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Christian Meditation by James Finley

by davesandel on October 15th, 2012

Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, A Guide to Contemplation by James Finley, 2004

290 pages

Read 9-2012, reviewed, 10-2012

Thoughts on Christian Meditation

A year ago Margaret and I had the chance to see a DVD presentation by James Finley, Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault called “Following the Mystics: Through the Narrow Gate.”  Finley’s humor and quiet peaceful style captured both of us.  A few months ago I found a copy of Finley’s Awakening Call in the Marytown library (Libertyville, IL, where the Transforming Community retreats are held).  I read a chapter or two and loved it.

Christian Meditation was written twenty years after Awakening Call.  I found myself fascinated once again, drawn by Finley’s logic, his prose, and especially his transparent compassion toward himself and all of us who strive to meditate as well as we can.

After nearly six years at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, twenty-four year old Finley left the cherished tutelage of Thomas Merton and returned to Ohio.  With difficulty he re-engaged himself in the world outside the monastery.  Ten years later he wrote Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, soon thereafter earning his doctorate in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary.  Finley then embarked on a thirty-year career as psychotherapist and retreat leader.  During all this time, he practiced and taught meditation.  After lengthy exploration of the methods of Eastern meditation, especially Zen meditation, he returned to the Christian mystical tradition he had found in the monastery.

Finley’s understanding of Christian meditation flows through the twelfth century “Ladder of Monks”: he describes Guigo’s four moves up the ladder as reverential reading, discursive meditation, the prayer of longing, and finally contemplation (waiting for and resting in God’s presence).   In Latin, these are lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.  Regular practice of Christian meditation prepares me and opens me to whatever God wants to give at any time.

Gradually, meditative experience frees me from repetitive and negative self-talk.  It also reduces the insidious power of memory to define me out of the past rather than in the present moment.  However, in meditation I am humbled to discover how powerless I am to accomplish either of these objectives on my own.  Rather, they are simple gifts of God, who loves me “invincibly,” and they often come in the midst of my frail attempts at silence and stillness.

This quiet “therapy” opens my soul, and experience of God replaces ego as the joy of my life.  Even so, I am more thoroughly and joyfully “me” than before.  Destructive memories are transformed into precious points of life in my unfolding story as God touches me tenderly in the remembrance.  God’s compassion revitalizes my forgiveness of myself and others.    My experience of time passing, of chronos, continues; but the sense that this is “God’s time,” or kairos, rests lightly upon it all.  God’s presence fills every moment, every one, every place, every thing.

To the extent our clients are open to practicing Christian meditation, I want to model and offer it.  When Dr. Finley practices psychotherapy and spiritual direction, he provides himself and his clients with this tool, which promises great things.  More importantly, he provides his clients with a compass that consistently and accurately points toward True North, toward God.  God is beyond concept, beyond metaphor, beyond predictable experience but, on the other hand, we are never beyond Her reach.   As Finley puts it, we approach the narrow gate, and then unexpectedly God walks right out to meet us.  (Finley alternates the his/her, him/her pronoun, hoping God’s infinity will trump any sense of gender we might have about Him).

The eloquence Finley achieves in his writing rolls on beyond language into rhythm.  His repeated phrases dance their way through my mind.  The verbal metronome was neither hypnotic nor irritating to me.  But rather than always expecting another clever turn of phrase or creative metaphor (although there are plenty of both), I simply relaxed into reading the phrases, over and over and over again.  I began to feel quiet and still as I read.  Finley surely intended for me to experience this, just as he surely experienced meditative awareness himself as he wrote.

Finley extensively quotes The Cloud of Unknowing and St. John of the Cross to help his readers make the jump from identifying God with consoling feelings to letting God identify himself.  We can be made ready for our own times of darkness and aridity as we accept God’s acceptance of us as we are.  If God is for us, then who can be against us?  What St. John of the Cross calls “soulful labor” slowly ceases.

Finley explores four questions about the changes we will experience as Christian meditation becomes habitual:  How am I to understand what is happening to me?  How am I to deal with this mysterious and sometimes painful dying away of who I experience myself to be?  How am I to understand this new sense of spiritual fulfillment and oneness with God that is being born out of this dying?  And how can I learn to offer as little resistance as possible to this process?

Finley offers one theological chapter entitled “Entering the Mind of Christ,” in which he thinks through individual oneness with God; Trinitarian mysticism; being a created person, being human in the presence of God, human in the presence of others, and human in the presence of the created world.  He ends the chapter with a discussion of the nature of sin.

As Finley finishes the book, he includes five perceptive chapters on the physical aspects of meditation: Be present, open and awake.  Sit still.  Sit straight.  Breathe slowly, deeply, and naturally.  Keep your eyes closed or lowered toward the ground.  He writes about walking meditation.  He concludes by reminding us of God’s compassion, which allows us to be compassionate toward ourselves and others.


What follow are quotations from Christian Meditation, sometimes drawn together over a few paragraphs or pages.  The book consists of acknowledgements, a foreword, fourteen chapters and notes.

Enjoy …


This book is intended to serve a a hands-on users’ manual for those interiorly drawn to practice meditation in this rich mystical heritage of Christian faith. – p. xi

God is understood as infinite and as such, beyond all finite categories, including masculine and feminine.  God is creator, the infinite source, ground, and fulfillment of the feminine and the masculine.  But because of the patriarchal culture in which the Judeo-Christian tradition has emerged, the scriptures and classical texts of theology and spirituality have tended almost exclusively to use the masculine personal pronoun in referring to God.  I have chosen to use inclusive language in referring to God.  This seems all the more fitting in a book of contemplative spirituality, which seeks to evoke a graced awareness of oneness with God that recognizes and transcends all finite categories and distinctions. – p. xii

Chapter 1.  Divine Destination

Down through the centuries Christian mystics, monks and nuns, hermits, and countless seekers have yielded to the transforming power of the Spirit of god within us.  This is not to suggest that Christians cannot benefit from Yoga, Zen, and other faith traditions.  Limiting myself to specifically Christian language within a broader respect for non-Christian traditions is something I learned from Thomas Merton.  He said just before he died that everything he was searching for in eastern religion was present in the monastery, present in his own hermitage, present in his own Christian tradition. – p. 2-3

Meditation is the transformative process of shifting from surface, matter-of-fact levels of ego consciousness to more interior, meditative levels of awareness of the spiritual dimensions of our lives. – p. 5

Ego consciousness (our self-reflective bodily self in time and space) says, “I want, I think, I need, I feel, I remember, I like, I don’t like,” and so on.  It is a precious gift from God.  But it is not expansive enough to fill our hearts.  It is not generous enough or gracious enough to bring us all the way home.  For creates our hearts in such a way that only God will do.  Infinite love creates our hearts in such a way that only an infinite union with infinite love will do. – p. 6

We meditate so that we might awaken to the already present nature of the oneness with god we seek. Like walking into the ocean, we begin and remain humbly open to the first stirrings of our journey into God, knowing that our journey will, in God’s good time, get plenty deep, soon enough. – p. 8

Our very being and the very being of everyone and everything around us is the generosity of God.  God is creating us in the present moment, loving us into being, such that our very presence in the present moment is the manifested presence of God.  We meditate that we might awaken to this unitive mystery. – p. 9

This is how Christ lived.  In everything and everyone, he saw God.  We meditate that we might learn to see through Christ’s eyes the divine mystery of all that surrounds us. – p. 9

In July 1961 after graduating high school I asked my father if I could go to the monastery to be a monk.  He said no.  I left that night.  I lived at Gethsemani in Kentucky for 5 ½ years.  Early morning chanting of the psalms, monastic liturgy, study of Scripture, simple vegetarian diet, manual labor, working with the animals all fit together into a single pattern of paced meditative living. – p. 12

The perpetual silence affected me the most.  It was not that I never spoke.  As a novice, I spoke with Thomas Merton every other week for spiritual direction.  But I gave myself to the silence, found God in it, and for that I am immensely grateful. – p. 13

Spiritual reading naturally leads to discursive meditation.  The term meditation  is used in traditional Christian literature to refer to discursive meditation, in which we prayerfully reflect on what we have read … Spiritual reading, discursive meditation, and prayer prepare our hearts for contemplation.  Contemplation is a state of realized oneness with God.  We rest in God resting in us.  We are at home in God at home in us.  Our role in contemplation is essentially receptive; we receive a gift of divine awareness, to which we are left to say yes or no, to accept or reject. – p. 16-18

In real life the truly profound is found in the truly simple.  Jazz musician John Coltrane practiced scales throughout his musical career.  When asked why, he said he did it to become a saint.  In practicing meditation we will, in effect, be practicing scales so as to become saints, men and women who never cease to be amazed by the generosity of God that ceaselessly flows through all that is most simple and immediate in life itself, and through us to others. – p. 20

Chapter 2.  Learning to Meditate

The very fact that you sincerely desire to practice meditation means you are being blessed in a most extraordinary way. – p. 22

In my spiritual direction sessions, I would frequently ask Thomas Merton about my prayer and meditation practices, where I felt stuck, what I didn’t understand.  I found his answers helpful and clarifying, but he never told me how to meditate.  There is no specifically Christian way to meditate.  But each method embodies a specifically Christian way of understanding and entering into acts and attitudes inherently endowed with the capacity to awaken more interior, meditative states of consciousness. – p. 23

Guidelines for meditation practiced by Finley:

With respect to the body Sit still, sit straight, close your eyes or lower them toward the ground, breathe slowly and naturally, place your hands in a natural or meaningful position in your lap.
With respect to the mind Be present, open and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting any thoughts, feelings and sensations we experience in meditation.
With respect to attitude Maintain non-judgmental compassion toward yourself as you experience yourself clinging to and rejecting everything, and non-judgmental compassion toward others in their powerlessness, one with yours.

p. 24

If you did nothing but simply sit each day, silent and still, attentive to your breathing, with your eyes closed or lowered toward the ground, you would be doing yourself a huge favor.  But there remains the question of what to do in meditation with what we tend to think of as our minds. – p. 26

