Print Story A Sunday meditation
By ana (Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 08:35:10 PM EST) Contemplation (all tags)
Weekend doings. Angst level: low. 

 So Saturday I had 3 choices of things to do, all of them at least sort of religious.
  • The funeral of a member of the parish. She's been battling cancer since I knew her, maybe 10 years now. She has 2 kids and a husband left behind.
  • The ordination of an acquaintance to the priesthood. She's the wife of a woman I've sung with occasionally. I'm in favor of more out queer people in the clergy.
  • A workshop at the local monastery on meditation and contemplative prayer.
In some ways it was a choice of the past, the future, or the present. I chose the workshop.

I'm told the funeral was very nice; the church was full to standing room, which is good, if only to let the survivors know we care.1

And I'm looking forward to finding out where The Rev. Ms. M will be ministering. Options are good.

So, the workshop. The Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) is an Anglican religious order of celibate monks, many (but not all) of them priests2. It was founded in Cowley, UK, in the late 19th century. There's a house in Cambridge (the hither one), and at least at one point there was one in Toronto, and there've also been houses in Japan and the UK (presumably Cowley), and perhaps others. Their website doesn't seem to say anything about other houses.

Anyway, Brother Robert was offering a workshop on the above topic, so after some hesitation, I signed up. It turns out it was sold out, so something like 70 people sat in a big circle around the edges of the undercroft (basement under the monastery chapel), with himself at one end of the oval.

We  listened to silence. We did it again. And again. We talked about distractions, and what to do about them.

We were aware of bodily sensations, first in a kind of inventory, and then just noticing them for what they were, dismissing them, and waiting for the next one. And then we did the same with thoughts. Which brings the very odd sensation of "There's a thought--and now a thought about thinking--and now a twice-meta thought about that" kind of a thing.

We talked about posture. But mostly we talked about concentrating on only one thing, dismissing all distractions as they arise, and returning to the exercise.

It's peaceful. It's also scary sometimes. One woman described having a panic attack during one of the early exercises. Brother Robert suggested maybe this technique isn't for her, or if she wants to pursue it, to do so with a teacher, one on one, who can observe and advise. Which seemed good solid advice. But staring into the abyss, into the silence, can be frightening.

He says that the human mind works as a series of thoughts with spaces between. The point of this style of meditation is to enlarge the spaces, and experience the blank mind in between thoughts.

Where, Brother Robert says, it's possible to encounter God, in a way that does not involve words, or ideas, or images, or concepts. "If you can think it, it's not God," says St. Augustine.

When I was in college, nearly 40 years ago now, I read some of the Spanish mystics; St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila. Also a remarkable English book from the middle ages, called Cloud of Unknowing. All of these describe essentially this method. Perhaps it's time to re-read.

It's good to be reminded of some of my roots. And to be encouraged to return to some of them.

And two of the 3 NFL teams from cities near where I've lived for over a decade each lost this weekend, leaving all my proverbial eggs in New England's basket. I could to worse, it appears.

1 Though this kind of sympathy is strictly limited in its subject material. If your grief doesn't fit the program, check it at the door when you enter the church, kthxbye.

2 Note that celibacy is not required of priests in the Anglican Communion. It is strictly a voluntary discipline.

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A Sunday meditation | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)
Denver and.... by dev trash (2.00 / 0) #1 Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:23:42 PM EST
The sitting in the basement part reminded me of a podcast I had listened to recently where they did an experiment with LSD, the conclusion I think was that LSD and the like can actually bring on a religious wakening.  I can't recall which podcast it was, or even if it's relevant here, just that I was reminded of it.

It was a odd playoff weekend, the Steelers are out, so Ravens and Cincy can lose.  Don't like the Mannings, so Denver can lose.  Don't like the Harbaughs, so San Fran can lose. Don't think the Pats can win without cheating so they can lose.

Guess that means I'm a Falcons fan for now.


ah yes by dev trash (2.00 / 0) #5 Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 09:21:18 PM EST
it was an episode of RadioLab.  Listened to it on a ride home to see the parents for the holidays.

[ Parent ]
It's true. by ana (4.00 / 0) #4 Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 10:04:45 AM EST
There was nothing specifically Christian, or even particularly religious, about this workshop, or about the practices it talked about. And there are strong similarities between the mystical traditions of major religions. For example, Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist monk, died in 1968 in Bankok, while attending an interfaith conference on mysticism and mystical practices. He was especially interested in the Zen tradition.

I now know what the noise that is usually spelled "lolwhut" sounds like. --Kellnerin

A Sunday meditation | 3 comments (3 topical, 0 hidden)