Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

Morning darkness

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

 

In the morning darkness

Silence, waiting.

Once, there was expectancy.

Once there was a presence.

Now, silence,

Solitude.

It is not

uncomfortable,

or upsetting,

this waiting.

The Listener

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

There was the Other Voice Owl of the World.  He sat in the world tree laughing in his front voice, only his other voice was not laughing.  His other voice was saying the silence.  He had a way of saying it.  He said it wide and far when he began.  He said it tiny when it came close.  He kept saying the silence like that in his other voice and when he finished the silence swallowed up the sounds of the world and the owl swallowed up the silence.

 

No one knew he was doing it.  He was trying to swallow all the sounds of the world and then there would be no more world because everything would follow its sound into the silence and then it would be gone.  What the owl had in mind was to get it all swallowed and then fly away.  He only did it at night.  He thought he’d get some of it swallowed every night until the whole world was gone away.

 

No one knew what the owl was doing except for a child.  He didn’t have any eyes.  He listened all the time.  When he heard the owl saying the silence in his other voice he heard the silence swallowing up the sounds of the world, little and big, from the wind sighing in the trees to the ants crying in their holes.  The child knew the owl was trying to say the whole world away and he knew it was up to him to stop the owl, so he began to listen everything back.  He listened far and wide when he began, he listened tiny when it came close.  The eye of the goat and the dance in the stone and the beetle digging a grave for the sparrow. He listened them into his ear holes and he kept them all safe there.  The foot steps of the moth and the sea foam hissing on the strand.  He listened everything back.

 

The child only kept the sounds in his ear holes at night.  He kept them safe till morning.  When the cock crowed in the middle of the night it never fooled him, nor when he crowed again before first light.  He kept the sounds safe in his ear holes till the day stood up and the cock of the morning crowed everything awake.  Then the child unheard the sounds and they went back to where they lived.  The child was laughing at the owl, but the owl didn’t know it.  He thought he had done a good night’s work.  He sat in the world tree grooling and smarling all day, thinking he would get the whole world gone, only he never did.

 

The owl keeps trying and he’ll do it one day.  All it takes is for no one to be listening everything back.  He will go the world away and himself with it and that’ll be the end of it.  But it may not be for a while yet.  Not as long as there is a child to listen.

Why Religion

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

(Notes for a talk given to the Kilkee Civic Trust 19/08/2009)

For someone born and brought up here in the forties and fifties the question ‘Why religion?’ was a nonsense question. One no more questioned the why of religion than one questioned the sea, or the sky, or the fact that there were people. It was there, a fact of life, and belief was absorbed in much the same way as language, or manners. Nevertheless, there was an explanation for religion, just as there were answers for all the those impenetrable questions that young children ask – like, ‘Where was I before I was born?’. The answer is a story Christians know as ‘salvation history’.

