Monday, May 30, 2011

Keeping Time

Part of the practicing bit of my spiritual practice is rehearsing resistance to the impulses which control most of my life most of the time. So, I sit, and in a small island of quiet, do not obey that endless stream of small requests to itch or shuffle or shift or think about this that and the other thing and this again. It's a simple enough process in theory, but in practice, sorry about the pun, it can be tricky. My little impulses are so ubiquitous and so much part of the way I conduct my day that I never really notice the way they lead me around by my nose until I sit down and, er, notice them. And then, being noticed, they tend to insist with more than usual force on my following them. I must get up and check the car is locked, and I must do it now. That itch in my shoulder simply cannot be left alone. I wonder what the time is and how long I have been sitting here. I simply must check. There is a simple enough technique for handling these, and I'll speak of it on another day, but one of the easiest ways of coping with these small distractions is to pre-empt them. Cut them off at the pass. Get in before them.

So, as I sit down on my stool, I tell myself some stuff I already know. I remind myself why I am here, and why it is important to me. I remind myself that I have set aside X amount of minutes, and that I have nothing else that needs doing in this time. And to stop myself wondering if  X minutes is up yet, I set a little timer and remind myself that a bell will ring when the time is up.

I use an app on my iPhone called iSamadhi to time myself. I've tried several iPhone apps, and I'll review some of them later, but this is the one that suits me. I have it set so that it rings a bell every ten minutes and at the end of my session it records my time in a little auto log, which is a mixed blessing. It is quite interesting to see how much time I spend in meditation on any given day or week or month, but a log presents me with two equal and opposite dangers: guilt when the times are not as lengthy as the eternal haranguing should machine tells me they need to be, or smugness when my times indicate an imminent ascent into sainthood. Either way, the log becomes a means by which the ego strengthens itself and it is thus counter productive. So, I let the log entries accumulate, and sometimes let them remind me to take a firmer hand on my daily schedule, but mostly I delete them on a very regular basis and try not to take them too seriously.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Meditation like many other activities is fine to start with but begins to pall after a while.The pattern is familiar to many: we read the books or hear the inspired talk and think we might just give this meditation thing a bit of a whirl. So we sit and say the word and, just as the book of the speaker says, it works. There is a feeling of well being and in the 23 hours and 20 minutes of the day when we are not meditating everything seems to hum along with a new fluidity and sense of depth, and so we continue, for a week; for a fortnight; or a month even. But sooner or later what began as a novelty and a pleasure becomes a duty; it becomes harder to drag our meditation seat from the corner and easier to find reasons why  it won't matter if we give it a miss, "just for today".

This is where commitment to the regime of silence becomes absolutely necessary. For me, I need to remind myself of the worth of meditation in my inner, daily self talk, and very specifically, when I sit down. At the time before breakfast when i usually meditate I need to remind myself very forcefully that this is the most important part of my day and that nothing takes preference over it. As I first take my seat, I remind myself why I am doing this. Before I close my eyes and say my word, I remind myself that I have all the time necessary and that nothing else needs to be done right now. And then I can relax, and surrender to my little automatic bell  the decision about when I will rise to my feet again

For me, the morning meditation session has proven comparatively easy. Where I tend to come unstuck is the afternoon session, the one at the close of the day. My timetable is so fluid and my days so unpredictable, that it is difficult to schedule myself to be in one set place at a given time every day, and it is all that much harder to commit myself to the discipline of stopping and being still late in the day. By way of compensation, I have tried often, the extend the length of my morning meditation, but it's not the same thing and while it is beneficial to be still for a longer period, there is a benefit to both opening and closing my day in meditation. Bracketed in silence, the whole day becomes in some way a part of my prayer. I find myself more attentive, more  aware in that piece of the day spent between the silences.

In the past short time I have been absolutely rigorous with myself in making provision for the afternoon session and the effect has been not just a doubling of benefit, but a quadrupling.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Silence is the quieting of our own voice in order that other voices may be heard. In ordinary conversation we cannot  truly listen to another unless we are silent.

Silence is more than the mere cessation of noise. As an introvert I am quite used to being in company and not saying much, but this taciturnity is not real silence because even though it might not be audible to others, my voice is not still. Inside my own mind my opinions continue to be expressed, judgements and observations are still made, and whole lines of arguments are developed, entertained and discarded.  Imaginings rise and drift past and disappear only to make way for other imaginings. My own voice drowns out the voices of others just as much as, or perhaps even more than the voice of the most prolix extrovert.

Silence is a quality that I need to work at. I need to cultivate it as deeply as I can. To choose to calm the inner voices requires effort and concentration but it is effort that is well rewarded because when I can be truly silent, it is possible for me to be  present to what is here, present before me in the eternal now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Be Quiet For A Change

Jesus' disciples said, "Lord teach us to pray."

Jesus' disciples still ask that, but by and large the Christian Church has been remiss in teaching them. For most of us, prayer is reduced to words: words addressed to God, or, when we are praying publicly, words addressed to the people around us. These words generally try to inform  God of some dire circumstance and then persuade the Almighty  to take the course of action that seems good to us.

Jesus' response to his disciples' question shows a very different approach. The prayer he recommends doesn't have many words: not enough, anyway, to fill up the long hours he reportedly spent alone with his Father. He tells us to revere God and seek God's Kingdom. He recommends doing God's will. He tells us to be satisfied with the bare necessities of daily life and, in the certain knowledge that we are forgiven, to forgive others. He tells us to keep out of trouble. And that's it really. His prayer is not so much an intercessory shopping list as the outline of an attitude to life. 

On another occasion he tells us to use few words. He tells us to go into the private place and seek our Father secretly. It seems that Jesus' prayer is about faith and not about belief, which is quite a different thing. It is not, in other words, concerned so much with concepts and facts as with a particular attitude to life.

Prayer  is about developing faith, which is living in trust. It works best when it is simple, silent, still and regular. This is the sort of prayer I have been stumbling into for about 30 years now, and which I have been taking increasingly seriously for the last 10. I am starting this blog to encourage it, share it, teach it and learn it, within my own diocese, and who knows? perhaps beyond it.