Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Toward a mindful mysticism

This week, in Elizabeth Lesser's book, The Seekers' Guide, my spirituality group has been reading about mindfulness, particularly as a meditative practice, and we are being introduced to various approaches to that practice.

At one point she talks about "mindfulness meditation" vs. "mystical meditation," and there is a sort of amusing recounting of a dialog between Sufi master Pir Vilayat and Ram Dass, discussing Being Here Now as opposed to Not Being Here Now.

As I read it I found myself scoffing a bit at Vilayat's talk of angelic realms, and sort of cheering for Ram Dass, which was a bit odd, because I remember scoffing rather a lot at Ram Dass when I first encountered his work way back in the 70's. But I just decided the shift was because I'm in a different place now, and without really thinking about that I continued to read about mindfulness meditation and some of its tried and true techniques.

Our assignment this week is to try them out, try something different, so yesterday I did a Thich Nhat Hanh variation that involves counting the breaths -- up to 10 -- and then starting over. It was okay, though I drifted a bit: mostly I've just been glad to have my morning routine back. But this morning, with a ribbon of moonlight streaming across the water into my living room and a totally quiet household, I elected instead to turn my chair to face the moon and return to my own version of centering prayer.

By the time I arose from my chair -- some 40 minutes later -- I realized I'd been scoffing under the influence of Lesser's prose, and that, in actuality, I'm closer to what Pir Vilayat was talking about, and no more an adherent of Ram Dass than I ever was. And, more importantly, I realized again why it wasn't until I discovered Centering Prayer that meditation began to work for me.

It's not that I go into some angelic realm. And it's not that counting breaths is wrong. For me there seems to be some intermediate place between: not sleeping, not counting, and barely even breathing; a place completely here and now, yet a bit other-worldly, I suppose; a place that sits at the cusp of being and not-being, of me and not-me, a place where everything is suspended and yet fully present, where my body seems to breathe -- or maybe float in -- Divine restoration and healing.

It's not that I'm transported to some heavenly space; I'm totally present. I can hear the refrigerator humming in the background and the cats crying to be fed; I can feel the floor beneath my feet and the slight crick in my neck when I drift off into thought and my head starts tilting to the side. I'm not getting some divine revelation or seeing weird lights, but I'm not totally focused on breath either.

Maybe this is what Lessing calls "mystical meditation" as opposed to "mindfulness meditation." I'm not sure. All I know is that breath and mindfulness are not enough. They never were -- which I now suspect is why all my earlier attempts at a meditation practice failed. And suddenly the resistance I've been feeling to this book, to its instructions, and even to this class, became clear. Apparently, for me, meditation is inseparable from some awareness of the Divine. And though mindfulness is a huge value for me and I continue working to cultivate it in myself, it cannot be the end point of my work: the end point, for me -- however selfish this may seem -- is somehow inextricably entangled with my longing for Oneness, at a deep and surprisingly physical level.

So why this image? I guess because of its contrast with the image for today's poem -- which I wrote first, immediately after meditation. This picture is pretty enough, and probably a better composition: there's a moon, and an attractive steeple. But the steeple is not a church, it's a hotel (the Biltmore, in Coral Gables) and the moon isn't reaching out for me -- it's just there. So -- though it's lovely -- for me the image feels empty, like a meditation only about breath.

In the other image (which you see off to the left of this blog), there may be no church, or even anything that looks like a church. But there is, for me, a sense of Divine Presence, a presence which is reaching out to me, which is working for inclusion. And for me -- well, I guess that's what meditation will always be about: it's a way of renewing my commitment to -- and my relationship with -- God. Sometimes it "works" and sometimes it doesn't -- it's a bit like a marriage that way -- but I keep returning. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

As I write this, I am distracted by a flash at the window, and, turning, I see that the moon has moved into the tiny crack between my curtains and is winking at me. O Divine One, how could I ever have thought this practice wasn't first -- and only -- about being in love with You?

1 comment:

Maureen said...

I so appreciate how refreshed I feel after reading a post such as this. I like the way the honest, down-to-earth "scoffing" is offset by the unafraid declaration of love for Him.