This week I visited Cedar Point, my favorite amusement park. It was great! If you like roller coasters Cedar Point is certainly one park you have to experience. After every ride on a roller coaster one of the workers says: “Ride on!” – inviting the people to keep experiencing thrill after thrill. Upon my return I was struck by how much I didn’t want to “ride on” with everyday, ordinary life. I wanted to experience another thrill! I wanted to “ride on!”
How often we want our lives and relationships to be thrilling – and if the thrill isn’t there or wears off – we think something is wrong. But it is in the experience of day to day rhythm where life is lived and peace experienced. It’s certainly good to have peak experiences in our lives and relationships – BUT, if we begin LIVING for these experiences we will find ourselves sorely disappointed. Instead finding a “thrill” in the everyday rhythm, spiritual practice and disciplines of life is a good thing. For me, it is my spiritual practice that is the life blood of who I am. It enriches my life far beyond any thrill! Thrills are fleeting, temporary. A grounding in meditation and prayer is like an eternal, ever present flow of energy. It is not a temporary thrill.
This is the way I want to “ride on” with life. Who knows? If I do, maybe life’s ups and downs won’t feel so much like a roller coaster!
I am reminded again that relationships with God and others take practice.
When I was a child and took music lessons my parents would constantly prod me to practice. Any musician or athlete knows that it takes lots of practice, sometimes tedious practice to develop any sense of ease and freedom in playing. Being a musician I know this and only wish that I had spent more time in practice! We may initially resent our parents or others who lovingly prod and push us to be the best that we can be. In retrospect we may find that they have given us a great gift!
I know it takes lots of practice to develop a talent, but why is it that I think my relationship with God and others should just come automatically? Those skilled at relationships take time working at them. How often do I take the time to resolve an issue in a relationship? Sometimes we just go on, never really talking through or resolving the issue. In terms of our relationship with God, it also takes practice. They don’t call it “spiritual practice,” or “practicing faith” for nothing! But sometimes I get so tired of practicing – taking the time to meditate and pray whether alone or with others. It seems like such a waste of time. There’s so much else to be done!
It is only in daily practice that I gain any skill, depth and freedom as a musician or an athlete and it takes daily practice to gain that same skill, depth and freedom in loving relationships, whether with people or with God. What practices do I have in place that develop my relationship with God and others?
Ever since I was a child I’ve had repeated dreams where I can fly. I literally just bend my legs and lean upward and I fly. At first there is a bit of an unsure feeling, but I quickly get the hang of it and delight in my ability to fly!
A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to attend a day long retreat/teaching with the Dalai Lama. He spoke of meditation within our current frenzied cultural context as a source of peace, focus and something that engenders compassion. He also spoke about the endless chatter that we all have going on in our minds, whether or not we are aware of it. He said: “Who wouldn’t want a break from all that every now and then!”
The other night I had another dream that I was able to fly. As always I woke up feeling sad that it was a dream and that I really can’t fly. Yet, for some reason, this particular dream of flying began to get connected with my meditation. Meditation is a way to fly on this side of life; it’s a taste of the total freedom and total weightlessness that we will experience – both a psychological weightlessness and a physical weightlessness. When one meditates, the deeper we go, the more unaware of our body and mind we are and, in a sense, we begin to fly! Some even say we get more in contact and at one with everything that is around us – because, as physicists say, everything that exists is simply wave energy vibrating at a certain frequency. This creates matter. When we meditate I believe we are in touch with this Energy (capital intentional, i.e., God) at more fundamental levels and so we begin to experience a freedom from this particular body and a unity with all that exists, all Energy – and in this sense, we fly!
Jesus said “the kingdom is at hand,” it’s here! What a blessing and what a relief that we can begin to experience the kingdom right here and now. I believe I can fly!
The silence of no thought
It speaks with increasing volume
Enticing me . . .
“Wanna figure it out?”
“Wanna live well?”
“Wanna die well?”
In this silence, the song rises in my heart again
And I am made new.
As I continue “Just Sitting” – my Zazen practice – I remain intrigued by what it’s doing, yet at the same time trying to be unattached from expectation that anything will come of it. This simple (and not so simple!) opening of the body, spirit and mind connects us directly to Source Energy, God, Spirit and when you think about it, that’s freak’n amazing!! I find myself more aware, looking to see what this silence will bring.
Most of the time I find it difficult not to think, and simply concentrate on my breathing. The mind, the ego will not easily shut up. It does NOT want to give up control! Yet, what a relief it is to stop the incessant chatter within! I can only imagine what this must do to the brain. I can’t help but believe that in the process of this silence of the mind, the brain is literally making new connections. I am convinced that in this silence I am more lined up with Source, and Divine will becomes my will. In this silence the ego is shut up and I somehow feel more directly connected to God – I let go of control. I get out of the way. Maybe that’s what “let go, and let God” means. Normally when I give up control, I find myself, at least apprehensive, if not downright fearful. Yet as a result of this silence I find myself looking forward in hopeful expectation to see what will unfold in my life – and that of the world (because it‘s not just about my life, but affecting the world). Instead of a problem to be solved, life is becoming a Mystery to be lived. I look forward to the journey!
