contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Month: April, 2022

STRENGTH IN SIMPLICITY

In recent days, living a pared down life, I have seen the strength in simplicity. Both my contemplation and my inquiry are reflecting this. I have a few simple practices adapted from a variety of sources. At first under the pressure of illness, I have moved away from the kind of system building that was drawing my attention a month ago (1). Now I have reminded myself that customising, using a light touch, and keeping practice relatively simple has been my generally preferred way of responding to influences. It helps me to avoid half-awarely ventriloquising teachers and to maintain my own discernment.

As an example (2), I describe a simple meditation. It focuses on the breath because that is something I am busy with – and ambivalent about thanks to my COPD. In it I draw on the understanding that breath and spirit share the same word in some languages (e.g pneuma in Greek). No more than ten minutes is needed for a session.

Although simple, the practice does have a liturgical framing – for instance adapting one of Stewart’s Qabalistic crossing forms from The Miracle Tree. I also draw on my OBOD background, especially the commitment to finding peace. This kind of framing helps. In formal practices like this, I am not just plunging into raw experience. I have other opportunities for that. Rather, the practice affirms an already existing perspective, developed over time, and this is what the words proclaim.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2022/04/05/towards-an-integration/

(2) See text below:

Crossing, using my right hand, I say: In the name of Wisdom (forehead), Love (pubic bone), Justice (right shoulder), Mercy (left shoulder), and the Living Breath (both hands over upper chest). I enter stillness. Then I say: Deep within my innermost being, I find peace. Silently, within the stillness of this space, I cultivate peace. Heartfully, within the wider web of life, may I radiate peace.

I do a breath exercise*, and then say: I am a movement of the breath and stillness in the breath; living presence in a field of living presence: here, now, and home.

Then, I begin slow, deep breathing, as if inviting the Cosmos to breathe through me. I may use the I AM mantra. For me it affirms the non-separation of the finite life and the Source, and the gift of a place within the ecology of being.

On completion I repeat the Crossing and say: I give thanks for this meditation. May it nourish and illuminate my life. May there be peace throughout the world.

*11x breathe in through nose, counting to 8; hold, counting to 8; out through mouth, counting to 8, hold, counting to 8.

MEETING THE SEASON

In these parts, there is a week at the end of April – St. George’s Day to Beltane Eve – that I would describe as mature spring. The rising year is leaning in to summer, but not quite there. I came close to missing it this year, at least as an outdoors event. I have made a good, if slightly fluctuating, recovery from the COPD flare-up described in recent posts. I met this moment, on this day, in the open air. At every level I feel better for the experience.

The location is Alney Island, now a nature reserve. The river Severn has divided into east and west channels, with Alney Island between them. Most of my pictures were taken near the (lesser) east channel, which flows into the Gloucester waterfront.

On 24 April 2022, I walked through this almost-city water margin. I was moved by its burgeoning growth, noticing the abundance of green in contrasting shades and forms. For awhile I had given up on going out during this delicious period. The experience, however fragile and transient both I and this space might be, was pure celebration. Taking pictures became an act of celebration, and also of giving thanks.

WISDOM’S HOUSE

Two people hold each other in mutual gaze. Both their mutuality and their individuality are very clear. The space between them defines a chalice, or grail. In stillness they are present to each other, within a dynamic field of I-Thou relationship. The gestalt is one of communion. Their world has come alive.

Eckhart Tolle speaks of a wisdom that is not the product of thought, and which comes with the ability to be still. “Just look and listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking and listening activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and actions” (1).

He goes on: “wisdom is not the product of thought. The deep knowing that is wisdom arises through the simple act of giving someone or something your full attention. Attention is primordial intelligence, consciousness itself. It dissolves the barriers created by conceptual thought, and with it comes the recognition that nothing exists in and by itself. It joins the perceiver and the perceived in a unifying field of awareness. It is the healer of separation”.

