Bishop Philip Huggins ~ Talk for the World Community of Christian Meditation
The sadness and suffering in the Ukraine continues to draw us to prayer and meditation. At some point Russian leadership thought of this invasion.We now see the consequences. Along with aid, advocacy and prayer can we ask :
Would Meditation have made a difference; does Meditation make a Difference?”
Here are three reasons which summarise my answer to this question. These reasons are why I think meditation is so important and useful now.
Meditation makes beneficial use of our wonderful gift of self-awareness:
We are blessed to be self-aware, able to see ourselves as objects of our own awareness. We are able to simultaneously think about what we are thinking about! At least for a moment. You can think about what I’m saying whilst also thinking about my funny Aussie accent! We are able to choose what we will think about, or stop thinking about. We are able to choose what we will let influence our thinking. This gift offers us the freedom of self-determination. It is a powerful gift. Yes, because what we think about will shape what we then say or don’t say; what we will do or not do. Over time, the pattern of our thinking, our words and our actions shape our character and destiny. We will become what we think!
Meditation helps us exercise our gift of self-awareness for the good. Mantric meditation gives us something to think about when we are aware that our thoughts are not ones that we want to continue. Instead of being like a leaf in the wind, blown anywhere by our thoughts, we can go back to our mantra both in meditation and in daily life. Instead of being absorbed by negative thinking, I place in my mind my mantra – ‘Jesus have mercy’- as a kind of circuit breaker: Ma-ra-an-atha.
The mind can be rather totalitarian – a closed system .Our thoughts can take control of our words and actions. We know the tragedy of this when people wonder about their past damaging words and actions and say perplexedly: “what was I thinking?” (In my pastoral work there have been times with folk who tried to suicide but failed, to their subsequent immense relief. In the closed system of the mind, they had talked themselves into an act which subsequently looked crazy. I remember watching a beautiful sunset with one such person who was therefore re-appreciating the wonder of being here now, being here at all.) It is important and useful to be able to return to our mantra – “Jesus have mercy”,or “Maranatha”, when aware of thinking that is best not continued.
So … at some point, sadly, Russian leadership thought of invading Ukraine. That thinking has led to actions of unspeakable cruelty and sadness. And now we hear that there is the thought of the hitherto unthinkable – the first use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki! (Insofar as this is the thinking of one powerful man, we see again the wisdom of democratic forms of governance – that ‘least worst’ form of governance with its resilient checks against absolute political power. Checks such as the separation of powers between the political and legal systems; free speech; a free media and strong intermediary organisations between the individual and the state, like Trade Unions, Universities, the Arts and Religious groups.) Coming after the suffering of WW2, the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that: “since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
Meditation helps us exercise our gift of self-awareness. In being mindful of our thinking, we can be more peaceful and be better peacemakers. Peace is more than the absence of war but that would be a good start!
“Peace is more than the absence of war, peace is the nurture of human life”( Jane Addams, President of the International Congress of Women, The Hague,1915).
Our peacemaking involves nurturing a respectful, giving and forgiving culture in which all can flourish. A meditating community is more crucial than ever!
The cultivation of an inner silence for better listening-towards a more “Unified Consciousness”.
Meditation cultivates an inner silence and stillness, as we know. Silence is another language. It is the language for hearing the voice of God – what St. John of the Cross calls poetically “the silent music of God”. Archbishop Christopher Prowse quotes how Fr.John Main articulates our universal call to holiness.” We know that God is intimately with us and we know also that God is infinitely beyond us..it is only through deep and liberating silence that we can reconcile the polarities of this mysterious paradox”. (“Set Pools of Silence in this Thirsty Land”, St.Pauls Publications 2017).
Silence is also necessary for hearing our own truest, deepest voice and also even for hearing more clearly the voice of an apparent enemy. Meditation cultivates the inner silence which is a prerequisite for accurate listening.
A question: Would this terrible current conflict have erupted if there had been more patient and careful listening to each other’s fears and resentments? Remembering that an ‘enemy’ may be someone whose story we do not know very well or who’s understanding of their story has not been listened to respectfully. Like the Russian historical story of past invasions from the west and thus its concern about any closer proximity of NATO. Leo Tolstoy’s “ War and Peace” reminds us of some of this story.
A further question: Would this conflict have erupted if there had been more honest recognition of our own mistakes, as part of a more reconciling dialogue? For example, the Australian Government, with others , has never apologised for its participation in the invasion of Iraq on false grounds. This took place in spite of strong domestic opposition which was not listened to. We all make mistakes. “To err is human”.How we handle our mistakes together is the key issue to be faced, not evaded.
Getting beyond negative stereotypes of ‘the other’ requires an inner silence for truthfulness and for careful ,generous listening in a forgiving spirit, towards possible reconciliation. Nelson Mandela once poignantly conveyed that “hating someone is like drinking poison and then expecting the other person to die!” President Putin recently called the west “an empire of lies”. Similar rhetoric goes back the other way, as his invasion is rightly condemned. There is resentment on both sides. Experts speak of resentment as the “emotion of justice” because it is usually accompanied by the sense that we need to hold on to our resentment in order to take a stance on some behaviour that we find unjust.
So our challenging question is: Can our meditation practice help cultivate an atmosphere of inner and outer stillness so that there can be better listening, beyond the hateful poisoning of resentful “Us” versus “Them” stereotypes?
We say “Yes”, towards a “Unified Consciousness”, beyond the kind of Nationalism that always seems to lead to War … aware of the awful suffering, we can but offer what we have to offer.
The human family is being ravaged by a global pandemic. Preventing catastrophic climate change requires unprecedented global cooperation to fully implement the Paris Agreement. There are more than 80 million people already forcibly displaced and now this number is rising as vulnerable people flee from the Ukraine …. We offer our meditations, recognising the needs of the hour.
We meditate as a matter of faith
Meditation is what we are drawn to offer in faith, not yet knowing what will be its fruitfulness. We may have begun in meditation because we knew we needed it for ourselves. Each of us has a story of how, thereafter, we came to see meditation as a crucial part of our service for the wellbeing of all. Accordingly, whatever might be our view on historical and political matters, we offer our meditation as a faithful service, trusting it will be helpful, even if this is in ways we may not see.
It is a story, perhaps for another time, but I came into this WCCM Group after being led to offer meditation at the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change ,UNCOP25 in Madrid.Thereafter, reconnecting with dear Fr. Laurence Freeman in our preparations for the UNCOP26, late last year in Glasgow.That connection was all to do with how meditation can cultivate a “ Unified Consciousness” amidst a UNCOP culture which is impacted by nation state rivalries and by the persistent influence of vested interests.
“Culture”is, after all, essentially the history of relationships in the present moment. Be it the culture of a family; an organisation; even a nation. The history of relationships in the human family obviously needs much healing. A healing of memory; “pure imagination,”in that beautiful song; all of us making the choice therefore to heal and not to harm; to give and to forgive.
So, to conclude, I offer these three reflections on the importance of meditation and what we are doing.
More meditators and more meditation in global affairs would make a difference.
We persist, confident that we are contributing to a healthier global culture for all beings .
Gifted with life on this tiny planet in a vast universe of divine creation, we must keep making our meditative contribution .