Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Introduction- Universal Heart Meditation

Introduction-Universal Heart Meditation-
(Graphic above attributed to Thomas Keating O.C.S.O. )

The Soul’s Journey   
     Every soul has a journey in this life. Too often we measure our life by the conventional standards of external success or failure in work, money, possessions, or relationships. But our real journey is the journey of the soul to rediscover in the depths of our own Heart or spiritual center, the secret garden of the spirit, and to learn to rest, abide, and live our human life from the Divine Eternal Life that emanates from the secret garden of the spirit.

Two Dimensions of Human Spiritual Personhood
     We are loved into existence with two enduring aspects to our personhood. One aspect is that of the soul, or spiritual consciousness, whose task is to undertake the journey of life and bring into the created world the Light within, and live It fully, with awakened awareness and with the purpose of consecrated love in this created world of human and other beings. The other aspect of our being is the secret garden of spirit, the deep spiritual Heart,  the essential being of our true self that remains inviolable and unchanging. The garden of spirit is known in its fullness only to the Divine Friend and Beloved whose Life and Presence abides in the center of the garden. Potentially the Divine Indwelling is uncovered by the awakened and unified soul of every human being who longs to come home to rest and find healing therein. Our soul finds healing therein from the wound of separateness and isolation into conscious union with the Divine Beloved. It is the destiny of every soul to discover the secret garden of the true spirit and to bring its fruits into the world. Sadly the soul’s destiny is too often ignored and unfulfilled because of spiritual ignorance or unconsciousness in a lifetime of diversion, distraction, and misdirection. The result of that unfulfilled destiny is the human condition and all the ills that flow from it.
Abiding in the Secret Garden
     My journey of soul came into awakening as an adult at age 21. In the midst of a spiritual and psychological crisis, afflicted by despairing obsessive thoughts with growing suicidal content, in anguish and desperation I cried out for help. The help came immediately. It came in the form of a memory. The memory was soft and gentle and settled over me like a soothing cloud. I was four years old and I was hiding in the tall grass behind the chicken house at my grandmother’s home. In a seated position with crossed legs, my eyes were closed and my attention was focused entirely inward to a secret place deep within. I had come to this place many times before. It was home to me. In this place was safety and the peace and fullness that comes from being fully known and loved by a Presence that surrounded me in its loving intent. And I simply rested in the Presence, and It in me. Nothing else was needed. In a short time I would open my eyes and go about my play and exploration. Not thinking anything more about it, except that I knew this place and this experience was secret and I should not speak of it to any adult, as they would not understand. I did not give this place any religious interpretation as I knew very little about religion at that time in my life other than the nightly prayers my mother would say.

     In my recovery of this memory at age 21 I remembered again the inner gateway to this secret place. And, as if no time had passed at all, I went there again and rested again in the Presence Who indwelled in me. And the depression lifted and the obsessive and toxic thoughts lifted and I was healed.

Finding a Spiritual Practice
     Not long after this healing occurred I met a young man who spoke about meditation as a spiritual practice, specifically Soto Zen meditation. His description resonated with my experience and I resolved to find a meditation teacher, knowing I needed to have a disciplined daily practice to stay rooted in the grace of this interior place of sanctuary and communion I had rediscovered now in my adult life, as already my mind was inclined to revert to its old patterns. And thus began the journey of my soul as an adult. My training in meditation took me to a gifted woman who was a teacher of Zen meditation, and later to teachers of meditation in the Christian mystical tradition. The Zen tradition helped me cultivate an emphasis on awareness or pure presence in my practice, and the Christian teachers helped me cultivate the quality of the intentionality of self-giving love in my practice. And I learned that both are vital to bring the soul’s abiding in the secret garden in the deep heart rooted in both presence and love and thereby express the fullness of our true spirit and the Eternal Beloved who lives within.

The Universal Perennial Wisdom
     In my life I have lived the interspiritual dialogue of East and West, and while the words and the map of spiritual reality are different, the reality of Spirit, a reality beyond words and concepts, is the same. That reality did not change for me when I practiced in the Buddhist paradigm, nor when I practiced in the Christian paradigm. The secret garden of the true spirit, and the Presence who Indwells within my own center and the center of all things is the same. All words and descriptions are, as the saying affirms, “the finger pointing at the moon.”

