contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: stillness

MEDITATION, AND A BILLION-YEAR-OLD SENSE OF BEING

I enjoyed a recent piece on meditation by poet and spiritual teacher Jeff Foster. He is not talking about a traditional practice regime – whether of a mindfulness, pathworking, or energy-focused kind. Rather, he describes an encounter with the sacred in everyday life. Initially, this meditation attends to the flow of ordinary, embodied experience. It is informal, and not dependent on a dedicated environment or special conditions. As it develops, it sets free a healer in the heart, who stands by and resources the meditator rather than fixing their problems.

Meditation becomes as a ‘field of love, an ever-present ground of safety, presence and stillness’. It is personified through references to a ‘loving friend in the breath’, a ‘mother in the motherless places’, and a ‘billion-year-old sense of Being’. This is not meditation as generally understood. But I notice that I am nourished by Foster’s recommended approach, and I find myself responding to his impassioned language. Part of me wants to resist such intensity, but then happily melts on immersion in the process. Here is his piece in full:

“Meditation is not about getting yourself into altered states. Altered states do not last. It’s about becoming intimate with this state – this present moment, this day, this Now, its textures, tastes, vibrations, contractions and aches.

“Meditation is not an out-of-body experience. It’s the opposite. It’s a full experience of the body and its ever-changing sensations, its amorphous clouds of shivers, tickles, undulations and pulsations, throbbings, fizzles, its pain and its pleasure, its opening and closing, its ever-changing form.

“Meditation does not always make you feel ‘good’. In meditation, you feel exactly as you feel, and you learn to love that, or at least to allow it, or at least to tolerate it a little more than you did yesterday. Meditation makes you feel more like… you.

“Meditation is not about getting anywhere. It’s about discovering that there is nowhere to get to. That you are already home, and your body is the ground of all grounds. It is about discovering true safety in the feet, in the hands, in the pit of the belly. It is about finding a sanctuary in your chest, a sacred shrine between your eyes, a loving friend in the breath, a mother in the motherless places.

“Meditation is not something that you do with your mind. In meditation, the mind relaxes into the heart, seeking relaxes into finding, and even the most intense anxiety finds its home. You cannot make it happen, but you can fall into it.

“Meditation is not for experts, or the ones who know. Meditation is for absolute beginners, those who are willing to face their present experience with wide open, curious eyes.

“Meditation is a field of love, an ever-present ground of safety, presence and stillness, that you remember, or forget, or remember again.

“Meditation never leaves you. It whispers to you in the stillness of the night. And even in the midst of an activated nervous system, a full-on panic attack, suffocating claustrophobia or the urge to get out of your body… meditation is right there, holding you, loving you, gently kissing your forehead, willing you on.

“It will not abandon you, and ultimately, you will not abandon it.

“And closing your eyes to sleep at night, meditation is there, snuggling right up to you.

“Your soft pillow, the rising and falling of your own delicious breath, a light breeze coming in from the window, that billion-year-old sense of Being…

“You are safe in your own body, my love. You are safe.”

– Jeff Foster http://www.lifewithoutacentre.com/

FLIGHT FROM THE SHADOW

“There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit upon was to run away from them.

“So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty.

“He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster, without stopping, until he finally dropped dead.

“He failed to realize that, if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.”

Thomas Merton (1965 & 2004) The Way of Chuang Tzu Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004. (First published 1965 by New Directions Publishing Corporation.)

Chuang Tzu, one of the great figures of early Taoism, lived around 300 BCE. The frontispiece of this edition says: “He used parables and anecdotes, allegory and paradox, to illustrate that real happiness and freedom are found only in understanding the Tao or Way of nature, and dwelling in its unity. The respected Trappist monk Thomas Merton spent several years reading and reflecting on four different translations of the Chinese classic that bears Chuang Tzu’s name. The result is this collection of poetic renderings of the great sage’s work.”

SURFACE AND DEPTH

I took this picture some time ago and kept it as an image of tranquillity. Now, when I contemplate it for any length of time, the ripples on the water seem to be alive and moving. The vegetation, also alive, is still.

