Earlier this week, I awoke thinking about Ash Wednesday. I had no idea why. I just had a feeling that it had some meaning for me as part of the spiritual calendar.
I remember that as a child, it meant we would have to give up something until Easter Sunday. Forty days was a very long time then. More often than not, it meant giving up chocolate. But what could the following 40 days of Lent mean in our modern world?
I found an article by Father Thomas Keating who is a leader in Centering Prayer and the Contemplative Outreach group. Since I wrote about centering prayer in my book Rainbows Over Ruins, I paused to read his thoughts. He calls Lent a contemplative time and suggests that it was meant for communal retreat in preparation for transformaton and holistic health. We become ready to make changes when we deliberately go into the desert – to experience the lack of the most basic human needs, security, power, control, affection and esteem.
Father Keating states that Lent is about the temptation of the unconscious mind and how it influences our conduct all our lives unless we keep working with them. Keating suggests that it is a good time to go on a communal retreat using centering prayer or an extended Vipassana (Buddhist meditation) retreat. For those of us in a busy, urban lifestyle, both would be a major departure from our daily routines. Not too many of us want to abstain from killing any being, stealing, all sexual activity, telling lies, all intoxicants, eating after mid-day, sensual entertainment, bodily decorations and the use of high or luxuriant beds during a Vipassana.
However there is an attitude you achieve while on retreat. In the above examples, the goal is not to disturb the peace and harmony of others. They are stricter than we could be on a retreat when we are removed from all our regular routines and responsibilities. Are we even capable of putting aside letters, phone calls, visitors, cell phones or other electronic devices, music, reading, writing and television? Can we meditate all day? Or switch to a vegetarian lifestyle? It would certainly be a challenge.
But what we can do is shift our thoughts toward loving kindness and goodwill towards all. A negativity in the mind cannot co-exist with peace and harmony. Even that might be a challenge in my routine where days are filled with talk and meetings, television, filming, writing, researching and such.
What daily practice and sacrifice would be in the spirit of both Lenten and Vipassana practices as described? What would balance the effect of mass media in our lives to make room for the “divine therapy” found in observing the dynamics of our unconscious mind? What small shift in attention could anyone make that would contribute to such a goal?
The key components I would want to work into such a “retreat” of several days would be:
Start the day with breathing meditations, centering prayer or dis-identification exercises. The goal is to eliminate all negative thoughts.
Embrace silence. Noise becomes addictive. Many people find it extremely difficult to be in silence for any extended period of time. Even church services are organized around continued movement through a program and prayers spoken by others which eliminates very much time to dwell in the silence. To support our interest in silence, we could try to reduce or eliminate media and electronic devices during our retreats.
Set a goal not to disturb the peace and harmony of others and to meditate for good will toward all.
As such a goal implies abstaining from killing any being, it would suggest a vegetarian menu, lighter foods and earlier meals during this time.
Limit one’s physical exercise to the rhythmic experience of walking.
Some of this would be quite challenging given my lifestyle, but what an interesting challenge to undertake for the next 40 days. It isn’t that I could successfully do all of these things, however, imperfect action is better than none at all. If there is a message or transformative experience to be found in such an approach, perhaps I could find it.
Why consider doing this? Perhaps an extended contemplation of this sort offers an opportunity to balance the effect of mass media upon the dynamics of the subconscious mind. Could positive self-talk balanced in silence provide a powerful methodology to do this?
Whatever the answers, this is the season for contemplative retreat. At the very least, may you experience your inner connection to the divine within – quantum consciousness and the fields of all possibilities.
To Your Success,
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