   One of the pioneers of the interspiritual East-West dialogue is a monk named Bede Griffiths who died in 1993 at age 86. Bede Griffiths was a western Benedictine Catholic monk who, in his own words, went to India to “find the other half of my soul.” Bede Griffiths remained a Catholic monk but integrated many of the great mystical teachings of the East in his formulation and founding of Christian/Hindu ashrams rooted in meditation practice. Bede Griffiths made the statement on one occasion that his perception was that comparing the great faith traditions of the world was like looking at a hand. Each faith was a finger in a whole hand, in which in its dogma, theology and laws were distinct from others. Where they joined at the palm, the great Wisdom traditions were rooted in the essential Divine Oneness that is beyond concepts, traditions, dogmas, descriptions and laws, but is Eternal Life itself. He noted that those practitioners who partake of experiential knowledge of the mystic/contemplative dimension at the palm, even though they come from different traditions, can communicate in harmony and understanding with one another. Those adherents who are rooted only in law, theology, or dogma usually have great conflict and a lack of understanding in their communication. And as we know in our world today, this has been the occasion of much hatred and ill will across the religious divide, across time and geography.

The Emerging Global Spiritual Consciousness
   An emerging global consciousness is gathering in our world, thanks to growing global communications. Younger people are discarding the old conflicts and loyalties and asking why the former divisions between peoples should continue. They are also asking why religious institutions should make exclusive truth claims to be the mediator between the human soul and the Eternal Source. No human created institution has a claim of ownership of the Eternal, nor a stature of serving as exclusive conduit of the Divine to the human soul. Bricks and mortar are not the temple of God by whatever name we may give the Divine Ultimate.  Rather the temple and true tabernacle of the Divine Presence is to be found at the center of the Heart, the secret garden of the spirit, within each one of us. Only the Divine Beloved can lay claim to that sacred place, and only the human soul, drawn and unified by love can draw near to find nourishment and healing in the secret garden.

     This knowledge is not new. It has been known throughout the ages by mystics who partake of the Sophia Perennis, or the Perennial Wisdom, passed down by practitioners from all the Wisdom traditions. What is new is that humankind is growing to a new receptivity to this secret knowledge, and a growing desire and trust to actualize it in a way that is beyond the control of ideologies and institutions. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, if one percent of human beings were to meditate, the world would be transformed. The time has arrived, and younger generations are ready to bring forth and fulfill the birthright of every human being who is willing. This short book is directed to this step that humankind is being invited to take. Whether you are religious or not, all are called to discover, enter, abide therein, and live their precious human life centered in the Secret Garden of the Spirit.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Centering in the Heart

    Centering in the Heart

    The great wisdom traditions teach us a too often hidden intuition we already possess, that our authentic identity abides in true spirit, or true nature. Our true spirit is not an isolated being or entity but is an intimate cell or emanation of the Universal being or Spirit from which all life and consciousness arises. When the mystics speak of the “heart” they are referring to our spiritual center, the sanctuary space of our true spirit and the Light and Presence of the Universal Spirit that animates and holds it into being. All spirituality has to do with experiencing communion with the Divine Spirit Life in the heart or spiritual center. Hence spiritual praxis (practice) is the process of conscious connection with Spirit in the heart, or Centering in the heart.

    I will always remember watching a video of an interspiritual conference in the 1990s at which the Dalai Lama was interviewed. The comment that remained with me to this day was made with his hand caressing his heart area of the chest and smiling as he spoke, “essence of spirituality and true religion is ‘heart’.” Notably he did not say  ‘the right beliefs or laws.’ Rightfully then, when we speak of the life of the spirit arising from the heart or spiritual center, then we must also speak of how we center our consciousness in the heart.

    It is good to have a conceptual map of the spiritual life, but it is not enough if you do not then take the journey. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan monk and interspiritual contemplative guide and teacher wrote: “We must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion, or little will change.” (Richard Rohr, The Naked Now) And when we move from belief and dogma and into the dimension of practice and experience, we are moving from religion into spirituality. Religion without authentic spiritual practice is why we have a failure of religious systems today. And remember that the word practice does not mean ‘repetition.’ It refers to the Greek word praxis, which means, actualization, to make real. To make real our life of the spirit it is vital and necessary to have conscious connection, conscious communion, and conscious oneness with our true spirit and the Universal Life that animates it and the entire cosmos and beings who dwell here with us. The doorway into this conscious connection is our own heart, or spiritual center.  The pathways of connection into the deep heart are many. Most mystics teach spiritual meditation as the most direct and most powerful pathway of connection.

Meditation as Pathway to Centering in the Heart
" Meditation… is returning to your own center and finding that it is the gateway to the Center of all."  John Main OSB- The Heart of Creation

    I have specified the term ‘spiritual meditation’ here as a direct but not the only pathway to connection with the heart. Again the ‘heart’ here is the center of our being, the secret garden of the true spirit. I am not using the term to refer to more conventional usages of ‘heart’ to refer to the emotional center or to our anatomical organ.  There are forms of meditation that are taught simply as health practice or mental concentration practice to enhance the powers of the brain. Here we are referring to the practice described by John Main as the liberation of the spiritual faculty of awareness from entrapment in the thinking mind and its content, and anchoring our awareness and our will (intention) in the spiritual center or heart, the font of self-offering love (agape) or loving kindness (metta) and the sanctuary of the Light and Fire of Divine Presence or Ultimate Being in our inner being.

