May 10, 2015
We are talking here of the tools of prayer. Prayer itself is not a thing one does, no, it is a state of being in a relationship with the Great Unknown, that void that we can sense but have no idea what it means. These various tools provide a means to reach that void, where we join more personally with that Unknown to become more fully Who We Really Are, that is, the Being made in the Image of the Divine Wisdom.
When we first start the daily practice, the world seems full of things to meditate on or use as tools for quiet time. But as time goes by, it can become quite a challenge to find material that is fresh and provides a challenge. The purpose of prayer is to build a relationship. Those of us who have successfully survived a long relationship understand well the necessity of maintaining a freshness in that relationship, and prayer is no different. Repeating too many times the same approach that was so successful at one point, provides a death knoll to any relationship, prayer included. I have used many techniques over the years, and still find that reading a spiritual book is one of the best lead-ins to a time with the Divine Wisdom. God speaks to us in many ways, and I will present only a few of the ways possible, as I am sure that there are many ways to hear the Divine Whisper that I do not know, as I am always finding new wonderful ways.
I started out, as I said previously, using the repetitive prayer of the rosary, an ancient prayer form develop in early Christianity for those who could not read, which was the vast majority of the people. It is still popular in the Roman Catholic Church, especially among the elderly where simple prayers like this (simplicity is one of keys to finding oneself conversing with the Divine Wisdom) can fill the day in a peaceful manner. I learned the rosary at home, as our family, like many Catholic families back in the 1940’s, said a daily rosary together. I used that prayer form for over 30 years, sometimes with months or even years between returning to this form from other forms.
I used the Book of Hours for 30 years, that extensive prayer form used by the Roman Catholic Clergy and others, consisting of various psalms, biblical and ancient holy readings, and other prayers set at various times of the day, such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Matins, and other various prayers for different times of the day, set in a combination of seasonal and 4 week cyclical format. They vary according to the seasons of the year (Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Ordinary time) I found these prayers helpful and soothing, especially at times when I questioned what was going on in my life. There is something about using a form of prayer that is use by thousands to gather strength when needed, and to feel part of a world-wide layer of God on this planet that is understood by many.
And I used books. I am an avid reader, much prefer reading than watching television, and am a searcher for Truth in the world, so I bought books, used when I could, books by theologians, spiritual writers, the works of the Second Vatican Council that gave many of us great hope, anything that I could further my thirst for knowledge and understanding, both in spirituality and science, as I believe strongly that for one to be true than the other must say something similar. Science is the working out in a physical manner that Truth of the Universe, which is another term for God. My studies of physics, both the very large and the very, very small, that is, the cosmos and quantum physics, have allowed me to glimpse God in an entirely new way.
This has been my journey. Today I use short meditations, walks in the garden for my health, gardening, especially the art-form of bonsai (miniature trees), writing, and of course, reading.
Reading Quiet Time
Quiet Time using spiritual reading is not the same as spiritual reading for knowledge, even though spiritual reading for knowledge can become a time of Quiet Time. Quiet time, in it’s essence, is a time for communion with the Spirit of Wisdom, in this case using words from a book to act as a guide into the time for communion. Certainly one of the most time-tested methods is to randomly open a holy book (and any spiritual book can be a holy book) and read the first thing that your eyes settle on, then close the book and ponder what you just read. This does work well, even though I have rarely used this approach, as it generally works best with books that you know the content well, and can be sure of the content.
I use books often as the source of my quiet time, usually reading relatively slowly a book by an author that I trust (and I have many), and when something strikes me stopping and re-reading that paragraph or phrase and letting it sink into my spirit. The pause needs only be a few seconds, but it often leads into letting the feelings and thoughts flow through me from the idea just presented, and a surprising amount of time can pass before I resume reading.
A book does not have to explicitly be a spiritual book to have spiritual meaning, as least to me. I am a bit of a science nut, and often read books on quantum physics and similar books, and use the profound insights mentioned in those books on the nature of the universe, and use that to explore mentally and with my Spiritual Guide what that says about the nature of God and myself.
