Friday, October 23, 2020

Contemplative Listening by Reverend Tom Capo preached on 10/18/2020

Meditation #1

            The following meditation for grounding was created for the practice of Generative Somatics (  The words were written by Susan Raffo who works with the Peoples Movement Center.

            First, come into standing position as you are able. If not sit up in your chair.  Notice where you are in a room and feel how your weight and stance are naturally on the ground.

            Now, notice your vertical. Feel the space between your feet and your knees and invite it to lengthen both towards the sky and towards the ground. Feel the space between your knees and your pelvis, invite it to lengthen, for there to be more space that comes here, both up and down. Do the same with the space between your pelvis and your diaphragm, invite it to length. Between your diaphragm and shoulders, along your neck, between your chin and the top of your head, down the length of your arms. Invite a lengthening in both directions. And then feel the entirety of your body and invite a lengthening between your feet and your head, towards the earth and towards the sky.

            This is your dignity, the place where you say “I am.” This is your vertical.

            Now, bring in your width. Start at your feet and feel each foot widening in [all] directions. Move into your leg and feel each leg widening, the inner leg moving further in, the outer leg moving out. Invite it to widen further. Come to your pelvis and feel the space between the two sides of your pelvis. Invite that space to expand, to widen out, left and right. Come into your belly, the sides of your torso, your ribcage, feel your sides and invite them to widen, the space inside to expand. Come to your shoulder blades and invite each shoulder to expand left to right. Continue up your body not forgetting your neck or your head, your arms and your hands. Now feel the entirety of your body and invite a widening between your left and right, an expansion from the center line that runs through your body out to the sides. A widening.

            This is your horizontal, the place of connection, where the “I” connects to other people, plants, all of our relatives. This is the “we”. This is your horizontal.

            Now bring in your depth. Feel your back, pay attention to your clothes against your skin, the feeling of space against your back, remember the back of your head, the back of your neck, the back of your legs your feet your arms, this whole back space and feel the space behind you. Now feel the front of your body and remember your face and forehead, the front of your shins, your feet, you belly and hands and feel the space in front of you. Feel yourself in the middle of this back and this front and connect the two and now expand, letting your front body expand forward and your back body expand back while you feel yourself in the middle. A widening.

            This is your depth, the place where you live in relationship to what has already happened and what is yet to emerge. This is where I and we live within space and time. This is your depth.

            Now bring all of these planes together, feeling them one after the other, vertical, horizontal, depth, feel yourself as 3D.

            Bring your gaze to an object in the room that is attractive or interesting to you. If not an object, an idea, a person, a dream, a thought, something you can sense as separate and outside of yourself. Feel your 3D self and then feel inside for your desire to move towards that item or thought or dream. Sense in for your connection to that thing and then, when you feel the connect of yourself to that idea or thing, let the desire move you towards it. Move until you feel you have arrived and then notice you have arrived. Practice this a few more times with different objects or dreams or other elements of desire. Wait until you feel the want or the longing or the connection to them and then move and then reach them.

            After you have practiced this for a few times and if you haven’t done this already, ground yourself again into the planes but connect them to your purpose. Why are you here? What is it that moves you? Feel your sense of purpose and connect it to those planes and then, when you are ready, let the purpose take your body and move you towards it. 


Meditation #2

Written by Martha K. Capo

            For a moment, see yourself at the foaming edge of land and liquid, watching the rhythms of the waves, watching the water transmit the energy of the winds traveling over it, watching that energy crest across the barrier of the sand and pebbles. Some pebbles, larger than others, only shift gently in place as the water sluices around them. Others, smaller, more agile, seem to chase the backwash as the water ebbs away, only to be returned--more or less--to where they began.

            Sometimes, we are boulders at the water's edge, absorbing the water's energy in stoic strength, standing solid and unmovable, defiant and unyielding as the water churns around us. (PAUSE) Sometimes, we are rocks: stubborn, slow to be moved, sluggish in our response to the tides pushing and pulling us. (PAUSE) Sometimes, we are pebbles tumbling helter-skelter, higglety-pigglety-pop, overwhelmed and unable to resist the breaking waves and sucking backwashes that we just can't seem to get away from. (PAUSE) And sometimes, we are sand, with an infinite capacity to accept and absorb and transmit the energies breaking against us, able to allow those energies to pass through us, through the pockets of silence, of space, of peace within us.