    A valid equivalent term Interbeing, is used by the Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, to understand that all beings participate and share in the Life of Ultimate Being. Hence the more intimate we are with Ultimate Being within, the more empathic and compassionate we are with all beings, because we experience our oneness with all beings through the deep heart within. Therefore true spiritual meditation does not take us into a self-absorption, but into a belonging that transcends a personal self and encompasses our own true spirit in communion with all spirits. At a personal level therefore meditation takes us into the Greater Concern for all beings and subjectively we experience both growing joy and pain in that belonging. This is Interbeing for Buddhists, and for theistic people this is the place where love and union with God takes us into a love and union with our neighbor or all beings, the Great Commandment. All true morality stems from this Unitive Love. It matters not which concept you prefer, it is the same Reality, the same Great Love that holds us all into being and shares Its Life with us. This Great Love. alive and burning brightly in the heart, is what the Tibetan Buddhists are invoking in the spiritual mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum,”  ‘Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus of the Heart.’

Meditation Method

    The method of centering in the heart through spiritual meditation simply calls us to take refuge in the Inner Flame of Love at the center of our Secret Garden of the Spirit.  In this intimate encounter, similar to when we seek intimacy in our human relationships, we give our full presence, letting no thing intrude, whether our own thoughts, external noise or distraction.  In this interior sanctuary we give ourselves to the interior rest and aliveness of the deep heart.  To cultivate our abiding in this sacred silent space, which the ancients of the desert tradition called “hesychia”, there are external and internal disciplines we must cultivate.  

The Guidelines of Heart Meditation

1.  Setting:  Set aside a sacred space, a quiet place in your home that is consecrated to your desire for centering in the cave of the heart.

2.  Time:  Choose a time most conducive to silent interior heart meditation, when you are alert and not likely to be interrupted.  For most that is early morning and early evening.

3. Body Posture:  Sit upright, where minimal effort is required to maintain a straight back and be alert.  For some a chair is best, for others, a meditation bench or cushion.  Let the hands be reverently folded in your lap or resting on your thighs facing upward or downward.

4.  Breath:   Breathing should be relaxed, not forced.  Allow the breath to be deep and abdominal, relaxing the tensions in the shoulders, chest and abdomen.  Let the out-breath be released slowly, synchronized with the invocation of a sacred breath or mantric invocation, if you are using one.

5.  Preparation:   Choose or create a short phrase of consecration to prepare for your entry into silence and to awaken your longing.   Examples might be, ’In the depths of my heart I take refuge’, or ‘O Beloved Spirit Life, I take refuge in you.’

6.  Length of Meditation Session:  Twenty-five to thirty minutes of Heart Meditation session is best, with a brief walking meditation in between for more than one session.  Two sessions a day, one session in both the morning and evening, or two sessions in the morning, are often recommended.  (For most people it is best to begin with one.) Allow for a gentle transition from the meditation session, perhaps ending with a spoken vow of practice, devotional prayers or chant, or a short spiritual reading you may find inspirational.

The Method

Meditation mantra:  Choose a word, which touches you and best expresses your desire to be one with the Spirit Life within you.  Or you may choose a word that evokes for you deep peace and interior grounding in the heart. Repeat the word or words silently and continuously, synchronized with your breath. Let the word and breath sink deeply into the heart in the chest and solar plexus. With more than one syllable or word, align the recitation of the word or phrase with the in-breath and out-breath in an easy rhythm of breath and word.  Let this mantric word or phrase be the anchor of returning your awareness to interior abiding in the Heart.  Some practitioners may find repeating any word is unnecessary or even a distraction.  For these individuals, the in-breath and out-breath alone is the purest and simplest form of meditation practice, and breath alone is fully sufficient and complete.

Observing the Mind/Abiding in the Heart: Observe the mind traffic content, release and return your attention/presence to abiding in the heart (This may be experienced energetically in our body awareness deep in the lower chest and solar plexus area).  Continually observe and release from involvement with mental thoughts in the head by returning to your breath and sacred word.  The continual process of “release and return” coincides with the natural rhythm of the breath.  We increasingly and continuously abide in the deep heart and sanctuary of the Spirit Life within.  In growing depth our awareness settles and anchors in the warmth and spaciousness of our spiritual center, the cave of the heart and secret garden of the spirit within.

Summary of Guidelines and Method

     Gradually, over time, we cultivate a capacity, not to stop thought and emotion, but to release from them.  Increasingly, we abide in the ‘cave of the heart’, which is beneath and beyond all mind activity.  We experience that we have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.  We can rest in this heart space, in our silent meditation practice, or in the midst of daily activities.  Our true home, our monk's cell, is the kingdom of the Spirit Life within, and our practice is one of ceaseless return and abiding in the inner sanctuary of the Heart Flame of Love.

