It is not books I need now but experience, the experience of meditation and insight – leading, hopefully, to … I don’t know. Understanding , certainly. Fulfilment hopefully. Anyone can read and amass information. But this knowledge is conceptual and second hand. At best concepts are deductions based on interpretations of direct experience. At worst they are constructs based on anything from imagination to wishful thinking. It is easy to be tempted by these last. They can be warm and comfortable, pandering to the need for reassurance and security. The way of meditation is very lonely and very austere. The other evening I was listening to Gregorian chant while working at the computer. It always transports me back to my days as a monk. I was overcome with a nostalgia, more,  with a longing for the spirituality of the monastery. The Office of Compline is particularly soothing and comforting. In the dark old church the monks gather round the sanctuary lit by the warm light of candles. The beautiful old melodies of the plainchant invoke the protection of God, the Virgin and the saints. None of the terrors of darkness or of the night may penetrate here. Here there is the presence of Christ in a community and fellowship and love. As an individual I am supported and upheld by my membership of the community, by my baptism – making me a child of God – by the presence of Christ. All that is required of me is fidelity to my vows. 

In contrast the way of meditation is very lonely and austere. There are no warm flickering candles, only the all-enveloping darkness. There is no community, but the solitary counter of breaths. There is no reassurance, no God, no Christ only the agonising urge to know. There is also faith – belief that reality is not just this compendium of sensations – and a commitment to persevere. And that is all. Doubt surrounds on every side. Sensations of discomfort, or sleepiness intrude. Waking dreams and hypnagogic fantasies weave their mental tapestries. Hope flickers and gutters dimly in the all-enveloping darkness.

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