The goal is to neither think our thoughts nor try to have any thoughts.  Rather, the goal is to sit still and straight, meditatively aware of each thought as it arises, endures, and passes away.  When we meditate we are not seeking to have thoughts of God but seeking to know God beyond our most profound thoughts about him (The Cloud of Unknowing). – p. 27

St. John of the Cross reminds us, that as wonderful and consoling as feelings of God’s presence might be, they are not God.  All consolations and spiritual gifts are finite and as such are infinitely less than God, who is infinite.  God made our hearts in such a way that only God will do.  Or we might say that infinite love made our hearts in such a way that only an infinite union with infinite love will do. – p. 28

So we are not cling to whatever consolations we are fortunate enough to experience as we meditate.  And in the arid absence of any sense of God’s presence we are to remind ourselves that this absence, though perhaps difficult, is but the absence of what is infinitely less than the infinite union with God that alone fulfills our heart.  Our sense of equanimity comes from our sense that God is wholly present in, yet wholly transcends, both consolation and aridity. – p. 28

Jesus abandoned himself to the Father’s will in the big picture of his own unfolding life.  In meditation we imitate Christ by abandoning ourselves to the providential flow of sounds of children, of the clock chiming, of the darkening at sunset, of our own breathing, to the thought passing, just now, through our mind. – p. 29

As you do this, you are likely to experience just how inept we human beings are at doing such a simple thing as being simply present in the present moment.  You can use awareness of  your breathing as an anchoring place in the present moment.  You can also choose a single word such as God, mercy, or Jesus, a phrase from Scripture, a prayer or hymn and say it silently as you drift away.  I find it helpful to pair breath awareness with the phrase, “I love you.” – p. 30

But even so, meditation has a way of laying bare our poverty.  We sincerely intend to be present, open and awake, only to discover we are not.  We need compassion for ourselves as we discover ourselves clinging to and rejecting everything. – p. 31

As we experience God’s infinite compassion for us, we learn to be compassionate toward others as precious in their own frailty.  A refrain in the lives and teachings of the Christian mystics is that only love and all that is given in love is real.  Love is at once the means and end of the journey into God, who is love itself. – p. 31

Do not be in a hurry.  Know that no matter how hard you push, you cannot push yourself beyond where you are, just as you are, in the present moment.  Nor do you need to. – p. 32

As your newly awakening heart is allowed to repeatedly rest in meditative awareness, it slowly discovers its center of gravity in the hidden depths of God.  Your new awareness will unexpectedly flash forth as you go through your day. – p. 33

Learning to rest in an abiding sense of confidence in God, you learn to see the God-given Godly nature of yourself, others, and everything around you. – p. 34

But I can always use a little pep talk.  There is in me that which has long since passed through the open door into God.  There is that in me that, in the very act of writing this sentence, is passing through the open door into God.  And there is that in me that loiters just outside the door, still reluctant, confused and afraid to enter.  Take courage, fellow traveler, as you perpetually renew your efforts to begin again and again the journey that was already well underway before the creation of the universe. – p. 40

Be sincere and open in your willingness to let God lead you into the silent simplicity of your own meditation.  For it is in that silent simplicity that you will be transformed in ways you cannot and do not need to comprehend or imagine. – p. 41

Chapter 3.  Meditative Experience

There is something about simply sitting still, quietly attentive to your breathing, that tends to evoke less agitated, less thought-driven modes of meditative awareness.  When this shift toward more interior, meditative states of awareness embodies a sincere desire for God, a new capacity to realize oneness with God begins to emerge. – p. 42

Your awareness of this awakens you to that which transcends this.  This can be anything, a kind gesture, a child’s face, a lone bird circling, a wind that signals an upcoming storm.  This is nothing special, really. – p. 43

But the moments of awareness can have great psychological intensity.  Maslow called them “peak experiences.”  Just one such experience can change your whole life. – p. 44

What it is these moments awaken us to?  We are not inclined to say.  That which is glimpsed is intuitively recognized as transcending anything we might say concerning it. – p. 44

No sooner does the moment of awakening occur than it passes away as mysteriously as it came.  We return to our customary way of experiencing things.  But not quite.  The coming and going of our moments of awakening began to graze our hearts with longing.  We find ourselves going about with a certain holy discontent, a kind of homesickness. – p. 45

So we begin to meditate.  By meditation I mean, in this context, any act habitually entered into with our whole heart as a way of awakening and sustaining a more interior meditative awareness of the present moment.  It could be baking bread, tending the roses, or taking long, slow walks to no place in particular.  We might find ourselves drawn to painting, or reading, or writing poetry, or listening to music.  Perhaps we yearn to be alone, truly alone, with no addictive props or escapes.  Or our practice may be that of being with that person in whose presence we awakened to what is most real and vital in our life. – p. 45-46

We might find ourselves slowly reading the psalms or stopping on the way home from work to slowly walk through a cemetery or to sit in the back of an empty and silent church.  We cannot explain it, but when we give ourselves over to these simple acts, we are taken to a deeper place. – p.46

We discover that we cannot make our moments of spontaneous meditate awakening occur.  But we learn to choose to make ourselves as open and receptive as possible to the graced event of discovering God one with us in life itself. – p. 46

So we sit and wait for our awareness of this breath to awaken to the presence of God that wholly transcends this breath. – p. 46

Little by little, or all at once, we find a hallowed clearing in which we learn to quietly rest with a sense of trusting expectancy.  As we practice meditation, a more habitual meditative awareness slowly becomes our way of experiencing our day-by-day lives.  So it is we might learn to be the contemplative man or woman we know we, deep down, really are and are called to be. – p. 47

No matter how expansive our imagery, our words pale in significance to that which transcends all that words can say. – p. 47

There is something more.  Something stunningly more.  In our moments of spontaneous meditative experience, our awareness of this awakens us to that which transcends this, manifesting itself in and as this.  The mystery to which you are awakened awakens you to itself in and as the concrete immediacy of what just is. – p. 49

We now have our finger on Christ’s pulse.  Jesus was always calling out to those around him to join him in seeing the Godly nature of everyone and everything he saw.  We now have our finger on the pulse of the mystics.  It is out of this meditatively realized oneness with God in life itself that Saint Francis called the sun his brother and the moon his sister. – p. 49-50

We sense we must be careful so as not to love a person, place or thing too much lest it hold us back from loving god, who is infinitely beyond all that God creates.  But as our meditative journey ripens and matures, we look out at the mountains and are amazed to discover ourselves silently crying out, “My beloved is the mountains.”  As we spend a day in the mountains, we sense that we are spending the day in God, wholly present in and as the mountains. – p. 50

Now we have a finger on our own pulse as we lose our footing in our perceived otherness from God in the midst of things.  When I see a sunset and give myself over to its beauty, I cannot find the place at which the sun’s beauty ends and mine begins.  Nor am I inclined to try to do so.  The moment is such that I and the beauty of the sunset are experienced as being simply and unexplainably one. – p. 50

Romano Guardini writes about this experience we have with God.  A distinction remains between an infinite creator and ourselves as God’s finite creation.  But then we are given to realize that although we are not God, neither are we other than God.  The paradoxical truth, Guardini suggests, lies at the heart of all religious experience.  In fact, meditative experience is the experiential intimacy of faith, as we fleetingly realize this closer-than-close presence of God, as intimately and unexplainably as we know the palms of our own hands. – p. 51

One final and important reflection on our meditative experience comes as we realize how we instantaneously leap clear of each aspect of ego consciousness.  We leap clear of the intellect, the memory, and the will.  We leap clear of feelings and bodily sensations.  The I that says, “I think, I remember, I want, I feel, I experience this or that bodily sensation” is instantaneously transcended. – p. 53

As I watch the sunset, I sense that dwelling on my thoughts about sunsets would compromise my non-thinking awareness of the ultimately unthinkable beauty of the setting sun.  I am momentarily free of questions and answers, problems and solutions, anything agreed or disagreed.  For a fleeting instant there is nothing to prove, nothing to solve.  I am fleetingly immersed in a non-thinking awareness of what just is. – p. 53-54

So it is that we can wean ourselves off our customary dependence of thought, neither clinging to nor rejecting thoughts.  We do not try to have no thoughts.  Nor do we think the thoughts that come into our mind.  We simply sit with each thought as it arises, endures, and passes away. – p. 54

We do not reject thought as we meditate.  Rather we refrain from our customary tendency to think.  We gaze with meditative eyes into the flow of thoughts that arise, endure, and pass away within us. – p. 54

As we return to our day-by-day lives we do so liberated from ideological living based on thoughts about God, ourselves, others, or anything else.  At the same time we learn to live in a new appreciation of the gift of thinking with a clear, simple, and open mind. – p. 54

And we cannot, by the sheer brute force of our will, produce or make such moments happen whenever we please.  Not only that, but they take us completely by surprise, without our consciously willing them to happen in any way.  Our moment of awakening occurs without warning.  As lovers, poets, artists, those who meditate, and all spiritually awakened people know, it is so good that life is like this.  Without our even baiting our hook and throwing it in the water, a huge fish jumps right into the boat! – p. 55

Lovers often plan their moments of intimacy.  For they are not fools.  They have learned how unwise it is to wait passively for moments of oneness to serendipitously appear.  So they stack the deck in their favor.  But when the premeditated moment of renewed oneness catches fire, it burns with a light that qualitatively transcends anything that could be accounted for by their efforts to bring it about. – p. 56

Lovers are freely willing to honor what lies beyond their will to produce or attain.  It is this way with poets and artists and with every venue of self-transformation.  The will is always at hand in the free decision to honor and sustain that which transcends what the will can attain. – p. 56-57

We might at first imagine that when we meditate we are stacking the deck in favor of a heightened possibility of some kind of extraordinary experience of God’s presence.  Such an attitude often leads to disappointment.  Rather, our moments of extraordinary experience of God’s presence open our eyes to the endlessly holy nature of our ordinary experience of ordinary daily living.  Our meditation practice can stabilize ourselves in a quiet confidence in God, present, whole, and complete, in and as our ordinary experience of our ordinary day-by-day lives. – p. 58

As we leap clear of our conceptualizing mind and our will, we simultaneously leap clear of our memory.  In our ego consciousness we cannot survive without the functional power of memory.  Our past experiences allow us to interpret what we are currently experiencing. – p. 58-59

