“You need a strong back and a soft front.” – Tara Brach
I’ve been meditating for years, but I realise the outcome is not always warm and compassionate. I am sometimes like a person who is hitting his head with stones. My inner critic says, “Keep your back straight, put on a serious face, listen to your breathing, and be tough”.
Joe Biden’s birthplace of Scranton in Pennsylvania was the first spot I learned to cultivate the American ‘Can-Do’ attitude. Don’t my University of Scranton buddies know what I’m talking about? Even later illness as a volunteer and struggle with mental health could not shake it off. Here’s to the best of the USA!
What becomes obvious from Barack Obama’s latest best-selling book, A Promised Land, is that he wanted to tune into a bigger picture, something beyond his own ego and ambition. Over time, he aligned his own will with the will of the American people.
He learned to deeply listen to his constituents as well as to those from outside his reach. With his family and team behind him, he brought promise to those who believed in a humanity that is enhanced through a shared sense of pain and suffering.
Learning to create a space between us and our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations during sitting meditation is an incredibly liberating experience. Not only does it help prevent us from falling into unwanted habits, but it also enables us to communicate from a deeper, warmer place or ‘heart centre’. This is a place where faith and mindfulness can merge.
Imagine, for instance, sitting with Jesus and cooking fish on a charcoal fire by the lake shore. You hear his words: “Come to me, you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. You share your pain with him without judging it, you experience his gentle and humble heart, and you find rest for your soul. Your body feels lighter, your mind becomes spacious and you view your experience more compassionately.
I’ve been used to expressing myself with words such as “fine”, “grand”, and “no bother” all of my life. But these aren’t really feelings at all. I think this is the experience of a lot of Irish men.
I finished an 8 week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course last week at the Mindfulness Centre in Dublin with elements of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. It enabled me to communicate from my ‘heart centre’ on a consistent basis which has been a deep longing of mine. Here are some of my learnings:
An Ignatian Contemplation (from St Ignatius Loyola) on aligning with the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane through our own pain or frustration during the Covid-19 pandemic. It involves the use of our imagination and feelings along with elements of mindfulness. It is also set in the context of the Advent season where we are invited to ‘stay awake’ to the suffering of others.
Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, tells the story of a man who leaves his home to go on a journey and puts his slaves in charge while he is away. He assigns them different work including the task of the doorkeeper “to be on the watch”. They need to be vigilant because he can return home at any minute.
Can we imagine the master’s reaction if he finds his doorkeeper not on the job? Sleep, according to Kieran O’Mahony OSA, is commonly used to mean inattention, lack of alertness, as well as death. Surely not a good thing this Advent season.