I think of wisdom, in this sense, as the healer in the heart. Not the organ that continues to pump at a not-too-elevated rate when my blood oxygen declines, and therefore a resiliency factor for my physical health. It is, rather, the heart of awareness – personified again as it has been before by a Goddess of Wisdom. She came to me, at night, at a wakeful time when my breathing was particularly laboured and I felt like a freshly landed fish. She acted as a discreetly background presence, pointing me to the vision of a radiant grail, palpably emanating the energy and resources of all four elementary powers.

Pragmatically I felt empowered to weather a challenging experience. Beyond that, the Goddess invites me to let go of identification with the mind-made ‘little me’ as a limited and confining construct. The reward is an expansion into love, joy, creativity and inner peace. I have bounced back from my COPD flare-up in the last few days and will do what I can to rebuild my physical capacity. But the lesson, that healing is not the same as being physically fixed, and asks for a different kind of commitment, applies both in bad times and good.

(1) Eckhart Tolle Stillness Speaks Novato, CA, USA: New World Library & Vancouver, BC, Canada: Namaste Publishing, 2003

GREYFRIARS: A SENSE OF PLACE

Greyfriars is the shell of a church that once belonged to the Franciscan friary founded in Gloucester, England, around 1231 (1). The friars rebuilt their church in 1519. What is left of it, after a series of violent transitions including its final restoration, is a slightly bleak twentieth century heritage ruin, saved for me by its elegant arches. It does, I find, support an aspect of tranquility in this neighbourhood, along with an active Quaker Meeting House purpose built early in the nineteenth century. I live in a city centre, on a densely populated estate, yet it doesn’t feel that way. Good modern insulation helps, but my sense of place suggests an underlying leaning towards calm.

I notice this because I have been more-or-less housebound since I last wrote, with a further deterioration in my health, until a welcome uptick in the last couple of days. The picture, taken on 9 April doesn’t do the building full justice. It is much more substantial than it looks, with both the nave and north aisle in place. But it is the view from my home. My sense of place within the confines of house, block and estate has sharpened. The Greyfriars ruins nourish me, as do sun, shadow and sky in this urban environment.

I have been processing health concerns: the advantages and limitations of having a label (COPD); dealing with health services and new medications; wondering about lifestyle adjustments; considering risk and resiliency factors, what’s in my power to influence and what isn’t; the ecology of relationship, especially thinking of my wife Elaine and challenges I may pose to her as a person with health issues of her own; feelings of relief that our cynically underfunded health system is holding me well, except at the political level where decision makers want to forget about COVID. (People with COPD are prone to infections, and this would not be a good one.) I also ask myself what role, if any, my spiritual view and practice might play. This is a whole line of inquiry in itself, and one to go into as I stabilise, and find a new ‘normal’.

(1) see https://gloucester500.co.uk/greyfriars/ for more illustrations and further information

LIMITS AND BLESSINGS

In my world, this is a time of laboured breath and limited capacity for walking. While medical investigations are underway, I am constrained in what I can do. But walking outside, taking slow deep breaths, and drinking plenty of water are medically and spiritually recommended. Today I went outside for the first time in some days, water bottle to hand, and a rhythm of slow, deep breathing established.

I walked in my neighbourhood and a nearby local park. The picture above is a treescape from that park. For me, it is images solidity and endurance alongside blue sky and spring growth. In itself, it occupies a unique niche in the web of life. I enjoy its company, and the opportunity to record its presence here.

My world may seem, at least for the time being, to have shrunken. My own presence in it, and my perceptions when present to it, do not have to shrink along with the physical distance I can cover. A necessary slowing down contains it own opportunities. I have space and time to enjoy the willows here, their leaves, and the shadows of their leaves. I am constrained to take notice. I appreciate the experience of noticing. I am reminded that I am just outside the period assigned to willow in my personal tree mandala (1,2), but of course it is not too late to connect and commune. There are compensations nested in my unwanted condition.