     Thomas Kelly, the twentieth century Quaker mystic, spoke eloquently of the "perpetual return of the soul to the Inner Sanctuary."  He writes, " Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return.  Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself…"

"Who abides in love, abides in God." -Epistle of St. John

"The Heart is the only Reality. The mind is only a transient 
phase. To remain as one's Self is to enter the Heart."
- Sri Ramana Maharshi

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yoga of the Heart

The Practice of Heartfulness-
Yoga of the Heart
"I looked for God in all the temples and mosques of the world and I found God in my own Heart. "
Mevlana Rumi- 13th cent. Sufi mystic of Turkey.

The River that flows in you flows in me. -Kabir

Yoga- Union and Connection

    I am going to use the word yoga now because it is a word that is well known in Western culture despite its Sanskrit roots in Hindu culture. It is commonly associated in the West with the practice and discipline of postural (asana) yoga as a physical discipline. However, the term yoga means union or joining. The English word yoke as a noun or a verb is a derivative of yoga and refers to this same process of joining together or union. In the Hindu tradition, yoga refers to the multiple pathways by which we actualize and make conscious the union of human with Divine consciousness within the soul. In the Hindu tradition there are many disciplines of yoga that make virtually all human activity a potential form of yoga or union with the Divine, and all authentic yoga is a form or dimension of the Yoga of the Heart or spiritual center. In yoga as spiritual practice, human friendship, conjugal love (tantra), compassionate service and care-giving (karma),  devotional love (bhakti), and  meditational heart presence (raja),  everything in our life,  becomes a practice of yoga or union with the Divine Beloved, when we center in the heart. All human life, everything we do, can become a pathway to the heart or a dimension of Yoga of the Heart.

    Spirituality is connection, communion, joining our human awareness with Divine Awareness, joining our human soul with Divine Soul, and realizing we were never separate. Spirituality is yoga, heart yoga in all things, and bringing all of our human life into alignment and connection with Divine Life. The human soul hungers most deeply, not for religion, but for the conscious experience of Divine union and connection. For us this is coming Home, and there finding who we are, our true identity and belonging, in our union with the Divine and all beings. For some, religion can assist in conducting a conscious spiritual life. For too many, religion is an obstruction to, or diversion from, authentic spiritual life.

Heart Presence
As I Walk with Beauty
As I walk, as I walk
The universe is walking with me
In beauty it walks before me
In beauty it walks behind me
In beauty it walks below me
In beauty it walks above me
Beauty is on every side
As I walk, I walk with Beauty. -Navajo Prayer

To walk in beauty is to walk in Heart Presence. Heart Presence is not just being mentally awake. Heart Presence is consciously dwelling in pure Being or Presence, one way of understanding what Being is. The process of soul healing is the healing of our human presence into Universal Presence. We participate in that process through the practice of Heart Yoga, In Centering in the Heart in formal meditation we encounter and experience Heart Presence in stillness and quiet sitting. In Heart Yoga we bring that same quality of being, the same practice of Centering in the Heart into all of life, into all relationships, into all activity and service.

    In centering in the heart or heart presence in daily life our reference point and home is the heart. We recognize this interior space and sanctuary as the space where we experience interior peace, and our capacity to love deeply and fully, love as self-offering. We experience this space close to the location of the anatomical heart in the center of the chest and sternum. We can breathe from and into this space and our breath can help guide our conscious awareness to that space and anchor our abiding there. If we have a chosen mantra or sacred word aligned with our breath, it can also help us anchor our conscious awareness there. Sufism calls this muqtaba of putting the mind into the heart. Likewise Eastern Christian mystics call this hesychasm or the interior quiet of putting the mind (conscious awareness) into the heart.

The Ear of the Heart and Moral Discernment
“Immersing our self into the heart we allow the energy of love to slow down the mind and its many thoughts, until we arrive at a state of empty receptivity, in which we patiently wait within the heart…. In this interior place we come to hear the words of our Beloved, experience divine presence, or merge deeper into the silence that belongs to love. … Listening within the heart is attuning ourself to our Beloved. We develop the ear of the Heart, the inner listening of the soul.” (Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism)

    Hence in Heart Presence we walk in Beauty Itself, we walk in Love Itself, and with the ear of the heart open, we listen to what is in harmony with the Beloved and what is not. In this way we align our path, our actions with Love’s way, and experience deeply the sorrow that comes from not doing so. This interior listening is the source of all ethical, moral choice and behavior. This is what it means to walk in Beauty in Heart Presence.  Sorrow itself can be what the mystics call the “gift of tears.”  To feel personally and deeply when harm comes to beings, arises from unitive love, being one with Oneness Itself, the One Life that animates us all. From this comes forth all just and compassionate discernment and action, all moral commitment. Morality is no longer a rule or an ideal, but a felt Presence.

