A special message from James

I know that quite a few who have a regular practice of meditation, including myself, are finding it difficult to concentrate in these testing times. It all becomes a struggle. The virus has brought a hidden fear that is bound to affect us and also affect our bodies in one form or another: perhaps an all-over itching, or an increasing difficulty in sleeping. It is not surprising since we are all living in a time of rare global crisis.

And so it may help to practice the open-eyed meditation (which I describe in Finding Silence), to sit with open eyes, focused on whatever lies ahead of us: plants, trees, birds, and simply rest in the knowledge that we are not alone.

We may like to take as our mantra at such a time the words:

Thou, o Lord, art in the midst of us.

With love, James

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What is spirituality?

The word ‘spirituality’ seems to appear with increasing frequency in the media, as in this article from The Times:

There is a spiritual crisis all over the western world. People hunger for a framework of meaning and purpose that can transcend the individualism and selfishness of the competitive market. They want to be connected to some higher vision of good and find some way for their lives to contribute to that good.

Spirituality refers to that dimension which gives meaning to our lives. It would appear to be part of our make-up as human beings. Our spiritual journey is as one with our emotional and psychological journey. The practice of meditation can play an important role in clearing the ground for the growth of the spiritual, for until we can view objectively our often irrational behaviour it is difficult for the spiritual to grow. 

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‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge as my own’

Thus declares Prospero in The Tempest,  speaking of the monster Caliban whom earlier he had called ‘a demi-devil’.

The story of St. Francis taming the wild wolf of Gubbio is symbolic of the need we each have to tame our inner wolf, that aspect which Jung refers to as our ‘shadow’. All too easily we project our darker side – meanness, jealousy, lust, anger – onto others and fail to see that it lies within us.

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Skeletons in the cupboards!

A commonly recurring image in dreams is that of a house in which unsuspected rooms are discovered, or dry rot is found. In such dreams, as also in reality, a person may have within them many locked rooms which have never been entered, where the shutters remain unopened and no light penetrates. It is not surprising, therefore, that we speak of ‘skeletons in cupboards’.

Until we have learned to open up all our rooms, whether through meditation or some form of therapy, we cannot expect to grow spiritually. It is like a garden. Until the ground is cleared of weeds, bright new shoots cannot break through.

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Keeping watch

Among some of the most haunting stories in the Gospels is Jesus’ cry to his sleeping friends, knowing he is about to be arrested, tortured and executed: ‘Could you not watch with me one hour!’

I am thinking of those who are dying and how few people know how to respond. Some talk in very loud voices as though the dying person is deaf. Some talk entirely about themselves, or make mundane remarks. All that is needed is that we should be totally present to that person, perhaps holding their hand, silently keeping watch, and responding if the dying person chooses to talk. Those who practise meditation will know best how to sit silently for an hour, holding that person closely in love.

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Breaking bread

It is a sad comment on our deeply divided country that some half a million children arrive at school without breakfast, and so are unable to concentrate because they are undernourished. The gap between rich and poor seems to grow ever deeper and our politicians are not facing up to it. Charities and food banks try to fill the gap. One such is the Magic Breakfast charity which seeks to provide children from disadvantaged backgrounds with at least one solid meal a day.

The sharing of food is one of the most important as well as practical rituals we have, even if it is only inviting someone in to have a cup of tea, or a bowl of soup. It is often over such a simple exchange, that we share also the anxieties and burdens of others, especially in our society today when there is less and less a sense of community. The latest statistics show that loneliness is not only the problem of older people: it is increasing among the younger generation too. Jesus’s command was, ‘Feed my sheep’ and the fact remains that sharing a simple meal with others is one of the most positive things we can do.

A note from James:
In my last blog, I quoted a verse by Elizabeth Mills. She has now produced a small book entitled, ‘The Beauty of Stillness‘ which offers simple reflections, one for each day. This book is endorsed by Laurence Freeman OSB, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation Movement. Copies are £2.50 plus postage and you can order yours by contacting Elizabeth:  e.m.mills@btinternet.com

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Window cleaning

Church prayers usually end with the phrase, ‘Through Jesus Christ Our Lord’, and there is a sense in which the man Jesus is like a window through which we see beyond to that ultimate reality ­– the force, the energy, that holds the entire universe together. In the same way, each of us, whether we are Buddhist, Christian or Muslim can be like windows reflecting something that lies beyond. But we need to keep our windows clean! One way is through the practice of meditation. As Elizabeth Mills writes in her book In The Stillness:

We need to be open
For the Divine
To enter in
Not too full of self
That there is no room
Making space
By being humble
And seeking to live in Simplicity
Asking for Love to flow in
And make its Home
In the centre of our hearts.

In other words we need to learn how to step aside to let the light through!

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Letting go

As we grow older it is important to be open to change, and when we reach our seventies onwards it is important to learn how to let go. It may be letting go of too many possessions, or too busy a social life. As we grow older it becomes ever more important to listen to the silence within. From a busy outgoing life we realise our task now is to cultivate our own garden, to practise silence, and just being, not having to do anything. In this way we become a still centre to which, perhaps, others are drawn and we find ourselves listening to their needs. The wisdom of old age is something that our society needs to rediscover.

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Silence

At the end of the play, Hamlet’s last words are ‘The rest is silence.’ Words can convey so much, but not everyone has the ability to articulate their feelings. As Robert Frost once said, ‘If I write a poem about heart-ache or heart-break, and a reader says, “That is exactly what I feel but I couldn’t have put it into words,” then I know I have achieved what I set out to do.’ Again to quote Shakespeare: ‘I were but little happy if I could say how much.’ Which is why silence between close friends is such a gift, just as silence is at the heart of the spiritual journey.

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That three letter word

The word ‘God’ can be a stumbling block, partly because of the anthropomorphic image, cultivated over the centuries, of an aged man with a long white beard. The Arabic word ‘Abba’, which Jesus used, means both parents, mother and father, as well as the divine source of all being. Yet, even to refer to God as father and mother is to remain stuck in anthropomorphic imagery. Meister Eckhart wrote, ‘God is no thing.’ For myself, Hamlet’s use of the word Divinity (i.e. a force, an energy) is helpful, as when he says, ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will.’ And the image that comes closest for me is St. Paul’s reference to God as ‘an ocean of Love … in which we live and move and have our being’.

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