But memory can keep us exiled from who we are now.  In a moment of spontaneous awareness we are set free of the illusion that we are nothing more than the ongoing momentum of who we used to be.  We taste firsthand the eternal newness of the present moment.  And we taste something of the eternal newness of God.  Nothing in the past that has happened to us, or that we have done, has the power to name who we are. –p. 59-60

Each thought or image that arises in meditation is a remembered thought or image.  Neither clinging to nor rejecting these thoughts and images, we learn to wean ourselves off our tendency to identify with our remembered and remembering self.  Sitting this way, we learn to be free at last from the tyranny of the past.  In this dying, there arises from the ashes the eternal, ever-present, radiant child. – p. 60

We also leap clear of feelings and bodily sensations.  Bodily relaxation and surrender is a primitive and profound form of faith, an act of trust that God is safe, and that God’s world is a safe place to be.  In God we experience a love that wills to have its way with us and set us free.  But any attempt to “have” this moment on our own terms only constricts the flow of the movement.  To possess, rather than be blessed by, the sensuous delight of this moment, reduces it. – p. 60-61

As we experience each of our bodily senses and the intimate texture of each aspect of the world around us, we sense something of God, the creative source of all our sensing.  – p. 62

Here is a summary of this chapter: Meditative experience thinks nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of thought.  Meditative experience wills nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of willing, and of all desire.  Meditative awareness believes nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of belief.  Meditative awareness remembers nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of memory.  Meditative experience feels nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of feelings.  And meditation experience sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches nothing.  It gazes deeply into the nature of the bodily senses.  In these deep moments, meditative experience transcends ego consciousness. – p 63-64

Finley concludes this chapter with a parable about “river-enterers.”  It does not matter who you are; when you enter the river you get completely wet.  We might call this the graciousness of the river.  Jesus taught they we are all drenched through and through with a divine benevolence that gives itself to us whole and complete in and as our very life.  The fact that I do not see this unitive mystery is the source of all sorrow.  As I begin to see I begin to know the brimming-over fullness of my true and everlasting life. – p. 64-66

In a fleeting flash we realize there is nothing missing anywhere.  In this anarchy of the ineffable these moments come to whom they come; they are granted to whom they are granted.  Anyone, at any time, might find himself or herself falling into the river, becoming completely drenched in a graced and childlike clarity. – p. 66

Our desire to sustain these moments, for ourselves and others, generates much administrative effort.  We study the experience and write about it.  We seek counsel from those with experience – eventually ordaining those who have studied the most. We build tents and then temples over our path to the river, and develop ceremony and ritual around the river-entering experience.  Unfortunately, we isolate in our tents and temples, and spend more time there than in the river.  – p. 67-70

Then, in a moment of unexpected grace, you stand by the river, the spirit of God blows over the water, you enter the river, and in doing so, once again you become completely wet.  Coming up out of the water, you hear the words that Jesus heard as he came up out of the water, now spoken directly to you: “Behold my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”  You are drenched, through and through, with that oneness with God that Jesus, the one who calls us down into the river, proclaimed to be the very fullness of life itself. – p. 71

Chapter 4.  A Ladder to Heaven

As you meditate you will experience distracting thoughts, invasive memories, and disturbing emotions.  At times you will be sleepy, bored, confused, and discouraged.  You will discover that you own poor wounded ego is simply not up to the transformative practice of dying to its most cherished illusions about itself. You will discover your own ineptness in yielding yourself over to the joy of that sweet death of all that is less than God. – p. 73

We need to build psychological and spiritual foundations within ourselves capable of sustaining a life devoted to seeking God in meditation and prayer.  Because we can break through for a moment into dimensions of reality we do not have the maturity to sustain.  And any attempt to force the issue – “mystical union or bust!” – is likely not to have any staying power. – p. 74

In the twelfth century the monk Guigo wrote The Ladder of Monks to aid us in living the spiritual life.  Several passing centuries are irrelevant in the face of the timeless mystery that unites Guigo’s heart with our own.

Guigo’s sudden gift of awareness did not come to him while he was at prayer or absorbed in deep meditation.  It came to him while he was doing the chores.  But his fidelity to prayer and meditation must have allowed him to recognize the insights granted in his vision. – p. 76-77

In the monastery I felt a sense of awe in the presence of some of the holy old monks who had lived there for fifty years or more.  Thomas Merton once said they went around like transparent children.  What came through to me was their quiet dedication to daily responsibilities.  They had somehow vanished into the ordinariness of the daily round of work and prayer, and in doing so they stood forth as present in some uncanny, childlike and wondrous way. – p. 78

Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation – the elements that make up Guigo’s four-runged ladder to heaven – are to be firmly planted on our fidelity to daily responsibility and a down-to-earth concern for our happiness and the happiness of others – how we talk to the woman next door, and how we talk to ourself about ourself when we wake up in the morning. – p. 78-79

The first rung of the ladder is READING, being open and receptive to the words that flow from Christ’s heart into our own, savoring their sweetness and depth.  Probably, we rarely read in the slow, attentive manner that invites these moments. – p. 81

To read the Scriptures as an act of faith means that the words of the living God are on your lips.  Read in this way, the Scriptures are one long love letter from God.   Each verse tells the story of the love that perpetually calls us to itself. – p. 82

There is no method here, no technique.  Guigo encourages us to read in a manner too sincere, heartfelt and childlike to be reduced to any strategies of the ego whatsoever. – p. 82

To practice meditation in the Christian tradition assumes that you are learning how to read the Scriptures and other sound spiritual reading in this way.  Daily meditation practice goes best as we learn to stand firmly on the first rung of the ladder to heaven, receptive and open to God uttering us into existence as we read, wash out a pot, fix a broken gate, or slip off our shoes at the end of the day. – p. 86-87

The second rung of the ladder to heaven is MEDITATION.  By this, Guigo means “discursive meditation,” or meditative thinking: a process of prayerful introspection in which we move from point to point, carefully thinking through the thoughts, images and connotations that come into our mind as we sit in the receptive openness of our reading. – p. 88

Do not hurry to the second rung.  Allowing the heart to open and rest in its God-given openness to God takes time.  There is no need to rush into thinking.  To think too soon is to think the wrong thing, to remain trapped in the one-dimensional nature of conceptual formulations and answers.  Instead I learn to establish myself in the receptive openness to the depths my reading discloses. – p. 89-90

It takes time to mature in the process of learning not to get hooked by fear-based, possessive, and otherwise controlling modes of thinking.  It takes time to think thoughts that give witness to what thought cannot grasp.  It takes time for thought to liberate us from thought as having the final say in what it means to know all that we know. – p. 90

Thinking is the second rung of the ladder to heaven, but not the thinking that springs from that ceaseless round of commenting on our own and everyone else’s existence.  Rather, it is the art form of discursive meditation, taking a word into the depths of our sustained receptive openness, then allowing the word to resurface, intact and enriched by our own reflections upon it.  Such thinking does not disturb the stillness of meditative openness.  Such thinking does not deal in information, but draw us into transformation. – p. 92

PRAYER is, for Guigo, the third rung of the ladder to heaven.  Prayer is essentially communicating our longing, pleading and demanding that love finish off that which it began.  We don’t fake indifference: to commit ourselves to seeking god in meditation is to recognize that indifference is really a con game played on us by the powers of darkness. – p. 93-95

The prayer of longing is, for many people, a Crock-Pot version of barely perceptible longing that, over time, achieves its transformative effects. – p. 95

The fourth and highest rung of the ladder to heaven is CONTEMPLATION.  On the third rung, in prayer, we are being consumed by a desire for union with God that we are powerless to fulfill.  Guigo writes of our shedding tears as the longing intensifies.  “Let these tears be your bread day and night.”  It is consoling to see how utterly unconsoled and inconsolable we are with anything less or other than the consummation of that love for which we now live and, in yearning for, we now die. – p. 96

Can it be that my poor heart, with all its ragged edges, could be ravaged by infinite love to the point that only an infinite union with infinite love can console me?  We begin to know within ourselves a faint shadow or echo of God’s utterly unbearable and unmanageable love for us. – p. 96-97

It is on the third rung of prayer’s unconsummated longings that God unexpectedly does what God most loves to do.  God bends down and unexpectedly places the fourth rung of the ladder firmly beneath our feet.   Perplexed and bewildered, we gaze directly into God’s eyes eternally gazing into ours. – p. 98

The moment of contemplatively realized oneness with God vanishes as mysteriously as it came.  How do we descend the ladder?  We can descend back into a renewed willingness to engage in the lifelong process of being truly generous and loving to ourselves and those around us.  Back to the first rung of the ladder, opening to the divinity of the life we are living.  Back to the second rung of the ladder, thinking through the deep and simple things of God disclosed to us.  Back to the third rung of the ladder, our prayers, expressive of our feelings and desires for loving union with god.  Back to living our ordinary life, trusting God as she ceaselessly joins us to herself. – p. 99

Moments of contemplative oneness with God come and go.  But in their passing, we are given to realize that God goes nowhere.  We come to realize there is no real way to live other than in a willingness to love and be loved by a love that breaks our heart open ten thousand times a minute. – p. 100

Chapter 5.  A Monastery Without Walls

In the monastery at eighteen, I was keenly aware of the silence that pervaded my life.  We ate together in silence.  We together side by side in silence.  This had a profound effect on me.  It seemed to me I was dreaming all day long.  It was a waking dream, in which everything I saw and touched had turned to God.  In the day-in, day-out silence, the edges of what I thought was reality gave way.  I fell through the center of myself into an interior landscape of oneness with God.  I was very happy.  The experience of these days utterly transformed my life. – p. 101-102

But Eden changed to a nightmare when I discovered that memories of my years of child abuse were to intrude into the dream of realized oneness with god.  Once the pain had found its way into my awareness, it would not stop flooding in.  It drove me out of the Garden.  And I eventually left the monastery. – p. 102

Culture shock.  Traffic, billboards, television, radio.  Hectic talking all the time, tremendous rush to get somewhere.  I felt like a refugee.  I was kind of crazy for awhile.  Got drunk a lot, dropped out of church, got depressed, got married to someone as wounded as I was. – p. 102-103

