you in prayer and that these are the work of spiritual forces opposed to God.

When I began meditating at age 17 or so, I was sternly taught–no images. Do not picture God. Maybe staring at a mandala will help focus the mind, but in reality, these are to be avoided.

One of the sub-plots in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky concerns whether it is right to have ikons. These have traditionally been popular within the Eastern Orthodox churches.

By the way, if you have not read this book or if it has been a long time, make it your next novel. Don’t watch the movie as a shortcut. It is a terrible representation of the book.

When I read this teaching in Evagrius, all these thoughts ran through my head. And, to this day, I do not visualize God when I meditate. I visualize nothing. I concentrate on my breath. Or, I say a mantra such as “God” or “Spirit” or the long form “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. These can help slow the mind and aid focus. Mostly, I can just sit, adjust my breathing, and dwell in silence for a time. Done for a period of time, it effects physical changes in the brain and helps lead to a calmer life.

A Person In Chains

October 4, 2021

Sometimes we sit or kneel or lay in prayer and we cannot settle down.

Evagrius wrote 1800 years ago, “A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

Ancient language, but he captured our problem.

We want to be at peace with God. Have an honest conversation. Talk to someone who listens, and listen to God’s advice and wisdom.

But so often we are chained to thoughts churning up from the gut. Angers, fears, feelings of being slighted, or being left out, worry, these all lead us astray. They must be dealt with through focus in God.

Today we teach breathing and have apps on our smart phones to calm the mind. All to the good.

When we were teens, sometimes we became attached to a peer group that led us into doing things we knew were wrong. Evagrius and other writers of his age would say “chained to” the group.

We had to find a way to leave the group and find a new one going the right way.

So, with our thoughts and passions. We must fill our minds with wisdom and knowledge and seek the spirit in quiet. We must break the chains of attachment. With me, this is not theoretical knowledge. It is life.

Imperturbable Calm

September 28, 2021

My internal clock awakens me at approximately 5:30 am no matter what time zone I’m in. Fly to Germany? Next morning, no problem, rise at 5:30 Central European time.

This morning? 6 am. The one morning when I had an early conference call with Germany. Then two announcements of new corporate strategies and products. And pick up my phone at 6:10 to three messages from soccer referees with issues who needed to drop games (and me to find replacements). And things to read. Things to write.

The last thing I read last night before bed served me well. Evagrius Chapter 52 on prayer.

The state of prayer can be aptly described as a habitual state of imperturbable calm.

By “prayer”, he doesn’t not mean when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer/Our Father. Or when you present your list of supplications.

It comes in that quiet time with only you and God fully present.

And after years of that practice, your personality, your life, they change.

And I could breathe. Refocus. And tackle my day one thing at a time.

It doesn’t mean that here at 2 pm I’m not tired. But tired is OK. But not frazzled. Not discouraged. I did what I could. Contributed in the conference call. Learned some new information about information technology. Contacted people. Hopefully encouraged a few.

I am not imperturbable. But like the surface of a pond when a stone is thrown in I have some ripples that gradually lose themselves at the edges and the pond is still once more.

Enter The Story

September 15, 2021

A famous Zen koan says “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

My first rational response years ago was, “Define sound.”

I heard a Zen teacher explain that meditating on this saying and others like it means entering a story. The saying usually makes no “sense” but you meditate on that and enter a story about you.

I thought about how Jesus spoke these sayings. Rational, literalist scholars and students try to parse out all manner of rational explanations. Perhaps they are on the wrong path. Perhaps the path is that of entering the story.

Remember Jesus’s earliest proclamation about the Kingdom of Heaven is here, around us, in us? Let’s take Jesus’s sayings of “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard that grows into a big bush such that the birds of the air can build nests in it.

I’ve heard several scholarly explanations drawing on biology or zoology or even symbolism (birds represent evil and that means…).

What if Jesus is inviting us into story? I desire the kingdom of heaven to dwell within me. I sit in mediation and enter a personal story. I am despondent. My faith feels so small, just like that small grain of mustard. But wait, I love the taste of mustard on my sandwich. Perhaps I have the worth of adding flavor to the world around me. And the seed eventually grows so large that perhaps I can have hope that one day my faith will fill me such that others around can find support.

Perhaps your story is different. That would be OK. It would be your story. You and the kingdom.

And when you leave your mediation chair and go to work how different will you be when you are working and relating to people you meet? That also is a story.

Thinking About Thinking

September 9, 2021

Our rational mind tries to figure things out. But it must start with an assumption. Some sort of starting place. Then it proceeds to think more or less rationally. Perhaps for justification.

Our mind, however, will believe anything we tell it to believe. Our starting point for thinking could be completely wrong. Or flawed. Or incomplete.

We must first find the proper starting point for thinking. Perhaps through prayer, contemplation, meditation, study we see through our fog. We develop a new way of looking at our story.

Look at the way Jesus told stories. Almost always they are designed to shock the hearer’s assumption so that they now think from a new starting point.