The other day I was made aware of a movie called “Into Great Silence.” It is a documentary film directed by Phillip Groning which portrays the lives of the Carthusian Monks of the Grande Charteuse Monastery high in the French Alps. It’s known to be one of the most austere monasteries. I imagine that many people might be bored out of their minds by this movie, as it definitely takes one “into great silence,” as its title suggests. The movie is around two and a half hours long and most of it is silence. It simply shows the monks in their day to day lives – without offering commentary or explanation. These monks do not talk, except when they are in common prayer and once a week after a meal on Sundays. So it’s quiet! Disturbingly so! Yet, . . . Refreshingly so. Talk about counter-cultural!
After watching this movie I wondered how much we may all be seduced away from the silence by the incessant, and sometimes, unnoticeable noise all around us. I wonder if all the noise that surrounds us, or that we choose to be surrounded by – lulls us into a dull sense of living, and ultimately – in our society – a crisis of meaning.
When I enter into the silence, which is initially disturbing, I am lead to a greater sense of myself, a more peaceful place and, in the process, I become a more compassionate presence in the world. It is nothing short of hard work to stay with silence, but I am becoming more and more conscious of the tremendous difference it makes in my life and work. I feel as if I am slowly being seduced by it. In entering the silence I give up control to a Higher Power, which is initially disturbing. But now I am intrigued by it, curious and interested to see what happens. And something is happening. I don’t quite know what it is, but I know it’s good.
Today I was meditating, and, as often is the case, my mind gets going and I want to get up and start getting something done that I’m thinking about. Sometimes it is “work” just to sit there. Funny huh? “Work” just to sit there?
The White Robed Monks call this “Just Sitting,” a practice adopted from Zen, where one simply sits 15 minutes a day, concentrating on the breath and clearing the mind of all thought. When we do this our mind, our ego revolts. That little voice in our heads just doesn’t want to leave us alone.
What struck me this morning again is that when I want to heed that voice within, when I want to get up and start moving and stop this sitting – I am not trusting! In essence, when I break the meditation and start running, I am saying that I trust more in myself than I do in Divine Power. My experience, however, says that when I stay with this “work,” when I simply sit and make an empty space in my mind, I connect directly with Source Energy, God, the Spirit. Suddenly my work is given energy and much more is accomplished – and somehow – directly as a result of thinking no-thing, my thoughts are clarified and my life is given meaning and direction. It’s like I have suddenly been plugged in!
Can I trust enough to stay with the silent embrace and make a space in my life to connect with Source? Try it. And see what happens!
Jesus often chastises the religious leaders of his time, accusing them of being “blind guides.” How easily any charism which gets institutionalized over time, can begin to loose its way and get hung up on peripheral matters to the exclusion of love and compassion. OK, I’m not going to bash any institution here, but take another road by asking: who are the “guides” that you have in your life? Who do you listen to?
When I look back on my life, those who have been good guides have lead me to a greater sense of clarity and life. There is within me a gut sense whether one is a good guide or a blind guide. I am grateful for the guides that have appeared in various chapters of my life and have lead me to good places. Sometimes this has not been easy. But even challenge has been made with a view to leading me to fuller, happier life.
When we are blessed with a good guide, there is a tendency to “canonize” them. We sometimes put them high on a pedestal and when we discover that they are merely human, like us, we can become disillusioned. No one is perfect.
Who are you listening to in your life? Do you listen to anyone, or have you set yourself up as the ultimate guide? Do you consult? Who are the guides in your life?
I admire the courage of those who have risked their jobs and the support of family, friends and associates to take a stance, to walk in a new way and to make a new dream a reality. It is such people that make things change. It’s like the thoughts that many have, the conversations about how this or that should be different, suddenly become REAL when someone stops talking and starts doing.
“Everyone who has given up home, brothers or sisters, father or mother, wife or children or property for my sake, will receive many times as much . . .” (See Matthew 19: 23-30)
What am I being called to let go of in order to make a new dream a reality?
Moses, the man who lead Israel out of Egypt to the promised land, never himself made it to the promised land. He died before they got there, surrendering the people and the dream into God’s hands.
Those of us who dream a new dream and who work for gay rights, church renewal, the end of hunger and poverty, equality among all people (and the list goes on) may never live to see the “promised land.” We may never live to see the dream take shape. Does that mean that we should not, like Moses, lead others through the desert to this land?
We are sometimes the cornerstone, the building blocks that make a dream a reality – but we may never live to see the dream take shape.
What is your dream? What is a vision for a better world that you hold in your heart?
What is a step that we can take today to get to the promised land? Instead of wondering if we’ll actually see our dream realized, perhaps we should just act as if it will.