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In his inimitable, frank language, Epictetus explained that his curriculum was not about “revenues or income, or peace or war, but about happiness and unhappiness, success and failure, slavery and freedom.”

James Bond Stockdale, in Courage Under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

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Navy fighter pilot James Stockdale is the only three star Admiral in the history of the U.S. Navy to have spent years of captivity in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war and become a recipient of the Congressional Metal of Honor.

He holds a graduate degree in philosophy from Stanford University where his focus was on the Stoic philosophers, Epictetus included.

Epictetus, as the above indicates, maintained a school in Rome the purpose of which was to produce students who could speak of philosophical ideas without “idle” babble. As he said “Let others practice lawsuits, others study problems, others syllogisms: here you practice how to die, how to be enchained, how to be racked, how to be exiled.”

Mind you he lived in a harsh time.  Indeed, he was a slave who gained his freedom.  He faced (as did many) a hard life with great risk.  His desire was to help others find a way to live well in the midst of real challenges.  Philosophy was his vehicle – as it was with Admiral Stockdale.

Epictetus thought that a person was responsible for his own “judgments, even in dreams, in drunkenness, and in melancholy madness.”  His view was that each person brings about his own good, his own evil, good or ill fortune, his happiness or unhappiness.  He held the view that to be a victim one must consent to victimhood and that in virtue is serenity.  Indeed, how we chose to live our daily life was key to our contentment, wisdom, survival and prosperity.

Why do I write of this today?  To raise the point that we are not captive to the language and conditions of secular culture.  As human beings we have a sacred autonomy that allows us to author a life that is positive and strong in the face of what seems hard, unjust, dismissive, hurtful, disrespectful, faithless and harsh.

We are made to know our freedom, dignity, happiness and autonomy and to encourage and respect others who possess precisely that same nature as we do.  Seems to me we could use a good deal of what Epictetus is “selling.”

Be well.

Shalom.

 

 

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Remember Pearl Harbor, 1941/Remember Benghazi Too

It is cold and the sky is clear, the colors true and the mountains firm and sure.  December and the Son is near.  Despite the public nonsense, it is Christmas time … and Holy Silence is here.

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Man … a wanderer and wayfarer … in search of a … holy place, a center and source of indefectible life …

the Irish monks “… simply floated off to sea, abandoning themselves to wind and current, in the hope of being led to the place of solitude which God himself would pick for them …”

Walker Percy, in “From Pilgrimage to Crusade”

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Have you seen your life as a pilgrimage?  Have you imagined it so?  Have you been given to live what God has given?  Are you so blessed by the grace of that gift to come to that place He chose for you?

Live properly and fully lived, life is a pilgrimage.  And I have come to realize this as I come to my 73rd year this month.

Yes, I have been overcome by the length of time and its passing speed, but more so the unusual continuity and scope of my life … from betrayal and poverty, to death and homelessness, to conversion and many who loved me to that place … In it all I see my gifts of interest in others, and the will to survive life’s constant and bitter combat and the desire for God in all of it.

Lately I have sought peace and quiet after years of battles – defense of others with my lawyer’s trade and growing faith – seeking truth and a just result … standing alone as loneliness prepared me so.

Seeing life as a pilgrim’s journey is a blessing that overwhelms, producing tears of wonder for the divine gift of consistency that was in me and this life so on track to be just what I had been made to be.

Imagine the innate mystery of consistency and the companionship of the right values and the best goals of service to others  … a life like the Irish Monks submission to the winds and currents of a life Godly given.  Imagine too the sight of God in those who loved me to this place.  My shepherds … my shepherds – so many, so many … angels given, angles given …

Looking back now I see one astonishing grace – that I was given to accept life as it presented and to do so without complaint or bitter feeling – but rather to accept it as what it was – the gift of challenges that built with each hard event courage, wisdom and greater strength, greater depth, greater faith, greater insight and the reward of solitude, certainty of the soul and peace which conquers all conflict.  Once lonely, I could stand alone because of Him … I am who Am.

A pilgrimage – previously unbeknownst to me.  But for the grace to walk one step at a time over hills and through dark valleys for all these years I would not know how grace delivered consistency to me … and now I see that God has done as God intended … and my unwitting collaboration with His Desire for me … grace … grace … grace – the mystery of grace.

Looking back I see through tears of awe and humility for I have done by the Grace of God what God has asked of me – simply to journey as a pilgrim would.

I pray you know the same.

Do not get bogged down in the daily voices of nonsense – they hold no sway, no mystery they.

Shalom.

 

When you learn to be alone you’ll discover the difference between alone and lonely.

