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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Into Great Silence: a meditation

On Monday night, I went into the Cinema Nova in Lygon Street, Carlton to see the much awarded Into Great Silence.

Into Great Silence is a documentary. Having said that, though, filmgoers need to be warned. This is not the usual sort of documentary. There is no dialogue. No explanations, no explanatory structure or mechanism. There is no film music. The only music is the Gregorian chant of the Liturgy of the Hours. It is long. 2 hrs 40minutes. The film itself is a meditation with the theatre and its patrons quiet, silent. This is an insight into the life of Carthusian fathers and brothers - arguably the most ascetic order of monks in the whole world - living in Le Grand Chartreuse (yes, they of the famous liqueur - Chartreuse) high in the French Alps near Grenoble. There. Be warned. If you can wear all this and still front up to the theatre, you are almost certain to find this film a positive experience.

The film varies from grainy celluloid style to high quality. Some scenes are great art - to take your breath away and wonder if you are in a movie house or an art gallery. There is an overall structure to the film. It relies on the seasons: winter-spring-summer-autumn-winter as the macro theme. Within that seasonal structure is the daily life of the inhabitants of the monastery: rising and going to choir through to the deep of night office. We see the young and the old: the newcomers and the old, old men. We see the eremetic life lived in the cells and we see the active and practical lives of the brothers who cook, who feed, who garden, who manage the livestock.

We are watching men who have sought the better portion. They have left all, as Jesus commanded, to follow him into a greater reality removed from a world of human made distraction.

An excellent review is here and here is more about the Carthusians which is helpful in dealing with some of queries people have unanswered in the movie. The Anchoress has a review here.

John Garvey, an Orthodox priest, has an interesting piece in the Commonweal of May 18. John saw the movie close to the period of the massacre at Virginia Tech. He threads both together. Here is a quote from his article that I found significant:
A lot of what followed the Virginia Tech massacre was predictable: editorials about gun control and the treatment of mental illness, interviews with people about the need for reaching out. Some students expressed their concern that they may not have done enough to help Cho, though it is not at all clear that they could have. All I can think about are the human extremes here: monks who spend their time in solitary silence before God, listening deeply; and someone weeping in his own howling, desperate isolation, one that turns to evil rage and the destruction of other lives. This is the range of human possibility: you can be a person who moves through silence toward the light, or you can be destroyed by darkness. There is nothing here about morality or moral choices. This is about what we are called to be, and about those things that assist or prevent us from getting there.

As I have said in the title. This film is a meditation. It tells, it displays, an alternative story: an alternative way of being in the world. We may not all enter the cell or live behind a monastery wall but many of us who see this film will resolve once again to be who we are created to be, to serve as we are created to serve, to love as we are created to love, and to live as we are created too live.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Insight, water and transmutation of the human mind

Martin LeFevre has forwarded another wonderful contribution. Thank you Martin.
Martin says: I realize that this piece from a meditation at the sea may not fit with Desert Spirituality, but perhaps it provides a complementary contrast with it. Though I don't have a lot of experience with deserts, they evoke the same ineffable feelings in me as a wild stretch of the Pacific. Do you have the same feeling?

Miss Eagle repllies: Yes, Martin, I do. I have spent a lot of my life in deserts, but even more beside the waters of the Southern Pacific: on two great Australian harbours, Sydney Harbour and Port Denison, Bowen, at the northern end of the Whitsundays in North Queensland; and on two beautiful bays - Moreton Bay, Brisbane, and Halifax Bay, north of Townsville. For those with a similar query, Miss Eagle draws readers attention to the first post of this blog where there is a link to an article which discusses the desert as a specific place and as a symbol. There is no dichotomy. Each takes us away from our human made egotism and attachments and absorbs us into creation and the creative process by which we are re-new-ed and re-energize-d and re-awaken-ed to look at our world, as Martin points out, in a new way.
Insight Is Always New

Waves crash onto the rocks a couple hundred meters from the beach. Some shoot up like geysers, or spouting whales, in narrow plumes of white spray. Small shorebirds scamper in and out of the surf, ebbing and flowing like the tide itself.

