This is a post I have been putting off for some time. I want to write about the third dimension of my journey, the part which relates to the Spirit. I have balked at the line many times in the last couple of weeks because I find it so hard to gather the words; or at least the right words. I have no trouble coming up with an impressive and academical description of what I have learned, but that sort of stuff is no use to anybody, least of all me: I remember C. S. Lewis' advice that any fool can speak learned language, and that if you can't express something in the vernacular then you either don't understand it or you don't believe it. So perhaps I am writing this in an attempt to understand. I'll do it in two or three bite sized chunks, and begin by telling you how I started my day today.
I got up at about 7, a bit later than usual, showered, fed the cat and set some oatmeal to soak in apple juice. Then I went to my study, lit a candle and turned on the heater. I then put on a dark floor length woolen cloak. This is a priest's cloak, given to me by an elderly priest on his retirement. It's supposed to be for wearing on outdoors liturgical occasions such as funerals, but I have never used it for that: when wearing it I look a bit like Darth Vader or Batman and it scares the children; but it makes a very good meditation blanket and so it is now in daily use again. I removed my shoes and glasses and sat on my meditation stool. This little wooden stool allows me to kneel for long periods and is, now that my knees and ankles have got over the surprise of it, the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house. I set the meditation timer on my PDA to 45 minutes and took my seat: that is, I assumed the posture which months of experimentation had shown me was the one which I could sustain without movement for a lengthy period. I felt the thick warm cloth around me, and felt enveloped in it and in the sanctity of the old man who gave it to me and in the tradition to which we both have committed our lives. I heard the rumble of traffic outside and the creaking of the house as it emerged from night. I reminded myself why I was there, and of the fact that there were no time demands. I had no pressures, nothing else to do, nowhere to go. I stated my intention to be still, and then I began to be consciously aware of my body and of the breath as it moved into and out of me. I didn't so much think of these things as just be aware of them. Then I began to repeat my mantra: Maranatha, an Aramaic word which means something like Come Lord. Not that the meaning mattered. I repeated the word in time with my breath and tried to hear it inside my head without thinking about what it meant. And so I sat. Thoughts came and went, and occasionally took me with them, but I just let them go on their merry way. If I was distractred, the mantra brought me back to the present moment and to my still body in the warmth of the darkened room. My timer made a small pacing sound at 20 minutes and at 40. I was very aware of the input from all my senses, and particularly of an itch in my ear and a dull pain in my thigh which appeared after 30 minutes or so. With both, I noticed them, and "relaxed into them" and observed them fade away. The timer sounded at the end of my time and I rose to knees and prayed for a minute or two. In that place of awareness and concentration I always hold someone before God; usually just one and it is not necessary to labour over it. This morning it was Clemency as she prepares for her new term. I am very aware of how hard she works and how the whole basis of her teaching is the deep love she develops for each of the children fortunate enough to have been committted to her care; but I didn't say any of that. God knows about it more than me and doesn't need to be told, so my prayer was simply May Clemency be well. Then I stood, extinguished the candle and took off the cloak and moved into my day.
I have travelled in a great circle around the planet and seen some wonderful things over this past few months, but it all leads to here: to this room filled with my books and the photographs of my family; to a cold Dunedin morning and an old man's cloak. In 45 minutes there is nothing. No great revelations or ideas , no overwhelming sense of God, no trances or special emotional states. Here there is a place of silence, of nothingness. It is the quieting of the self in a kind of death: the death that must always precede resurrection. It is a bridgehead of truth into the jangling tumble of my mind. It is, increasingly, the platform on which the rest of my life is built. It is the place from which, increasingly, all my other activities and all my relationships draw their perspective. Sometime around the middle of the day I will sit still again for a more liturgical and traditionally focused time which will include Bible reading and prayer. I will close the day with another period of silence, perhaps half an hour, in which I will use the resources of imagination and emotion. Why do this? Well, I'll have to think about that a bit before I can tell you.