Some of the better known authors I use, besides the more obvious holy books such as the bible and the Bhagavad Gita, are Neale Donald Walsch, Richard Rohr, Teilhard de Chardin, Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, Diarmuid O’Murchu, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Maryanne Williamson, The Dalai Lama, and Richard Bach. This is only a small sampling of the authors I have read over the years and are reading now, and books by these and so many other wonderful authors await your (and my) discovery. I have read hundreds of spiritual books, and have at least a half-dozen sitting here or in my iPad to read, plus four hardback books sitting on the coffee table.
Walking Quiet Time
Anytime we take the time to walk, for exercise, joy of movement, or to see the sights, is a time to join oneself with the Divine. One way that is exquisite is mentioned in the book The Divine Milieu by Teilhard de Chardin is called the The Luminous World, and is as follows: In order to discover and frequently exercise your new eyes to discern the fire or luminosity within things, start small. Chose one living thing, such as a flower, a bug, a pet, or a baby, and with your imagination picture a kind of glow or luminousness surrounding and penetrating the object of your contemplation. Stay with it for a few minutes, focusing not on the external beauty or complexity of the object but upon the glow surrounding and penetrating it, as if that were its source of life and existence.
Once you learn to do this, the glow or luminosity will develop a life of its own. Then you can move to another object of contemplation to witness its glowing luminosity.
From time to time, say a word of thanks to this benevolent God who is constantly revealing God’s to you everywhere in creation. (Louis M. Savary, Teilhard de Chardin The Divine Milieu Explained.)
God is everywhere, in everything, waiting for us to open our eyes and see the glory that is always there. It is in the simple things that the glory of God is revealed, if we have eyes to see.
Watching Quiet Time
A useful technique that I learned many years ago from the work of Gurdjief and Ouspensky is called Self-Observation, and is similar to approaches taught in the Mastermind groups. It is by recognizing that we can learn to step back mentally and just observe the constant stream of thoughts that occur from the various sources in our mind, which are usually from the more negative side of our ego. When we learn to do that, and it is not difficult as the din of the thought stream is so loud, we see that most thoughts have nothing to do with what is going on in our perceived world, but are random thoughts, most often of a negative variety, about others we are talking with, have recently been talking with, or long ago talked with, heard talking, or something that we read that we feel needs criticizing. And criticizing again. And again. It is amazing when we learn the technique of self-observation we discover how judgmental we are about so many things, and how totally useless this process really is, as it only creates negative images, and feeds any negative perceptions we have of the world, not only on that particular topic but on any topic at all.
When we learn to move into the position of self-observation, we will be amazed at our thoughts, and wonder where in the world they came from, as they appear to be so foreign to what we like to think we think. It is as if we have another person sitting just out of view, talking constantly about everything under the sun, criticizing and judging everything, feeding thoughts aimed at proving to ourselves that we are superior to all else around us.
It is from this center of being that self-observation brings us that we can move into more conscious conduct of our life, not always dwelling on past events or some future catastrophe, to a point that we can live in the most blessed event of all, the Now; the present moment. The more we can observe ourselves and correct or at least slow down the chatter the more we will be able to see the glory of God in this life we are living. It is from this center we can move into the essence of Quiet Time, that stillness in life, which will be present, and we can begin the process of hearing the Voice of God speaking in our mind and feelings.
And if you are wondering, it is possible to move back into observing the observer who is observing the chaotic stream in our mind, and discover another layer talking to the observer, and quiet that one. I have, on occasion, achieved seeing four layers, and I am sure there are more to behold. But the first layer is the most important, and is easily achievable with a little effort to learn the technique, and is a wonderful way to still the mind, the most difficult task in Quiet Time.
