Meditation is like being seated at a threshold, waiting, doing nothing other than listening to the Silence, sensing that what is beyond is also all around us and deep within us – bringing, as Wordsworth wrote, ‘intimations of immortality’.
Whenever I sit to meditate I make the sign of the cross, not in the name of the Trinity, but as a symbol of the integration of the opposites within myself. At the end of the meditation I make the sign of the cross: on my forehead that my thoughts may be true; on my lips that my words may be true; on my heart that the flame within may burn steadily; and finally on the area of my sexuality. This last is important and is so often left out of the spiritual journey, yet it is a very powerful energy and needs harnessing. Even when, with advanced years, there is no sexual activity or desire, nonetheless it remains psychologically an essential part of one’s being.
From the dimension of reality that is beyond all verifiable dimensions, from beyond time and space, we receive intimations of meaning that sustain us. It has nothing to do with the imagination or with fantasy; rather, it is another kind of knowing, a received knowledge, intuitive rather than intellectual. Our age so venerates the intellect that it is chary of that which cannot be neatly analysed and catalogued by the intellect.
Each one of us is capable of tuning in to this other dimension of reality through prayer or meditation, through the heightened awareness that comes from an inner listening. For there is within us all the wisdom we can ever need.
There are a few who in the practice of meditation climb so high that they can see from the top of the mountain. They are the mystics, to be found in all religions. The rest of us trudge along the foothills, knowing we may never glimpse the summit. And the journey is rarely easy. All who have walked the route to Compostela know how rough the terrain can be, and how on arrival at a hostel one sometimes finds the toilet rolls have run out or one is kept awake by the loud snores of fellow travellers! A pilgrimage makes demands. But we plod on!
In past centuries those wanting to enter a monastery would be made to stand outside for three days and nights. Only if they persevered would they then be admitted as postulants. And so it is with all who meditate. We sit outside a door waiting for it to open. Occasionally it does. We hear music from beyond and yet we know it is not our time to enter. It is our task to wait patiently at the threshold. That is all we have to do.
The entering of grace
By the open door
Of a house made ready.
This haiku is from The Ungainsayable Presence. The book, now out of print, was published anonymously. I knew the author. He had a demanding public life; but very few people know that he was a mystic, who began each day with four hours of silent meditation and reading.
All we have to do in meditation is sit patiently at the threshold.
There are many maxims relating to trees that are worth reflecting on:
What is well rooted survives.
As the twig bends so the tree will grow.
Severed branches grow again.
The whole tree is hidden in the acorn.
Every tree is known by its fruit.
A rotten tree bears rotten fruit.
Trees are full of secrets.
A tree’s rootedness points to our rootlessness.
It was seated in meditation under the of a pipal fig tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. And there is Jesus’ story about the tiny mustard seed which when planted grows into a great tree, so that birds perch in its branches. Perhaps it was this image which prompted some words to come to me once in a meditation, and which I asked the calligrapher John Rowlands-Pritchard to make into a card – now on display at the Bleddfa Centre:
A Tree Being Motionless Birds Come To It.
Meditation is a door opening onto unknown possibilities. We have but to sit still and wait, there at the threshold. There is nothing we can do, no challenge we can make such as ‘Who’s there?’ We simply sit in stillness and quietness, breathing in the very sense of now-ness, knowing that beyond is a vastness of Love and Knowledge awaiting us. It is a gift and will be given to us when we are ready. The nowness is all.
In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden, little Mary, the orphan, asks her guardian if she may have a piece of earth. ‘A piece of earth?’ he queries; and she answers, ‘To plant things in, to make them grow.’ To which he replies, ‘Child, when you see a piece of earth, take it and make it come alive!’ And that is exactly what Mary, aided by Dickon and Colin, does. When they find the secret garden, they weed it and plant it. Then what do they do? They sit cross-legged and meditate!
As Rumi, the Sufi mystic, wrote:
It is when we nurture the seeds of meditation in our own inner garden that we begin to come alive at a deeper level than that of mere happiness. Happiness is elusive, it comes and goes. What grows and becomes evergreen in our innermost garden is contentment.
For someone starting to meditate it can be helpful to have a mantra (a particular sacred word or phrase) to repeat rhythmically, or else to count the breaths up to eight and then start again. But there will come a time when all that is needed is to sit quietly at the threshold of silence, gently breathing in and out, not attempting to cross the threshold or imagine what lies beyond, but simply waiting. Into that silence, from time to time, may come certain insights which arise from a deep source of wisdom within us. Such insights, when they come, are the fruits of meditation.