An excerpt from Laurence Freeman OSB, “Dearest Friends,” Christian Meditation Newsletter, Vol 35, #2, July 2011, pp. 4-5.
Global media wallpapers our life with the problems of the world in which we are meant to see our own issues reflected.
The danger of this is that we become desensitized and less capable of compassion, real attention and caring for others. Our hearts harden. Or, we become disconnected from our own issues and take flight from reality in a virtual world. So, the first step to true care is to sit and face ourselves without judgment or comparison. We may feel waves of shame or sadness, grief or anger. These we must accept but we should dismiss the self-indulgent temptations of guilt. Stillness gradually bestows detachment from our problems. It saves us from having to wallow in them, like water-buffalo, in the mud of self-centeredness. Constantly turning over our problems obsessively is exhausting and can be a sign of mental disease. If we see that we are unable to detach from our problems we need to seek care.
But generally we have some measure of control. We can let go of our worries and anxieties as Jesus advises us in his teaching on prayer. These anxieties are manifold, the daily glitches that pass with a good night’s sleep, the losses that are still awfully present when we awaken, the deeper patterns of our character with their roots in pre-conscious memory. Wisdom and forgiveness begin their work as soon as we step back from them and stop blaming the world or our parents or our enemies and realize that we are the problem. This first step on a mature spiritual path may take years. Once taken, however, we are able to discern the different levels of suffering and dissatisfaction we have to work through, those we can handle ourselves, those we have to seek help for and those we simply have to transcend.
Meditation sharpens and accelerates this discernment. In all traditions deep, silent, non-conceptual prayer is seen to occupy the heart of faith and to open the door to union with God. The Sufis speak of ‘dhikr’ or the remembrance of God which is arrived at through the repetition of the name of God. In its simplicity it is said to contain all forms of prayer and ‘frees us from all confusion and discomfort’. The Qu’ran reminds us that ‘no object is worthy of worship except God’ and therefore there is no other ultimate goal or real existence. Seeing this, we also see why we should ‘attach no value to anything you have lost…but never lose your time’. Jesus’ commandment of love – God, neighbor and self – and the urgency of his teaching tone similarly translate into the mindfulness with which we pay absolute attention to God. We can then willingly sell all we have in the sheer joy of finding the treasure of the Kingdom buried in our heart.
Nevertheless, the cares of life easily overwhelm us. They can make us self-fixated, forgetful, insensitive, ignorant and stupid. We forget that God exists. We ignore the needs of our neighbors. We lose the capacity for wonder. We sleepwalk to the grave. Ascesis – spiritual work – is the cure for the careworn. It teaches us to handle problems and to live in freedom despite them. It dissolves hardness of heart as we become more sensitive and responsive, more open to the beauty of the world and the needs of others including those who greedily grab before they ask. Ascesis – like our twice-daily meditation – transforms the energy blocked in our ego and negative patterns of thought and behavior. Wisely we come to accept that we will not - in this life of cares - ever have everything we want. But then liberation dawns as we accept that the real problem lies not in the not-having but in the wanting itself.
After meditation: W.S. Merwin, “To the Unfinished,” THE NATION, April 14, 2003.
Clear eminence without whom I would be
nothing oh great provision never seen
barely acknowledged even wished away
you in whose immeasurable presence
the darkness itself comes to be itself
and light recalls its colors and each sound
your undertone I have forgotten when
I first woke into knowing you were there
before words ever reached me but that time
under your wing
is still with me you have carried it all
the way along with faces that surface
appearing almost as they were before
and with the spring
that returns through its leaves never the same
you have brought me once more to the old house
after all these years of remembering
it was you who kept opening the way
offering me what I had to choose it is
you who come bringing me the only day
in the morning
Carla Cooper - firstname.lastname@example.org