Are we shocked by Jesus’ stories? Or have we read them or heard them so often that we miss the point?

Can we pause, breathe, relax and then approach these stories with new eyes, like a child? Maybe we can be shocked again like the original hearers?

Food For the Soul

August 23, 2021

The ancient Desert Father Evagrius called contemplative knowledge food for the soul.

There was a time when contemplation was thought to be reserved for those who had a vocation for it–monks, nuns, recluses, strange people.

Perhaps “ordinary people” just had to work too hard to have time for contemplation. Although I’m not sure that’s the case.

We believe today anyone can be a contemplative. Unfortunately, this general attitude did not evolve from a Christian perspective, although Thomas Merton had an impact. Much of it is “New Age” which is Westernized Hindu and Buddhist meditation. Something where we can sell gurus, incense, candles, pillows, icons. It’s all a business.

As a youth, I actually never heard of Christian contemplation until I “accidentally” discovered St. John of the Cross at the library. What I had heard about was the Beatnik adoption of Zen Buddhist meditation (and espresso with cinnamon sprinkled on it). It fit my personality, this contemplation thing.

It can fit yours. 10-20 minutes daily physically changes your brain. It changes your personality. I was helped for many years in formation by repeating the Jesus Prayer–Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me. After a time you can shorten, then shorten more, until you just sit in the presence of God.

And if you listen, there will be times when God whispers in your consciousness. This should not be ignored. It is a direction for you to go or instructions on whom to meet or a nudge for awareness of what is to come.

It is truly food for the soul.

The Wise Person Seeks Renewal

December 29, 2020

Ancient writers used the metaphor of returning to the root. Return to the source of spiritual nourishment.

Continuous renewal leads to clarity.

Clarity of thought. Clarity of purpose. Clarity of relationships.

Daily we return to the mediation chair or pillow to seek the renewal of the spirit. The rhythm of the daily seeking the spirit measures our spiritual life.

We are approaching the New Year of the Western calendar. The pause in activities for many during this period between Christmas and New Year’s Day is a perfect time to seek a longer range of renewal. Setting our minds on changing a habit that will lead us to clarity. If you are on the Chinese calendar or another one, just push the timing to match.

Pause…Focus on the Spirit of God…Seek renewal with intention. Make the new year a better one within what you can control.

Maintaining Focus and Equanimity

November 2, 2020

Sometimes I lose track of special days and holidays when I sit in meditation. But something reminded me that today is the Eve of the Election in the USA. Without a memory of our history and listening only to candidates and media, you would think this is an unprecedented election. It isn’t.

It might be instructive to check out the 1850s and the rise of the Know Nothing Party. I was taught as a young student that the party got its name from adherents answering “I don’t know” to questions about the party, its leaders, its tenants, and so forth. This party was an attempt to organize American Protestants mobilizing anti-Catholic (by implication anti-immigration), anti-black people, American nativism, and so forth.

Yes, today the election is bitter, divisive, as are almost all elections. Although not all involve strident language as much.

St. Anselm of Canterbury, who lived in another wild time from about 1033–1109, offers some good advice for Americans this week and for everyone at every time, “Flee for a while from your tasks, hide yourself for a little space from the turmoil of your thoughts. Come, cast aside your burdensome cares, and put aside your laborious  pursuits. For a little while give your time to God, and rest in him for a little while. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind, shut out all things save God and whatever may aid you in seeking God; and having barred the door of your chamber, seek him.”

I do not allow myself to dwell on the hype and divisiveness. I acknowledge its existence. It is not my foundation. Seeking God in quiet is my foundation.

Oh, and I’ve already voted. And donated money. I’ve done what I should and can. Now to focus on what I need to do for today.

Silence

September 3, 2020

On the patio at 6 am. Under the huge observant eye of a full moon. With Venus bright on my left.

In the silence where my mind can wander there is still sound. I can hear the traffic on Interstate 90 several miles away. The occasional car in the neighborhood. The morning birds soothing until the Sandhill Cranes begin flying toward their favorite bird feeder by the golf course across the road.

Out of silence comes creativity, love, wholeness.

Silence is a gift to be cultivated with the regularity of the sun and moon.

Quiet the mind periodically with the rhythm of the week or the day.

Find peace.

Learning to Live in the Present Moment

April 30, 2019

Bring our awareness just to the present moment.

It’s a decision. We are mindful that we are alive just for this breath.

Yes, we have much to do, places to go, people to meet.

We can allow ourselves to sit in a fog of worry, feeling overwhelmed by life.

But in the moment we have only now. This task. This call. This breath to take.

It’s our choice.

That is freedom.

Reading Wendy Suzuki’s Healthy Brain, Happy Life a story partly about brain science and partly about her life. She was totally wrapped up in achieving the next thing. Living in the future.

Then she discovered the present moment. Awareness.

And she actually accomplished more.

And lived a more healthy life.

And being a brain scientist understood that she actually changed the physical structure of her brain.

And you can, too, change your brain and change your life. And get more done.

Just take a breath and become aware of now.