Here we are...

Just off the Port Bow—a place of uncertainty, adventure, and insight. Thank you for your ears, eyes and hearts. I hope to bring compassion, grace and beauty to your day.

Holy Silence (Part Two)

Over the years I have been blessed to receive some very good instruction in life and spiritual matters; in seminary, in professional development, and in various church contexts. I have sat at the feet of some of modern Christendom's most celebrated leaders, and have read the works of the church's most notable voices from the past.

The teaching I received at I.M.S. during this retreat was simply the best teaching I have experienced.

This is a dramatic statement, I know, and reflects more on the current state of my mind, and the current needs of my heart, than it does on the vast corpus of excellent Christian teaching to which I have been exposed. The talks I heard at I.M.S. are now available for download, and I plan to listen to them a bunch in the coming weeks. Let's see if they hold the test of time...and the test of a New England Winter.

A little more about the structure of the teaching received.

In our first sitting meditation after breakfast (we had an earlier one at 5:45am) we received instruction on meditation, and the challenges one typically faces. Our teachers have been doing this for decades, and they have not forgotten the trials of newbies like this fellow from Grafton. The rest of the morning was an alternating rhythm of sitting and walking meditation.

After lunch the focus of the talk was Metta. In Christian circles this would have been the talk on prayer. In our I.M.S. context we used the language of "bringing loving kindness" to ourselves, to others and to the world. For many of my fellow yogis this was the most dynamic part of the retreat. This is what I heard in our short small group times. "I'm not sure how meditation works. I do know that focusing loving kindness and compassion on myself and others has brought me unexpected and deep peace." Metta is a central part of meditation "practice".

For me this was a game-changer.

By the second day of the retreat I was ready to give up. That was about when the Metta teaching kicked in. I went back to my room and practiced on myself. When the waves of despair were crushing me I brought compassion to the feelings. The only alternative I had was to battle despair with my will, and that wasn't working. Compassion broke the cycle, and on the Tuesday afternoon I saw the despair disperse from my room (and my heart).

After working on loving-kindness toward the self one shifted focus and considered intimate friends, then close friends, then acquaintances, then strangers, then the world. Yes, this was like expanding circles of prayer. For me, at least, devoid of religious language, these prayers felt less encumbered and more genuine.

The main bit of daily teaching came after the simple evening meal (usually just soup and crackers). This was called the Dharma talk, which refers to the corpus of wisdom which has been circulating in Buddhist communities for the past twenty five hundred years. Mindfulness, Compassion, Forgiveness and Equanimity are some of the topics which were addressed by our teachers. These were not sermons. They felt more like what one finds in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous; timeless and empathetic teaching about life. These are the teachings which were recorded.

I remember at one point in the retreat thinking about the Transfiguration, and the desire Peter, James and John had to build booths for Jesus, Elijah and Moses; to preserve the magical moment on the mountain. I was imagining some sort of enshrining of the Dharma talk I was hearing; wanting to write down some of the deep wisdom which was stirring me. At about the same time the teacher explained why we were not being encouraged to write anything down, nor to journal later in our rooms. The whole point of the retreat was to focus on the present moment. How does this teaching feel to you right now? Don't build a shrine, but be present with the moment. Huh?! I began to get it.

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Holy Silence (Part Three)

Holy Silence (Part One)