L. J. Vanier, in Ether: Into the Nemesis

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Coming to the ability to be alone is like climbing a very steep and very high mountain with tough terrain and turbulent weather.  Yes, being alone is not the first thing we come to embrace – more like the last thing we come to embrace.

I used to dread being alone.  Why?  I just lost so many people in my childhood – it was like being in battle and seeing those on your side, those you needed disappear leaving you with dwindling odds for survival.

Yes, loss at an early age is a serious awakening that brings more fright than confidence.

But then there is age.  When you have weathered many storms, you somehow grow in strength and confidence.  You can only bury so many people before you realize “you are still standing … and each battle has made you wiser and stronger … and ready for the final days whenever they appear.”

At some point being alone is tolerable and supplies you a state of peace that awakens you spiritually.  At some point, alone comes to mean God, what is eternal and joins you with those long gone but not missing really.

When you can be alone and yet with the others you have known, you have approached the summit.  At the peak of the climb there is no sadness, no loneliness – just the fruits of the hard climb up the craggy mountain.

Some people never climb the mountain.  In this the mountain becomes a demon and fear settles deep in the valley of one’s soul.

For me, I’ll take the mountain and the peace it brings – brings in such an odd way of suffering and challenges.

… Jesus led them up the mountain.  There he was transfigured.

Mt 17: 1, 2

Shalom.

The monk is a man who lives in seclusion, in solitude, in silence outside the noise and the confusion of a busy worldly existence.

Thomas Merton, in Contemplation in a World of Action

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A monk lives in response to existing culture.  His thinking is both critical and healthy.  He sees that a present culture does not promote his values, virtue or an integrated, well-formed life.

A monk seeks wholeness and a depth of spiritual existence that cultures usually ignore in their all-consuming demands and expectations.  A monk seeks to understand life and people.  He seeks psychological, emotional and social fitness.  His path is to Truth and to God.  Clarity, peace and wisdom come to him.

His days are composed of work and prayer, silence and listening – quiet, reading and worship.  He finds time to contemplate life at large, its meaning, its best use and ways of being.

The ways of a monk are the perfect counterpoint to the disintegration that is today’s secularized America.

Today we are rife with conflict, antagonism turned to hatred in many instances, division, hostility, abandonment of virtue and morality, to the intrusion of state and the destruction of critical institutions, the lost of a nation’s boundaries and heritage, and its common understandings.

Chaos displaces the order of common understanding and mutual respect.

Each day brings evidence of disorder and often brutality – conduct whereby those who might otherwise lead discredit themselves.

We are no longer unified and living as neighbors guided by good.  Too many force their views on others, advance their disorder on others as if our acquisition of their strife and sickness normalizes them – makes true what is false.

At a time like this – in a culture like this … think of those who go “off to the mountain as the fish to the sea.”

Maybe you can learn from the way of monks.  Can you not acquire their ways in forms that create healthy distance between you and what is destructive?

Your health, wholeness, peace and wisdom resides in the ways of the monk.  In your culture today comes disintegration, illness, hostility, confusion, amorality, untruth and self-destruction.  Your life need not be composed of these things.  

Shalom.

A Book of Interest – You might like a short book entitled Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss, a priest in the Order of St. Benedict.  It is a fine resource for those who wish to make healthy adjustments in the face of rank disorder and destruction that is exclusive secular culture today.  Peace be with You. 

 

To maintain monastic culture, monks limit their contact with the surrounding culture by means of cloister or separation 

Hugh Feiss, in Essential Monastic Wisdom

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Separation from existing culture in order to maintain one’s values, virtues – indeed to stay free of insanity, brutality, immorality and a range of toxic disordered and destructive dispositions in culture is a sacred act.

Monks have pursued such separation for good reason over the centuries.  We see in this practice – necessity, common sense, faith, peace and preservation.

A sacred separation comes from maintaining a critical eye on existing culture.  When cultures destroy people, institutions and what is good, those who seek healthy and peaceful existence separate.

In separation one preserves heart, mind and soul.

In separation one spends time carefully – at work, in quiet, in community, in silence, in thought and prayer – while the world about turns on itself much as Syrian bombing of unarmed civilians does today or as the American Left does by destroying standard identification of gender in favor of disintegration, confusion, disorder, untruth which they much prefer.

In separation there is no more gossip, useless “news,” talking heads, daily destruction of what is good and essential to peaceful existence.

In separation: prayer emerges, reading too, careful listening, care of self and others, soft discourse, contemplation, faith comes alive, consciousness of God is daily sustenance.