Then I  began to practice daily meditation.  Yoga, then Zen, and finally back to the Christian mystical vision.  And I discovered that meditation is a monastery without walls. – p. 103

At any given moment you can choose to grow where you are planted.  At any given moment you can yield to the subtle inclination that tugs at your heart to open yourself to the presence of God.  It is always there.  It is always like this. – p. 104

St. Benedict writes in his Rule, “On account of the importance of silence, let permission to speak seldom be granted even to perfect disciples.” – p. 105

The great thing about meditation is that it directly embodies the essence of silence.  The moment you begin to silently sit in meditation, you are silent.  Settling into silence, you can give yourself to the silence as the silence gives itself to you. – p. 106

There are not doctrines here.  In fact, as long as the mental noise of discussing doctrine continues, you are not yet silent.  There is nothing you have to figure out. – p. 106

Entering into silence is like entering a warm home on a chilly day.  As soon as you step through the door, the warmth surrounds you and immediately makes itself felt.  But if you are chilled to the bone, it takes awhile for the warmth to sink in.  The same is true of silence.  The moment you sit in meditation and become silent, the silence surrounds you and immediately makes itself felt.  But if the chatter of your wandering mind and the frayed edges of a hectic day have a real grip on you, it takes a while for the silence to sink in. – p. 106-107

You begin to discover that there are no handles in silence to hold onto.  There are no toeholds in silence to stop your descent into depths you cannot comprehend.  In Genesis, God never said, “Let there be silence.”  Silence is, then, uncreated.  Being uncreated, silence has no beginning.  And in having no beginning, silence never ends.  – p. 107

God eternally dwells in the uncreated mystery of the very silence that underlies and pervades our lives.  Surely, then, silence is a trustworthy place to be. – p. 107

When you die you will enter into this silence forever. Entering the monastery without walls is to get a head start in learning to live in the silence that soon enough will be your eternal and endlessly trustworthy home. – p. 107

If only we could become truly silent and attentive, we could hear God uttering us and all of creation into being.  We become silent that we might learn to listen to Christ calling us to his love, calling us to love.  This is what breaks our heart open and teaches us to listen.

It sounds beautiful on paper.  Truth is, the simplicity and poverty of daily meditation call for serious adjustments in our way of life.  It is helpful to have a guide.  But if you do not have a wizened old monk or nun to help you, you will find wisdom simply in being who you are when you are not trying so hard to be something else. – p. 108-110

As we learn to lay ourselves bare in silence, we unexpectedly make our way through the gate into God.  Truer still, we are surprised to discover God passing through the gate to meet us. – p. 111

The questions and concerns that arise within you as you begin to settle into your practice of meditation are in themselves the embodiment of the wizened old monk or un who is there to test the spirits, asking, “What are you looking for?  What do you want?” – p. 111

All difficulties, at all stages of the journey, are themselves the very stuff the journey is made of.  Patience with one’s slow beginnings and false starts is itself a good beginning in learning that, in the end, everything is right on schedule. – p. 112

I will now share with you five mistakes I made in the monastery and which I continue to make in my understanding of meditation.  They concern thoughts, memories, intentions, feelings, and the body.

The first mistake I made when entering the monastery was assuming I could leave my wandering mind outside the gates.  As I realized I could not get rid of my thoughts, I discovered I could humbly listen to my thoughts, as my only way of ever learning how to listen to God.  My mind was not an albatross around my neck.  I could not continue trying to get rid of myself. – p. 115

So I learned to be present, open and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting my own thinking mind.  To cling to my thinking mind was to continually think about the thoughts that arose, endured, and passed within me.  Then my subjective awareness tended to never break free of the gravitational pull of thought and all that thought could attain.  To reject thought was to reject God manifesting and giving herself in and as each thought arising, enduring, and passing away within me.  I could become silent and attentive to the stream of thoughts, but refrain from thinking about them.  I could learn to let go of myself as the thinker of my thoughts and learn, instead, to become the silent observer of the thoughts that arose, endured, and passed away within me. – p. 115

Quiet, unobtrusive, non-abandoning mind is meditative mind.  It excels in the light touch of being quietly attentive to each thought without slipping into the tendency to think about each thought.  The meditative mind that neither thinks nor is reducible to any thought grows stronger, calmer, and more stable. – p. 116

But weaning ourselves off our tendency to think may seem quite strange at first, even frightening.  For in this way we momentarily lose the control we think we have over the life we think we are living.  Our ego self might understandably try to pull back into its own realm, where it can think through what is happening. – p. 116

And yet, the moment of passing beyond the frontier of thought can bring with it a wave of the peace that surpasses understanding.  Resting in this peace, even for a moment, can occasion a taste of paradise. – p. 116

The second mistake I made as I entered the monastery was imagining I could leave my memories outside the gate.  But they all came through the gate with me.  Rock and roll songs echoed through the chants we sang.  I felt homesick for my mother and sister and four brothers.  Eventually monastery memories were added to the memories of home.  In my attempts at silence they whispered within my heart. – p. 117

If I always lived out of my memories, I would not enter the virginal newness of the present moment.  But if I tried to rid myself of them I would do violence to myself and God, the author and sustainer of the miracle of memory. What I could do was learn the delicate touch of being present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting the memories that arose, endured, and passed away within me. – p. 117

The delicacy lies in remaining attentive in the present moment to the memories of the pat without slipping out of the present moment into the past.  Let the memory come.  Do not abandon the memory by slipping into day-dreamy indifference about it.  And do not reject the memory, regardless of how unpleasant it might be.  Little by little, you will no longer slip out of the present moment into the past.  And we learn to listen with God’s ears, reverencing the telling and retelling of the miracle of our own unfolding story.– p. 117-118

In this most intimate fashion we realize that we cannot make the past be other than it is.  We cannot make ourselves into someone other than who we remember ourselves to be.  And yet, neither are we simply who we used to be and nothing more.  For the present moment, and who we are in it, is perpetually new. – p. 118

Who God eternally knows us to be in this perpetually new present moment is infinitely more than anything we remember ourselves to be. – p. 118

As we settle into meditative freedom in the midst of our memories, we are awakened to the great and liberating truth that nothing we have done in the past, nor anything that has been done to us in the past, has the power to name who we are.  Freed from the tyranny of memory, we can live in the one unending present moment in which our lives unfold. – p. 118

A third mistake I made when entering the monastery was assuming that in passing through the gates I could leave behind my own wayward will by submitting myself to God’s will in all things.  But, again, I was mistaken. – p. 119

I could not stop doing the things that made my hopes of being the perfect monk impossible to achieve.  I could only accept God’s free choice to love me unwaveringly in the midst of all my imperfections.  I was to continue my efforts to be the best monk I could be.  But the deepest perfection was in laying myself bare to God, who invincibly loved me. – p. 120

In meditation, at first, I was dismayed to discover how powerless I was to actually sustain the stance of simple presence.  Every few minutes, sometimes every few seconds, I discovered myself either clinging to pleasant thoughts and feelings, or rejecting disturbing thoughts and feelings.  Then I discovered how I could just breathe God’s compassionate love into my ongoing and seemingly endless frailty. – p. 120

You will experience for yourself just how powerless your will is.  Do not be discouraged.  Meditation practice is not humiliating, but it is humbling to see again and again how our will is so weak.  Surely if our efforts to reach God are left to us, we are in serious trouble.  But God sustains us in being, breath by breath, just as we are.  And we are amazed to discover in the midst of our ineptitude, how we pass, like water through a sieve, into the arms of God. – p. 120

A fourth mistake I made when entering the seminary was assuming I could leave my feelings outside the gates.  It really never occurred to me that my feelings would matter.  But I was mistaken.  Often, the felt sense of God’s presence vanished completely.  I was bombarded by feelings of sadness, loneliness, confusion, and a host of other emotional burdens.  The silence provided little diversion and I could not find the off switch for these feelings. – p. 121

So I discovered that I could learn to be present, open and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting the feelings that flowed through me.   I could enter into a non-intrusive, on-abandoning attentiveness to each feeling as it arose, endured, and passed away within me. – p. 121

Open to all feelings, you can learn to pass beyond the frontier of feelings.  You can enter into a meditative oneness with God that utterly transcends what feelings can contain.  At the same time you can begin to discover how God gives herself wholly and completely in and as the river of your feelings. – p. 122

The fifth and last mistake was in assuming that when entering the monastery I could leave my body outside the gates.  I did not think my body would be relevant.  I recall being surprised and disappointed by the blunt realities of my body.  My head was shaven, I was wearing monk’s robes.  And yet my knees bothered me, I smelled bad after working in the pig barn, I couldn’t sit in a patch of poison ivy while meditating without regretting it.  From diarrhea to erections, to coming down with nasty colds and flu, my body was surely with me. –p. 122-123

I asked to be delivered from my body.  It was as if I were asking god to let me live just a half inch off the floor.  That’s all I was asking, some small degree of rising above the gravitational pull of my own body.  Then I discovered that I could learn to be present, open, and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting my bodily being.  If I was tired, I could learn to meditatively aware of the intimate texture of my fatigue.  I could lift a mug to my lips and taste the coffee, feeling its warmth in my mouth.  I could lie awake listening to the monks snoring away in the otherwise silent night. – p. 123

Meditation honed the edge of my bodily awareness.  I loved taking longs walks in the woods, then sitting on the ground, back against a tree, listening to the sound of the wind in the trees.  Sometimes a deer would pass by, and I be sitting so still it would, if the wind was right, walk right past me without realizing I was there.  I listened to my breathing and settled into the ungraspable immediacy of myself in silence.  My body was always my grounding place in God’s presence in the world. – p. 123

Settle, and listen so deeply to your breathing that your very consciousness begins to take on the primordial, life-sustaining texture of your breathing.  If you are tired, settle into a deep, reverential attentiveness to your bodily fatigue.  If you are rested, listen and become one with the well-being that being rested brings.  If your back is sore or your legs hurt or your stomach is upset, or if the room is too hot or too cold, learn to listen deeply to the intimate texture of these and ALL aspects of your bodily being. – p. 124