I find the houses and their surrounding plant life photogenic, not least under a blue April sky. The season has been advancing, the equinox now well past. Around me, I find an energetic acceleration towards summer. Hildegard von Bingen called this kind of natural power viriditas. I can recognise and enjoy it even when I’m lagging behind.

Very close to home I encounter the ruins of Gloucester’s Franciscan Priory, sadly with a nondescript mid C20th building tacked on behind them. They are a landmark for me on my return. I’m tired. I’ve about reached my limit. Although I’m sad that my walking distance is so limited, I feel blessed and nourished by what I find within the limitations. I am also glad to sit down and recognise feeling at once refreshed and exhausted.

(1) https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2021/tree-mandala/willow/

(2) The mandala is based on my personal experience of trees in the neighbourhood as well as traditional lore. Moving around the spring quarter from 1 February, the positions and dates of the four trees for this quarter are: Birch, north-east, 1-22 February; Ash & Ivy, east-north-east, 23 February – 16 March; Willow, east, 17 March – 7 April; Blackthorn, east-south-east, 8 – 30 April. The summer quarter then starts with Hawthorn at Beltane. For a complete list of the sixteen trees, see https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/autumn-equinox-2020-hazel-salmon-awen/

TOWARDS AN INTEGRATION?

I contemplate an image is from R. J. Stewart’s The Merlin Tarot (1). It is the Ace of Beasts, the Earth suit. I sense it guiding me to a new phase of my inquiry, I hope a phase of integration. The stag has reached the point of stillness. There is nowhere to run, and no longer any need for running. Between his antlers sits a black mirror, showing the four powers of Life, Light, Love and Law unified by a central fifth. Here, it is the magical implement of the Earth element, an alternative to the shield or pentacle.

Stewart says of this image: “its deep power is that of Law and Wisdom, the Mystery of Night and Winter. Thus it can indicate a force or restriction that leads to liberation …. the Wisdom of endings that bring beginnings”. For the next phase of my formal inquiry practice, I will work through the programme of R. J. Stewart’s The Miracle Tree (2). I am already familiar with it, but I can drop into a beginner’s mind readily enough. The novelty is in being focused and systematic, as I was over the years of my training in OBOD (3), but here with a more closely defined and demarcated programme.

Why this? And why now? The Miracle Tree is based on the Western Way Qabalah, and its version of the Qabalistic crossing practice runs: “In the Name of the Star Father (right hand over forehead) Deep Mother (genitals) True Taker (right shoulder) Great Giver (left shoulder) We are One Being of Light (circle right and downwards from top of forehead to genitals, completing left and upwards to back of forehead)”. I like its integrative quality, and its way of presenting a non-dualist perspective – especially the use of ‘We’ in a statement affirming ‘One Being of Light’. It does not use the Absolute to crush the human and natural. It acknowledges the diversity held in ultimate unity, and embraces multiple forms and dimensions of Being. The Cosmic Tree shelters all, whilst not being separate from any.

Stewart says of this system: “the idea of relationship holds good for all world views and models. It is not so much a matter of their accuracy, for their accuracy is relative and ephemeral, but of their value to us as models of relationship to, and participation within, the greater world of which our human world is a small part”. The way to test the value of the model is experiential, and this is what I will do. For me, contemplative inquiry involves a surrender to, and immersion in, the work, whilst retaining a capacity to track and appreciate its effects. I do not expect this cycle to negate what has gone before but, rather, to complete it. Where appropriate, I will discuss this in the blog from time to time.

(1) R. J. Stewart The Complete Merlin Tarot: Images, Insight and Wisdom from the Age of Merlin: London: The Aquarian Press, 1992 (Illustrated by Miranda Gray)

(2) R. J. Stewart The Miracle Tree: Demystifying the Qabalah Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books,2003

(3) Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids – https://www.druidry.org/

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