In separation you meet yourself, become re-assembled, restored to wholeness – stripped of the “needs” of the frantic culture.  In separation, life is simpler … life is life.

In separation: God, your own self, your thoughts, others and all that is under heaven.

Shalom.

Condolesse Rice wants to “modernize” the Second Amendment.  Easy for her to say – she’s among the elites — life for them does not carry the burdens the rest of us face.  Perhaps, Ms. Rice might think of the unarmed civilians in Syria whose government is bombing them daily, killing them – men, women and children.  

A little note to Ms. Rice – maybe you might want to civilize people before you “modernize” the Second Amedment.  Those of us who are not in “the elite” live far different lives than you do.  In short words – put a sock in it, no one needs to hear from you.

What (other than pride) makes you think you know anything and must be heard from?

 

You are so hard on yourself.  Take a moment.  Sit back.  Marvel at your life: at the grief that softened you, at the heartache that wisened you, at the suffering that strengthened you.  Despite everything you still grow.  Be Proud.

Tibetan Wisdom

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Grief gives.  Heartache gives.  Suffering gives.

Gifts come in unexpected wrappings.  Receive the gift.  Live in the gift.  Breathe in the gift.  See the sky in the gift.  See the sun in the gift.  See the trees and the mountains in the gift.  See the sun and its shadows in the gift.  Feel the wind in the gift.  Touch your memories in the gift.

Never be captured by things less than God.  There is no daily confusion that surpasses eternity.

See the gifts.  Accept yourself – a child of God.  Smile at it all.  Be settled in what is reality not what is less.  What is temporal is only temporal.  What is Divide is Eternal.

See the gifts.  Life is a gift.  You are a gift.

See the gifts.

Shalom.

More Money for YOU!  Well this week you are getting more $$$ in your paycheck because of the Trump Tax Reform legislation.  Mind you, Democrats in the Congress opposed this legislation.  The message is plain: Democrats want more of your money for them, for bigger government, to give to others.  Progress?  Yes, we are ATM’s no more! 

Weasels and Liars.  Yesterday a dismissed former F.B.I. Director tweeted about “weasels” and “liars.”  Irony is interesting.  Introspection is essential – humility its product.

FISA Memo.  Will the release of the FISA memo spell the end of the Democrat Party?  One might think so given the energy its Party members are putting into fighting its release to the public.

The American Left is getting their version of the Dickens “Christmas Carol” this year when American corporations give generous bonuses to their entire work forces after the Trump tax reform legislation.

“See Tiny Tim, people do have kindness in their heart … the government is not needed to see people caring for one another!”

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Each one has to find … peace from within.  And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.  (Emphasis added.)

Mahatma Gandhi

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Finding peace in a mass communication culture must be intentional.  That is, to find peace one must set about to discretely select what one hears and what one does not hear, what one does and what one does not do.

Yes, we must work.  But if one seeks the calm that is “peace within” one must consciously and intentionally secure time that produces peace, quiet, healthy inattention to that which captures us, occupies the mind, worries the heart.

Christ sought peace by withdrawal to the desert.  He sought it in time alone, in quiet – in prayer.

Although I live in the quiet of a mountain ridge, I must consciously disengage from the habit of being busy – cleaning the house, running errands, talking on the cell, etc.

We live in a culture that draws us into it.  We are stimulated each day by news, and messages, noise, responsibilities, attractions.  But are these matters not obstacles to peace, tranquility, comfort, a slower heart beat, less stress, less preoccupation.  Most people live in worry and do not live in the moment.  Missing the moment one loses the peace of that moment, the grace of one’s heart beat.

Look at the political world – people are frantic.  No one leads who is frantic.

The ideologues are, to put it plainly, unhealthy – on the verge of insanity.  Their shrill proclamations are the voice of sickness, constant discontent, unhappiness – even anger at times.  People like Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren are visibly hectic and “on edge.”  Is this any way to peace?  No.

Shalom.

Tip of the Hat – A tip of the hat to Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Tim Scott (South Carolina) for the gracious manner in which they conduct their public business.

It is a delight to see gentlemen in public life.  Bravo!  We are well served by men such as these.

 

 

 

A beautiful fall day in the Virginia countryside.  The fallen leaves call.  And I shall meet them in the challenge posted.

I offer a prayer for your quiet contemplation and closer walk with God.

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There is God

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Where charity and love are found, there is God.

In every flake of snow, in every grain of sand – there is God.

In the stout and stoic strength of our brother, the mountain, in the swift and sure vigor of our sister, the sea – there is God.

When the cold winds whip the head, when warm breezes brush the face – there is God.

