Meditation and silent screaming.

Something I’ll do tomorrow, and something I do most Wednesday mornings, is attend a Christian meditation group. Based on the teachings of the desert fathers (or, if you’re one of the three people I know who have read An Alien At St Winifred’s, the dessert fathers, with their dedicated ministry of sweet pastries…), Christian meditation is about moving beneath and beyond the chattering, daily concerns of life, away from the mental and cerebral, and deeper into the self. It is within the self that we discover Other; it is within us that we discover the Being who created us. And, in resting in that Being, we learn to be.

That’s the theory, anyway, and it’s something that resonates within me. It’s something I’m drawn to; it’s something that I need to do, a spiritual imperative. This is the manifestation of my yearning for my Source.

It’s hard though, and at times it’s scary. In meditation, my mind quiets, and I manage (sometimes) to move below the regular mundane tumult of thought and mental to-do-lists and questions and worrying and planning…and when I do, I feel. There’s ten years worth of feeling there, and often it’s painful and often it’s scary and it’s only when my blathering rationality quiets that there’s room for feelings.

Sitting in the group, in the silence of meditation and in the company of other meditators, I’ve felt a scream build up inside me. Starting deep, just below the very bottom of my sternum, its grown and strengthened until I’ve felt that only opening my mouth and giving it voice would bring any sense of relief, of release.

I haven’t, of course. I am a person for whom self-control is a basic and valued attribute, and the idea of actually shattering that sacred silence with a scream of – what? Anger? Fear? A straightforward build-up of too much emotion over too many years? – simply wouldn’t be an option. But the scream is there, and it means something, and part of the journey to within my self that is meditation is working out what that means, and how it’s a part of the healing I’m still journeying towards.

I’ve thought about just bunking off – tossing meditation, like marathon-running, into the useful-but-not-for-me basket of things I’d once thought I’d like to do. Putting it aside until things are easier, more comfortable. But I can’t. As I seek my Source, the Source within me reaches out to Itself, and draws me ever closer to Itself.

Spirit will unfold, and doesn’t seem to care that I’m digging my heels in. I guess I can trust that Spirit knows what It’s doing.

Wellsprings.

One of the things I love is to pick the brains of creative people. Nerdy, yes – but I long ago decided that nerdy is cool.

I was talking to my oldest friend who is one of the most incredible people I know: she’s a talented artist, and creativity flows out of her like light; her intuition and spirituality naturally shine out of her. She’s an inspiration, creatively and spiritually and intellectually and simply in who she is, and amazingly, she’s my friend.

Anyway, we were talking about creativity, and I asked her where she feels that her ideas come from. Her answer: there’s a wellspring within each of us, something we can all access. It all comes from the same Source.

And here’s an interesting thing: as I’ve been learning about prayer and meditation, and delving, even slightly, into spirituality and meditation, I’ve discovered the very beginning of learning to delve down into the depths of my self, below thought. I have no idea what it’s like under the sea while a storm’s going on, but I imagine that there’s a sense of stillness beneath the tumult (I’m prepared to be proven wrong on this; it would be very interesting, and I am a nerd, after all). It’s that stillness, beneath the tempest of my daily thoughts, that I seek.

I’m learning – haltingly, stumblingly – to move beneath the chatter of the everyday, and dwell and be within my self. I’m learning that it’s within the depths of my self that Spirit dwells, and from where Spirit reaches out to Itself in what becomes prayer. It’s within my innermost being that I discover Spirit, the Source of my being, the genesis of my Creation, and, apparently, the origin of my creativity.

It’s why, despite the difficulties, I need to continue – hesitant, stumbling – on this journey of learning to meditate, of learning to pray. I need to learn – or re-learn – to be safe within my spirituality. To be cradled within the love of the Creator of compassion, the Source of love. I have to trust that my self holds not only the wellspring of creativity, but the wellspring of the Creator. I have to trust my self, and I have to trust the Creator.

It’ll make me a better writer, and it’ll make me a better person, but more than that – it will make me a whole person.

I’m not going back to being half a person.

The still small voice in the earthquake.

I’m back from my retreat, back to the real world and – perhaps pertinently – here are two quotes I’ve brought back with me:

Teilhard de Chardin: “By virtue of the creation and still more of the incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred.”

And Michael Mayne: “Prayer is a way of seeing my whole life as containing significance and beauty it would not otherwise have.”

It’s easy(ish) to find a space of quiet and stillness when you’re sitting on the edge of a lake, the sound of lorikeets in the trees above you and the closing evening welcomed by kookaburra calls; or when you’re sitting in a small, silent chapel in the retreat house; and when there’s no demands, no to-do-list, no conversation to have or problem to solve, nothing in that moment other than space, and God. It’s harder to find that quietude, that peace, in the day-to-day, in-your-face roar of a full-on job and the clamour of the office and the whirling mental map of all the places my day must take me.

