Retreat Day10: Fr. Thomas

Today, a half-day, is the final day of the retreat and a time to say good-byes, express gratitude to the staff who served the retreat and drive home.

Yesterday Fr. Thomas (86 years of age) gave two exceptional talks and literally seemed to speak on all and everything in a coherent, logical and inspirational manner. The only difference I could see in Fr. Thomas from when I heard him speak last September was that he sat yesterday (but appeared to have no less energy).

Areas covered included the meaning of Lent and the Cross, the human condition-predicament (stuck literally between heaven and earth), biological and spiritual evolution, Neil Bohr and modern physics, angels, Adam and Eve, Buddhism, the creation myth, scientism and creationism, the biological brain, programs for happiness based on instinctual needs for security, love and esteem, and power and control that are doomed to fail, the ultimate cause of human suffering, the limitation of belief systems, the parable of the Wedding Feast at Cana, Bernie Madoff, the meanng of the Trinity, incarnation and resurrection, the Op Ed of the New York Times, and of course contemplation and Centering Prayer and their relevance to all of the above. I think you get the idea.

My favorite take-home quotes? "God wants us to become God to the same extent that God became human. But, do you want to be God on God's terms or on your terms." "Every creature is our teacher."

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day9: Transitions

Today is the last full day of the retreat and as of yesterday afternoon the color of the retreat changed markedly with the arrival of the 80 new people and their integration physically and into the silence. I must say they were a very silent group at dinner and moved-in just fine.

Father Thomas arrived late last night and didn't talk due to a late spring snowstorm in Colorado and traffic delays. He begins the day's activities today with a talk and there is considerable anticipation here in having his wit, presence, transmission and 86 years of wisdom here this weekend. He is a uniquely graced individual who has worked his entire adult life to introduce others to the gift of contemplation. May he forever be blessed and held close.

As the retreat comes to an end tomorrow on Day 10 and I anticipate the drive home to Maryland, I notice I do not experience the usual feelings of impending absence and in a sense loss of being on retreat and needing to return to the real world. In fact, I am looking forward to returning to my life and work, taking with me whatever has been set in motion here on the Hudson. I also feel fully present here and now today. Perhaps some of David's "incarnational contemplaton" is taking root.

Yesterday, a beautiful sunny spring day, David summarized his teachings from this week, including the contemplative attitudes. These attitudes are intended to support a more subtle relationship with God. For each attitude there is an active and a receptive form of the attitude. Active/Receptive: a) Gentleness/Effortlessness; b) Letting Go/Letting Be; c) Resting/Being; d) Embracing/Being Embraced; e) Consent/Presence Acting; f) Simplicity/Awakening; and g) Integrating/Emerging.

He also reviewed his teaching on deepening contemplation by extending use of the sacred symbols - word, breath and gaze. David is writing a book on all of this material and expects it will be published by end of the year. In addition, support materials will be shared at Incarnational Contemplation

Enough for now...

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day8: Vows

My heart was full; I made no vows, but vows
Were then made for me; bond unknown to me
Was given, that I should be, else sinning greatly,
A dedicated Spirit. On I walk'd
In blessedness, which even yet remains.

- William Wordsworth

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day7: Is-ness

Yesterday was a beautiful day. The wind ceased after several days of chilly blowing and this allowed the warm sun to be felt on the skin. As planned, John and I walked during the afternoon to a small pond on the grounds that I'd discovered on a bike ride. On the way we stopped by a delapidated greenhouse sans roof that had been used by the monks who lived here formerly. It wasn't hard to imagine their tending the growth therein, flora and otherwise, nor think of death's certitude and the transitoriness of life.

We arrived at the pond and sat on an old wooden bench, watched the fish and talked about the same subjects we'd discussed several years ago. We joked about how the more things change (at least our bodies) the more we stay the same. What are these invisible ties that bind us to one another? With some people they seem especially strong and durable.

Tomorrow, Friday, Father Thomas Keating, age 86, arrives and the additional 80 or so retreatants who are coming from the weekend. Maru arrived yesterday early and two others will join us today. By Friday night at dinner a total of about 140 will be here. As they arrive they'll no doubt be opportunities for practicing the contemplative attitutde of letting go and likely others.

Yesterday David spoke on "pure prayer" and "Is-ness." Father Thomas said this about the latter: "...Ultimate Reality (God) "no thing." "No thing" means no particular thing, whether concept, feeling or bodily experience. God just is - without any limitation. And the way to connect with this "Is-ness" is to just be, too." - from Manifesting God.

Branching from Gregory the Great's classical definiton of contemplation as, "resting in God," David spoke about how to "just be" and rest from all seeking, as what allows contemplaton is to just BE.