Without clinging to all that is pleasant, without rejecting all that is unpleasant, let your bodily being be all it so unthinkably is.  This is the graced mystery of your bodily being. – p. 124

“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We realize these words are revelations of the historical Christ and of ourselves as well.  We sit in meditation pondering, breath by breath, the Word becoming flesh in the breath of us, in the very bodily being of who we simply are.  We listen to God breathing into us the gift of life. – p. 124

At his crucifixion, Jesus emptied himself.  He kept on emptying himself in love; his heart was pierced.  Blood and water flowed out, so that there was no Jesus left in Jesus.  When there was nothing left of Jesus, then only love was left, which was the only thing that was really there all along.  And the same is true of us.  But we do not want to lose our ego self.  And so, bereft of this redemptive liberation, we continue roaming about in our discontent. – p. 125

In his rule, St. Benedict says, “If today you hear his voice harden not your heart.”  He knows how precarious things become the closer we get to what we are looking for.  The ego self has lost so much already.  The hard knot of the ego’s illusions about itself has already been loosened to the point that the center barely holds together.  And now the Lord invites us to follow him in letting everything go  completely. – p. 125

Truth is, the imagined center has already given way completely.  All of our concerns are awash in the mystery that Christ came to reveal.  The mystery is that nothing we can do can make God love us more.  And nothing we have done, or ever could do, can make God love us less.  The measure of God’s love is never in what we do or say.  The sole measure of God’s love for us is the measureless expanse of himself, perfectly poured out and given to us, in and as our standing when we stand, our sitting when we sit, our laughing when we laugh, or crying when we cry. – p. 125-126

This is what Christ came to reveal: that nothing is missing anywhere. – p. 126

Chapter 6. The Self –Transforming Journey

How am I to understand what is happening to me?

As we experience spontaneous meditative awareness we return to ego consciousness, but we do so changed.  We feel a sense of inadequacy and claustrophobia if ego consciousness is to continue to be our primary base of operations.  We must venture into deeper waters, learn to live in more daily abiding meditative awareness of what we fleetingly have glimpsed. – p. 132-133

So we begin a journey that transcends all our ego can account for or attain, in which God’s indwelling Spirit leads us into the depths of the love that has awakened us.   But sometimes it does not work this way.  Instead we might experience a perplexing inability to pray.  The divine mystery, secretly at work in our hearts, dismantles our ability to derive satisfaction from our customary ways of praying and reflecting on the things of God.  The whole experience can be quite disheartening, while we learn to rest in this powerlessness. – p. 136

St. John of the Cross compares this to passing through a dark night, in which God weans us away from our tendency to base our security and identity on anything less than God.  But this often looks like depression.  We can be BOTH depressed and in the dark night.  But it is important not to confuse the two.  Depression is associated with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.  Our ability to live and enjoy our life is greatly diminished.  The dark night is a painful and confusing loss of our customary ways of praying and experiencing God’s presence in our life.  We are left feeling barren yet free, in a strange new place we do not understand. – p. 138

St. John of the Cross writes, “I am not affirming that the imagination will cease to come and go – even in deep recollection it usually wanders freely – but that the person does not want to fix it purposely on extraneous things.”  – p. 139

All that is tightly bound begins to loosen.  Something of the divinity of what just is begins to appear in the silent sincerity of simply being present in the present moment just as it is.  We come to realize that our thoughts, memories, desires, feelings and bodily sensations are becoming less and less able to sustain the intimately realized oneness with God that is slowly growing within us. – p. 139-140

In the darkness of night, God unmoors my boat from my usual dock, from my customary way of relating to God and to myself.  And I am left at dawn on a new sea, a strange and solitary silence, in which at utterly unforeseeable union with God begins to emerge. – p. 141

In John’s words, “To come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not.” – p. 141

How am I to deal with the dying away of who I, up until now, have experienced myself to be?

As long as our ego consciousness remains intact as our habitual base of operations, we hear the call to fly to God but we remain earthbound.  We have faith in God’s providential care; and yet a headache, a spat with a neighbor, or a flat tire is, at times, enough to undermine our inner peace.  We have faith in Christ telling us to “fear not,” and yet the uncertainties of the future still leave us anxious.  We hear Christ calling us to love others as he has loved us; but we are afraid to listen too intently to the suffering of others, fearful of Christ’s claim – of their claim – on us. – p. 142

We can go halfway.  We are willing to become caterpillars with wings.  Now my ego has attained spiritual gifts.  But a complete metamorphosis is too much to risk.  What now? – p. 143-144

Not me.  Learn to wait for Christ, with compassion and patience for myself until I am ready to take a next faltering step.  This tender point of encounter is Christ, understood as God in our midst, listening, loving and helping his children across the threshold into eternal oneness with God.  Breath by breath, Christ’s love dissolves the illusions and fears born in our estrangement from the infinite love that is our very life. – p. 144-145

For both St. John of the Cross and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, meditation is not so much a method as a way of being utterly sincere in a loving stance of sustained openness to God.  The anonymous author says that you sustain this stance by refraining from dwelling on any thoughts about God that might come into your mind.  This stance of naked love is the “cloud of unknowing.” – p. 146

We can be grateful to “know” that God is good, God is love, God is our creator, and so forth.  But this knowledge of God through our thoughts about him should not blind us to his absolute transcendence, utterly beyond all our thoughts.  “If in this life you hope to feel and see God as he is himself it must be within this darkness and this cloud … You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp him and even your heart will not relish the delight of his love.  But learn to be at home in the darkness.  Return to it as often as you can … Never mind.  Go on with this nothing, moved only by your love for God.  For myself I prefer to be lost in this nowhere, wrestling with this blind nothingness, than to be like some great lord traveling everywhere and enjoying the world as if he owned it.” – p. 147-149

As I begin to meditate, my practical, conceptual, problem-solving mind is out of its element.  There is nothing to figure out, nothing to achieve, nothing to acquire.  Of course my practical mind will feel frustrated.  No matter.  Let the inevitable frustration occur.  Let love lead the way.  Trust God’s generosity. – p. 150

Even the interior of your own heart is, for God, not nearly intimate enough a place for God to be as intimate with you as he desires.  Look closely and you will see that the empty space left by God’s apparent absence has exposed a previously unrecognized passageway into the utter concealment of God.  Your general loving awareness, in which you rest, is this very passageway. – p. 151-152

St. John of the Cross writes, “Actually, at the beginning of this state the loving knowledge is almost unnoticeable.  This is especially so when, through failure to understand it, one does not permit oneself to rest in it but strives after the other, more sensory experience.  The more habituated persons become to this calm, the more they will enjoy it, because without the soul’s labor it affords peace, rest, savor, and delight.” – p. 152-153

How am I to understand this new sense of spiritual fulfillment and oneness with God that is being born out of this dying process?

It is helpful to realize, by definition, that ego consciousness cannot comprehend that which is realized only in transcending ego consciousness.  And conversely, as long as our sense of self remains limited to our thoughts, desires and other aspects of ego consciousness, oneness with the divine fullness that transcends ego remains beyond our reach. – p. 153-154

Catherine of Genoa: “Without seeing I yet behold an operation so divine that the words I first used: perfection, purity and the like, seem to me no mere lies in the presence of truth.”  We are awakened to the reassuring fact that our own ego is already being transcended in our experience of recognizing and feeling drawn toward that which transcends ego. – p. 155

What the mystics have to share about their sublime states of oneness with God casts a clear and penetrating light on the ground beneath our own feet.  We are on the same path. – p. 156

Jesus called the divine fullness the Kingdom of God.  He saw this divine fullness in all that he saw.  He invites us to see this divine fullness in all that we see as well. – p. 159

We do not meditate to attain something that is not wholly given, in and as the way the present moment immediately is.  Rather, we meditate that we might realize that the present moment, in its deepest actuality (and regardless of its content), is the perfect manifestation of the mystery we seek. – p. 160

I encourage you to look for the ways in which each passing moment in your life is woven with the threads of glory streaming out from moments of realized oneness with God. – p. 160

If you calibrate your awareness to a fine enough scale, you will recognize that utterly ordinary moment of holding a newborn infant, or of looking up into a black sky thick with stars.  You will see how in these simple, unassuming moments you were granted a fleeting taste of the divinity of your life.  – p. 161

The path ahead entails your willingness not to play the cynic, not to doubt the fullness of the divine presence that you, in your most childlike hour, recognized to be the ever present mystery of your life. – p. 161

In meditation you learn to be silent, more silent, in fact, than you have ever been.  Each breath, each sound, each thought, each aspect of the moment becomes amazingly transparent and open.  The last traces of your resistance to God are dissolving. – p. 161

Suddenly you realize, in some deep manner you cannot comprehend, that God is fully present in each thing that is, just as it is.  You hear a car going by.  What is that sound of the car going by, what is it really?  You feel a chill in the room.  What is that sensation of being chilled?  What is it really? – p. 161

The dark night that we at first so dreaded is now seen as God’s tough-love program that takes no prisoners and leaves no trace of anything less than love.  Grateful and amazed, we silently cry out, echoing St. John of the Cross: “O guiding night!  O night lovelier than the dawn!  O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.” – p. 164

The soul remains the finite creature created by God.  And yet in the order of grace and love, the soul can no longer distinguish itself from God.  In fact, God’s love is so great and all-consuming that the soul itself seems to be more God than a soul. – p. 165

We begin to discover that we do not have to wait until we are dead to experience the fullness of God’s own life that we are called to experience for eternity.  The catch is

How can I learn to offer as little resistance as possible to this intimately realized oneness with God that is, little by little, becoming my very life?