Although the scene presented here contains both stillness and movement, I identify strongly with the moving ripples in the background. Despite all my contemplative inquiring, movement continues to be my default setting, albeit now less agitated and turbulent than in the past. The phrase ‘stream of consciousness’ comes to mind. The natural flow of this stream includes spaces freed up from cogitation and narrative. But the stream flows on.

I am glad of this. Some traditional teachings, when emphasising the non-separation of ‘ocean and wave’, lean towards invalidating the individuality of the waves even whilst their brief distinctive identities last. But for me, the purpose of being human is to live a human life, knowingly embedded within a rich natural and cultural history. This is why I have stayed with modern Druidry as my main point of spiritual reference.

I have also found a liberating expansion of my human life in realising my non-separation from the living presence of the cosmos. It has busted me out of a certain kind of prison, one of neediness and dependency on surface satisfactions. Just as well, in an age of – increasingly surreal – ‘capitalist realism’ (1). Eckhardt Tolle has offered me the most convincing strategies for standing in the larger life – in particular through his recognition that ultimate satisfaction is inseparable from the present moment, and his account of what is really meant by that much abused term (2). He is currently a second point of reference in my spiritual work.

My photograph continues to offer an image of tranquillity. It is just that, at least for me, tranquillity isn’t as straightforward as it may look.

(1) Mark Fisher Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK & Washington. USA: O Books, 2009

(2) Eckhardt Tolle A New Earth: Create A Better Life London: Penguin Books, 2016 (Rev. ed. First edition 2005)

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.

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

STILLNESS IN A TURNING WORLD

Late on Christmas morning, I went out for a midwinter walk. It was relatively warm outside (8C/46F). The world seemed static and still. Yet I had the sense of a new year quietly being born, somewhere under the surface. Ripples in the water seemed to me to confirm this.

The midwinter season that I observe in nature can be like that – superficial dullness masking dynamic transformation. Life is strong in this watery place. The wheel continues to turn. There may be harsh weeks ahead, but the overall movement of time is already leaning towards regeneration, rather than the seasonal dying of late autumn and early winter.

At times like this I sense the presence of an ancient cosmic motherhood that gives me hope for the coming year. May all beings be blessed.

POEM: THIS STILL CENTRE

Here, indeed, is no ordinary spot:

no place on the map, in the cosmos,

is anything like it.

This still Centre is the one spot

where energy is actually discovered

welling up out of Nothing.

All the irresistible torrents

which swirl and roar through every other place

rise silently in this place,

never ruffling its perfect calm.

Douglas Harding Everyday Seeing: daily meditations on the One within. London: The Shollond Trust, 2019 (Quotations selected by Richard Lang)

TOWARDS THE SEASON OF HARVESTS: 2021

In the northern hemisphere we will soon be entering a quarter of harvests and waning light, starting with Lughnasadh/Lammas. In the south there will be the energy of rising light and growth. In the manner of the yin/yang symbol. a taste of that energy is present here too. As I approach Lughnasadh/Lammas this year, I am living largely day-at-a-time, and sense only the faintest outlines of what might be coming into my life. I intuit change, but not its nature, scale. or specific form.

So I look to harvesting possibilities that are within my power. I wrote recently that Druidry and the Eckhart Tolle Community are currently my key points spiritual reference. This invites a new synthesis and integration of spiritual practice and understanding. Druidry remains primary. It is the container. But there are two areas in which the Tolle work has strongly influenced me.

The first is through reframing my understanding of meditation. Instead of being a specialist activity, it has become the gateway to living from what Tolle calls ‘stillness’, ‘presence’ and the ‘Deep I’. These simple terms are pointers to a way of experiencing the world that cannot be accurately languaged but is easy to recognise if we are open to it. Meditation, here, is a state of openness and availability. It does not require extended time or any specific form.

I still value formal daily practice. It is a way of keeping fit in this domain. But while, in the past, I have seen meditation as a specific activity, I now see that anything can be a meditation if it is a gateway to stillness, presence, or the Deep I. Tolle tells a story about his early days as a teacher, when he would sometimes make presentations to the Theosophical Society in London. The first time he showed up with a set of notes virtually amounting to a script. His eyes were frequently on it and although he was received respectfully, many of his listeners’ eyes were glazing over. The next time he abandoned this approach, faced his listeners and simply waited, open and trusting, for the words to come. They did. He connected. Energy levels in the room were high, and the presentation was successful.