Looking a mile or two up the protected shoreline, nearly a dozen lines of whitecaps march toward the shore. They replicate a pattern, and echo a sound, nearly as old as the earth itself.

Though it’s sunny, there is a stiff breeze. I’m tucked up against the low bluffs, which afford some protection from the wind. For a half hour there isn’t a person or sign of man in the three directions of my line of sight: directly out to sea, and in either direction along the shoreline. Then, to my bemusement, an older couple with a yapping dog and lawn chairs walks up and plops down directly in front, not 50 meters away. I move down the beach a quarter mile and continue the meditation.

The sea can make meditation easier or more difficult. Initially it is easier because the vastness of the ocean obliterates the ‘me’ immediately. But it can be more difficult to meditate (that is, move beyond thought) at the ocean because its vastness and power can induce thought to hang on. There is a deep fear of letting go, of losing oneself to emptiness. And the sea mirrors the infinite emptiness of space.

As the mind quiets down, one becomes aware of another primal fear. We humans are social apes, and have been clinging to each other for millions of years. To be deeply alone, physically or metaphysically, is to be cut off from the tribe and the clan, and for eons that meant not surviving. We carry this fear with us, which is why the tribalistic mentality remains so strong, and why so few truly stand alone.

The paradox is that though we are social creatures by nature and evolution, we can only grow to be fully human by psychologically leaving society on a regular basis. That’s what happens during genuine meditation. Returning to the world, and to thought-consciousness, we are subtly or significantly transformed.

Illumination, as I’m coming to understand it, means not returning to thought-consciousness at all. Of course, one can’t really leave society, even if one goes backpacking alone for a week in the High Sierras, since the skills and technology of society are what enable one to go. But psychologically, and even neurogenically, there is a phenomenon called illumination, though neuroscientists haven’t even begun to study it.

There is immeasurable peace in leaving the dimension of thought completely, if only for a few minutes a day. The question is, can ordinary people see not only the value, but also the imperative of doing so? In other words, can they understand what it actually means to meditate, without all the Buddhist or New Age mumbo jumbo?

Life has been unfolding for hundreds of millions of years. Yet man, who evolved along the same principles as all other life, comes along and begins to destroy everything in a matter of centuries, even generations. My basic premise is that without a transmutation of the human mind, humankind will continue to plunder the planet at an increasing rate, and destroy itself, spiritually if not materially.

What are the conditions necessary for the emergence of a new species, without setting up a duality and conflict between humans and human beings?

First of all, is the distinction between humans and human beings a useful one? I feel that it is, and that it marks a shift in the nature of consciousness greater than the difference between Neanderthals and Cro Magnons (not anatomically of course, but neurologically).

Humans are people in whom the evolutionary adaptation of symbolic thought dominates; human beings are people in whom thought no longer rules, however far from illumination they may be.

Insight is always new, wordless, and undiluted. Awakening people no longer mindlessly filter experience through words, images, and concepts (that is, thought), but in being self-aware allow insight—the flash of direct perception in the moment—to be the first thing.

That obviously means significant changes in the way the brain works--in other words, a transmutation of the human mind.
Martin LeFevre
Paradise Beach, Gippsland, Victoria, Australia - Bass Strait Rollers coming in

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Season of the Soul: Pentecost - Counting the Spirit's impact on culture

Making oneself understood is not always easy. So many things can separate us: another language, our gender, our ethnicity, our social class. Christian teaching - while not always borne out in practice - goes to the heart of this separation.

This year the Feast of Pentecost is celebrated on Sunday 27 May 2007. Pentecost is a Jewish Feast - a harvest festival. The first Pentecost in the Christian tradition is described in Chapter 2 of The Acts of the Apostles.

The language barrier was broken down as thousands of visitors to Jerusalem heard the Apostles, humble Galileans, speaking in other tongues, in the visitors' own languages.