The View from Inside

This story begins, appropriately enough, in the beginning with the creation of the world by God, then the creation of the first man and woman, followed by the story of their descendants and their long, often problematic, relationship with God. It is a story we all know well.
The story culminates, for Christians anyway, in the birth of God’s son, Jesus. He is the final revelation of God, God himself in human form. Interestingly enough, Jesus never says that he is divine. Nor does anybody, neither his followers nor his enemies, suspect for a minute, that he is anything other than a man. An extraordinary man, but a man nonetheless. It was only later, after his  resurrection, that it began to dawn on his followers that ‘God was in Christ’.
After his death his followers, the Apostles, spread his teaching which caught on with people to such an extent that in less than three hundred years the Church had become accepted throughout the Roman Empire and for the next twelve hundred years was to dominate European life, culture, politics and history. Today it has spread throughout the world and over the course of that time has produced many remarkable men and women.
That’s the Catholic story. I was quite proud to be a member of this privileged institution and happy with its answer to the question, ‘Why religion?’ Until, that is, shortly after I left school. I was in New York. I came to know a Jewish girl called Stephanie who was studying comparative religion at Columbia University. She was delighted to come across a cradle Catholic who, she hoped, might be able to explain some of the anomalies of Catholicism. It turned out that Stephanie knew more about my religion and religion in general than I did and that my answers to her questions were inadequate, to say the least. Wherever I went, America, the Far East, the UK, I found that I was a member of a small group of Catholics, sometimes the only member. I had become one of those slightly odd religious people. I did come across other religious people but I found their religion strange, just as they did mine.
I eventually ended up teaching in England. I often think you learn more from your pupils than they do from you. In one of my classes there was a girl from India, a Hindu.  She was very bright and unlike many of the other girls she was not vapid, or shallow, or bitchy. She had a deep faith and fasted one day a week. She sat at the back of the class and I often caught her shaking her head sadly at me as I explained some Catholic teaching or other. So one day I held her back after class and asked her why she shook her head. ‘Mr. Glynn’, she said, ‘you Catholics think you know it all.’ And I suddenly saw myself as she must have seen me – caught up in a very narrow mindset. And I caught a glimpse of another religion, Hinduism, a religion I then knew very little about, which had produced this remarkable person with such a deep spirituality. So what was the origin of Hinduism? God, we Catholics had been taught, had only revealed himself to the Jews and to Christians. Yet here was an undoubtedly holy person with a deeper and more profound faith than any of her Christian contemporaries – a Hindu. Educated in a Catholic convent school she knew as much about Catholicism as any of the other girls, yet it held no attractions for her. The level at which she lived her faith put pretty well everyone else in the school, myself included, to shame. I suddenly saw that thinking along the lines – true religion – false religion – (and the Catholic religion is the only true religion, we were taught – all the others are false) was to go about things the wrong way. There is no such thing as religion – true or false. Religion is an abstract concept. It exists only as an idea in the mind. What there is is religious people, people who are religious.
My encounters with these two girls, although there were years between them, were a reality check. They made me realise that mentally I was living in quite a small bubble and very ignorant of the mindsets, the thoughts, feelings, hopes and aspirations of my fellow human beings. (more…)

Lumières

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

I have been reading the Carthusian’s two articles on prayer and find them a great help. Not only for what he has to say but also because they are written from the experience of someone who has left everything for the silence and the solitude of the cloister, who has lived in this austerity for years and come to terms with it. God is a mystery which has hovered around the verges of my consciousness all my life. From time to time in the past He was a presence – a vague sense of being there. Lately, however, when I might have hoped that this intimacy would have developed He has been absent. Not just absent in the sense of gone away but still there somewhere else, but non-existent, dead, never was or could be. So, while intellectually I understand what is going on, this does not make it any easier to bear. And this is where faith comes in, about which the Carthusian has much to say. All we have is what he calls la lumière de foi, and it is a very dark light. He goes on to say, 

Tout le reste demeure en deçà de ce que Dieu nous offre depuis le jour où Jésus est ressuscité. Toutes les autres lumières de l’intelligence, toutes les autres expériences spirituelles sur lesquelles nous aimerions parfois prendre appui, sont respectables, dignes d’estime, mais finalement elles ne sont sources de vie que dans la mesure où elles sont porteuses de foi.*.

I like the idea that the various spiritual experiences we have during life ‘deliver/transport/carry’ faith, or perhaps better, carry us on our spiritual journey until we are well out into the dark desert. And then leave us, as much as to say, “OK, you’re grown up now and this is as far as we can go.”All the porters have gone leaving me with all my baggage. There is something funny, something slightly ridiculous at the idea of me sitting here  all the other ‘lumières’ having been extinguished and all I have now is faith, at times a very feeble candle in an all-enveloping darkness.

[*http://www.chartreux.org/textes/fr/Priere_du_coeur.htm]

Prayer

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Prayer – nothing changes. I come to it as to a sort of coming home. Nothing happens. There are no feelings – but there is a sort of linkage.

Tonglen

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

I came across the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen (Tonglen – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia the other day and have been profoundly struck by it. I must have encountered it before but I cannot remember. Obviously it did not particularly strike me then. Things have changed. For a start I am much more aware of what is going on in the world, especially the suffering of others in places like Palestine and Iraq, and of the callous injustice and ruthless exploitation by rich and powerful countries and corporations. Paradoxically, the more one withdraws into solitude and prayer the more one feels oneself to be at the heart of things. It always struck me as odd that in the Eucharist all the emphasis is placed on communion with Christ and none, or almost none, on our (by virtue of our joint participation) union with each other. As far as I am aware theistic mystical experience is bipolar, operating in a vertical dimension only. It does not include the experience of communion with others in Christ. Why? And yet, what is the experience of the impulse to practice tonglen if not a sense of union with others?