I’ve been taught versions of this lesson a number of times in my life, but I clearly needed to hear it again with a new and different language. For my second Tolle influence concerns ‘awen’. As a Druid I might want to use ‘awen’ in the context of Tolle’s story. But it doesn’t feel right. I love the awen chant and the awen symbol. I love the alchemy of the Hanes Taliesin and the way it points to possibilities of human transformation. But it belongs in a world that is not my own, that of Brythonic bardistry and seership. I feel more connected to my own experience when I use Eckhart Tolle’s language. It holds more possibilities for me. I do not count myself as among the awenyddion. But I can speak from stillness. I can speak from the Deep I.

A TAROT CONTEMPLATION

An attentive juggler keeps two coins in the air. As I contemplate the coins, they speak to me of well-being, health, and blessing, rather than every day money. They are coins of a different order, and they draw me into the card.

I was glad to pick the two of pentacles, from The Druidcraft Tarot (1), in my first use of cards for many months. I knew I wanted only one card in the moment of picking it up. The image, when I saw it, gave me the pleasure of recognition, of something about this feeling right for me. A relaxed juggling of no more than two coins seemed spacious and doable. I thought, ‘I can walk into the picture and be the figure on the shore-line. I can put myself into this flow of movement and attention with these coins’.

Now within the image, I notice that I have my back to the sea, and I assume a prior knowledge that the boats are friendly and capable of outrunning bad weather. I experience pentacles as having a protective resonance, so long as I am active in my own protection. I feel that, somehow, my juggling of the coins is a part of that protection, and protects the boats as well. I do not have a story about why this should be the case, but I trust that it is. That is all I need to do.

Bringing myself back into my normal state, I feel trust in my current direction, even though I cannot fully articulate it. I feel trust in my existing resources, of which the Tarot and my ease with it are two. I think about moving between different states of attention, in ways that are spacious and not overloaded. My contemplative inquiry is not now about asking fundamental questions or exploring new avenues. It seems more to be about balance and flow and living from an underlying stillness.

(1) Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm The DruidCraft Tarot: Use the Magic of Wicca and Druidry to Guide Your Life London: Connections, 2004. Illustrated by Will Worthington.

MUSICAL MEDITATION: THE SHAKUHACHI FLUTE

Shakuhachi flute music is a meditation for players and listeners alike. It is dance of sound and silence, of movement and stillness. Some people call it, ‘blowing Zen’. In this music, a rise and fall of notes gives way to space and stillness, which in turn give way to a rise and fall of notes. Eckhardt Tolle identifies shakuhachi flute music as a portal to the experience of consciousness being conscious of itself – and so a direct realization of what he calls the Deep I.

Bamboo flutes first came to Japan from China in the 7th century CE (1). The current shakuhachi was developed in Japan in the16th century. It is called fuke shakuhachi because of the instrument’s role in the Fuke sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism. Monks known as komusu (priests of nothingness, or emptiness monks) who used the shakuhachi as a spiritual tool. Their songs were paced according to the players’ breathing and were considered meditation as much as music.

Their spiritual practice required them to move from place to place playing the shakuhachi and begging for alms. The monks wore wicker baskets over their heads, as a symbol of their detachment from the world. But the world being the place that it is, it was more like a semi-detachment. Travel around Japan was restricted by the Shogunate at that time, and the Fuke only got their exemption by agreeing to spy for the authorities and allowing the Shogun to send out his own spies in the guise of Fuke monks. In response to these developments, several particularly difficult shakuhachi pieces became known as tests. If you could play them, you were a real Fuke. If you couldn’t, you were probably a spy and might very well be killed in unfriendly territory. With the Meiji Restoration, beginning in 1868, the Fuke sect was abolished along with the Shogunate itself, and shakuhachi playing was banned for a number of years.

The Wikipedia article on shakuhachi (1) provides information about the instrument and its capabilities, as well as its current international popularity and the formal link with Zen broken.. There is an International Shakuhachi Society which maintains a directory of notable professional, amateur and teaching shakuhachi players.

(1) https://en.wkipedia.org/wiki/Shakuhachi/ (NB This reference gets you to a page where you will need to type in Shakuhachi)

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