Readings for 5/2/2012

An excerpt from Laurence Freeman OSB, “Meditation,” JESUS THE TEACHER WITHIN (New York: Continuum, 2000), pp. 212-213.

When he tells us not to worry, Jesus is not denying the reality of daily problems. It is anxiety he is telling us to abandon, not reality. Learning not to worry is hard work. . . .[Yet] despite its “attention-deficiency disorder,” even the modern mind has its natural capacity to be still and to transcend its fixations.

 In depth it discovers its own clarity where it is at peace, free from anxiety. Most of us have half-a-dozen or so favorite anxieties, like bitter sweets we suck on endlessly.

We would be frightened to be deprived of them. Jesus challenges us to go beyond the fear of letting go of anxiety, the fear we have of peace itself. The practice of meditation is a way of applying his teaching on prayer; it proves through experience that the human mind can indeed choose not to worry.

This is not to say we can easily blank the mind and dispel all thoughts at will. In meditation we remain distracted and yet are free from distraction. This is because---however minimally at first---we are free to choose where to place our attention. Gradually the discipline of daily practice strengthens this freedom. It would be childish to imagine that this is fully realized in a short time. We stay distracted for a long time. We soon get used to distractions as traveling companions on the path of meditation. But they do not have to dominate. Choosing to say the mantra faithfully and to keep returning to it whenever distractions intervene exercises the freedom we have to pay attention.

It is not a choice in the sense in which we choose a particular brand off the supermarket shelf. It is the choice to commit. The way of the mantra is an act of faith, not a movement of the ego’s power. Within every act of faith there is a declaration of love. Faith prepares the ground for the seed of the mantra to germinate in love. We do not create the miracle of life and growth by ourselves, but we are responsible for its unfolding. Coming to peace of mind and heart—to silence, stillness, and simplicity---requires not the will of a type-A high-achiever, but the unconditional attention, the sustained fidelity of a disciple.

After Meditation: “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods,” Mary Oliver, NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (Boston: Beacon, 1992), pp. 83-84.

I’d seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them—I swear it!—

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.