8 February 2023 - CITW

8 February 2023            A Candle in the Window            Peter Millar

 

Words to encourage us in these times.          This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like wild geese, harsh and exciting over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

From Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”

 

There comes a sound, neither from within nor without,

from neither right nor left, from neither East nor West

nor is it of the elements: water, air, fire, earth or space.

From where is it then? Is it from the place thou art in search of.

Turn ye towards the place wherefrom the Lord makes His appearance.

From where a restless fish out of water gets water to live in.

From the place where the prophet Moses saw the divine light.

From the place where the fruits get their ripening influence.

From the place where the stones get transmuted into gems.

From the poet Rumi (1207-1273)

Dear God,

We give thanks for places of simplicity and peace. Let us find such place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of nature’s truth and freedom, of joy, inspiration and renewal, places where all creatures may find acceptance and belonging. Let us search for these places: in the world, in ourselves and in others. Let us restore them. Let us strengthen and protect them and let us create them.

May we mend this outer world according to the truth of our inner life and may our souls be shaped and nourished by nature’s eternal wisdom. Amen.

Michael Leunig, well known Australian writer, from When I Talk to You

Remembering in our hearts the baby born on 6 February 2023 in the rubble of Afrin, Syria: Some of the most dramatic individual tales come out of impoverished, war-torn Syria. A baby girl found on Monday with the umbilical cord still attached, who was apparently born in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, was recovering yesterday in an incubator at a hospital in the town of Afrin. She was pulled clear by neighbours who cut the cord and handed her to medical teams, including Dr Hani Maarouf who said “had she been left for an hour more she would have died”. The rest of her large family are all dead. Her mum was Afraa Abu Hadiya and her father was Abdullah.

The secularisation of meditation:

The secularisation of meditation has opened the door for mindfulness and meditation to reach a far wider audience than is afforded through exclusive religious domains. By taking meditation and mindfulness out of its exclusive religious domain and perceived origins the benefits of these practices have become available for the secular community. Mindfulness as a form of ‘secular contemplation‘ has in the past not been able to penetrate areas like businesses, hospitals, and some schools. In that sense it has become more ‘incarnate’ than religion, which tends to be encountered only in the ‘sacred’ aspects of life – Sundays, births, deaths, marriages. Surely the message of the incarnation is that the humdrum, every day living, is the place where we encounter God – perhaps especially work and family duties where we learn what it is to serve others.

However, the average mindfulness group has its own rituals, emphasis on communal practice and doctrine or ethic of non-judgmentalism. This has prompted some to see it as a semi-religious cult “tailor-made for the secular West.” Any tree must be judged by its fruits though: Mindfulness does seem to help many with mental health difficulties, grounding people in a stronger sense of reality and detaching them from unhelpful ways of thinking. No doubt if the contemplative practices of the traditional religions were accessed the same effect would be achieved. Studies for many years have shown that religious people are happier and prayer and faith-based meditation have beneficial effects on the brain. Mindfulness, one might say, should humbly join the queue. However, in terms of the modern world it has an advantage: it manages to get under the radar of ‘religious proselytising’.

If contemplative practice becomes ever increasingly absorbed into mainstream culture the foundations might be laid for an openness to the deeper aspects of the ‘whole package’ of contemplative wisdom which includes ethics and trans-personal meaning. It may be possible for secular institutes to bring in these values without necessarily associating them with religion. This has been proposed by the Dalai Lama and by Christian theologians like Hans Kung. Compassion, truthfulness, fairness are human values irrespective of religion. But how do mindfulness and faith based meditation practices relate? Would ‘living in the present moment’ be in any way different, deepened or distracted by belief in an ultimate reality present yet also always beyond the horizon of any momentary experience?

The challenge of mindfulness practice to the more ‘belief’ orientated aspect of religion is the use in mindfulness of the body and physical processes like breathing and sense experience as the object of focus. This is also its claim to universal applicability as no particular religion owns the breath. Everyone alive is able to notice what they hear, see, taste and touch so the body-scan encouraged in mindfulness can hardly be called a Buddhist preserve. Watching the in-breath or out-breath at the nostrils or the rise and fall of the abdomen can hardly be considered Buddhist proselytising (as some Christian critics of mindfulness have seen it). Such techniques don’t involve emptying the mind, or evoking unknown spiritual forces, they simply involve giving the mind a physical focus thus helping to bring mind and body together. And in this context, it is perhaps understandable that non-Buddhist teachers don’t feel any need to call mindfulness ‘spiritual’.

It has been said faith is universal: non-religious people put their faith in scientific understandings or humanistic and environmental values. But religious faith has the particular characteristic of looking beyond this world. This shouldn’t lead to a neglect of things in this world but it does involve recognising that “what is seen was made from things that are not visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The language of religious belief points beyond empirical verifiability to the transcendent. Myths are shaped in the imagination but mindfulness or meditation practiced in faith would help us not only to be present to the here and now through our senses but would attest to “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, and no mind has imagined” (1Cor 2:9).

This piece on Mindfulness is part of a longer article by Stephan Reynolds and was published in 2016 in The Bede Griffiths Sangha Newsletter. For more information about the Sangha (Sanskrit for ‘community’) go to www.bedegriffithssangha.org.uk.

'If you love someone, you become one with him or her, and they become one with you, but you do not cease to be yourself. If that happened, it would no longer be love. So it is a communion of love, an experience of oneness in love, and that is the end and the meaning of life’

These words were written by Father Bede Griffiths (1906-1993) who was a good friend of Dorothy and I when we were living in South-India. He was a British Benedictine monk whose visionary books are now read in many countries. His famous Ashram in South-India, in Tamil Nadu near Tirupattur, was called Shantivanam. His hugely popular autobiography The Golden String (still available) is a wonderful introduction to his prophetic voice so needed in our time as we seek to understand more what actually binds us together in our human family. Three of his other great books are Return to the Centre (1976), The Marriage of East and West (1982) and A New Vision of Reality (1989)    .

Creator of the universe and Sustainer of Life, teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives of all that live.                    Based on a Native American prayer