Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Matter of Style

The Buddha identified, apparently, 80,000 ways to meditate. Me, I've tried three or four. At the Gawler Institute I learned a version of Mindfulness meditation, and, before and since, I experimented with a variation of mindfulness, meditation on the breath. For many years I have used, off and on, the Jesus Prayer, which is a form of mantra meditation, and for the last couple of years I have settled on the version of mantra meditation taught by Laurence Freeman and before him, John Main, which works pretty well for me. I am aware  of the importance of faithfulness to a way of meditation once a suitable one has been arrived at. To chop and change between methods will lead to a very circumambulatory spirituality. It  may well be that "all paths  lead to the top of the mountain", but unless you choose a particular path and stick to it, all you will do is thrash about in the underbrush at the foot of the mountain. But here lies a problem.  While mantra meditation works well for me, I appreciate that it doesn't always work for other people. Further, the particular Eckhartian worldview which underlies my practise is a bit puzzling to many people.  I am also aware, acutely, that it is important for me to lead others into the path of silent prayer, and that to do so on a broader scale than I have yet managed, I might need a more accessible method.

My chaplain, John Franklin, is a disciple of Father Thomas Keating, and uses his Centering Prayer method. Cynthia Bourgeault has written extensively of this method, and I am currently reading her book Centering Payer and Inner Awakening. I am intrigued by the possibilities this method offers as a more accessible approach to contemplative prayer for orthodox Christians. Perhaps, before I get up as far as the snowline, there is still time for a quick switch of paths?


  1. I've been thinking about this since reading it and there's something about the "up the mountain" metaphor that disconcerts me. So I've been thinking about prayer/meditation and about my own experience of different seasons inviting different "methods" and my current experience of debilitating illness. I haven't got any particular insight or even much clarity but I'm thinking about a different metaphor. If meditation is like immersion in a body of water, the point is to be in the water. It doesn't matter if you came in down some steps, or executed the most beautiful dive or if someone else had to lift you in... the point is to be in the water. Yep, you still have to get in (is staying on the side looking the equivalent to thrashing round in the underbrush - I'm not sure). And there is not the same sense of "progress" as going up a mountain. But we know that water can change the shape even of rock in its slow and steady way...

  2. Indeed being in water is a good metaphor. Like all metaphors however, it has its limits, and in this case, it is the fact that even when well intentioned and doing our best it is easy to "fall out of the water"; that is, instead of meditation, we find ourselves woolgathering, imagining, daydreaming, sleeping, reliving an old hurt or triumph, planning, or losing ourselves in some reverie or other. The need for a method is the need to keep ourselves immersed. It doesn't matter greatly in the long run what that method is, but if we wish to stay in the water for longer and longer periods; if after being in the water for a while we notice the water has all manner of marvellous qualities and want to experience/learn about/take advantage of those qualities, then we will need a method. I suppose to extend the metaphor, if after a while in the water we have a wish to swim, we will need to learn some stroke or other. Choose whatever stroke you like,and you'll get along fine. But don't for goodness sake try to combine them.