Seven weeks ago I began a series on Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a Carmelite monk who lived and served in the 17th century at a monastery near Paris.
At present it is time to conclude this series. I hope you will have time to read the posts of the past week or two, or if possible the entire series. When time permits I will present material of this kind as a complete course. I think it is more likely more people will review the material if it is presented as a course rather than as a long series of blog posts.
But for now let me sum up the salient points.
I began this series with a general comment on the Vipassana Buddhist teachings on mindful awareness. In this meditation tradition the student is encouraged to cultivate a simple clear awareness of what is happening moment by moment both in the formal times of silent meditation as well as during the active hours of life.
When I talk about meditation for atheists, this is one of the primary practices I have in mind. This practice does not call for any belief in God, yet it still can be very beneficial if practiced diligently. But I do have one general concern as these teachings become better known in western culture.
My general concern is that many people who take these meditation classes still retain a belief in God even if they have little or no involvement with organized religion.
In my experience neither they nor the atheist teachers of this form of meditation stop to think about how very different meditation practice is for those who retain a traditional, or at least a general, belief in God or universal spirit.
This is where I believe Brother Lawrence’s teachings “Practicing the Presence of God” are important. In the same way that Buddhist teachers encourage people to maintain a meditative awareness throughout the day and night, Brother Lawrence also encourages people to maintain a constant awareness of God’s life and ways throughout the day. The fact that he was able to maintain his meditative awareness while working in a busy monastery kitchen for many years makes his story all the more relevant for those of us who have busy 21st century work and family responsibilities.
It is true that I feel the Buddhist approach of mindful attention throughout the day is simpler in that it does not need to involve words or concepts of any kind. Neither does it need to find an explanation of where God may be found in the midst of suffering and devastation.
But for me, I believe the God centered practice to be fundamentally more correct. I believe this because I believe the universe is not some big dead place. The universe is not some random phenomena without life or consciousness of any kind other than the complex neural delusions arising in the mind-organ of a few scraggly creatures such as ourselves.
But admittedly following a God centered practice of seeking God’s life and grace a hundred times or more a day has the great disadvantage of seeming to be utterly ridiculous at times.
In an age of incredible sophistication in science and technology, how can one say to highly intelligent people that they should “practice the Presence of God” even in those times, especially in those times, when there is no felt experience of any God’s presence of any kind?
Who could blame atheists for their scathing critiques of people who seek God’s love in the midst of the nightmares of suffering that erupt all too frequently in human and animal life?
All I can say is this.
As you progress in the ways of humility, sacrifice, charity and the trials and joys of a life devoted to unconditional love for all beings, there will be times when the doors of wisdom and experience open wide for you.
Even when they appear to slam shut again, even if you can’t explain how your heart has awakened to these mysteries, or what these mysteries and graces are, even when you still find yourself from time to time moaning in pain or numb with despair; you will know what hundreds of millions of others have known down through the ages.
There is much more to life than stars and planets and galaxies.
And you will be able to make contact with this “something” more and more frequently.
If you feel the atheist approach is more correct than choose that way.
But if you too feel there is “something” more to the fields of nature in April and May and the night sky when viewed far from the lights of cities and towns, then explore this idea..
Spirituality is about a relationship between you and the mysterious life that permeates all reality and every moment including the reality of your body and mind. Meditation can be cultivated as a way to deepen your experience of this relationship. As you make meaningful progress with your love, charity, faith, and surrender see if this relationship does not become more accessible to you moment by moment.
See if you can find ways to make contact with the hidden reservoirs of spirit and light. See if you can draw upon the resources of the hidden reservoirs of life to find ever more creative ways to diminish suffering in your life and in the lives of others.
See if you can find ever more effective ways to teach others to experience more meaningful experiences of this relationship with less of the confusion and struggle that so many of us go through on this most uncertain of journeys.
In this general effort, despite some of the confusing or highly dysfunctional passages in Brother Lawrence’s writing, I have learned a great deal from the simple notes others saved about his teachings. For that I am grateful to him and to those who preserved his writings.
will at meditation practice dot com ( Spelled out to avoid spam)