Gender, ethnicity and social class are highlighted by Paul when he tells us that in Jesus Christ:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Epistle to the Galations Chapter 3 verse 28).
Pentecost is often referred to by Christians as "the birthday of the church". It can also be a day when we take stock and ask ourselves a few questions.
  • Is Pentecost truly a new day - a day of remembering new birth?
  • Is it a day when people commemorate their entry into a new life, a new way of looking at the world, a new way of looking at one another?
  • Do we really understand the impact of that first Pentecost when the language barrier was broken down, when cultural change under the power of the Holy Spirit in the name of Christ Jesus actually began?
  • And do we understand ourselves - if we are obedient to a risen Lord, an empowering Spirit, and a creative God - to be participants in this new and ever inclusive culture?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Journey from '67: My mother told me a story

Mothers waiting for their children by Hazel Mackinnon
Stolen by Hazel MacKinnon

My Mother Told Me A Story

Many years ago my mother told me a story
a story about when she was a child
and it goes like this:
it was a cool sunny day
and all the coloured kids
were playing around in their way.
But coming in the distance my grandmother saw
white people
coming towards the station.

My mother told me this story
a story about when she was a child
growing up on the station -
my mother told me this story.
Some of the mothers started to run
and hide with their kids
down towards the waterhole in the bush -
but they took every half-caste kid in sight.
But my grandmother hid my mother
in an empty hay-sack bag.

My grandmother waited for the whites to go
but it was sadness that day
for the mothers of that land
'cause their children were taken away
from their dreaming and their culture.
This story makes me sad -
what my mother told me.
by Michael Fitz Jagamarra
published in
Voices from the Heart:
contemporary Aboriginal poetry from Central Australia
collected and edited by Roger Bennett
and published by
IAD Press, Alice Springs

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Journey from '67: Warumungu Tribe

Long before our fathers and our fathers
Warumungu tribe was highly intelligent
Upholding their culture – protective.

Warumungu tribe celebrated corroboree,
initiating ceremonies
in the old respected ways
Rules came from the dreamtime
passed by the elders from generation to
generation –
kinship, marriages, skin group, commitments
Young ones obeying their elders
Keeping language strong, alive.

One big family of brothers and sisters
Holding their culture strictly –
Hunting grounds, sacred places, country –
They owned with strong image,
Respect and pride.
by Rosemary Plummer
published in Voices from the Heart:
contemporary Aboriginal poetry from Central Australia
collected and edited by Roger Bennett
and published by IAD Press, Alice Springs

Rosemary Plummer was born at Phillip Creek Mission in 1955. A Warumungu woman, she is one of the traditional owners of the Tennant Creek area. Rosemary began writing poetry after working in Warumungu language and cross-culture courses with non-Aboriginal people, and her poems reflect these experiences. She has been heavily involved with Papulu-Apparr Kari, the Tennant Creek Language Centre, and has served as its chairperson. Rosemary also studies linguistics with Batchelor College.

Negation in Meditation

Miss Eagle came across this post at Selves and Others. It is re-posted here with the kind permission of its author, Martin LeFevre.

It’s late spring in northern California. People cross the iron footbridge on bikes or foot on a hazy, lazy, warm Sunday afternoon. I sit about 75 meters upstream from the bridge, and though I’m in the open, few passersby see me either from the bridge, or the narrow park road across and above the stream.

The water ripples with washboard effect in this section of the stream, masking most of the noises from vehicles passing irregularly on the road adjacent to the park. Occasionally an especially loud car or truck, or the dark, throbbing bass of a boom box, penetrate the stillness, but the noise does not disturb, much less disrupt the inclusive awareness of meditation.

I look up to see a female mallard less than five meters downstream. She is lingering warily along the bank, treading the gentle current. I can feel her awareness of me, and don’t move. She inches closer in the next few minutes. Suddenly she bursts into the air with such explosiveness that some drops rain onto my skin.

