In the isolation brought about by the 2020 pandemic, we have all had to rethink Donne’s maxim that “no man is an island’. In the reality of lockdown, each man and each woman is an isola: if not under law, then certainly with a new appreciation that the space inside our own heads is, ultimately, the only place where we can exercise control. Our inner space will be tormented by anxiety or it will be blessed with peace according to the extent of our resources.
I use the term resource to signify two things: first, I am referring to the store of cultural, philosophical, and spiritual grids which we have inherited and/or learned through our interaction with the ordinary and extraordinary people we have encountered. Our aesthetic sensibility has been honed in their company, their conversation or by the way that their art, music, poetry or prose has marked us.
In another sense, I am using the term resource to signify the capacity which we have to return to source: to retrace our steps on the pathways which have led us to this point in our life; to pause at the crossroads long enough to recall how and why we made a decision to take one direction and not another one. As we return to source, we will encounter many incarnations of ourselves, some of whom we will have to forgive.
The principle focus of the reflections in this volume is the art and practice of Meditation. It is a practice in the most obvious way, because it is associated with the habitual formation of techniques. However, meditation is also an art in the sense that it is capable of bringing about a unique way of looking at the world. It is, in other words, a constructive practice which can change the minds and hearts of those who practise regularly.
The following are small narratives which have allowed me to ‘return to source’ in order to uncover the pathways leading to my own life of contemplation and begin to answer the question of its genesis.
- Genesis: the source of things; the way they began, the spring from which all else flows But, already, I am using a vocabulary that is rooted in the time/space framework of linear thinking. And that is not my intention.
- Genesis: energy out of which something is generated. Now, I am getting a little closer to the idea I want to convey.
- Genesis: not a point in time, but the flow of things into which we are thrown. Poets and philosophers know this.
In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself astray in a dark wood
when the straight road had been lostDante Alighieri
To begin in the middle; that is what we all must do. We have no choice; this is what philosophers call our thrown-ness. By some roll of creation’s dice, we awaken to find ourselves conscious in the middle of the lives of others, driven by the desires of others, regulated by the laws of others and comforted, if we are indeed fortunate, by the compassion of those who accept our shared vulnerability. The present, then, is the fulcrum point in the history of our consciousness, balanced between past and future. If meditation is to go beyond an occasional exercise; if it to become a way of life which informs our being and our doing, then we need to retrace our steps to find our own unique pathway: the winding road that has led us to a desire for the peace and wholeness of meditation. Chances are that, in re-tracing our steps, we will uncover many incarnations of ourselves, like matryoshka dolls nesting one inside the other. Be assured that we may have grown and changed, but that some essence of us will always remain. Every incarnation is a chapter in our story.
To accompany you on your journey, I offer you a number of reflections. Through these narratives, you will see that I have come by the backroads to the meditative life. My hope is that my readers will be encouraged to revisit their own back story, and to sense the power of creativity that every one of us is born with.