The remaining chapters of this book (chapters 8-14) will be devoted to an in-depth exploration of meditation practice as our grounding place in our ongoing fidelity to our self-transforming journey into God. – p. 174


Chapter 7.  Entering the Mind of Christ

Philippians 2:5 “In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus.”  We become the same as Christ Jesus in our minds through a lifelong process of conversion in which Christ’s mind and our mind become one mind, one way of seeing and being in the world. – p. 175

How do we enter Christ’s mind in meditation?  Such an inquiry takes us into the innermost recesses of Christian faith, not beliefs or institutional structures, but the vibrant center of reality itself. – p. 175

Non-dual Oneness with God

After death we shall see God “as He is” (1 John 3:2).  But Philip at the last meal with Jesus (John 14:8), representing the seeker in each of us, asks to see God during supper.  Let us see God now, he says, and we will not need dessert.  We will not need anything.  That will be enough. – p. 176

Philip’s boldness is surpassed by Jesus’ boldness: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  The oneness with God we seek is already occurring, in and as our simply being who we are.  Jesus realizes this, and offers what he knows to Philip. – p. 177

Perhaps you are reading a Scripture passage, and you begin to rest silently in God’s presence.  As this deepens the passage becomes, as it were, a fissure in the rocks, granting access into the depths of realized oneness with God that is at once Christ’s life and your own.  There is nothing fancy about it.  I do not have the power to explain how this happens. – p. 177

Simultaneously beholding and transcending all aspects of your ego self, you do not claim for yourself anything you may be experiencing.  You are left poor, empty, and with nothing to stand on.  You are left in that vulnerable openness to God that is free of relying on or identifying with anything less than God.  The curtain of perceived otherness from God is lifted. – p. 178

You cannot find the place where God leaves off and you begin.  Nor are you inclined to try.  This would seem odd and out of place for you, an unlearned child, a lover in the beloved’s arms, in that never-ending oneness with God. – p. 178

You would not be foolish as to think that you are God.  But in this oneness to which you have been granted access, all the ego’s perceptions of being other than God are transcended.  You realize that this is your true nature and that your tendency not to see this oneness with God is the source of all sorrow.  You recognize this sorrow to be the sorrow Christ came to deliver us from.  In this Christ consciousness, sorrow has no foundations, and only the endless bliss of God remains. – p. 178-179

Trinitarian Mysticism

Speaking to Philip, Jesus went on: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, that he may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). – p. 179

Early Christians’ prayerful reflections on these and similar teachings of Jesus led to an understanding of God as a loving Father whose living Word had become flesh in our midst, and whose indwelling Spirit inspires and guides us in our daily life.  This uniquely Christian way of understanding God merged with Greek thought to form the Christian belief that God is infinitely simple and one, while at the same time being a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. – p. 180

The paradoxical nature of one God in three divine persons creates an impasse beyond which the conceptual mind cannot go.  As the mind stays with the impasse, the meltdown of conceptual thinking liberates a meditative awareness of oneness with God. – p. 181

The Christian mystics naturally gravitated toward the Trinity in their efforts to express the inexpressible mystery of god they were privileged to experience.  They saw the Trinity not as a dry, abstract doctrine, but as the Christian love poetry of the divine mystery, in the face of which all words prove to poor translations of what remains ultimately ineffable and hidden in silence. – p. 181

Any notion of even the slightest degree of separation or otherness among the persons of the Trinity violates the infinite simplicity of God’s oneness.  Being a person is then something infinitely richer than being an individual.  Being a person means being, not someone with a relationship to God, but rather being a divine relation that wholly manifests and is God.  This is where the conceptual mind begins to experience its meltdown. – p. 182

The tradition says the infinite knowledge of the Father and the Son, as one, generates an infinite love that is the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes it is said the Holy Spirit is the fullness of the oneness of the Father and Son.  This paradoxical language of one God in three distinct persons is the Christian love poetry of the divine. – p. 184

Being a Created Person

When God created you, God did not have to think up who you might be.  God the Father, eternally contemplating you in Christ the Word, eternally knows who you eternally are and are called to be from before the origins of the universe.  This is the unborn you that never began, for there was never a point prior to which God did not eternally know you in Christ the Word through whom all things are made. – p. 185-186

The infinite simplicity of God admits no division.  In this poetic meditation on your true self before you were born is a meditation on you in God as god, in no way other or less than all that God is. – p. 186

We are not God.  But we are not other God, either.  We as persons are who God eternally knows us to be in his infinite knowing of his infinite actuality.  And in this paradoxical truth likes the essence of what it means to be a human being destined for eternal oneness with God. – p. 187

We are now at the axis around which all the mystics revolve in quiet unison as each seeks, in his or her own way, to express the call to awaken to our eternal oneness with God. – p. 187

Being Human

Entering the mind of Christ means to enter into God’s oneness with us as flesh-and-blood human beings.  Jesus was a human being.  He woke up in the morning, went to the bathroom, had something to eat.  He saw and heard and smelled and tasted and felt what went on around him.  If one of his sandals became unfastened , everyone walking with him had to stop while he bent down in the road to fasten it.  He got sleepy, slept, dreamed dreams, and woke up again the next morning. – p. 190

Jesus was fully human from the ground up.  He did not live out of his head.  St. Iranaeus said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”  We see the glory of God in the fully alive human person of Jesus.  – p. 191

When we meditate, we enter the mind of Christ from the ground up.  We do not bypass our breathing.  Rather, we sit and listen and settle into the mystery of breathing.  We do not bypass our feelings, we do not bypass our thoughts, we do not bypass the concrete immediacy of our bodily being. – p. 191

There are not two minds of Christ, one human and the other divine.  Rather, the mind of Christ is the realized oneness of the divine and all that we are as human beings.  Who we are in Christ is in no way reducible to our everyday, ordinary self.  Nor is who we are in Christ in any way other than our ordinary self. – p. 191

We get up in the morning and touch our feet to the floor.  And we know that this ordinary experience of this utterly ordinary event Is the mystery of oneness with God manifesting itself in and as this very ordinariness.  This is why we sit in meditation: so that we might settle into this ordinary mind; so that in becoming, at last, just ourselves, we might realize our eternal oneness with God. – p. 192

This ordinary mind, one with God, comes as an inarticulate certainty in the pit of the stomach.  It comes as the kind of clarity characteristic of turning to see something beautiful and sensing immediately that it is beautiful. – p. 192


Jesus taught (in Matthew 25, for example) that he was so one with others that what we do to others, we do to him.  He taught that, just as he was one with everyone, so, too, we are one with everyone and are to give witness to this oneness by our love for everyone. – p. 192-193

Jesus was not always nice.  He never said, “Blessed are the nice.”  But Jesus was always loving to the core, and in being so he gave witness to our lifelong journey of learning to be loving to the core as well.  A lifetime of recognizing and yielding to a Christ-like love for all men and women as our brothers and sisters and as children of God enlarges the heart to divine proportions. – p. 193-194

It takes time, but little by little we enter the social dimensions of the mind of Christ in awakening to how perfectly one we are with everyone living and dead.  Little by little the graciousness of Christ’s empathic mind of oneness with others is translated into a thousand little shifts in the way we think about people and the way in which we actually treat them day by day. – p. 195


If we understand sin to mean our communal propensity to be unloving toward others and ourselves, then sin is woven into our hearts as human beings.  To enter the mind of Christ is to recognize, enter into, and learn to understand this deep truth within ourselves.  Further, we repent of the sins of the past and become committed to doing our best to sin no more in the future. – p. 196

This is God’s favorite thing: lying in wait for us to finally see and accept that which is most broken and lost within ourselves, so that we might see how invincibly loved and whole we are in this midst of our very brokenness.  Meditation opens up the clearing in which this blessed event of redemption happens time and time again. – p. 198

Our meditation sometimes goes fairly well.  Sometimes it is a shipwreck.  Sometimes we are consoled more deeply than we ever thought possible.  Sometimes there is not the slightest hint that God loves us at all or even knows or cares about our sense of exile.  Then, perhaps in the midst of great sleepiness or indifference, everything drops out from beneath us, like the floor in a burning building.  The roof caves in.  There is nowhere to stand, save in the realization of being so absolutely loved and one with love as to render all else essentially unreal. – p. 198

We sit in the wordless wonder of realizing that God can no longer find the place where we stop and God begins.  Nor can God find the place where God stops and we begin.  Nor is God inclined to try to do so.  For his child has come home. – p. 198

The World of Things

When God created water, God did not have to think up what water might be.  God eternally knows what water eternally is, in Christ the Word, through whom all things are made. This is why we can meditate on water.  This is why we can sit at the water’s edge, knowing that we can never exhaust the divinity that is manifested there. – p. 200

We meditate so that we might begin to hear, in something as commonplace as the sound of a fly buzzing in the window, something as grand as the eternal presence of God.  To enter the mind of Christ in this context is to see the glory of God in all things.  This seeing results in a new sense of respect for the things around us, as a way of showing our respect and gratitude to God. – p. 202

Chapter 8. Present, Open, and Awake

With respect to the mind, remain present, open and awake, neither clinging to nor rejecting anything.  Be present by simply relaxing into being right where you are, just as you are.  Settle into being aware of your breathing and whatever fatigue or wakefulness you may be feeling.  Be aware of whatever sadness, inner peace or other emotion may be present. – p. 204-205

Rest in this moment, in which there is nowhere to go, nothing to achieve, nothing to prove, nothing to tend to except being simply present.  Know and trust that God is already perfectly present in your simply being alive and real in the present moment just as it is. – p. 205

It may seem strange at first to give ourselves over to this unthinking wakefulness.  But what is really strange is that this has become the land we know not.  Strange and scary, too, that we would go through our whole life and not know something as foundational as simply being who we simply are, one with all that the present moment simply is. – p. 205

So much of the contemplative path has this strange mixture of perplexity and self-evident clarity. – p. 205

The more the thirst for God grows, the more apparent it becomes that not even the most true and revealed thought about God is God.  Every idea of God, in being finite, is indefinitely less than God, who is infinite.  – p. 208

To the extent that we cling to any idea of God, it will be an obstacle to God.  Thinking about God increases our thirst for god but does not quench that thirst.  Ultimately we not created by God to think about God.  We are rather created by God for God, beyond all ideas of God. – p. 209

As we sit in meditation, we can see how each thought, if simply observed without being clung to or rejected, simply arises, endures, and passes away – just as the day and night, your whole life, the whole universe is arising, enduring, and passing away. – p. 210