But both Teilhard and Michael remind me: it’s not just the sacred space, created for prayer and quiet worship, that is in fact sacred. The pasta I inhaled while fighting with the computer rostering system – that’s sacred, and the body it nurtures and the biological processes it supports is sacred too. The people I deal with, both face-to-face and removed – they are sacred souls. My prayer is that my hands will be God’s hands, my words God’s words, and my heart God’s heart – and that is both so much more difficult, and so much more necessary, in the profane sacred of my day-to-day life.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire:
speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
o still small voice of calm. 

Sometimes it’s hard to hear that still, small voice of calm in the regular, mundane tumult of life. But it’s there – and sometimes I can hear it, and sometimes I can’t, but I’d really like to keep trying.

Still, if there’s an earthquake, then I quit.

Prayer and physio.

I’ve been busy, but I’ve been using my busyness as a barrier to spending time in prayer and meditation. And this, if I’m honest, is why: because I’m scared.

The wonderful theologian Michael Mayne (why have I only discovered him this week?) writes, on prayer, that “in silence we might find disturbing feelings bubbling up from our unconsciousness”. He writes that it’s the silence which we enter which opens us up to feelings we’ve long supressed, or refused to acknowledge, or thought we’d dealt with. Feelings that we’re ashamed of, that might be connected with the darker side of who we are. The emergence of this “shadow side”, he writes, is healthy, and can be a healing process.

I do want healing. I do want health: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. I do want wholeness, and I feel that I’m doing the things I need to do to get there: I’m eating well, not drinking too much, keeping myself safe when I’m not ok; I’m living a life in accordance with my values. But I’m not doing all the things I need to do to get there. I’ve been frantically trying to stop myself from feeling what was done to me. Trying to stop myself from feeling anger, and shame, and above all from feeling hurt and grief, because those feelings are horrible, and prickly, and painful, and if I’m honest with myself I don’t know how to handle them. So I keep busy and I make it hard for myself to do anything – like spend time in prayer and meditation – which gives these feelings an in. I don’t want them anywhere near me.

But that’s not how it works. If I break my leg tomorrow, I’ll spend time immobile in a cast, but then I’ll spend weeks in painful physical therapy, pushing myself, agonisingly stretching and strengthening abused and weakend muscles – and I’ll have no choice if I ever want to walk, and run, and move with the freedom and flexibility I currently enjoy. Not that I’ve ever broken my leg, or am planning on doing so – ever – but I’ve had enough experience of physical therapy to know that it’s painful.

Not as painful, perhaps, as the need to spend time feeling things I’ve long tried to pretend aren’t there. But there isn’t a choice. I feel them now, or I let them continue to cripple me. And my life is worth more than that.

Still, all in all, right now I think I’d rather the physio.

Water, fish, and the Spirit’s yearning.

“I don’t pray,” said my spiritual director once. Before I had time to do more than blink at the incongruency of a sister of Saint Joseph stating so emphatically that she doesn’t do one of the central tenets of our faith, she continued: “the Spirit within me prays and reaches out to Itself”.

I’m struggling to get back into my spiritual practice because it’s fallen off the radar – partly because I’ve been busy, but partly because I’ve made my busyness into a barrier to something that’s vital, and lifegiving, and hard, and sometimes painful, and sometimes frightening. There was a (short) while, though, where my spiritual practice was an integral part of each day. And that time was, in a way I can’t quite put my finger on, different.

Sitting quietly one day in prayerful meditation (or as close to it as my constantly-whirring mind can get), I found the name of an old friend rising to my consciousness. This happened over several days and I found myself, strange as it seems, drawn to praying for her. I found out several weeks later that she’d been unwell at the time, struck down by a virulent virus that laid her low for weeks. Why did the name of someone I hadn’t spoken to or thought of for quite some time come to the forefront of my mind during those times of prayer? The Spirit reaching out to Itself, indeed.

Now, though, my spirituality and my spiritual practice have fallen off the radar – and while I’m permeated and surrounded and underpinned by the Source of my being, I’ve lost that sense of mindfulness of it. I’m the fish that swims around happily inside his tank, entirely and blissfully unaware of the water that suspends and sustains him. Which is fine – he is no less supported and sustained for his oblivion – but the difference is that the water which supports him is not yearning for him to reach out to it, to open himself to it. The water which supports him does not also dwell within him, waiting as the Sacred does in us to be, to quote Michael Mayne, “released into expression”.

