As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been particularly good at sitting still and being silent.
How about you?
If I’m working or studying then I’ll have music on in the background. I always have music on in the car and I’ll even have an audiobook playing when I’m meant to be relaxing in the bath. My fitness DVDs of choice normally involve loud, lively music and my numerous failed attempts at things like pilates and Callanetics confirm that slow meditative exercise really isn't for me! At some point I seem to have made the decision that anything involving relaxation, being still or slowing down is a waste of valuable time!
When I was studying for my A-Levels I was persuaded to go to a yoga class by my friends Lisa and Liz. We had regularly been in trouble for giggling uncontrollably in our Biology lessons so I don’t know what made us think we would survive an hour of downward dogs and virtual silence. We collected our mats and positioned ourselves at the back of the class, right out of the way, in what we considered the safety zone. We realised very early on that most of the class took yoga extremely seriously and so did our best not to look at each other as we knew this would weaken our defences. We focused on the teacher and, out of respect for our classmates, vowed that we would do everything we could to keep hold of our giggles.
And then it happened!
While attempting what I believe is called the lotus position, a member of the class (and I’m not sure how to phrase this) passed wind…very loudly! We were not expecting this to happen and no one had warned us that it might. What made it worse is that no one reacted…at all! Not one snigger!
I could see Lisa’s shoulders shaking from the corner of my eye. Liz spat out a huge laugh and then the three of us completely lost it. You would have thought that the looks of utter contempt from the other class members would have shut us up, but unfortunately no. There was no point even attempting to regroup and we were politely asked to leave the room. On that day my fledgling relationship with yoga ended.
Since then I have generally struggled at anything that requires me to sit still, be quiet or be contemplative, but I’m hoping this will change! As I mentioned in “Losing Weight” I feel like God is trying to pull me in a different direction. He’s trying to take me away from the frantic, busy, empty, exhausted way of doing things and is encouraging me to have a deeper connection with him (if I can just sit still long enough).
So, last week I ordered a book called “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening” by Cynthia Bourgeault (2004).
I read the first chapter and was given a beginners centering prayer exercise to try.
“It’s very, very simple (that’s what you think lady). You sit, either in a chair or on a prayer stool or mat (or the comfy settee in the conservatory), and allow your heart to open toward that invisible but always present Origin (eh?) of all that exists.”
(Must ignore urge to close book due to unnecessary hippy type language.)
“Whenever a thought comes into your mind, you simply let the thought go (where exactly) and return to that open, silent attending upon the depths (genuinely have no idea what she’s on about). Not because thinking is bad, but because it pulls you back to the surface of yourself. You use a short word or phrase, known as a “sacred word,” such as “abba”, Jesus’ own word for God, or “peace” or “be still” (I’ll go with this one) to help you let go of the thought promptly and cleanly. You do this practice for twenty minutes (you’re having a laugh), a bit longer if you’d like (now you’re just taking the mick), then you simply get up and move on with your life.”
TWENTY MINUTES!!!!! IN SILENCE! Okay… here goes!
Right, I can do this.
I’ll set the timer on my phone, then I won’t keep checking the time.
What if someone sends me a message? Right, I’ll turn the sound and vibration off on my phone and then I can just concentrate on being silent…for fifteen whole minutes.
I know it says twenty minutes but that seems like a really long time.
(sets timer going)
Ok, I can do this.
I wonder if Pete’s pen turned up at school…I could get him another one but that’s not the point really…he’ll be niggled about that…
Oh, flipping heck, I forgot to ask Lyndon to pick up Watson’s flea stuff from the vet…
Right, stop thinking about stuff. Concentrate on what you’re meant to be doing.
I think I’d find this a lot harder if I wasn’t full of cold, in the grogginess it’s easier not to think about anything…although I would quite like to just go to sleep now.
Is it bad if I go to sleep?
Yeah, probably, I’m not sure that’s the point of the exercise.
Argh! I’ve done it again.
(A long period of what seems like genuine thoughtless silence passes by)
I’m doing a lot better at this than I thought I would. It does just feel like I’m skiving though. It’s not even as if I’m praying for anyone. I’m just sitting here. I’m really not sure this is doing anything at all. It seems like a bit of a waste of time.
Ok, stop! Keep an open mind! Loads of Christians have been doing this for hundreds of years so there must be something in it!
(the alarm sounds)
I did it! A whole 15 minutes of silence.
This was only day one and if I’m honest it did still feel like a bit of a waste of time.
Cynthia Bourgeault writes:
“Your own subjective experience of (centering) prayer may be that nothing happened - except for the more-or-less continuous motion of letting go of thoughts. But in the depths of your being, in fact, plenty has been going on, and things are quietly but firmly being rearranged.”
I like the thought that “things are quietly but firmly being rearranged,” so I’ll keep persevering and let you know how I get on.
Since starting to write this blog I have discovered that there are significant differences in opinion about the Christian meditation movement. After reading endless information on the internet and getting very confused about it all, I decided that I’m going to continue giving this a go and see where it takes me. After I’ve finished the book and attempted more of the prayer exercises I might discover that it’s not for me. The important thing is that I’m actively seeking to connect with God in a new way that is out of my comfort zone. Either way I will have learnt and experienced something new.
For me, the challenge is to be quiet and still but it might be completely different for you.
Where is God challenging you to try something new and are you taking Him up on it?
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.