Heart Presence and Soul Healing
   From this Oneness comes the healing of our existential alienation and aloneness. We experience that we are never alone, always in communion with the One who loved us into existence and sustains our life and spirit. We are always Home and never a stranger or estranged. In this state the craving for substitutes and diversions that arise from spiritual alienation falls away, and the heart is our true Home, the Beloved our true dwelling place and security. Our journey is one of always coming home again and again throughout our life, no matter how far we may wander or be distracted or diverted. The Practice of Heart Yoga brings us Home. We come to experience that our heart’s desire finds completion within and that ultimately we are more the sought than seeker, the one whom Love seeks and finds. “In the silent niche of the heart the lover experiences the truth that there is only one prayer that underlies all creation-the prayer in which the Beloved is present, not as a personal God or Creator, but as something both inexpressible and intimate In this innermost recognition of the heart the lover recognizes the Beloved as something inseparable from oneself. … only the Beloved exists.” (Vaughn-Lee, Prayer of the Heart…..)

Healing the Eye of the Heart
    In our healing of soul we heal and open the ear of the heart. And we also heal the eye and vision of the heart to behold the Original Light.  In our intimacy with the Beloved we come to behold the Beloved in all things, in all life. In the words of the 9th century Celtic mystic, John Scotus Eriugena, we “recover the true beholding of the Light with our inner eyes” of the heart. (Newell,  Listening to the Heartbeat of God ) When we are intimate with the Beloved we learn to behold the Light of the Beloved within the entire universe in things animate and inanimate, in all beings who share the One Life with us. In this way we are able to consciously walk in Beauty, the Beauty of the Beloved, whose heartbeat we hear and whose Light we behold through the inner eye and Voice we hear with the ear of the heart.  

The ancient Celt mystics said it this way:
God before me,
 God behind me,
God beneath me,
 God above me,
God all around me.
God within me

From Fear and Obsession to Freedom and Interior Safety
In heart presence we continue to lay down our obsession with past conditions and grievances, and our future expectations to simply come back to the eternal NOW, being present in the heart, anchoring with our breathing and our sacred word.

Releasing from the Ego-Mind and Its Motivations
Our mental motivations of the egoic mind of separateness are often fear based and designed to control external conditions.  They are driven by the compulsions of the ego to enhance and protect our misdirected drives for control, affection, and security.  Through the practice of ceaseless heart presence we continually open to see our hidden motivations of the mind, truthfully, as they are, however twisted and misdirected.  Through heart presence we release the motivations and creations of the thinking mind and return to the intention of the Heart to simply abide in our deepest loving intention.  Through the continual return to centering in heart presence, we return to loving kindness as our deepest motivation, and experience the internal security of our true dwelling place.

Faithfulness, Breath, and Sacred Word- Our Homing Pigeon
We may often find our attention wandering.  Therefore we gently return in all activity, continually, to communion with the True Being, the Beloved who welcomes the wandering soul back home. This ceaseless desire to return home, no matter what, no matter how badly we've  "blown it,” how far we have been misdirected, how far we've wandered, is the basic practice, and life-long movement. The return to ceaseless heart presence is facilitated when we find a few places in the day of external quiet when we can re-establish our interior anchor in abiding through breath and sacred word.

In this way we find that we are always at home in Life, in true Being, in the secret garden of the spirit, in our own heart.

One of my Zen teachers along the way, Willigis Jager, says it this way,

"Life, which we may call God, the Absolute, the Ultimate,
Reality, True Being, … permeates and expresses
Self in everything. This True Being is the heart of our existence.
God is the Being out of which we live; God is the being
that lives in us and through us. We are God's form 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Yoga of Soul-Friending

Heartfulness in Close Relationships
The Yoga of Soul Friending (Anam Cara)

Many people I know experience their greatest feelings of communion and connection, of being understood and loved,  in long term relationships of friendship. Indeed for many the life of the spirit may be most deeply felt with true heart friends.

In our walk through the awakened spiritual life we live the practice of Heart Presence in interior silence and in the middle of life and relationships. Our shared experience of Heart Presence occurs in friendship with other beings, whether they be human or other living beings. With our human friendships there are some where we feel a strong heart resonation that brings us a profound experience of intimacy and loving support, as though our inner radiance of Heart Presence is mingled with another. Such a relationship in the Celtic tradition is called a soul-friend, or anam cara (dear soul). 