At first, and for quite some time, we tend to drift off into thinking without even realizing we have done so.  Reinstating present-moment attentiveness is at times very easy, at times extremely difficult.  What matters is our sincere intention to do our simple best.  What matters even more is knowing that God is one with us, in the midst of our efforts, loving us. – p. 211-212

Chapter 9.  Sit Still

Sitting still is an anchoring place in present-moment awareness, something my mind can always come back to.  Quiet attentiveness to your bodily stillness can itself be a self-transforming way to God.  Do not pass right by your bodily stillness as if you are on the way to far greater, more spiritual realities.  Learn, instead to sit still with all your heart. – p. 216-217

By learning to sit still, we can learn to be still, giving witness to ourselves and to the whole world that ultimately there is nowhere to go. – p. 217

As we sit, we begin to see that our difficulty is not with our slow progress in getting “there,” but rather the challenge of simply being here. – p. 219

As we sit still, we learn to observe and accept how being quietly energized gives way to fatigue, which in turn gives way to an unexpected, renewed quiet alertness.  Our times of restless fatigue and our times of sublime rested alertness have an absolute and equal value.  This awareness grants the peace that surpasses understanding. – p. 219-220

In bodily stillness, we learn from our body how to be.  Unlike our mind, our wise and mysterious body neither lurches ahead nor lags behind the present moment.  This is why we always know right where to find our bodily being.  It is always right here.  Even in death our bodily bring will be right there in the moment of our death. – p. 220

It takes time for the mind to settle down enough to quietly merge with the unassuming simplicity of simply sitting still. – p. 220

The question arises as to what to do when your noses itches or your knee starts to hurt.  As you scratch your nose, do so with all your heart, knowing deep down the endlessly holy nature of scratching your nose.  The key to meditation is to continue expanding the circle of meditative awareness so wide that we are meditatively awakened to the infinite value of every aspect of our being, including our itch, including our pain.  This infinite value is granted by God. – p. 223

Another time, we may, in obedience to a more interior wisdom, sense the transformative power to be realized in freely choosing not to move our foot or scratch our nose.  It is precisely at this point that our bodily stillness can ripen.  We do not always leap in and fix the situation.  In our stillness we can move into the hallowed clearing all our lives converge in our powerlessness to change all that we are powerless to change. – p. 223-224

In this way our bodily stillness begins to embody the suffering we experience – in losing a relationship we are powerless to restore, leaving a home we are powerless to return to, becoming ill with an illness for which no cure can be found, growing older and realizing that our own death draws near.  Sitting still in this manner becomes a way of becoming like god, who, in Christ, freely identifies with us in our powerlessness to free ourselves from suffering and death. – p. 224

The stillness of our practice brings us directly to the critical juncture at which we either despair or go deeper.  To despair is the outcome of having placed all our hope in our frequent inability to make things turn out as we wish.  To go deeper is to drink the cup of our common destiny, in which divinity flows unimpeded through our communal powerlessness. – p. 226

The meditative practice of stillness is a self-transforming practice in which we realize that we radically belong to god, who enigmatically sustains us in our powerlessness to sustain ourselves.  This is not to claim that we are delivered from our desolation.  Rather, it is to give witness to being delivered from the delusion that our moments of desolation have any power over us.  And in fact, to give witness to being transformed in desolation, so we may come to discover directly the divinity beyond gain and loss that shines invincibly through both gain and loss.  We come at last to the still point that is the still point of the turning world, a stillness even unto death, a wide-open gate through which we pass into the hidden, life-giving depths of God. – p. 226-228


Chapter 10.  Sit Straight

Sitting straight is practical.  It wards off the sleepiness and daydreaming that can overtake us as we meditate.  The relaxed stillness of meditation brings us to a fork in the road.  Down one path lies the gentle slope leading into sleepiness.  We know this gentle path well.  Down the other path lie ever deeper states of relaxed meditative wakefulness.  We approach this fork in the road time and time again.  By faithfully renewing our posture we navigate our way toward the meditative path into the depths of God. – p. 229-230

God, the angels, and those whom we, who call ourselves the living, call the dead are all just on the other side of the gate, a wide-open gate of the present moment leading into the depths of God.  When we sit still and straight the gate begins to come into view.  By remaining wide awake and, at the same time utterly relaxed, as if about to fall asleep, we begin to pass through the gate, which marks the point at which our egocentric unawareness dissolves into a deep, abiding awareness of oneness with God. – p. 230-231

Your breathing becomes more and more subtle as your body becomes more and more still.  In the hypnogogic state, halfway between waking and sleeping, the body is still and inert while the mind is still in a wondrous state of calm alertness.  It is this utterly calm and lucid state that we enter into in meditation. – p. 231

We come to oneness with God by learning to be faithful in little things.  It is such a little thing to correct the straightness of our posture over and over.  But in doing so, we manifest in the world a kind of integrity, a kind of fidelity that nobody sees.  The gentleness with which we renew the straightness of our posture is itself a manifestation of the gentleness of God.  Seeing this even for an instant is enough to make the heart sing. – p. 232

If we are so sleepy we can barely keep our eyes open, we might engage in more active forms of prayer, or simply return to the day’s activities and try to meditate later.  Or we might try to practice walking meditation.  Or perhaps we should simply go to bed and get some badly needed sleep!  – p. 232

On the other hand, if you have been meditating for very long, you know that some of the most momentous times of spiritual awakening can occur out of nowhere in the midst of great struggle and sleepiness.  In an instant, a fog bank of sleepiness and daydreaming can suddenly give way to great inner clarity.  How are we to know when to continue, and when to stop? – p. 233

It becomes easier to trust your own ongoing felt sense of how to proceed.  Another lesson to be learned is that our desire to meditate and our sleepiness are never adversarial.  Our sleepiness is not an enemy to be overcome.  Our wandering mind is not some alien force to be conquered or annihilated.  – p. 234

Gradually we learn to embrace our vacillating ways as an integral part of the way we go deeper into an intimately realized oneness with God.  Sitting straight in times of great sleepiness and fatigue is a non-adversarial act of integrity and commitment. – p. 234

As we descend into the depths of divinity in the present moment, we do not take the scenic route.  We go right through the worst neighborhoods inside our heart.  We can get mugged by our dark aggression toward our self.  Feelings of fear or pain can suddenly come flooding in, feelings of profound loneliness well up out of nowhere, only to give way to a consoling serenity we do not understand. – p. 234-235

Our descent is impeded to the extent that we cling to or reject any of these experiences.  As we sit straight and still, we have a front-row seat for all the ups and downs of our own inimitable self. – p. 235

The great surprise is how God suddenly shows up in the midst of the constantly shifting feelings, thoughts and memories that flow through us as we meditate.  The more we experience our self to be a shantytown made of clouds, passing feeling, and secret wishes, the freer God is to move through us, blessing us.  The more impoverished, paradoxical, and filled with surprises we realize ourselves to be, the freer God is to be God in us. – p. 235

Just sit still and straight.  Do not waver in all your wavering.  Allow yourself to rest wordlessly in all that appears.  – p. 235

As God in Christ becomes the vulnerability of humanity, he reveals to us the limitless nature of our limits and the boundless nature of our boundaries, in which God and we are one.  This is a most extraordinary discovery.  If our limitations are limitless, what have we to fear?  If our boundaries are boundless, what could ever confine us in any way? – p. 237

This liberation is not always welcome.  The limitlessness of this meditative awareness lowers our customary defenses.  Things we have not thought of our felt for years can suddenly come to mind.  Sad, angry, sexual, blissful, soothing, lonely feelings can flood into our awareness.  We do not want to lose our ability to keep some of this out of conscious awareness.  We couldn’t get through our day if we were this conscious of our own suffering and the suffering around us. Sometimes after our meditation session we might want to reflect on what we got in touch with, and journal it out or talk it over with someone. – p. 237

A word of caution is in order regarding the opening of these boundaries.  Those who have to work hard just to sustain their ego boundaries should use care in practicing meditation.  The same caution applies to those who are in therapy or on medication for major depression, anxiety, or some other psychological difficulty affecting one’s ability to cope with painful emotions. – p. 238

It is not that they should not meditate.  Meditation can be, for them, a profound source of healing.  But the commitment needs to be that of not re-traumatizing ourselves by venturing too far into that which we are as yet not ready to handle.  We can back off, get our bearings, and then gently re-approach the whole matter.  – p. 238

Our daily meditation should be a stabilizing force in our life, one that helps us to live our daily life in a happy, grounded, and effective manner.  Any indication to the contrary is always a reason to pause and discern corrective steps. – p. 238-239

Chapter 11. Slow, Deep, Natural Breathing

Simply breathe in, wholly attentive to simply breathing in.  Simply breathe out, wholly attentive to simply breathing out.  Lean into each breath so far that your observing, note-taking ego loses its footing in the depth of a single breath.  Rest in each breath until, little by little, the intimate texture of your consciousness becomes the free-flowing texture of your breathing.  Do not wait for anything more than this to appear.  For how could there be more than God, given whole and complete, in and as the stark simplicity of each life-sustaining breath? – p. 245-246

With each inhalation, all that is without flows inward.  With each exhalation, all that is within flows outward.  In this rhythm of breathing we become experientially aware that all that lies without and all that lies within are one.  We are no longer looking out through the portals of our eyes at a world that is other than ourselves. – p. 247

Breathing does not tend to end up on today’s “to-do” list, because breathing is not something we have to “do.”  That is, it is not something we have to remember to do, so it gets down.  It flowers of its own accord, as the neglected essential without which all the “important” items on the to-do list could never get done. – p. 247

We tend to get so caught up in all the nonessential things of everyday life that we rarely, if ever, pause to ground ourselves in the neglected essential of life itself.  As we meditate we are slowly healed of this hubris and folly of running roughshod over the simply given gift of life.  – p. 248

When we meditate, we slow down so that we can begin to catch up with ourselves.  We settle into unhurried, heartfelt attentiveness to all that is seemingly obvious.  As we do so, something as simple as a simple breath becomes less and less obvious, and more and more fraught with the presence of God. – p. 248

The more we slow down, the more we understand that much of our confusion arises from assuming that we understand things we do not understand at all. – p. 249

