This afternoon after a good and productive morning and a lovely meet up and lunch with an old friend I became acutely aware of the finiteness of my life. Somehow the greyness of the morning sky lifting to an Indian summer afternoon changed how at that moment I was perceiving the world. In that instance I awakened with fear and sadness that one day I will cease being a part of this reality. Where I will move onto if anywhere no one can tell for certain.
As these emotions have stayed with me as the afternoon moved into evening I remind myself of the much repeated saying ‘enjoy each moment as it maybe your last’. How true. We cannot know with certainty what is waiting for us in the coming minutes, hours, days, weeks and months. That certainty lessens as we get older. I realised today how much happiness, enjoyment, connectedness and other feelings I don’t feel as I miss the present moment. I am instead propelling myself into the future or regressing into past events. In doing this as most of us do I miss the present moment and do not allow myself to truly experience it. Reality is, as we all know, the only truth. Unfortunately we either don’t think we have time to savour each moment or wish to avoid the experience.
I have spent part of this evening reflecting on how I can empower myself to live more fully in the present moment and savour the experience. Maybe the answer is for me to consciously stop momentarily at intervals throughout my day, to breathe deeply and connect with awareness to the present moment. How do I feel? What am I thinking? What physical sensations am I experiencing? What is happening? What can I smell, hear and see? Maybe I need to set an alarm on my phone so I am reminded to stop. This I believe over a period of time will facilitate me to learn a new pattern of connecting to and being in the world. This practice may help me to be more present in the moment.
I try to do a daily spiritual practice either through mindfulness meditation or contemplative prayer. My practice’s aim is to facilitate me to quieten my mind, bring about a sense of spaciousness and ground me into the present moment. Additionally this will facilitate me to move further away from the grasp of my ego. I hope my contemplative practice will assist me to enter into the relationship of Oneness with the Universal energy I call God.
In contemplative prayer we are entering a spiritual practice in the beginning to learn to experience glimpses of being One with the Divine, God, World Consciousness or Ultimate Reality. Having a daily spiritual contemplative practice helps to achieve the moments of Oneness and lengthen these moments.
Another way of understanding contemplative practices is through the writings of Willigis Jäger (Contemplation – A Christian Path). These practices ‘lead to quieting of the ego-consciousness, so that we are able to experience Universal Consciousness. This is the Divine Consciousness’ (p109). Contemplation within the Christian mystic tradition refers to a particular objectless prayer.
In terms of mindfulness this is a state of being fully present in the moment – focussing my attention on the moment then the next moment, second by second. Slipping intentionally fully into the moment connecting with ‘all that is’ at that instance. Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are) gives a definition of mindfulness as ‘paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally’ (p4).
He writes that the power of mindfulness lies in its practice and its application. Mindfulness meditation is a state of simply being a witness of what arises in the mind or body, to recognise it, not condemn it nor pursue it. We do this with the awareness that our judgements are unavoidable. Mindfulness meditation is a direct contact with the experience itself.
The other day I was attending a mid week Holy Communion service. Yes I am a practicing Christian but I would definitely call myself a ‘liberal Christian’. Anyway back to the reason for writing this blog. I was listening to a short sermon where we were being reminded about how several years ago it was popular amongst Christians to wear a rubber wrist band with the letters ‘WWJD’ printed on it. The letters stand for ‘what would Jesus do?’ I have over the years heard people say how powerful and helpful it can be when faced with a challenging, complex or unclear decision/situation to look at it from the perspective of what would Jesus do?
Although a Christian all my life this is not a question I have asked myself nor have I ever thought of asking it. Maybe a shocking admission from a practicing Christian for another practicing Christian to hear. The reason why is that I don’t remember to ask the question. I don’t think my religious upbringing included this way of relating to Jesus. I don’t know. There is also something around figuring it out for myself and being guided by God as to what to do.
I do sometimes use a technique that I have been trained in several times as a psychotherapist and have used with clients. It goes like this, think of someone you trust and respect, what would this person do or say in the situation you find yourself in? If you want to gain a broader perspective think of another person you trust and respect and think about how they would approach the situation you are needing to deal with. Now you are in a position to act from one of these approaches, or having decided what another person(s) might do, you decide to do something else altogether.
On my spiritual quest I have had to learn patience. This has centred around that saying in life that ‘you can’t run before you have learnt to walk’. Sometimes a difficult saying to hear. In my spiritual reading I have come across wise words and deep teaching that unexpectedly I am unable to comprehend when I had understood the previous paragraph.
I need to constantly remind myself that there are aspects/parts of the spiritual journey that I will not understand yet. I need to be further along the path of my spiritual development. I can read passages describing experiences, understand the words but discover I am totally unable to comprehend or conceptualise or experience the written themes. This is a process that cannot be rushed. It cannot be learnt mechanically or by rote. Our spiritual growth is an internal and very personal journey with each of us having different experiences and and needing to navigate different hurdles and obstacles.
This is such an important lesson I need to learn. I need to continually remind myself of this when I become frustrated with myself as I struggle with a concept. This is particularly true when I am not experiencing what I want. I believe the way forward for me is to discover a way of taking on the position of the beginner’s mind. I need to remind myself that I am an apprentice learning to raise my level of consciousness through a spiritual practice. It takes time and dedication to commit to following a spiritual practice.