I related this to adequacy-inadequacy. Much of seeking has to do with a perception, belief or feeling of inadequacy. I don't have the True Self, I'm not living up to my potential, I don't know God's will for me, I don't do what I know is best to do, etc. etc. To just let go and be is to inceasingly experience the complete adequacy of the moment and everything in God's be-ing-ness.

David went on to mention how God in the Bible is described as, "I am that I am," and Jesus saying, "before Abraham I am," and of course Fr. Thomas's "Is-ness" - for short "Izzie" as Fr. Thomas would say.

How to increasingly realize this Is-ness? "Pure prayer" - defined by Anthony of the Desert in the early centuries as occuring when one "doesn't even know one is praying" - prayer of naked faith without resort to concepts or feelings. Pure prayer is God coming alive in us and our consenting to this aliveness without thinking, self-reflecton or thing-ness as an object of experience.

"Happy is the spirit who attends to perfect formlessness at the time of prayer" - Evagrius the Solitary 4thC

Enough for now...

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day6: Letting Go & Letting Be

Today marks the mid point, timewise, in the retreat with 4.5 days remaining. Yesterday was another cold and windy day but sunny with a clear blue sky. I biked the same loop but in the reverse direction. I startled a red fox in the clearing along the dirt trail where Benedict Arnold made his escape along the Hudson. On this day it seems he wasn't the only one to make an escape.

I will not bike today. John invited me to go for a walk during our afternoon period of solitude. After lunch there are 3 hours of solitude each day when one is on one's own and can do as one pleases - always a option. I find this amount of free time very helpful to be alone and explore whatever is pleasing - "a part of, apart from."

David has been bringing icons like the one above to the sitting room. He spoke of how icons are painted when the painter is in a state of prayer. Perhaps not unlike the Japanese drum maker who goes searching for the appropriate wood to make a drum. He enters the forest and meditates, opening himself to discover the one tree who's destiny is to become the drum.

David spoke on the contemplative attitudes of Letting Go and Letting Be. Here are some concepts from the talk.

- "Happy are those who find you and open themselves to your light."  - Psalmist

- We let go of much: thoughts, felt spiritual experiences, the false self, surface relationships with and concepts of God, "creatures" (the things of life, people, places, situations..), etc. We don't deny or destroy these things but simply let go of them.

- What is it that I'm being asked by God to let go?

- The original French word for attachment means "nailed to." What am I nailed to?

- "God is always trying to give to us but our hands are too full to receive" - St. Augustine.

I can't recall but someone said the spiritual journey is more about subtraction than addition. How true, and a paradox as well as much is added, but not by us.

Enough for now...

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day5: Gentleness & Effortlessness

I've developed a routine of going outside in the mornings while it is still dark before I go to sit prayer. The stars in the heavens have been out in full luminosity. Looking across the Hudson River I watch the occasional descent of car lights coming down a mountain - no doubt people on their way to work, perhaps in "The City". The air is cold, it wakes me up - just a few minutes is enough - time to go inside and sit. 

Yesterday was a cold but sunny day with a strong northerly wind blowing straight down the Hudson and creating small white caps. I went for a bike ride for an hour, partly along the same ground that Benedict Arnold used to make his escape to the British. The ride was a good workout for the heart, lungs and muscles, especially the ascent of a long, winding hill from Garrison's Landing back to the main road leading to the Institute. On my return I found the hot tub with its 104 degree water a relaxing and justly deserved end to my first bike outing - I hope to do more of both.

Yesterday David talked about cultivation of the contemplative attitudes of gentleness and effortlessness in contemplative practice, having spoken on simplicity the day before. We were reminded of the words from the Centering Prayer guidelines, "ever-so-gently" (return to the sacred symbol). We were encourged to practice gentleness in our practice in order to allow the fruit of gentleness to become more pervasive in our experience and actions.

With gentleness comes effortlessness, another contemplative attitude. Given that holy ground is already present here and now, "closer than we are to ourselves," the need for effort is beside the point. This reminded me of a line from Fr. Thomas's book Open Mind Open Heart - "the chief act of the will is not effort but consent". Ergo, no effort is required of us in order for God to find us. He does "the heavy lifting" It seems we often try to take on too much responsibility in the life of contemplative prayer rather than simply consenting to what is already present.

"Come all you who labor...and I will give you rest." - Jesus

"There is no effort in God, everything is already accomplished." - David

Enough for now...

Sent from Ron's iPhone

Retreat Day4: Meals, Waiting, Silence

All meals here are received in silence - each person's maintained silence joins to form the community silence - oddly enough a group of strangers become a community without words spoken (as impossible as it sounds).

1 Dinner gong; 2 Waiting for the gong; 3 Waiting after the gong; 4 Dining in silence