Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The One Centre

This week I've continued to ponder the call to move through the surface agitation of events, fears and distraction to come to rest in God and to source responsiveness here.

I've been thinking about the relationship between contemplation, action and activism and sensing that, despite the manifest need for action on many fronts, there is danger in allowing ourselves to get too caught up in activism. The danger is that the energy we expend in these ways ends up exhausting itself or (even worse) is somehow co-opted to fuel the very energy of destruction we seek to counter. What you resist persists, so the saying goes.

This is clearly a subtle matter calling for discernment. There is (I think) a real place for activism - for public protest against injustice, for creating communities of resistance and so on. But somehow the energy we bring to this needs to come not just from indignation, anger and fear, but from the non-anxious source of all things. It needs to be a response grounded in the energy of creation and reconciliation that can transform alienation and isolation into real communion, real peace.

In contemplation, this is the energy we seek to be awake to, receptive to, available for.

This morning, I went to the island in Lake Ginninderra, where we celebrated Easter last year. The island itself seemed agitated when I arrived. A very large flock of corellas has moved into the neighbourhood - they were noisy and felt like invaders.

The other birds seemed agitated - the crows were cawing and moving heavily through the trees; even the waterbirds seemed not quite themselves. But I found a spot among the she-oaks to sit quietly, and practised being still amidst the agitation. The water sparkled, the wind soughed in the trees and I saw a water rat swim by.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of meditation as a process of sinking deep into the ground of your being, just as a pebble thrown into water sinks to the river bed. John Main wrote similarly: 'The purpose of meditation for each of us is that we come to our own centre. In many traditions, meditation is spoken of as a pilgrimage - a pilgrimage to your own centre, your own heart, and there you learn to remain awake, alive and still' (Moment of Christ). What's important is that as you sink into your own centre, you discover 'there is only one centre' and that our life task is to learn to live out of that 'one centre'.

What makes this a journey of faith is the ungraspability, un-encompassability of the centre. We sense it, intuit it as we find ourselves drawn into its field, its orbit ... but we don't see 'it'. We can do no more than trust we are not deluded, and that our availability to this energy really is the 'one thing necessary'.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017


As part of our morning pre-meditation routine, I've resumed using the daily readings drawn from John Main's work in the collection Silence and Stillness in Every Season.

I think, in practising and teaching, I've tended to emphasise the understanding of meditation as a practice of silence. But in these daily readings, I've been quite struck by John Main's emphasis on stillness as well as silence.

Speaking of our call to be wholly at God's disposition, for example, and to begin to live out of the divine energy, Main writes: 'Stillness is the way to rootedness and it focuses the challenge that faces all of us, to be rooted in our true self. To put it another way, it is the challenge to be wholly open to the gift of our own creation. Stillness helps us to be rooted in the gift that God has give us in our own being, which we learn by being still in one place' [from The Way of Unknowing]. And he speaks of 'outward stillness' being an effective sign that draws us into being wholly grounded, rooted in God.

Last week, on my Wednesday retreat, I had an experience of this efficacy of stillness. There's always a little journey to make at the beginning of retreat - from agitation to stopping, from restlessness to rest. Even if I start off in a fairly unstressed, peaceful place, there is always a little transition into the deeper rest and openness of this time. And what I noticed was that simply by sitting still, that transition started to happen. Outer stillness helped settle my spirit.

So this week, as I took myself off to the botanic gardens, I was more aware of the significance of stillness as a contemplative practice, as a form of prayer. It was a beautiful late summer morning - with just a tinge of autumn hovering - a shift in the light, a less intense heat. And what struck me was the deep rootedness of the trees in the garden - their stillness - and how their still presence was such a joy to be with and alongside.

Their stillness and my stillness led me into a sense of deep rest. 'Rest' can seem a relatively 'thin' word - signifying merely an absence, a 'not' doing or working. But the experience of this kind of deep rest is an experience of plenitude, of fullness and completion. I thought of the way in which 'rest' and fullness goes together in the Scriptures - from God 'resting' on the seventh day of creation, to the Hebrews being instructed to keep the Sabbath day holy as a day of rest unto the Lord. And I thought of Jesus teaching: 'Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'.

Rest is the gift that is there for the receiving, if we can sink into the ground of our being in God. And stillness of body, stillness of mind and spirit, is the way.