You can exhale only a breath you have inhaled.  If you have not inhaled, there is no breath to exhale.  All of life is like this.  We will all die, because we have all been born.  Only that which is born dies.  It is in having received the gift of life on this earth that the certainly of losing life on this earth arises.  Birth sets in motion the inevitability of death.  This is the great truth that is so difficult for our ego self to come to terms with. – p. 249-250

But spend some time breathing, and you will see that the opposite is also true.  You cannot sit for an hour and only exhale.  Each exhalation opens up the empty space into which the next inhalation comes pouring in.  Of course we prefer birth to death.  But in the space created by loss, your heart makes room to receive whatever unexpected gift might arrive in the next “inhalation.” – p. 250

As life becomes tangibly more brief and fragile, there arises a previously unknown capacity to recognize and appreciate just how precious life is. – p. 250

The way things are in the present moment is never the same from one moment to the next.  For the ever-present present moment, just as it is, is perpetually yielding to what we all the future, and in doing so is becoming what we call the past.  If the way things are in the present moment would refuse to yield to the future, there would be no room for the perpetual newness of the present moment to appear. – p. 251

As Saint Mechtilde heard God say to her, “Do not fear your death.  For in that moment, I will breathe in my breath, and your soul will come to me like a needle to a magnet.” – p. 252


Chapter 12.  Eyes Closed or Lowered to the Ground

Whether you find it more natural to close your eyes or lower them at a 45 degree angle to the ground, it is practical in that helps to enhance present-moment attentiveness.  This movement of your eyes embodies he desire to see God.  Let your eyes embody the words, “Lord, that I might see.” – p. 253

Eyes closed embodies certain truths of the meditative path.  There is a darkness filled with unseen light.  You seek spiritual realities invisible to the eye.  Your closed eyes are a humble acknowledgement that you do not see God, who eternally sees you and is preparing your heart to see him face to face.  In the darkness you must feel your way along.  Trust grows as you learn to stretch forth your hands to be led, step by step, in the darkness. – p. 254

Meditating with your eyes closed dissolves the barrier that customarily exists between the waking and sleeping states.  Mythic imagery of the unconscious is brought out of hiding into the light of day. – p. 254

For a number of reasons I meditate with my eyes open, looking downward toward the ground.  In fact, when I begin meditating, becoming aware of what I see through my lowered eyes tends to be the way I most naturally enter into the meditative state.  Sometimes my eyes will naturally close as I continue meditating, sometimes not. – p. 254

In lowering your eyes you are most likely, at first, to see your hands in your lap, the design in the carpet, or perhaps the cracks in the floorboards.  As you settle into the silent, childlike attentiveness of your practice, there arises the contemplative experience of gazing into the endlessly holy nature of the cracks on the floorboard, the design of the carpet, your hands in your lap.  Gazing into this depth of the divinity that the present moment manifests, you practice your practice.  – p. 255-256

As you learn to sit in this way, day by day, this meditative way of seeing can slowly become your habitual way of seeing all that you see. – p. 256

In our meditative awareness we enter into the interplay of the one-in-all, all-in-one nature of the contemplatively realized world.  The intentional aspect is sustained throughout, even as it is quickly transcended by the spontaneous occurrence of the meditative state that meditation is intended to evoke.  Visually, our intention is to open ourselves to seeing the way in which we see in moments of spontaneous meditative experience.  To carry out this intention, we simply sit still and straight and gaze downward toward the ground. – p. 258

We simply allow our eyes to be our eyes.  We yield ourselves to the God-given nature of our eyes as they are left free to be themselves, free of the intrusion of the ego’s intention that directs our vision to this or that, for this or that purpose. – p. 258

Jesus said, “If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light” (Matt. 6:22).  By surrendering our ego consciousness to this primordial wisdom of the eyes, our eyes become open windows through which the divine light comes flooding in, making us whole in realizing that we are in the presence of God. – p. 259

Our eyes focus on something specific, and then they un-focus.  It is good to be an astute observer of the details of all that we see.  But to become fixated on the detail without seeing the all-encompassing reality is not to see the true interconnected nature of all the details that we see.  Likewise to seek God, enlightenment, holiness, mystical fulfillment is to seek our ultimate fulfillment in learning to see the big, ultimate picture of reality our faith discloses to us.  But this can make us blind to the immanence of God in the concrete immediacy of the present moment.  Which is to say, we are blinded to the way our divine fulfillment is already at hand, already right here in the present moment itself. – p. 259

Our meditative gazing sets us free from the ego-based tendency to things as separate from God.  We are also set free from our simultaneous tendency to see God as being dualistically other than the concrete immediacy of things. – p. 260

We of course are not excluded from the all-in-one, one-in-all nature of the real world.  How could we be excluded, since we are the one in whom this nature of reality is realized?  Meditation is not a spectator sport in which stand back and observe this unity.  The opposite is true: in meditation we open ourselves to the transforming realization of our oneness with the mystery we seek. – p. 260

In visual terms, we realize that we who are seeing, the act of seeing, that which we are seeing, and God are completely and unexplainably one. – p. 260

Jesus said, “You have eyes to see and do not see” (Mark 8:18).  But what you can always choose is to gaze deeply into your inability to gaze deeply into the divinity of all that you see.  Here is a spiritual path that is open to all of us.  It is a self-transforming path marked out by a kind of humility of the eyes. – p. 262

Regardless of how you place your hands in meditation, you are wholeheartedly committed to a work not made with human hands.  The stillness of your hands in meditation expresses a Sabbath rest in which you cease all activity save that of actively sustaining a receptive openness to God. – p. 265

Chapter 13. Walking Meditation

Many of us practice walking meditation without ever thinking about it. – p. 266

To make a deliberate walking meditation, begin by standing straight and still, breathing slowly and naturally, with your eyes lowered toward the ground.  Hold your arms and hands in any position that feels natural and comfortable.  Stand in the wholehearted awareness of simply standing.  Shift your weight to one leg, then slowly and mindfully lift your other foot off the ground and slowly move it forward, lowering it to the ground about 6 inches ahead of your right foot.  Then, in one continuous movement, neither pausing nor rushing, switch sides.  Walk on like this in one slow, continuous movement.  If you find it helpful, you can use a word or phrase with each step. Or you might ask a question with each step? If you find it helpful, incorporate awareness of your breathing with your walking. – p. 268

Walk as a huge old fish slowly moves through primordial waters.  Walk as a glacier moves across the land.  Walk as one awakening to eternal stillness.  – p. 270

Walking meditation naturally dovetails with sitting meditation.  For most of us, most of the time, twenty or so minutes is a long enough period to spend in sitting meditation for us to settle into the meditative state, while at the same time short enough to honor the difficulty of sitting motionless for long periods.  Sometimes, however, it is just as the twenty minutes are ending that we begin to feel ourselves going deeper.  At such times to stop meditating feels a bit like walking out of a play in the middle of the second act.  Walking meditation provides a way of stretching our time.  And after ten minutes of walking we might be comfortably able to sit for another twenty minutes. – p. 271-272

Here is an exercise to combine several activities and do them all with present-moment attentiveness.  Sit in meditation for twenty minutes.  Then slow stand and walk to the sink.  Gaze for a moment at the dishes.  Slowly and mindfully put soap in the sink, fill it with hot water, listening to the sound of the running water.  Slowly wash each dish.  Pull the plug, listen to and watch the water going down the drain.  Do each part of this task slowly and mindfully.  Then walk back to your place of sitting meditation and sit for another twenty or so minutes.  Then open a journal and write spontaneously and sincerely about what it would be like to live in this way. – p. 274

This self-transforming style of life can be extended into retreat days devoted to the deepening of a habitual state of contemplative awareness of the present moment.  On the retreat, prepare and eat simple meals.  Keep conversations to a minimum.  If you journal or read anything at all, read and write only what awakens and deepens a sustained state of mindfulness of the divinity of the present moment. – p. 274

At first, and for quite some time, our efforts to be contemplatively awake require continual renewal.  Choose to slow down.  Choose to breath.  With time, this conscious effort transforms our daily awareness. – p. 275

Chapter 14.  Compassion

We may feel impatient and frustrated with ourselves in meditation, especially when our best efforts to overcome our shortcomings seem futile.  But as we sit, we begin to recognize the subtle violence inherent in our impatience with ourselves.  We notice our “violence” toward the very aspects of our self that need to be loved the most.  – p 279

We need to learn not to invade or abandon ourselves when meditation exposes our limitations.  It is precisely at this point that we begin to appreciate the liberating power of compassion.  Compassion is the love that recognizes and goes forth to identify with what is lost and broken within ourselves and others. – p. 279

In meditation we come to realize that in choosing to be compassionate, we are yielding to the compassionate nature of God flowing through us, in and as our compassion toward our self as precious in our frailty. – p. 279

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-30) reveals God’s version of reality, the way God always is toward us, regardless of how foolish and hurtful we may have been. – p. 280

The perception that our weaknesses are real in God’s eyes is bound up with our egocentric perception of ourselves as outside God’s sustaining love.  Entrenched in the ignorance of our imagined otherness from God, we set out to meditate as a way of overcoming this to succeed in reaching God.  In this ignorance we become discouraged about our slow progress in meditation and in the spiritual life in general. – p. 281

Some of the mystics speak of what is called the gift of tears.  We are loved without any foundations for being loved, except divine love itself.  The tears stream all the more as we realize that when we offer every reason for unloveability, the only result is deepened and intensified experiences of God’s love. – p. 282

Countless times come when we are NOT compassionate with ourselves or each other.  Then we can be compassionate toward our self in our failure to be compassionate.  And we are amazed over time, as we advance in the midst of our powerlessness to advance. – p. 283

You come to see a certain look of pain in the world’s eyes.  That look has been in your own eyes as well.  It is the look of sadness and confusion in not realizing how loved and lovable one is in the midst of difficulties and shortcomings.  You begin to appreciate that every time you compassionately engage with another person, your reason for being on this world is honored and expressed. – p. 285

Compassion forms the essential bond between seeking God in meditation and all forms of social justice.  For the more we are transformed in compassion, the more we are impelled to act with compassion toward others. – p. 286


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