Doing nothing—simply intensely and undividedly observing everything that is happening outwardly and inwardly—is the highest action that a human being is capable.
Negation, the unwilled dissolving of patterned thoughts and accumulated emotions, is the path to illumination. But it is also an essential action for health of the mind and body.
Obviously, for the organism to operate optimally, it has to empty out accretions. Mental accumulation is not just a matter of ‘information overload,’ but of absorbing toxic content of which one is unaware.

The process of being fully aware of emotional, mental, and physical accumulations, of allowing them to flow forth into awareness and be released from the mind and body, is the process of negation in meditation.

Unless one is actually in a meditative state of awareness, experience leaves a residue of which we are not entirely aware. For example, we’ve all had experiences where we think we’re having a good conversation with a group of people, but someone makes a cutting remark, perhaps unintentionally, which ‘sticks in our craw.’ We don’t realize it until later, when we feel angry but aren’t sure exactly why.

There are three approaches to such things. One can, as most people do, push the offending remark away and push on, telling ourselves ‘it’s nothing and it doesn’t bother me.’ In this way, one becomes oblivious to what is going on within one, and develops into the kind of person that made the thoughtless remark.

The second approach is to analyze one’s delayed reactions, try to intellectually understand them, and thereby control one’s emotions. This ‘top down’ method works to a point, but ends up strengthening the accumulative, calculating mind.

A third approach is to simply observe the stream of one’s consciousness without trying to alter or explain its flow.

The mind stores experiences that are imprinted on the emotional centers in the brain. If one knows how to observe the movement of oneself, the experiences will spontaneously unfold, and tell their story.

This is the healthiest way of going about things, and remaining young in mind and heart. Of course it requires an understanding of right observation, which is completely undivided and unwilled, as well as taking the time every day to sit and passively, but energetically watch the film run.

Most people, especially in hyper-individualized societies, are not aware of their culture—the sea in which we all swim. It’s like the fish who turns to the awakening fish and says, ‘what water?’ That’s also true in the few remaining communal cultures, in which traditions and assumptions are implicitly shared in a more organic way.

In the past week in California, many animals at the top of the food chain—otters, seals, birds, dolphins, and even whales—have been washing up dead on the Pacific coast. Scientists think this disturbing phenomenon, whose immediate cause appears to be toxic algae growth, is the result of many factors—pollution, warming of the oceans, over-fishing, environmental stress, etc.
That’s both a metaphor and physical expression of the cumulative effects of the buildup of poisons in and from human consciousness. Without regularly igniting the movement of negation, accumulations build up to toxic levels—in the environment, and within us.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing columns in various places around the world for over 20 years. Email: martinlefevre@sbcglobal.net.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Journey from '67: I am sorry


I'm sorry for losing my culture
I'm sorry for losing my language
I'm sorry for losing my identity
I'm sorry I had to learn English
I'm sorry I grew up on a Mission
I'm sorry I'm not served in shops
I'm sorry for being called names
I'm sorry for being blamed
I'm sorry for people not believing in me
I'm sorry for being born an Aborigine
I'm so, so sorry for telling the truth!!

This poem is by Dennis Fisher who has released a CD of his poems this month.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Journey from '67: Reconciliation

Reconciliation by Edna Watson
Edna Watson is a Dharug elder whose paintings have been recognised in Australia and overseas.
In this work, Edna expresses the various groups who have come to Australia -
with the original Aboriginal people in the centre of the circle of reconciliation.
Reconciling hands point inwards and outwards.
Earth colours dominate with the central circle showing a broken earth,
symbolic of the current drought and the unfinished process of reconciliation.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Cynicism, corruption? Gentleness is everywhere

Miss Eagle is indebted to Antony at Coming to the Quiet for the following quote - sage words in season.

What else will do except faith in such a cynical, corrupt time? When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word. What is the last word, then? Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids—all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.

