Some time ago, I heard an interview on NPR with Leonard Cohen. When asked if he had converted to Zen Buddhism, he replied, “I wasn’t looking for a religion. I had a perfectly good religion. ”
I began to read about and practice Zen and yoga meditation when I was in high school. Over the years between then and when I was in my 30s I would start to practice, but eventually the practice would drop off. When I was in my 30s, I attended a lecture by Fr. Thomas Keating on “Centering Prayer”, meditation in the Christian tradition. I have practiced ever since, typically sit for 20 minutes twice a day. The mechanics of the Centering Prayer are the same as other forms of meditation. You sit comfortably, yet alert, with spine straight and eyes closed and quiet your mind. The difference is in my intention.
My intention is to unite with the Divine and to assent to the workings of the Divine within me. I use a “sacred word” to signify this intention. I begin the session repeating the word silently.
As I move within, I cease to repeat the word. Thoughts come and go, and I sit in silence. Only when I notice that I have become distracted by my thoughts, do I return gently, gently to the sacred word.
“silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.” ― Jalaluddin Rumi
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How ‘Faith’ Changed Me
By sitting in silence, releasing the thoughts which fill my mind and lessening my identification with ego, I connect with the peace that is within me. I experience the presence of the Divine. This, in turn, activates my capacity to experience this ultimate mystery in daily life; the people I interact with, in the world that surrounds me, in things I see and feel on a daily basis. Over time the practice has resulted in many internal changes. As I have moved from an intellectual understanding of a belief system to an experiential understanding, I have witnessed changes in my own reactions to the occurrences in my life.
I will tell you I have become more compassionate, but at the same time, I have become more aware of the act of judging others. I see the judgment when I make it now. I hear it as the words are coming out of my mouth. I retract the words. I reconsider my judgment. I redirect those thoughts to curiosity or blessing. Slowly, I have begun to develop Christ consciousness.
Increasingly, I approach the world with an attitude of curiosity, a “beginners mind” in Zen, a child’s mind according to Jesus.
“He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Merging Two ‘Opposites’ Together
I have begun to bring mysticism to ordinary life. Recently, I hurt my knee severely and the pain has continued for months. One night as I was beginning my meditation, I decided to practice an acceptance and welcoming of the pain as my meditation.
Inhaling, I welcomed the pain on behalf of all those suffering, exhaling, I sent peace and love to them. This meditation is rooted in the Tonglen, a Buddhist meditation, and it is also a Christian practice. The central teaching of Christianity is that Jesus Christ took on the suffering of humanity. As a child whenever I had pain my mother told me to imitate Jesus and offer up my suffering for others, that they might feel comfort.
Through my experience of silent prayer, I have come to understand that the incarnation of the Divine in human form reveals that the physical plane is not separate and opposed to the spiritual. The perception of duality is an illusion. I understand through experience that everyone is loved, the Divine spirit resides in all of us. We are all worthy.
Experiencing the Divine spirit has reinforced the teachings of Christianity: to love one another and forgive enemies, as well as my belief in the necessity of nonviolence. I have been led to allow vulnerability, to not turn way from someone in fear or anger. Only this awareness of Divine presence enables me to pray for someone who is harassing me. Trust me I do not do this on my own. My ego is still there, ready to classify someone who has hurt me as a jerk, or worse.
I am not saying this is easy. It is not. But it is possible through assent to the Divine action within.
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