On the wall, facing me as I sit at my desk, are some words calligraphed on canvas by my friend John Rowlands-Pritchard, the founder of Opus Anglicanum. The words are: ‘At midnight noon is born.’
It is a reminder that at those moments of deepest darkness in our lives a new life is stirring, a new day will dawn with fresh opportunities. Nature has its own wisdom.
I recall how my life’s companion, Hywel Jones, in the first years of our knowing each other, wrote to me after spending a few days with his family in the village of Llangynog in the Berwyn Mountains. ‘The wonderful peace and quiet of the dark that I remember from my childhood is still here,’ he wrote. ‘We must try and spend some time together here, because after dark the mountains and the stillness have a kind of spiritual quality and I am sure it would help us to share it together.’
This is one of the things one learns from the practice of meditation: to wait, not knowing when the dawn will come – but certain, nonetheless, that our inner sun will rise.
At one level meditation can be seen as a natural process – clearing away distractions in order to have a more direct access to our unconscious. At another level it can be seen as establishing a link with the Transcendent, that union with God of which both Sufis and Christians speak.
When Jesus prays of his companions ‘that they may all be one, as you, Father, and I are one – that they may be in me, and I in them, as I am in you,’ he is not speaking of a united Church but of the profound connection that one experiences through the practice of meditation. In spite of all differences, we perceive our common humanity. This is also at the heart of Buddhism: compassion for all sentient beings.
The words ‘Be still and know that I am God’ which in our meditation group we all say aloud before entering the Silence, speak of an existential experience of Something Other. Some may call this God or a Higher Power, though that is only a name. Some, like Carl Jung, may refer to it as the Self, with a capital S. It is also a realisation that the whole of creation, of which we are a part, is still unfolding. As James Dean’s character in the film Rebel Without A Cause, cries out, ‘But Mum, we are all involved!’ There is a pattern and a purpose which, occasionally, we are fortunate to glimpse. There is an intelligence behind the entire universe.
I’ve noticed that at exhibitions these days everyone is so busy taking Selfies in front of famous paintings that they don’t seem to give themselves time to absorb the art.
In the same way both Twitter and Facebook, while useful, too often encourage off-the-cuff, unthought-through, comments. I recall Robert Frost saying, ‘You don’t take notes during a love affair. You experience it, you live with it and through it. Only later may you want to make some observation.’
Real insights take time, grow out of silence, and in due course flower into words. It is interesting that in her first novel, The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf has someone ask a young writer what kind of books he wants to write, and he replies, ‘Books about silence – about the things that people do not say.’
Mother Teresa once wrote, ‘Loving as He loves; helping as He helps; giving as He gives; serving as He serves; being with Him 24 hours.’
Working with the terminally ill our aim is be present as fully as we can. We may be tempted to preach to the dying and to give them our spiritual formula. We must avoid this temptation absolutely. Our task is not to convert anyone to anything but to help them get in touch with their own inner strength. Above all we need to allow the dying person to pass on in silence and in dignity. There is no greater gift that we can give than allowing a person to die well.
I have found that to sit for an hour or more in total silence, holding the hand of a dying person, is more powerful than any words – which is not to say that there may be occasions when some words of reassurance are called for. But the main thing is that we should be totally present.
Dom Bede Griffiths wrote, ‘There is a deep centre in your being where God is always present. In this deep centre you are loved by God. You are in Him and He is in you.’
Similarly St Augustine wrote, ‘I was searching without while you were within, more inward than my most inmost self’, a view echoed by that great mystic, Meister Eckhart: ‘God is closer to me than myself.’
It is interesting that Jung, as a psychologist, wrote, ‘Every day I am thankful to God that I have been allowed to experience the reality of the Divine Image within me.’ As Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of heaven is within you.’
Slowly, if we persevere in deep meditation, each of us will come to this realisation. God is indefinable, but we shall sense a presence within us, and around us. Indeed, as Joseph Campbell once wrote, ‘One has only to know and trust and the ageless guardians will appear.’ We are never alone.
When the pain of rejection or the experience of someone’s animosity is so intense, we need to breathe in the pain and then release it on the outgoing breath. We take the spear right into our hearts. We breathe in the pain and then release it. And, if need be, we do this for half an hour or whatever is the length of our meditation. It won’t automatically heal the wound, but if we persevere we sense a change, perhaps even learning to accept that there are some situations in life which may never be resolved.
I am reminded of an exercise I often used in my ritual workshops. People would form pairs and, seated in chairs facing each other, would be asked to gaze into their partner’s eyes for twenty minutes, never looking away, but gazing as lovers do. In this silence, in this gazing, each enters deeply into the other, unafraid, becoming naked and vulnerable, meeting at a depth that we rarely achieve.
I am reminded too of the story of the Buddha’s wordless sermon. It tells how, towards the end of his life, he was sitting out of doors with his disciples when he picked a flower and, without saying anything, held it up. Alone among the group one young monk, looked at the Buddha, smiled and nodded. The Buddha smiled back, for he knew that the monk had understood in silence what no words could express.
We live at a time when, increasingly, we need to study and absorb other religious traditions, for the emergence of a global society has brought with it the idea that we must develop a new consciousness and identity as world citizens, finding enrichment by relating to wider perspectives.
The only true way forward is the way within. It is a movement that must well up within each one of us. The way forward is quite simply the way inwards. That is the way in.
The Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, only a few days before his death, said to a gathering of Buddhist and Christian monks in Sri Lanka:
We are going to have to create a new language of prayer. And this new language of prayer has to come out of something which transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love. We have to part now, aware of the love that unites us, the love that unites us in spite of real differences… The things that are on the surface on nothing, what is deep is the Real. We are creatures of love.
Reading these words I recall those of Dom Bede Griffiths in his ashram in India. Holding up his hand, he pointed to each finger in turn, saying, ‘This finger represents Hinduism, this Buddhism, this Christianity, this Judaism, this Islam.’ Then, pointing towards the centre of his palm, he added, ‘And it is here at the centre, that we all meet.’ In his last days increasingly repeated the phrase, ‘Go beyond! Go beyond!’
There are statues of smiling Buddhas, and the images of such contemporary Buddhist teachers as the Dalai Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche and many more, show them as laughing.
Someone once sent me a card which I have pinned up in front of me. It reads, ‘Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves – for they will have endless amusement!’
We can become too earnest about our practice of meditation; we can try too hard. I often recall the words of my Alexander teacher: ‘Be focused, but not intense!’
Lightness and ease, a sense of mischief, bubbling laughter, are among the priceless gifts of deep meditation.