The Anam Cara Relationship

Brigid of Kildare, the druid priestess and later Christian mystic of 7th century Ireland asserted that the most vital element on the spiritual journey is one's "Anam Cara." Anam Cara actually  translates as "dear soul." It means a relationship of intimacy and trust, of spiritual communion that is profound and life-sustaining. For the human being on the journey some of us may be fortunate to find for a time a human "anam cara" who companions us and we companion them, for a time on the Way, whose love, support, acceptance, and total regard for our well-being is without measure. Such a friendship is precious and those who enjoy it cherish and nurture this shared bond for all the ways it nurtures the soul and expands the heart. In this relationship we find safety and sanctuary, a safe and sacred refuge in the soul and psyche of another who receives us in love, as we are in our humanity and as we are in tenderness and exquisite sensitivity of the spirit.

The anam cara  friendship draws its life from the Light that is greater that lives in and through both friends. The anam cara relationship arises from the Divine Anam Cara relationship, mutually shared with another being. Sometimes that being is an animal friend. For many humans that being might be a dog, cat, or a horse, those animal friends with whom we share our life. In later life I had a ten year relationship with a female black labrador in a mutual love and constant companionship that was nurturing and exquisite, and whose passing brought profound grief, but also gratitude for the shared journey together. In this way the love and safety of the Divine Anam Cara flows through another being to us, and through us to them in a way that validates and enlivens our spirit beyond measure. We open to be  such safety and refuge to another, as well as to receive it. Such intimacy between beings brings joy and purpose to living.  This friendship in where we experience love and intimacy brings us to joy and completion.

David Steindl-Rast, the Benedictine monk and contemplative writer, in his book Gratefulness- the Heart of Prayer, states that everything written or said about spirituality is about belonging. The central wound of the human condition is the loss of our experience of intimate belonging here in the incarnate universe. It may be understood that the healing of this wound is the recovery of a lived awareness of our ancient and innate belonging in the circle of Divine Life itself. This experience and awareness is one of an intimacy with the Divine that is our birthright. We are loved into existence by our Source from all eternity. We can awaken to this  ancient and ever present Love and that our very life and essence partake of the Greater Life that is Love Itself through the yoga (union) of Heart Presence that joins us consciously and intentionally with our Divine Beloved and shared with our soul friends who walk with us. 

The Sufi mystic, Rumi, simply called the Divine, "Friend." Jesus called his followers, male and female, “Friends” . True friendship in Heart Presence  with our human and Divine Beloved is the vital way we heal the wound of separateness and find connection and communion with the Source of Life. In soul friendships we feel the safety to bring forth the fullness of Heart Presence with another, and to receive in mutuality their bestowal of the gift of unguarded and safe Heart Presence.

The Divine Beloved- Our Heart’s Anam Cara

The essence of spirituality is connection, the life of communion with all life, all beings. Hence we are never alone in our life's journey. A vital aspect of this is the trust that the Heart of the Universe is both intimately personal and oceanic in our experience of It. In its personal face we can be in a conscious and intentional relationship of friendship with the personal face of the Divine and the Divine Friend in our human or animal soul friend. The ultimate spiritual teacher and soul friend is within us and always accessible for our grounding and guidance. Mystics from all traditions throughout time have found ways to name and personify the Divine, often using human relationships as metaphor. 

For many this relationship is experienced with such intensity and longing that it can only be summed up as a Divine Friend and Lover, who is our heart's desire and life's fulfillment. The Divine Anam Cara therefore is often called "Beloved" by practitioners of diverse traditions. In the transient life's journey where our human beloveds are  transitory companions with human limits, the assurance and ongoing presence of the Divine Beloved is a ceaseless comfort and security. Whatever term we use in addressing our Divine Anam Cara, whatever human metaphor we use to define our relationship with the Divine, it must come from within us, in a way that represents and defines absolute safety and healing, a refuge that is beyond question for us, a refuge that is mirrored in the safety we experience with our human and creature anam caras, as we walk the difficult path of life, a refuge that is at long last ‘Home’. And just as in a human friendship, this Divine "dear soul" becomes the trusted friend and confidant of our life. When we seek for direction, when we seek for healing, when we seek for the love that never fails, our Dear Soul, the Friend, is there, by whatever name or metaphor we may choose. 

We are One with Our Anam Cara.

