Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

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.

Remaining Calm

March 7, 2019

“I use an app to help calm me. I bought a lifetime subscription for $70.”

Her friend remarks, “Well, paying once for a lifetime certainly removes the stress of monthly payments.”

They had just asked why I missed an interview with one of the top four officers of a multi-billion dollar corporation to learn how he was using technology to transform the company and perhaps the industry. It was a big opportunity.

There was just one thing–no one contacted me about the meeting.

I could have reacted in anger. Or with any one of several emotions.

But, things happen. Someone dropped a ball. Or the technology of emails or messaging failed. People who don’t know me misspell my last name by dropping the “n”. What good comes from screaming and blaming?

It took me years to go from quick temper to calm. It isn’t easy. I didn’t have an app.

But as I described to one of my colleagues also at this conference, meditation physically changes your brain. It causes changes in outlook.

It does not work immediately. It takes practice and discipline.

Indeed, it is truly one of the spiritual disciplines–whether you “believe” in the same God as me or follow some other path.

Restful Awareness

February 27, 2019

We have paused our busy-ness. Restful, we become aware.

Aware of the space we occupy. Aware that there are feelings, thoughts, emotions within us. They are not us. Aware even of God.

We can see, perhaps, where our words and our actions diverge. We see clearly saying we love everyone as we are taught in church. Yet, we see our actions where we do not love everyone. We can see where we treat some others as less than human. They are not like us.

Perhaps we become aware that our anxieties are just something within us. We can study them. Under the microscope, they slowly or quickly melt away.

The practice of meditation slowly transforms the mind just as it physically transforms the brain.

Philosophers, theologians, and poets for millennia have revealed the power that comes when we can see ourselves for what we are and thereby achieve a life of awareness.

Settling The Monkey Brain

February 15, 2019

Sometimes thoughts just tumble through our brain like clothes tumbling in the dryer. We sit and try to concentrate on a book or even a TV show (which is designed for distraction) and our attention jumps from one thought to another. Usually totally disconnected from each other.

The meditation practice I was first taught involved not-trying to still those thoughts. “Just let them flit in and out of consciousness while minding to your breath.”

The “goal” if you will was enlightenment. When the thoughts fade away, the monkey brain ceases chatter, and God speaks. That can happen. Millennia of spiritual pilgrims have experienced it.

However, recently I heard a teacher describe the chatter as the brain working out its storehouse of thoughts and settling issues within itself. Sort of like letting worry resolve itself when we realize we are all uptight over the wrong things.

Decades, or even months, of practice of slowing down will have an effect discernible to those around you. Life slows. The constant jumping to conclusions begins to fade.

And even after 50 years of practice, I still must sit in quiet, relax, concentrate on breathing, and let the monkey brain work out its chatter and become quiet so that I can continue the day’s work.