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PEMA CHODRON’S MAITRI

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I continue to be still and sit twice a day. An Easter gift.  15 minutes, 30 minutes…whatever. The important thing is I am trying not to read but sit still as I gather “ALL OF ME.” This feels right. This idea of “everything belongs” as Rohr put it. Not rejecting any part of my past. I read a line that went like this, “When was the last time you visited yourself?” When I sit I call it home-visit.

Sitting still is not just really about the self but being with God within me, in the innermost silent part of my awareness. It is not self-preoccupation because when I am silent I know I am with God and not just with myself.   Pema might not be saying this in her writings but this is how it is for me, in my own personal experience of sitting down which I call prayer.

The purpose of sitting/meditating/centering/praying is not to go on a peace ride. It is not to feel good, holy or to escape from real life situations. Slowly I am beginning to understand that nothing will really exempt anyone from the “restlessness/big and small sufferings” of life. No meditation can make our lives problem-free but it can help us see things clearly.

According to Pema Chodron in her book, The Places that Scare You, seeing things clearly is one among the four qualities of maître we cultivate as we sit still or practice silent prayer or meditation.  The four qualities are:

Steadfastness

Clear seeing

Experiencing our emotional distress

Attention to the present moment

What is MAITRI?

Pema wrote that Maitri means unconditional friendliness or being totally relaxed with ourselves. It is relating with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception.  All that makes us feel ugly, small and dirty are now seen in a different light. Self-forgiveness begins. Unhealthy choices in the past towards others and the self is seen with a deeper acceptance and understanding. We realized more and more that  everyone is doing the best they can with the inner resources that they had and that includes ourselves.  It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves that  we can let go of harmful patterns in our lives and allow lasting transformation to happen.

Maitri is HONORING our lives, the choices we made and not made.  Maitri is freeing ourselves from our own self-criticisms and negative beliefs that make us shameful and feeling unworthy.   It is givin ourselves permission to be exactly who we are including all the blunders, mistakes, immoralities, weaknesses, failures and all that we see as wrong episodes of our lives in the past and even at present.

Another word I can use for maître is self-compassion. It is a relationship with one’s self where there is nothing to defend or to protect.  This idea of maitri or unconditional acceptance of ourselves embraces all that we are without excuses, without needing to explain, without taking issue with anything or anyone

Maitri is allowing the self to come out from the cave of shame, anger, blame and unforgiveness.   It is our awakening to the truth that all along our sanity and well-being depends on our being our own primary support and best friend.

This stance to life does not fix all our angst, restlessness and issues but it provides a sense of safety and acceptance to be just who we really are. There are no harsh expectations, no demands, and no conditions. There is no need to control.

We begin to be more patient and understanding with our own self as we continue to sit still (pray.)  It is a new experience of knowing our vulnerabilities, all that we believe is fragile within us, all that makes us doubt in our own and in other’s goodness, all that makes life fearful, groundless and unsafe and yet we can be calm, open and kind towards our own self and others.

Maitri is the spirituality of POPE FRANCIS. It is the essence of his “Who are we to judge?” statement.

Maitri is Mercy. God’s face is MERCY.

All along this is what Pema and all other spiritual teachers are telling us: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Jesus told us that we are to love our neighbor as we love others.    This love is a merciful, compassionate love and it starts with our selves.

I often forget this.

Hopefully I can begin again.

 

NO GUARANTEE

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It took me years to have clarity on this.

It’s true. Wherever we assume we are in our practice of meditation or in the spiritual/emotional growth we claim to have “achieved,” none of these will actually spare us from all that can hurt us in this life.

There is no guarantee; there is no assurance that when we dive deep into teachings of being “awakened” life henceforth will be pain-free.

Maybe we started to enter into this new realm of “paying attention,” coming from a desire to set things right in our chaotic lives. Somehow we knew we got there.   And then life has its way of making us  realize that  whatever path we have chosen none of that will  shield us from all that we were hoping we will stop having.

When we were younger and is new in the path, it is excusable to assume that once we have read all the mindfulness books and is extra-faithful and generous in our “practice,” we’re in for a steady and a peaceful journey.

But later in life we cannot insist on this anymore.

Life has its own way of surprising us and letting us know that there is nothing to hold on to. Not even our   utmost faithfulness in whatever life of prayer we have committed to.

Issues get recycled or we may encounter new ones that we never thought we’ll ever have or experience. Themes vary but there is a common touch of suffering: of having no one or nothing to hold on to. It could be terminal illness, separation, conflicts with others, financial problem, senseless war and killings, an addicted son, mental illness or even the death of a beloved cat or dog.

It’s a movement which we see in our lives in its varied stages. So we continue on. We begin to gradually see that none of whatever “practice” we commit ourselves to, will make us invincible. Lights and shadows continue to dance around us and we still stumble and get trapped.   The darkness prevails, light sets in, transition come, peacetime. And then another cycle.

And slowly we see that all along it’s not about making our lives without an issue, problem, conflict, darkness. Because no matter what we do life is both light and shadow, war and peace, life and death, death and resurrection. It’s always a mixture of everything that makes us human and divine.

Our prayer practice is meant to make us pay attention but not to escape. We are guided to step back from needless, avoidable stupid choices as much as we can but ultimately we can never be fully shielded. Our prayer practice is never meant to shield us from ourselves and our neighbor’s vulnerable humanity but it can draw us to hope and trust, beyond words and concepts,   to keep believing that within us is our only peace and security.

WORDLESS PRAYER

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The Maharishi  introduced me to Meditation in my early twenties. Through the years I learned about silent prayer in its different names and slightly different forms.  It is called in varied names – Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Jesus Prayer, Silent Prayer,  Mental Prayer, Focusing, Breathe Prayer and many other prayer terms I may not be familiar yet.

My exposure with Buddhist writers affirms my attraction to prayer as a practice, as a way of life. I love the silent space of stillness in prayer  although it is inner mental chaos and not silence that I often meet. I saw also how prayer can be valiantly experience as another “goal” to achieve instead of preparing myself to be with Another.

I am grateful to realize that prayer is not another life’s “project.”

Prayer is a gift, a response to being here in this side of life. No one will give us a certificate, a grade, a trophy nor a medal on the quality and form of prayer  we have chosen and strive to practice. How prayer impacts our life is seen in no another place but in our everyday inner and outer  life.

In Eastern form of silent prayer the aim is to be fully in the present moment as we allow the breath to anchor that stillness. In Catholic tradition, silence in prayer is being with a Presence. There is a faith-filled certainty and assurance, although there is no word, there is no conversation, that we are present with God.

It is “relational.” Not empty as in nothing or as in no-presence. In my faith tradition to pray is to be with. One of our great prayer teacher, St Teresa of Avila, wrote this about prayer: “Prayer is a frequent intimate sharing with Someone whom we know loves us.”

This is not an easy path but it is not complicated too. Like all  forms of silent prayer in all prayer traditions it is and can be full of “distractions” but we know that we can always choose to drop that story line, that drama, and pay attention to what brings us to here and now — to the Presence of God.

Labels can be  dissolved. I don’t really tell myself whether I am praying as a Buddhist or as a Catholic. I simply stay. God has no religion anyway. He is neither a Catholic nor a Buddhist.