No, that is not a typo.
I have recently been reinstating an old habit of daily meditation. It has taken a great number of years to get back into this habit, formed when I was in my late teens but broken when I had my children. When you are the mother of small children, most self-care goes out of the window. In my opinion, showering and putting on fresh underwear is a cause for celebration and a huge pat on the back.
I had my last child more than 22 years ago. I have few excuses for my tardiness in re-establishing this habit.
Recently, I downloaded a free app on my phone that helps people to keep track of new habits they are trying to develop. I began inputting loads of stuff that I felt I should be doing daily, and then my lovely husband reminded me I have enough shoulds in my life. So I deleted most of them, pairing it down to just three that I feel really sustain me. These are my keepers. They will be different for everyone, but for me meditation is essential in allowing me to be the best possible version of myself.
I want to share something about my meditation practice, because this has been such a big part of my life for about 47 years, even if I have not always practised daily. My approach to meditation has developed over the years, having been influenced by Hindu, Spiritualist, Buddhist and Quaker practice, not to mention certain psychotherapeutic approaches including Psychosynthesis, Mindfulness and Hypnotherapy. I guess what I do could be considered a bit of a mish-mash, but what intrigues me is that there are some core practices that one can find in all of these traditions.
I sometimes begin with the phrase ‘Be Still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10), as I focus initially on my breathing. This allows me to settle into the state of meditation. It is a kind of ‘centring down’ into oneself – a kind of coming home.
The other phrase I sometimes find myself using is ‘Thy will, not mine, be done’ (Luke 22:42). I like this because it reminds me that my own little ego is of no importance; what my true Self desires is to be aligned with God’s will.
Now, let me pause there. This language might well put a few people off, and who could blame you? Organised religion has been responsible for a lot of bloodshed, especially when aligned to power whether power of the state or of sex – and let’s not beat about the bush here, when I say sex I mean men. It goes without saying that I know some lovely, peace-loving men, and that there some truly principled people who run countries or serve in the parliaments for those countries. But history suggests that powerful men sometimes use organised religion to justify horrific acts.
Another objection to the two phrases above might be that it is very Christo-centric. That is true, and the reason is that that is the tradition I was brought up in. It is what I know. If I had been brought up Hindu or Buddhist I would no doubt have referenced texts (and used language) from those religions. Ultimately, I know of no religion that does not require of us that we subjugate personal will for something better than that, and neither do I know of any religion that denies the importance of contemplative practices.
So, having got that out of the way I know there is another objection, and this is a big one – science and religion are sometimes deemed not to mix, because they work on different principles – and science tends to trump religion because of its claim to objectivity. Note, I did not say truth. As an ex-scientist, I can say with some confidence that science does not deal in certainty but in probability. Moreover, any good scientist will tell you that what we believe today is very different from what our fore-fathers and mothers believed four hundred years ago. Science works on disproving the beliefs of yesterday. ‘Truth’ is fragile.
For me, the problematic word is God, but I choose to use it as a short-had for what I mean – which is not a person with a long beard who lives in some place ‘up there’ called heaven. As a Quaker I do believe, however, in what I have experienced, and every time I enter the stillness I find a deep sense of peace and of a power that is both a part of me and goes beyond me – that connects me to all living things.
When I am wondering what to do about something that is troubling me, I ask the typically Quaker question of that place within (the inner Light, or ‘that of God’ within each of us): ‘What does Love require of me?’ If God is Love, then I might as well ask ‘What does God require of me?’ The name is mere semantics. It is a short form for what I know. It isn’t theory. I have no idea whether we live beyond this life or not. But I do know God; I have felt God’s power. Saying that in such a public place is a bit like coming out!
So much for the Be Still bit of the title of this blog. Now for the ACTS!
Anyone who ever took Anglican Confirmation classes (and a surprising number of British Quakers did, including me) will know that ACTS stands for the following aspects of prayer:
The supplication bit is deliberately put last.
As a Quaker, I have often struggled with the idea of worship. We have a weekly meeting for worship, and we also have a monthly meeting for worship for business. Worship is a word we bandy about, but I struggle to understand what we mean by it, especially if like me you are a Quaker who does not believe in God as a person. What are we worshipping? Who exactly are we adoring, in the first part of the acronym I cite above?
I have recently had a bit of an epiphany about this, and it is through my renewed habit of daily meditation that the lightbulb has been switched on. I feel a deep sense of inner peace when I am in meditation, which sometimes can feel like a oneness with all living things. I have come to realise that this state is essential to my well-being – without it, I am out of sorts, out of kilter, denying my true self-expression. Adoration – or worship – is the acknowledgement of the necessity of this state, for me. It is the bliss I feel when I truly let go into both being still, and surrendering my will to that of the Divine.
Ah, confession. Who to? What about? Well, I don’t really confess to anyone other than myself, at least not initially. But I do believe that having an honest appraisal of my shortcomings is a very useful way to assure my continued growth as a human being. One of my biggest challenges lies in my relationships with those people who are closest to me. It is an irony of life that we tend to show our worst sides to the very people who love us most. Or is it just me? When I spend time admitting this fact to myself, it sometimes does lead to an apology to someone. Other times, it just leads to me being a better human being for a while. Until that pesky ego takes over again, and needs to be put in its place.
Thanksgiving, or gratitude, actually appears to be good for you (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/pdf/PE_7_11_18.pdf), though like all things the evidence is not entirely straightforward. I have taken to using my meditation practice in part to internally list and really fully feel, in an embodied sense, my gratitude for three things each day. Sometimes, more than three things readily spring to mind and at other times it can be like really digging deep to find something. But it is a wonderful exercise, and I thoroughly recommend it.
Supplication, as I said, is deliberately left to last. And here we must especially remember the injunction: ‘Thy will, not mine, be done.’ I confess (here I go again!) I find it hard when I hear people wanting to be the one to win something, or to have the sun come out for their wedding (It rained on mine and we are still happily married, 25 years later), or to be the one person who miraculously escapes the Grim Reaper after a terminal diagnosis. I might sound harsh here, but I can’t see why one bride should have sun when this probably means another will have rain, or why that particular person should be singled out to avoid death when everyone else will die, or why that person should win, leaving everyone else to lose. Such selfish desires are understandable; I too have been known to pray for a miracle for someone who is gravely ill. But when we unpick it all, it makes no sense at all within an understanding of our interconnectedness and equal value as human beings. And so, if I ask for anything it is most likely that I will simply do what Quakers call ‘holding someone in the Light’. In meditation I am conscious of a strong light behind my eyes, which is always coloured and sometimes seems to pulse, moving away as it gets bigger, then beginning all over again as a small, near light. I suspect that what I am seeing is activity in what the Hindus call the ‘third eye’. So it is easy for me to offer up my prayer of holding someone in the Light, allowing the forces of Light and Love to do their work, whatever that might be.
This has been a different kind of blog for me. As I said earlier, it is a bit like ‘coming out’; showing my true colours. Not everyone that will see this blog and knows me, knows what I think about spiritual and religious matters. My fear on writing this is that some might think me a bit weird. But in the last year I have found myself getting braver about who I really am. In any case, my thoughts and beliefs are – like science – provisional. Tomorrow, and next year, and in five years, who knows where I will sit with any of this? It will all depend on what I experience in the meantime – and on being open to seeing what lies in my path.
So, what are your ‘keepers’? In other words, what habits would you like to keep or introduce into your life that sustain you and help you to be the best version of yourself? I would be interested to know. As always, please do comment on this blog, and not just on Facebook where I know most people see the alerts.