The growth of the path of Heart Presence takes us inevitably to the insight that there is no distance between ourselves, and our Dear Soul who walks with us. They are the same footprints. Our Divine Anam Cara is living, moving, loving, healing fully present in us, both in our resistance and ignorance, and in our awakening to the life of unitive love and purpose. The true Seeker of the Heart and the One being Sought are the same. We come Home and find we have never truly left. All the while the Friend has traveled in us, living the totality of the human journey in us, whether we have known it or not. When we live our life with this awareness it is rich, and full, deep and joyful, and never easy or without challenge. “Love is the source, center, and destiny of experience.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

A Friendship Blessing

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of your belonging with your 
Anam Cara.
(John O’Donohue, Anam Cara)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yoga of Sacred Ritual

Yoga of Sacred Ritual

Sacred Rituals- Enactment of Heart Presence in Human Life

Sacred Ritual- Human beings throughout time and across the planet have held sacred rituals. Sacred rituals are distinct from other rituals in that they are not magic, nor motivated by the desire for power or manipulation, but to integrate meaning and purpose and to open our soul to conscious connection with the Ultimate, the essential Unity that holds the universe into being. Sacred rituals give expression to this inner consciousness of the soul, and in community celebrate and encourage even greater opening. Sacred rituals are often done at the following  times or occasions:  of important passages, of great human need or crisis, during the rhythms of the year, to celebrate blessing and thanksgiving, to seek healing of soul and body, and to give witness to important commitments of and between persons. 

Sacred ritual in the post-modern era sadly has largely been diminished or lost as an essential human practice in many societies. The extreme individualism and narcissism of our time and our culture inclines persons to see little use or validity in sacred rituals. This is so primarily because we lack faith in conscious connection with the Divine in daily life and are inclined to see ritual as the dead and cold property of religious institutions. Sacred rituals also are ways we re-state or re-enact our commitment to accountability to the Reality that is at the Center of life, as our culture seems to avoid commitment to that central relationship or any other that flows from it. 

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are held together by rituals, patterns of behavior that become familiar patterns. Too often they can become unconscious and bereft of conscious meaning. They are the warp and weft of the weave of our lives. In them, knowingly or not, we reaffirm the purposes of our lives and the values that are the foundation of our activity and relationships. The spiritual journey is a path of healing from the wound of separateness,  the wound of our lack of conscious connection to the Ultimate and all the alienation and unhappiness that flows from it. Those who wish to awaken spiritually began to discern the patterns and rituals of our living in a conscious way. Thereby we can bring a creative intuitive response to our sacred rituals to express and empower this soul healing rather than rely on institutionalized forms alone.

Essential Elements of Sacred Rituals- Some of us have had experience with sacred rituals and the liturgies within them through our involvement with one or more of the spiritual traditions of the world. To the extent that the symbols, words, and forms may have had meaning for us they can be integrated into our own lives. Common elements of sacred rituals involve some but are not limited to the following: 
  • An altar or center of a circle is usually the focus of attention for participants. The center may have a sacred fire or candle. The center or altar is the symbolic meeting point between human and Divine, between material and spiritual order of reality. 
  • Present on the altar or at the center, are placed appropriate symbols of the Divine and human presence in the ritual as well as symbols of healing, purification, commitment, and blessing, depending on the ritual's purpose.  
  • Participants place themselves facing the center or altar in reverential posture, often bowing or making other reverential gestures as they enter the space. 
  • Rites of purification entering the ritual space are frequently begun with the intent to leave behind "ordinary" consciousness and enter a deeper level of focus of awareness. Use of incense or smudging is one way of ritually expressing this.
  • The participant detaches from superficial concerns that circulate in the mind, to bring consciousness from an identification with the habitual surface mind content and into the awareness of true being or true spirit, in Heart Presence. 
  • Chanting an invocation is often then intoned alone or in a group by the ritual leader with a bell, or gong or other sound instrument, to further facilitate that shift in consciousness. 
  • What follows then is the liturgical content of the ritual, involving readings, prayers, and invocations, songs, or music, which can be brief, lasting minutes, or lengthy, lasting days or weeks intermittently, depending on the nature of the ritual. 
  • At the conclusion of the liturgical order, there is then a transition towards a conclusion of the ritual during which the purposes of the ritual are summarized and the commitments of the participants reinforced and validated. A concluding chant, song, spoken voice, or movements then bring the ritual to conclusion.
  • Participants then leave in a specified way, individually or as a group, making those reverential gestures of bowing or holding of hands or other body expression that are determined appropriate.

Liturgical Content of Sacred Rituals- From its Greek origin, liturgy, means "the work of the people." The expressions of the sacred then are not imposed from without but arise creatively from within us, even if we may use expressions that arise from diverse spiritual traditions. The process of creating these expressions of the sacred tasks in our lives -healing, commitment, forgiveness, encountering important passages, meeting risk and danger, uniting our lives with others, saying goodbye to others, and giving thanksgiving and blessing and others- is one that involves profound depth and attunement to the deep spirit in the Heart. It also calls forth artistic skill and freedom to give the full richness of expression. This creative process is most satisfying and fulfilling. The process itself is a deep meditation on the important moments of our lives. If the rituals are daily ones that are repeated daily, they can call forth refinement as we attune ourselves ever more to the Divine's movement in us. Sacred rituals are not the property of organized religion, but the inner creation of the spiritual nature of each person.