Solitude

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I came across this which struck a chord – 

« Parfois, d’une façon soudaine, une Présence surgit à l’improviste. Les yeux extérieurs ne distinguent aucune forme. Le regard intérieur ne découvre pas de trace ».*

And also this (Merton on interior solitude) – 

And he takes upon himself the lonely, barely comprehensible, incommunicable task of working his way through the darkness of his own mystery until he discovers that his mystery and the mystery of God merge into one reality. That God lives in him and he in God – not precisely in the way that the words seem to suggest (for words have no power to comprehend the reality) but in a way that makes words, and even attempts to communicate, seem utterly illusory.

Every man is a solitary, held firmly by the inexorable limitations of his own aloneness. Death makes this very clear… Each one will have to die, and die alone. And, at the same time (but this is what they do not want to see) each one must also live alone… the wrestling with one’s solitude is also a life-work – a ‘life-agony’. When a man is called to be a solitary – (even if only interiorly) – he does not need to be anything else, nor can anything else be demanded of him except that he remain physically or spiritually alone fighting his battle which few can understand. His function in the Church – a social function and a spiritual one – is to remain in the ‘cell’ of his aloneness, whether it be a real cell in the desert, or simply the spiritual cell of his own incomprehensible emptiness; and, as the desert fathers used to say, his ‘cell will teach him all things’.**

That really struck home. The extraordinary thing, and Merton mentions this too, the more solitary you are the more you are aware of others, especially those who are suffering in places like Palestine, Iraq and Africa, the more you feel the bonds which link us all, the more prayer seems to matter.

[* http://jm.saliege.com/confdavy1.htm Marie Madeleine Davy (1903-1998) Le Desert Interieur

** Thomas Merton, Disputed Questions, Hollis and Carter, London 1961, p. 180/1]

Silence

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Much of Eckhart’s rhetoric is beyond me and bears no relation to anything I have experienced or can imagine, but he has a couple of points that seem to me to be of supreme importance. The foremost of these is the birth of Christ in the soul. The purpose of life is to allow God to be God in us. At present prayer for me has become a clearing away of all the stuff, ideas, preoccupations, fears, desires, emotions, etc. that impose themselves between my attention and God. It is a seeking to arrive at an emptiness and silence and hold myself there in the (believed in but) unseen and unfelt presence of God. It is not always possible to achieve this silence but when it is there is an intangible sense of presence. So it was very interesting when I came across a paper on Prayer of the Heart by a Carthusian the other day.( la prière du cœur) He had some very sound things to say about asceticism, but it is what he had to say about silence that particularly struck me, especially since I have been so influenced by Buddhist meditation for so long.

He makes the point that there are many types of silence and that not all are good. The first temptation, he says, is de faire du silence un agir, to make a performance, a ‘something to be done, something to be achieved’ of the silence. With mind and feelings at rest one thinks that one has arrived at a true silence de l’être. In fact, the silence is the result of willpower, a subtle and, he says, pernicious action because, instead of being open to God we are, in fact, in a self-supported state. In the case of someone with a strong will this can be a major obstacle to their being open to the prompting of the Spirit. While the silence may be profound it is inward-looking and self-maintained. Allied to this is the temptation to make silence itself the goal, to think that the raison d’être of the contemplative life, of prayer, is silence. In so doing one comes to a stop at a material, a natural state of being. One does not go on to the encounter with God, with the Son, with the Spirit. It is this state of silence that matters, he thinks, rather than the  loving relationship with God. This is not prayer but the contemplation of oneself.

Analogous to this is the temptation of make of silence a reality in itself. Silence alone matters. From the moment the noises of the senses, the mind and imagination cease we begin to experience a profound state of joy and peace. That becomes all that matters. We look for nothing more. Anything that intrudes into this silence, even if it comes from God, is regarded as an obstacle and rejected.

In spite of all this silence is extremely important and cannot be valued too highly. But if one wants to enter the authentic silence one has to renounce silence. This is not to say that one avoids it, or refuses to seek it, but that one does not make of it the goal of ones striving. One often thinks that silence is simply the result of a state of peace in the mental and emotional faculties. This is partly it but it is also necessary that there be silence in the depths where heart and will are united. Rather than the will being self-centred it becomes open to God, pure availability, attentiveness and welcome. He concludes – Dieu seul suffit : tout le reste est néant. This is when, as Eckhart puts it, Christ is born in the soul.