The Spirit within me yearns to be sought, and drawn upon. Despite my own questions around my worth, my value, the Creator yearns for connection with me, Its creature. And despite my fear, the creature longs for the Creator.

All of which means I have to do something. Like the fish, I will be no more or less sustained and supported because of my consciousness of that fact: nothing, actually, will change.

And yet, everything will change.

Cold feet, no socks and a bit of a shock.

I went, as I usually do, to my meditation group this morning. I didn’t have a great start to the day: I woke abruptly at the height of nightmare, sweating and gasping for breath and unable to shake that sense of malise drawn from a nocturnal narrative I could not remember in those first seconds after waking, but which lingered for much of the morning. But I wanted to go to meditation group, and I’m sick of basing my valued actions on the limitations sometimes placed upon me by PTSD, so off I went to meditation group.

It was hard – today was harder than most days are, to be honest. And the small, vibrant Catholic sister who runs the group said something, right at the very beginning, which completely threw me. It probably would have thrown me even if I’d been riding an even keel today. To begin the group, to call our attention downwards and inwards and outwards to the God in which we dwell, she said, “Let us do what we do best: sit and be: be ourselves”.

My immediate and slightly misunderstanding reaction: No, that’s not what I do best! I can’t meditate, I’m useless at meditating, I keep going off topic and thinking about how my feet are cold and I really should have brought socks, and I’m sure I’m doing it wrong and I just can’t get myself together and now it’s supposed to be the thing I do best at, what does that say about everything else I do when I’m so utterly shit at the thing I’m supposed to be best at…etc, etc, etc. Panic, panic, panic. Stupid brain.

My second thought was only slightly more reassuring: Actually, she doesn’t mean that meditation is the thing I do best. She means that being is the thing I do best. Being myself. Being my self. Being me. What? No! I’m not good at being, I’m rubbish at being! I’m good at doing, that’s what I do, I do things, I’m competent, I’m not good at being! 

Again with: stupid brain.

I rarely stop, so I haven’t had much practise at being rather than doing, and I haven’t had much experience in feeling that just being is enough. The idea that my value comes simply from who and what I am, as opposed to what I do, is slightly foreign to me. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Somehow, my value to the Sacred Creator is not based on my job, or how well I sing, or whether my flat is tidy, or how neat my handwriting is or even if I write my self-allocated minimum word-count for the day. Somehow, my value to the Sacred Creator, the Source of my whole life, is simply that I am.

It’s kind of a big thing to get my head around. And my feet really were cold. I really should have brought socks.

An oddly overwhelming message.

I wrote yesterday about the wonderful plan I have to eat lunch at my desk, and then spend my half-hour lunch break outside, under the beauty of a tree or allowing my mind to be lulled by the music of the river which wends through the park near my work. To spend that time in prayer, in reflection, in meditation. In solitude, and in peace.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that my plan didn’t work – the day got busy, a meeting got scheduled, and before I knew it, it was four o’clock. Then suddenly, five to five. Then five past five, at which point I was stupid enough to pick up the insistently ringing phone (I finish work at five o’clock). Then gone half-past five by the time I got out – with not one heartbeat spent in peace, or prayer, or reflection.

And I chafe against it, and I resent it a little bit (really, day? You can’t give me a break for half an hour?), but I’m also kind of ok with it. Because increasingly I’m aware of the fact that I rely on the busyness of my mind. I rely on the demands of my life, on my lack of leisure time, on my lack of mental stillness, on the constant movement of my mind. Because stillness is scary. Because stillness – I think I might have said this before – gives emotion a chance. Because stillness forces me to face the fact that I’m tired, fairly constantly. That sometimes I’m frustrated. That sometimes I’m angry. That often I’m sad. That sometimes I’m happy – which is actually, perhaps counter-intuitively, more frightening than simple sadness.

In my meditation group yesterday, I found myself swept towards the sense of overwhelmedness. The ticking of the clock was urgent and thunderous in the room’s silence; the quiet sweep of morning traffic outside was clamourous, chaotic. The silence itself became just as overwhelming as the din of a crowded room. It was tempting simply to stand up, gather my keys from the floor under my chair, and walk out.

I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe because I was tired – it’s a before-sunrise start to get to the morning meditation group. Maybe because it’s been a number of weeks since I’ve done any sort of meditation at all, and my mind is no longer used to being devoid of demands. Maybe because I was apprehensively facing my frist day back at work after a fortnight’s leave. Maybe because I have post-traumatic stress disorder and my limbic system is an over-reactive drama queen. Who knows.

My hunch though, was that it was all of the above. And that somehow, there’s probably a lesson in that: slow the hell down. Thank you. Love, God.