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.



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.

Low at his feet, and compassion.

I wrote yesterday about Michael Mayne’s comment, that if fatigue and anger and the bleakness of life is all you have to offer in prayer and sacrifice, then that’s what you offer. It is with those things that you do honour to the Creator, because the Creator and Source of all knows deeply and profoundly what it is to be tired.

And in many ways, that’s easy. It’s easy to own to being tired, to lift that in offering: I’m tired, I feel unwell, I had an asthma attack yesterday and a rubbish night’s sleep, and I’m starting a headache and I didn’t make time for a proper lunch today, and God I feel like shit, but here you go. It’s all yours because it’s all I’ve got. 

It’s harder when all I’ve got is actually not caused by physiological realities. When it’s not tiredness of the body, but tiredness of my soul. Some days are good, and it’s easy to offer how I’m feeling as my prayer; other days aren’t good, and what I’ve got to offer is bleakness, and pain, and anger, and grief, and shame. The weight of the past, and my guilt that I cannot yet shed it; the anger of rapes and beatings and ten years’ worth of injustices and unfairnesses; the fear of panic attacks and the impact they have, and my shame that I cannot control them.

And that’s hard to offer not because it’s a pretty crappy gift – which it is – but because offering means owning it. Offering it means acknowledging that this is what’s going on – and that it hurts. I’d rather not offer it, to be honest. I’d rather be alone with it and pretend it’s not there than I would gather it up and acquiesce to it, and actually recognise the impact it all has.

There’s no choice, though – I get that. Until I actually acknowledge it all, and honour it, and feel it, I won’t heal from it – I’ll just bury it and pretend it’s not there, and carry it around unadmitted until I work up the courage to look at it.

In lifting all this shit up to the Source of all compassion, I must find the courage to face compassion. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and that’s what I have to do.

Low at his feet lay your burden of carefulness; high on his heart he will bear it for you. 

I know these words to be true – living them, though, is a whole other matter.

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.

A slight shock, and going on retreat.

I just logged back in to my blog to note that the last entry was dated fifth of June. Really? FIfth of June? Have I been that neglectful? But WordPress is telling the truth: yes, it’s been that long. I haven’t written since last Thursday.

My calendar doesn’t lie either, and my habit of putting star stickers on the squares for the days on which I do a certain amount of writing is quite telling: there aren’t all that many stickers so far in June. There are some, which is something – but not as many as I’d like. Life’s been busy: work, home, singing. There have been appointments, and there have been church committments and blessed, wonderful time with friends whom I adore. And there’s been bleakness, and the intellectual tranquilisers on which I admit I’ve been relying recently. That’s just the way things go sometimes, and it has to be ok because the alternative is that it’s not ok, and then I get grumpy at myself and things go downhill from there. So, whether I agree with myself on that or not, I’ve decided that it’s ok.

The thing I’ve realised is not ok, though, is that among the important things that have fallen off the radar (and why is it always the important things that fall off the radar? My ironing is done, but I haven’t put pen to paper…) is my spirituality. My quiet time, that time of slowness and stillness, that time of holding in my conscious mind my inherent connection with the Sacred, the Divine, the very Source of my being.  The soothing rhythms of the prayers, the wordless meaning of the recitations which only reveals itself with repitition and concentration.

So I’ve come away. I’ve taken a week off work, and booked myself into a spirituality centre right on the edge of the lake, and the calendar on my phone and my computer has been cleared. I’ve been for a walk today, and sat on a rock overlooking the lake, and I’ve done some writing, and I’ve spent time in quiet and in space, and I’ll learn once more to prioritise those things which make me who and what I am: a writer, a singer, a spiritual being, a creature of the Creator. I’ll focus on being rather than doing, and I’ll remind myself that I’m actually designed to spend time in quietude, and I’ll remember what peace feels like.

And I’m thinking that I’ll probably have an early night.