This technique lead naturally into the flow of Being Awake, the state of life where we live only in the Now, the Present Moment, as Eckhart Tolle discusses in his powerful book ‘The Power of Now.’ When one is Awake, every moment is alive. We not only become conscious of the stream of thought, we find that that stream dwindles to a mere background noise, and we see the glorious brightness of the present moment, the only moment where God exists. The world will be brighter because we focus on this moment, any time we can devote our full attention to the Now, our senses are all tuned to this moment and life becomes much more exciting, and the Quiet Time becomes the only moment that there is, which is a discovery of one of the great Truths of our life, that only This Moment is real.
Breathing Quiet Time
Observing the breath is an excellent way to move from the chaotic world into a single focus. While the mind seems to be filled with many streams of thought, it is a single main stream that rapidly switches from one topic to another, so many times that we seem to running in parallel paths but are not. So when you give the mind a single focus, in this case the breath, it suppresses the running stream of thought. The principle is simple: just watch your breath, in and out. Do not attempt to control your breath, but just let your body breath naturally. Breath control is possible, and many books in the past have advocated it, but it can be dangerous unless under the guidance of a Master. Once we control our breath, unless under strict control, we can break the automatic breathing response of the body and do damage to ourselves. But there is no danger in just watching our breath, and marveling on the way life giving oxygen is fed to the body in just the proper amounts. As you learn to relax the body and move more deeply into Quiet Time, you will see your breathing slow down and smooth out. Keeping our focus on the breath, let your thought pattern broaden slightly and feel the warmth of God envelope you, and follow that gentle pull, while still watching the breath- unless you are pulled into the flow of God, in which case the breath will take care of itself.
Conversation with God (Neale Donald Walsch) puts it this way in Book 3: “God said: Breathe. That is another tool. Breathe long and deep. Breathe slowly and gently. Breathe in the soft, sweet nothingness of life, so full of energy, so full of love. It is God’s love you are breathing. Breathe deeply, and you can feel it. Breathe very, very deeply, and the love will make you cry.
For you have met your God, and your God has introduced you to your soul.”
Song Quiet Time
Any of the methods discussed previously will be enhanced if music of some type is included. But just by itself, if the atmosphere is set properly, an appropriate song or musical background can be used as a focal point to stop the chatter of the mind. I played the guitar for many years, until a finger injury prevented me from playing, and I would play and sometimes sing melodies that spun me into the Quiet Time mode of being. I would often continue playing and let my mind wonder as it will.
The music can be any kind, depending on your mood. If my mood were agitated, I could play or listen to a rousing Dixieland tune that would bring me to joy, then usually slow down to gentle background sounds or even just strumming the guitar for a rhythmic background, a waterfall effect that sooths the mind and soul.
Deepak Chopra in his meditation streams uses a gentle flowing sound that enhances the effect. These background sounds are available by themselves to use as you wish, and can be programmed on the computer for length if desired.
Nature can provide sounds that when listened to with an open mind provide a natural melody and soothing sound. Sitting under a tree and listening to the breeze, sitting by a fountain or waterfall can give a point of focus, and sitting by a stream can do wonders to the soul, that if we allow, can lead us to the Quiet Time mode of existence, at peace with yourself and the world.
Above all, we are searching for ways to lead us into the period of No Time, when all else vanishes except for the place beyond what we see.
And if it does not, at any time do this, that is all right too, for these moments of No Time can be rare, but will come when you and it are ready.
We will speak of Meditation next time.
My Divine Wisdom, I am grateful for leading me to find ways to still my run-away mind, to still my agitation, to let me find a level of peace, no matter what is going on in my mind. I now know that I can always find refuge from the storms of life, just by entering into the space where I can encounter the Spirit within. For as Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within”, and the spirit of Peace that I am always searching for is always within me, waiting to be acknowledged and asked to become an active part of my conscious presence. That simple request will always be answered, and my daily practice is what keeps it close to my awareness and simple to turn to when the storm is nigh.