In the darkest hours of the blackest night, in the brightest light of a golden afternoon – there is God.

When we are uplifted by the joys of victory, when we are wracked by the sorrows of defeat – there is God.

When we are surrounded by companions, when we are isolated in solitude and loneliness – there is God.

In the laughter of a friend, in the smile of a stranger – there is God.

God is always there.

Lord, grant that we may always walk with you and that we may have the peace, joy and love that is your countenance.  Amen.

Jared Sylvester, Class of 2006 – University of Notre Dame

Jared wrote this prayer while a freshman at Notre Dame.  This and many other excellent prayers can be found in Lead Kindly Light: The Notre Dame Book of Prayers.

Yes, God is alway there!  Have faith.  Maintain a steady hand and live in joy and humble confidence.  It is nothing new to swim against the currents of discontent and falsehoods.  It is the way of Christ, our Way.

Shalom.

Please feel free to share this with others who may be helped by it.

 

 

Writing is like oil painting.  You work in quiet and create a picture.  Time means nothing.  It stops.  Everything is just now, and now is eternal.

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O soul of mine, will you never be good and sincere, all one, all open visible to the beholder more clearly than even your encompassing body of flesh?

Will you never be fit for such fellowship with the gods and men as to have no syllable of complaint against them, no syllable of reproach from them?

Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, Book Ten, Para. I

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Most of what you see and hear is chaotic.  Most people make noises and do things that say: “I am sick.  Disordered.”  The wise man knows that having this warning it is best to say free of these people and their noise lest he becomes sick too.

Washington and other large cities are like glass jars full of heated molecules with a tightly affixed lid.  When you listen to the noise of the sick, you reside in that glass jar constantly assaulted by molecules over which you have no control.

Why enter the jar?

Find a quiet place to be alone and sit.  Calm yourself so that you might hear the rhythm of your breath, your heart’s work.  This is the predicate for meditation. In silence look at yourself – your habits, expectations, desires, history – from these come your discontents – the heat that hastens the speed of your molecules.  Discard these things, and accept yourself – your sacred being itself – a being that divinely created cannot be harmed but by you who have expectations dependent on the conduct of others.

Marcus Aurelius lived more than a century before Christ.  He saw the glass jar with lid and heated molecules.  Emperor of Rome, he lived on the extreme edges of his empire so he might know peace and quiet, so he might know himself, others and the gods.

Knowing your divine being your needs drop away, contentment comes to be and you see others as ones in injured state … but when you are free of expectations, housed in your sacred being compassion comes freely.  Nothing those sick ones who routinely behave in hurtful and upsetting ways can rile you, upset you, suck you into their chaos, their drama … nothing that they might do can throw you off stride.

Separation, quiet, solitude, self-understanding, knowing your divine self, suspending wants and expectations (unnecessary to the divine self which is our natural and independent state of health and existence).  In separation, quiet, solitude, self-understanding we see the jar, its lid and its heated molecules – but we are not captured.

… Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.

Lk 5:16

Marcus Aurelius, Zen and Jesus.

Shalom.

 

The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.

Vaclav Havel

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Salvation.  The heart + reflection + meekness + responsibility.  So observes Vaclav Havel.

Don’t see much of this around Washington these days.  Salvation is a word rarely heard since we began barring God from public conversation.  We can thank the marshmallow middle and the strident Left for that basic act of dislocation – as to the latter their inevitable preference for error.

Heart, reflection, meekness, responsibility.  Little of this here today.  Heartless is more the form.  Reflection, like thoughts of salvation, appears permanently shelved in favor of the instant news cycle where comments issue as frequently as pulse beats as politicos and “talking heads” tommy-gun out the “latest inside scoop” replete with “unnamed sources” (a delightful name for twins today, by the way).

Meekness, my God!  None of that here.  Washington is more a mob at Filene’s Basement tearing the bargain “name brand” apparel from one another in a melee resembling Wrestle-Mania gone mad.  Meekness, it seems, is too orderly and vulnerable for Washington today.  Gone is the obvious power of a calm and measured voice.

It follows there are few signs of responsibility – at least among the those who daily carp and complain, and report and exploit.

We could use some Vaclav Havel.  Inmates running an asylum never works well.

Shalom.

Footnote – Vaclav Havel is among the most interesting figures of the late last century and early 21st century.  A writer, philosopher, political dissident and politician who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1902) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1903-2003).  A widely-esteemed and admired man or faith, courage, talent, heart, thoughtfulness, insight, humility, service and responsibility.  Don’t you wish we had such a presence here today. ‘Tis time to tell the children to be quiet.

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