Nothingness

Saturday, March 1st, 2008

It is getting difficult to say much about meditation. It struck me today that I have been practising the koan mu. Not by saying it, or thinking it, but just by being in it. I came across this passage by the Abbé Bremond in van Bragt which resonated when I read it.

…astonishment of finding oneself somewhere where there is no sky or earth or fire or water or light or colour…or even any creature to keep one company, but only a wide desert and infinite emptiness, invisible and incomprehensible, eternal and immobile without any limitation, …where one sees nothing, hears nothing, is unable to touch anything or hold on to anything. One would there be suspended between being and non-being. In that condition… this saint found herself and there she saw God only… in the annihilation of all her ideas. [Grasset: Vie de Madame Hélyot, quoted in Mommaers P., and van Bragt J., Mysticism Buddhist and Christian: Encounters with Jan van Ruusbroec, Crossrad, New York 1995 p.24]

 

The seeing God bit does not apply to me but the emptiness, the nothingness has a numinous quality. There is a feeling of …being connected is the only way I can describe it. Everything and everyone is present and there are no barriers of time and space. I don’t mean ‘present’ in a physical, or even an imaginary sense. It is just that time and space are no longer categories which have meaning. 


The Listening Owl

Monday, February 18th, 2008

I was meditating this morning, dark and difficult as usual and afterwards I remembered the story of the Listening Owl. It is not like any other story I have read. I cannot remember where I came across it now – some book of stories for children – but this is no ordinary child’s story. It is a story for adults too, but only for those who can suspend belief and see and wonder with a child’s eyes. Here is the story:

The Listener

There was the Other Voice Owl of the World.  He sat in the world tree laughing in his front voice, only his other voice was not laughing.  His other voice was saying the silence.  He had a way of saying it.  He said it wide and far when he began.  He said it tiny when it came close.  He kept saying the silence like that in his other voice and when he finished the silence swallowed up the sounds of the world and the owl swallowed up the silence.

No one knew he was doing it.  He was trying to swallow all the sounds of the world and then there would be no more world because everything would follow its sound into the silence and then it would be gone.  What the owl had in mind was to get it all swallowed and then fly away.  He only did it at night.  He thought he’d get some of it swallowed every night until the whole world was gone away.

No one knew what the owl was doing except for a child.  He didn’t have any eyes.  He listened all the time.  When he heard the owl saying the silence in his other voice he heard the silence swallowing up the sounds of the world, little and big, from the wind sighing in the trees to the ants crying in their holes.  The child knew the owl was trying to say the whole world away and he knew it was up to him to stop the owl, so he began to listen everything back.  He listened far and wide when he began, he listened tiny when it came close.  The eye of the goat and the dance in the stone and the beetle digging a grave for the sparrow. He listened them into his ear holes and he kept them all safe there.  The foot steps of the moth and the sea foam hissing on the strand.  He listened everything back.

The child only kept the sounds in his ear holes at night.  He kept them safe till morning.  When the cock crowed in the middle of the night it never fooled him, nor when he crowed again before first light.  He kept the sounds safe in his ear holes till the day stood up and the cock of the morning crowed everything awake.  Then the child unheard the sounds and they went back to where they lived.  The child was laughing at the owl, but the owl didn’t know it.  He thought he had done a good night’s work.  He sat in the world tree grooling and smarling all day, thinking he would get the whole world gone, only he never did.

The owl keeps trying and he’ll do it one day.  All it takes is for no one to be listening everything back.  He will go the world away and himself with it and that’ll be the end of it.  But it may not be for a while yet.  Not as long as there is a child to listen.


 

It suddenly struck me that this is what contemplative prayer is all about. It is dark. There are no images, brilliant ideas, or wonderful thoughts. It is simply a dark night and sometimes there is a sense of presence but usually there isn’t. Yet, paradoxically – at least with me – there has been a profound awareness of others, especially of those suffering and struggling. The horror stories from all over the world that fill the news have a personal impact and fill me with sadness. It is as though all the joy, tolerance, love,  generosity and goodness  of people is being swallowed up by the dark forces who have the power to enforce their will on the rest of us. All the hypocritical ‘front voice’ rhetoric about freedom, democracy and the rule of law means nothing in the face of the ‘other voice’ exercise of overwhelming power in the service of selfishness and greed. 

This is why it is so important for the blind child in all of us to listen back the love, courage, generosity and goodness that the ‘other voice’ darkness is trying so desperately to swallow up.