One of our delights growing up as children in Kenya was to take the long trek to the coast. We would spend hours gazing into rock pools, for fish, crabs, and once a little octopus.
We are spending our last day in Sri Lanka in a beach house, which has a strip of living coral outside acting as a barrier to the large waves. As the tide has receded the coral and its rock pools have been exposed.
The trick to seeing something is to be as still as the pool, to get close to the sand and. not cast a shadow. This too has a lesson for us in contemplative awareness. We too have pools inside our mind that are still, mindful states of calm and open awareness. Too often we are just caught up in the surf of stress.
Standing barefoot in the sand, or contemplating the pools, listening to the sound of the waves we can find these mindful states of mind naturally. It is much harder in the busyness of ordinary life. It is much harder because in our Western culture we are often living in our heads, living virtually. Our ruminative patterns of mental time travel stir up the pools in our head until we are spun one way and then another.
The knack of finding the still pool within is by coming back to our embodied senses. As we enter these streams of awareness we can find the meta-awareness that contains our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.
As we learn to do this, mindful states of mind emerge. With practice we can create a new tide within that has wide open mindful spaces that contain and calm the surf.
Contemplative awareness and prayer is like being a birdwatchers says Roman Williams (and many others). You watch patiently and then ‘something extraordinary bursts into view.’ ((Being Disciples, chapter One)
Sometimes in birdwatching as with contemplative awareness you might have to wait a long time. I am not an expert ornithologist but I do love birdwatching and was recently given a new pair of binoculars.
I have been using them in Sri Lanka which is a birdwatching paradise. Sitting on the balcony of my room at the Cinnamon Citadel hotel in Kandy I am overlooking the Mahaweli river.
You don’t have to wait long here for something extraordinary to burst into view! Kingfishers, fish eagles, flying foxes, ibis, storks, herons, parakeets, orioles…It is a great encouragement for a beginner.
I think the process is the same for contemplative prayer and birdwatching, if perhaps in a different order. In birdwatching I am just looking at the river and the sky with open awareness, able to hold it in panoramic view. And then every few minutes a bird bursts into my awareness. I can then follow it with focused attention through the lenses of my binoculars.
With contemplative prayer we normally have to begin with focused attention before we can find a place of open awareness. But once we find that place we might find a sign of the kingdom beating its wings across our awareness.
Here in Sri Lanka it has been an awareness of the sheer creativity of God as Creator.
a link to my article in the Baptist Times!
Yesterday was a resolute day, an intentio day, a day of intention. A day for turning ‘the face of my soul’ to God (a contemplative said this). A day of the Jesus Prayer and prayer rope, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner. A day of music which sounded as intense in the silence and solitude as any teenage sending (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Bring Him Home, Agnus Dei, Finlandia, Fix You, Into The West, New Rose, Scarborough Fair, Someone Like You, Somethin’ Stupid, The New World). In particular Now The Green Blade Riseth spoke to me.
Packing my case in the morning slightly tweaked my back. I have a joint that jams on the left and sends the muscles into spasm. My body started sending me helpful messages like bus, taxi, chiropractor rather than walk 20 kms. But something takes over when you start walking in this pilgrimage way. I think your soul moves from background to foreground, it becomes the figure leading the way.
I didn’t want to stop in case my joint jammed and then I would be stuck so I just kept walking until I got to Santiago. There were families, friends, young, old, many nationalities…one man walking with a frame.
As I walked I prayed that I would be emptied of my small self, that a larger self would begin to emerge, green blades rising.
May I be emptied of my small self…
May I be filled with a larger self…
One of the key aspects of mindfulness is to have the intention to do it. This walk today helped me to strength the ability to have intention.
Sent from my iPad
Yesterday was a day of ecstasy. I wasn’t expecting ecstasy, agony certainly…I was trying to work out why.
It could have been grace
maybe it was flow
maybe it was good stress
It came on while I was walking and stayed all day.
maybe it was the walking
perhaps we are made for walking
perhaps it was the soft Galician countryside, and the small farms I was walking through
I know we have been given mindful states of mind, and one of those is an ecstatic state of mind. I have also experienced it skiing, the song of ecstasy.
I think it is a gift, part of what means to be fully human, from the Giver of gifts. It is a created gift to experience in creation.
There were thundery showers yesterday on the Camino. On today’s stage it started to rain the second I stepped through the door of the Pension O Retiro where I am staying tonight.
I have dramatised today’s photo, just as we so often catastrophize our own internal weather. I have seen people with all sorts of wet weather gear, some fit for purpose and some clearly not.
I have mindfully discerned that I am missing a cover for my small rucksack (or a poncho that covers it), gaiters, and a water proof pouch for my passport. My coat is waterproof but not breathable, another thing I need to change.
My boots having been reglued before I came away have split again. There’s a parable in here somewhere.
What I’ve realised is that we make do with the internal wet weather gear we have inherited through family scripts, or that have become our own automatic ways of coping or not. This gear may not be always fit for purpose.
What I’ve learnt from mindfulness is that its theory and practice can upgrade our internal wet weather gear until it is fit for purpose. It won’t stop thundery showers or rain, but enables us to thrive as we walk through them.
When the mist of anxiety falls on you it limits your mind. You perceive the feeling is the only reality.
As I walk the Camino and reach higher ground I realise the mist is not generalised as I thought but localised in a valley. I become aware of higher ground free of mist.
Mindfulness takes me by the hand when the mist of anxiety falls and leads me to higher ground. I reperceive the anxiety as a valley in my mind not the whole of my reality. I come out into the light.