Home Altars are common in other cultures and geographic regions. Altars are the symbolic meeting place or integration of the mundane or "ordinary" into the sacred. It is appropriate that altars have a space of their own, whether a room, or a part of a room, or corner. Placement of sacred objects and symbols on the altar helps us to refer our consciousness to the sacred within the Heart, or spiritual center of the human person. Pictures, icons, statues, of spiritual personages or loved ones, may best fulfill this purpose. With the rotation of seasons, aspects of the natural world, and its changing face, may also grace our altar, sticks, stones, feathers, shells, and other gifts of creatures, and animate or inanimate nature. Their importance is their sacred ritual meaning to us. We discern that ritual meaning from within, in an intuitive mode. Altars should be well kept and revered as the center of sacred ritual in daily life.

Daily Sacred Rituals have the purpose of re-shaping our consciousness, by bringing us home to the central purposes and central commitments in our lives. Persons of present American culture seem afraid of repetition, afraid their minds will become bored or not entertained in repetition. In fact throughout time spiritual traditions have used repetition to engage or occupy the mind so that soul awareness can sink more deeply than the habitual identification with the mind traffic and into the spaciousness of the Heart. Hence poetic scriptures, chants, readings, offerings, and gestures, as an adjunct to silent meditation are the liturgical content of daily practice of sacred ritual. Brief sacred rituals around meals remind us of the life of plants and possibly animals that have been given so we can live, and to cherish with thanksgiving the life we have been given, within the circle of life. Sacred rituals before bedtime allow us to sink into our interior refuge of spirit in the Divine so that we may experience interior safety and security before letting go into sleep. Altars and symbols of the Divine at locations around our home can remind us of the central Relationship in our lives, and keeping reverent space in a separate room or corner of a room for our meditation space facilitates and nurtures the consciousness of sacred space.

Rites of Healing usually involve a coming together of friends, family, and community to focus healing love energy on the person or situation in need of healing. An example of this might be the Navajo "Chants" which often go for days. The person in need of healing is placed in the center of the healing circle. Whether in silence, or in singing or chanting, or dancing, or sacred art,  an offering of healing energy, love, and intentionality is made. (the Navajo people in a manner similar to the Tibetan Buddhists offer a sand painting, a healing mandala for the ill person and those present to assist in an integration of the higher spiritual energies for the purpose of healing.) Shamanic practitioners go through extensive training in guiding persons and groups through liturgies of healing. The liturgy itself has the goal of opening the illness to the invocation of spiritual energies from the Divine to assist the person in fulfilling their higher purpose of completing their spiritual journey on this plane of existence.

Rites of Commitment are vital in human life. They tie our commitments to the eternal and to the larger communities of humans and other beings. For that reason having them witnessed by the universe around us, and by our human communities in life, as we pronounce our vows, our promises, our desire to give of ourselves to higher purposes in life in a way that transcends time and space, is also vital. Commitments can be to relationships, such as friendship, espousal, teacher-student, to deepened spiritual practice, or other. Such commitments are sacred and call for accountability and support for those in our lives. 

Rites of Forgiveness are a way we honor the freedom to release from past hurts and injuries and enter the freedom to full life in the present. They are a gift to ourselves to release from all need to try to deny or reverse what has happened, or to exact any form of retribution. We free ourselves from the cycles of injury and revenge, they are ways that victims are empowered from remaining victims, and to learn and grow stronger in life. The ritual "leaving behind" of the residue of past tramua, injury, or injustice can be liberating of our higher energies in this life.

Rites of Passage or Goodbye help us to bow to the impermanence in life.  We thereby honor every experience, every stage of life, every relationship and attachment that has come and gone, and every phase of growth. We can give thanks for the gift received, to release from the residue of attachment whether it be of desire or aversion, and to move into the freedom of the present  moment having given reverence and gratitude for the gifts of relationship given. 

Summary: The Earth Witness Mudra is the posture of the Buddha touching the earth with one hand  and reaching upward to the sky with the palm extended. This is an iconic spiritual expression of Incarnate Expression of the Transcendent Ultimate here in the realm of human daily life. Sacred Rituals are one important way of bringing to conscious expression what is, in truth the fundamental spiritual task of the human journey, to individuate and express the Divine within the human and the "ordinary." To awaken and live this truth is the spiritual journey. Sacred ritual is a vital and creative artistic expression of the spiritual journey. The Buddha/Christ within each of us with one hand touches the earth and receives the gift each moment of incarnate life. With the other hand, palm extended and open, we make an offering of our unique melding and mixing, the temporal human earth and the transcendent Ultimate life-breath extending upwards, releasing and offering all into the All, the  Essential Unity from which all things arise and all things return.

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