Sunday, October 17, 2010


"Be still and know..."

Listening today to Something Understood on Radio 4 about the role of ways of knowing other than the rational, I am brought to reflect on reflection as preparation for both activity, including writing, and for meditation.

Saint Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises as we practised them in the novitiate and on retreat, gives a prayer to be said before each period of meditation to purify the intention and one of my earliest Buddhist teachers used to spend preliminary time focusing on intention.There is, however, more to preparation than simply intention, particularly preparation for action and for discursive or visualisation meditation. There is the 'wake up' call to the unconscious processes.

Sometimes I find that music helps to set my rational mind freewheeling, although I will turn it off for meditation time itself. I notice that surgeons (and pathologists) often work to music.

At other times, I will read a short passage over a few times. I used to use Scripture or the sutras but, today, I am much more likely to use poetry or a story (Anthony de Mello is useful) to set mood and tone.

Of course, once the task, be it writing or meditation is under way (under weigh? like a ship), there is no guarantee that the initial tone will persist but that hardly matters. This is just like an athlete warming up. Saint Paul compares the Christian to someone in a race and those of us who have done sport will know the importance of the warm-up session - and, indeed, a cool down afterwards. I have found that a pre- and post-meditation discipline has helped enormously. The addition of prostrations before sitting seems to have enable a greater quiet, although it is harder to practise this when I am in a semi-public place like Emmaus House. My solution is to try to turn up a bout ten minutes before meditation time.

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