~Garrison Keillor

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Ascension Day 2007

Danny Richard Hahlbohm
... as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
The Acts of the Apostles Chapter 1 verses 9-11
God has raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.
Ephesians 1:20-21

Friday, May 11, 2007

Then where can we stand justified?

Bishop Marc has discovered this wonderful anthem. He loved its word and spirit. So does Miss Eagle. You, dear Reader, can listen to Anthem by Tom Conry here.

We are called, we are chosen,

We are Christ for one aother,

we are promised to tomorrow,

while we are for him today.

We are sign, we are wonder,

We are sower, we are seed,

We are harvest, we are hunger.

We are question, we are creed.

1. Then where can we stand justified? In what can we believe? In no one else but Christ who suffered, nothing more than Christ who rose. Who was justice for the poor, Who was rage against the night, Who was hope for peaceful people, Who was light.

2. Then how are we to stand at all, this world of bended knee? In nothing more than barren shadows, No one else but Christ could save us. Who was justice for the poor, Who was rage against the night night, Who was hope for peaceful people, Who was light.

3. Then shall we not stand empty at the altar of our dreams? When Christ promised us ourselves, Who mark time aginst tomorrow, Who are justice for the poor, Who are rage against the night, Who are hope for peaceful people, Who are light.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reading, Memory, Impact

Boris Pasternak's house at Peredelkino, Russia

Over at Miscellaneous Mum, she is talking about Reflections on readerly first impressions. She begins with this quote:

A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read

Miss Eagle has posted a comment on that post which, as you can see, is about her relationship with the novel by Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago. Dr Zhivago is a great novel - for its sweep of a crucial phase in Russia's history but also its incorporation of the spiritual part of the Russian personality and Russian life. Miss Eagle, as a seventeen year old, was impacted by this novel and can still recall great chunks of it. So this impact can be shared, Miss Eagle sets out below the opening segment of the novel - the boy on his mother's grave:

On they went, singing 'Eternal Memory', and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.

Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths and crossed themselves. Some joined in out of curiosity and asked: 'Who is being buried?' -'Zhivago,' they were told. - "Oh, I see. That explains it.' - 'It isn't him. It's his wife.' - 'Well, it comes to the same thing. May she rest in peace. It's a fine funeral.'
The last moments flashed past, counted, irrevocable. 'The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the earth and everything that dwells there.' The priest scattered earth in the form of a cross over the body of Marya Nikolayevna. They sang 'The souls of the just'. Then a fearful bustle began. The coffin was closed, nailed and lowered into the ground. Clods of earth drummed on the lid like rain as the grave was filled hurriedly by four spades. A mound grew up on it and a ten-year-old boy climbed on top.

Only the numb and unfeeling condition which comes to people at the end of a big funeral could account for some of the mourners' thinking that he wished to make an address over his mother's grave.
He raised his head and, from his vantage point, absently surveyed the bare autumn landscape and the domes of the monastery. His snub-nosed face was contorted. He stretched out his neck. If a wolf cub had done this it would have been obvious that it was about to howl. The boy covered his face with his hands and burst into sobs. The wind bearing down on him lashed his hands and face with cold gusts of rain. A man in black with tightly-fitting sleeves went up to the grave. This was Nikolay Nikolayevich Vedenyapin, the dead woman's brother and the uncle of the weeping boy; he was a priest who had been unfrocked at his own request.

He went up to the boy and led him out of the graveyard.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Love, Justice and John Dominic Crossan

Miss Eagle is indebted to Mystical Seeker over at A Blog of Mystical Searches for this wonderful quote from John Dominic Crossan in his latest book, God and Empire.

My proposal is that justice and love are a dialectic--like two sides of a coin that can be distinguished but not separated. We think of ourselves as composed of a body and soul, or flesh and spirit. When they are separated, we have a physical corpse. Similarly with distributive justice and communal love. Justice is the body of love, love the soul of justice. Justice is the flesh of love, love is the spirit of justice. When they are separated, we have a moral corpse. Justice without love is brutality. Love without justice is banality.