Archive for the ‘prayer’ tag
I have been doing a lot of research into religion and meditation lately, not exactly sure what I have been looking for in the process. I suppose it began with a wonder in terms of the religious significance of meditation – and where my practice of meditation finds its roots. I first began to meditate in what is considered either Hindu or Buddhist meditation practice about forty years ago. My first experience of meditation during my first year of university was in a commune which had a Buddhist orientation. A year later I took a course in Transcendental Meditation along with other university students and university professors. I began to think that though I enjoyed meditation, the practice didn’t fill what I felt was an emptiness, a hollowness within myself. And so, I let the practice of meditation disappear out of my daily life.
I didn’t see my immersion into prayer as a youth as part of the world of meditation though I now accept that prayer can be meditative. It took a trip to Aix-en-Provence in France where I spent a few hours in a sanctuary of a cathedral and followed the footsteps of centuries of priests and monks who walked the outdoor covered walkways in prayer that I made the connection between prayer and meditation. A while later, another visit to France and an evening in a cathedral in Avignon had me recall the altered states of existence I had felt as a child and youth in cathedrals in Ottawa. Simply sitting quietly in the cathedral and being mindful I felt the similarity of the feelings of mindfulness that I was experiencing when meditating. Prayer and meditation are practices which allowed me to connect with something bigger and deeper both within and without my self. I had re-discovered meditation, a meditation with a difference, a meditation that is grounded in depth rather than in being a physical practice.
And that re-discovery was soon followed by a return to meditation in my home. With my last child graduating from high school I returned to being a school principal and life soon overwhelmed me with busyness and mediation once again fell of my radar. Then a few years ago while spending a winter in Mexico at the edge of a quiet Mayan fishing village, I once again found the stillness and that stillness soon was partnered with meditation. This time there was a difference. Meditation was taken out of doors into the sunshine, into nature. With churches becoming places to visit and be photographed, my religious needs are being met in a larger cathedral, the open sky and a curiously more open mind and heart. And this has allowed me, to return to meditation indoors where I can still connect to the spiritual centre within when life asks me to be inside of a building.
For a while, I sat in front of my computer, blank. I had no ideas, no energy and almost no intention left for writing today’s post. As I say the computer went into screen saver mode and photos began flashing across my screen – my preferred screen saver mode. I wasn’t even really looking at the screen as I felt detached and listless. Then, this image appeared and I woke up. I was taken back to the moment in time when I took this photo last winter when in Vietnam. I had spent a considerable part of the day visiting places crowded with people, filled with noise. Here in a temple, though busy with people, a quietness was in place. The busyness had to do with blessings and prayers. I remembered the incense and the active silence and felt drawn to the prayers made visible. And I felt the lack of prayer in my own life.
Prayer is a ritual. When I was a youth, I prayed to a real God, I was in touch with that God and I believed in Him. Life, the church and the priests and the parishioners took all of this away from me as I watched and felt the prayers turn into mechanical routines, meaningless routines in terms of spiritual communion. It was as if the prayers were offered as bribes or said out of fear or even as a bargaining tool as though creating a private hedge fund in case there really was a heaven and hell. I don’t do well with meaninglessness, with going through the motions. I need to be invested with what I do or I drift away.
My prayers shifted and became unspoken, unvoiced. The prayers became a dialogue, an non-repetitive conversation that looked for God within the deepest hidden places within myself. Somehow I took the words I learned early, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke) quite seriously for what I found outside of me sorely missing the presence of God. With the meeting of Nietzsche and Jung and a host of others, I saw that I truly did need to look within if I was to ever find God again, if I was ever to honour God and be recognized in return.
I began the re-approach to God with sacred moments in a sacred place, in meditation. Sometimes this meditation took place in a quiet cathedral, sometimes in the quiet spaces of a darkened room, sometime in nature with the trees and the sky serving as a cathedral. Meditation became my ritual.
I found that when I would run, I would lose sense of the world around me and in the silence that would surround me in spite of life flowing by, I found myself talking again with God, but not always. Often I would be too intensely focused on time, on pace, on the training for a race. But when I would find myself, usually on empty country roads, lose track of my stopwatch, I would enter into a trance-like state. I knew the difference. And, knowing the difference, I began to leave the stopwatch at home and just run. Running became my ritual.
And know, I turn to the quiet moments when I sit here by my keyboard, sit with a photo that has taken on a sense of the numinous and again find words to speak, words that become prayers. And in the process, writing became my ritual.
This is a portion of a larger photo that I took earlier today at the Tianning Temple in ChangZhou. I had gone to the temple with a friend visiting from Canada. These incense sticks were used by my friend in a prayer ritual before being placed in one of the iron cauldrons to hold the incense sticks that have done their votive duties. I don’t know very much about Buddhism and my friend new even less. Taking quick observation lessons as others around us went through rituals with their bundles of incense, I helped my friend as she struggled with the ritual. In the end, the experience was good for my friend as she left feeling as though she had done something holy. And, that sense of holiness had nothing to do with the ritual, but with the attitude and intention of offering a prayer to whatever it is that takes on the projections of our individual prayers.
My earliest awareness of incense comes from the experiences of a Catholic confirmation when I was seven years old. With the ceremony, I felt that I had connected with something bigger than my sense of self, something that was good and pure. And as with all such experiences, the little things that dance in attendance around the event, the cathedral, the incense, the muted colours and filtered light all became associated with holiness, with wholeness. So, while my friend said her prayer, my own spirit felt an expansion and left me feeling as if I had prayed as well.
It has been a good day.
This photo was taken on the evening of the Lantern Festival, the last event of the Spring Festival in China. Since the event is tied to the full moon, that date shifts every year. That evening, I watched as many sent off paper lanterns into the sky from the Buddhist temple that stood at the side of the park in which I was standing to take this photo. The lanterns were like small hotair ballons which were powered by a flame in a small box which made the lantern glow in the dark night sky. Each lantern is sent to the heavens with a prayer written within. The year before this photo, I stood on the edge of the South China Sea and sent a lantern free into the night sky.
I guess I could say that this sending of a prayer into the night during a full moon is symbolic. For me, the moon is representative of anima, that distant feminine aspect that is found within the deep and dark underworld of unconsciousness, in shadow country. I choose to enter into this region of shadows, ghosts and relics in hope of finding hope and meaning. I know that there is something deeper within, something deeper without that is waiting to be born, to be reborn in consciousness.
Something in us knows much more than the ego does, and in time the ego may learn to enlarge its frame to include this other wisdom. This is how one benefits from the compensatory power of the unconscious as it seeks to enlarge the narrow frame of consciousness. (James Hollis, On This Journey We Call Life, 2003, p. 54)