Monday, 2 May 2016

Meditation gateways

Six or seven of us have formed a meditation group that meets every fortnight. I think we are quite varied in our approaches. Some of us meditate just about every morning, others less frequently. We also very in our belief bases, from Buddhist through "kind of a bit of a Buddhist," from agnostic to atheist. 

Partly, that last statement is guesswork- we don't discuss beliefs directly because it isn't directly relevant to the practical and deeply rewarding business of meditating together at regular intervals. If it became relevant we'd discuss it, I'm confident of that.

Our basic methodology comes from the classic mindfulness based stress reduction course (MBSR) developed out of the work of John Kabat Zinn and others.

(this above isn't us, btw; our average age is, erm..  a bit higher than this lot's - but there's a nice informal look to this group that is like how we go on)

Lately we have been interested in the potential of words and music to act as gateways to a meditation. Usually, we meditate in silence and only occasionally have a guided meditation. The idea of a verbal or musical gateway is simply to lead in to whatever sort of meditation each of us might then want to carry on with.

On an MBSR retreat or silent day a poem is often read out to the meditators just before a session. Something one of us learned on a Quaker-run retreat is a different use of words, a little further away from the usual MBSR practice, I think.

The ancient Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina involves four stages: read, meditate, pray, contemplate. It does not seek to analyse Christian scriptures but rather sees the words as divine, as powerful in and of themselves. Through the word of God you can exist in a closer relationship to God. (Any devout Catholics out there will have to forgive me if that's a pretty crude summary. They may also have to forgive me truncating and de-Christianising their methodology. Blame the Quakers, they led us to this!)

What we sought to do the other day is derived from that practice, insofar as we were encouraged to read through a number of passages, prose and poetry, until a short sequence of words "spoke" to each of us. In other words, it drew our minds to it, rather than us fussing ourselves up to look for meaning. Let the words find us, perhaps.

We were encouraged not to analyse or judge, but simply and for as long as felt right, to let our minds be with the phrases each of us chose- then to move into a meditation. 

To help us not to judge, to leave the ego out of it as far as possible, the passages were not credited to their authors. We didn't want "Oh no wonder that isn't for me, I've never liked late Romantic poetry," or vice versa, we wanted a kind of mutual attraction to develop between our minds and the words, wherever they came from. Just the words, and not too many of them. Excerpts from excerpts. Words as agents in the service of silent meditation, no more.

Each of us in different ways seemed to find this useful, and interestingly different from our usual practice, because each of us chose the excerpt that suited that individual, rather than all listening to the same poem, and because we did so in silence before moving into silence. (Different, not necessarily better, nb)

So this gateway idea seemed to work well, and we may use it some more. 

Here are a few of the passages we considered, also anonymised in case you fancy the idea.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Like a pebble
that rolls downhill
I arrive at today
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by
 what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance –
and changes us, if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave ...
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
All my larder
“best before”
To travel like a bird, lightly to view
Deserts where stone gods founder in the sand,
Ocean embraced in a white sleep with land;
To escape time, always to start anew.
To settle like a bird, make one devoted
Gesture of permanence upon the spray
Of shaken stars and autumns: in a bay
Beyond the crestfallen surges to have floated.
Each is our wish. Alas, the bird flies blind,
Hooded by a dark sense of destination:
Her weight on the glass calm leaves no impression,
Her home is soon a basketful of wind.
Travellers, we are fabric of the road we go;
We settle, but like feathers on time's flow.
on my empty diary
The pivot of Tao passes through the centre
where all affirmations and denials converge.
He who grasps the pivot is at the still-point
from which all movements and oppositions
can be seen in their right relationship...
Abandoning all thought of imposing a limit or taking sides,  he rests in direct intuition.

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so,
We were made for joy and woe,
And when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go.

Three crows in a bare tree
proclaim the meaning of life
                            as usual

  The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

  Always we hope
someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time it will all turn out.

This is it.
No-one else has the answer.
No other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.

At the centre of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.

There is no need
to run outside
for better seeing,
nor peer from a window.

Rather abide at the centre of your being;
for the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart
and see:
the way to do
is to be.

But nb eventually you need to let go of the words and meditate, in case this happens:

which it might if you start analysing and criticising the passages.

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