            Marine Biologist Rachel Carson wrote "[i]n every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is a story of the earth." In every breath, in every curving muscle and ligament, in every pulse and rhythm you experience, there is a story of you. Of who you were, of who you are now, of who you will choose to be. Of how you choose to be connected to All That Is. A story that is still being written--by you.

            What are you today? The boulder? The rock? The pebble? The sand? All of these? What is the energy that is swirling around you? How is that changing you? How is that energy changed by your interaction with it? How will you choose to write your own story?



            One of my favorite Buddhist authors is Brad Warner.  I have a couple of his books:  Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen's Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye and Hardcore Zen : Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth about Reality.  I plan to get some of his more recent books, I have my eye on Don't Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan's Greatest Zen Master.  Just a little background on Brad, he started out life as a Punk Rock bass guitarist, then decided to go to Japan and needed work.  He was hired to get dressed up in those monster get-ups for Ultraman shows and movies.  While in Japan he studied Zen Buddhism and became an ordained Zen priest.  I actually met him in Cedar Rapids when he was there promoting Sit Down and Shut Up.  His philosophy is that we can all make time in our lives to sit down for a few minutes and be quiet, breathing and allowing our thoughts and feelings to flow through us in Zazen meditation and being open for emotional and spiritual grounding, insight, purpose, direction, and/or connection in the here and now.  The foundation of Buddhism according to Brad is: “Do as well as you possibly can. That's Buddhist morality.”  He does affirm the four Noble Truths of Buddhism, but has sort of a different way, perhaps a more modern way of presenting them: “The first noble truth, suffering, represents idealism. When you look at things from an idealistic viewpoint everything sucks, as the Descendents said in the song called “Everything Sucks” (from the album Everything Sucks). Nothing can possibly live up to the ideals and fantasies you’ve created. So we suffer because things are not the way we think they ought to be. Rather than face what really is, we prefer to retreat and compare what we’re living through with the way we think it oughta be. Suffering comes from the comparison between the two.” And he describes Zen monks as having achieved " a rare state of inner with-it-ness.”

            Now when it comes to meditation, prayer, ritual and all those kinds of things, he believes everyone is capable of getting some benefit from them, but “The very idea of higher states of consciousness is absurd. Comparing one state of consciousness to another and saying one is "higher" and the other is "mundane" is like eating a banana and complaining it's not a very good apple.” He goes on to say that “Practicing zazen [or really any form or meditation] is like gradually (or maybe not so gradually) getting your sight back.”  I hope that helps you with some of your expectations about meditation and prayer; we are not seeking an altered state of consciousness when we meditate or prayer.  We are opening ourselves to the contemplative practice of deep listening.

            To contemplate is to think about an action before doing it.  A contemplative practice is opening oneself to an inner vision or seeing transcendent of the intellect, facilitated by practices such as prayer or meditation.  There are so many contemplative practices and such disparate experiences from those practices, describing it can be like blind men trying to describe an elephant—one who feels the leg says the elephant is like a pillar; one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan.  With contemplative practices you might here one person describing the effects as relaxation; another might say a contemplative practice resulted in their transformation; one might say a contemplative practice helped them learn more about themself; and another might say a contemplative practice connects them with their Goddess.

            When someone ask me what a contemplative practice can offer, I often tell the story of the martial arts student who approached his teacher with a question. "I'd like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I'd like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What

do you think of this idea?" "The hunter who chases two rabbits," answered the master, "catches neither one.”  When we are focused on the goal or the benefits of meditation or prayer, we stop looking as deeply or clearly within ourselves.  Part of our conscious attention is devoted to the moment where it will all come together for us. Our desire and attachment to a particular outcome clouds the way, and keeps us from actually receiving the gifts, blessings, grace that we might receive from our contemplative practice.  

            I both pray and meditate.  I pray because I believe there is something out there beyond just the physical things around me.  Not that I pray with the intent to connect with whatever is out there, but just because I believe there is something out there.  And I pray because I believe that prayer helps me to affirm within me the values that I try to live by in this life.  And I don't prayer to make me live my values, I just feel that giving voice to those values makes it more likely that I will remember them as I live my life.

            I use a formulaic prayer that I developed—first I call out to that Infinite Power, whom people call by varying names, but whose grandeur and whose love no name expresses and no words can tell.  I don’t have a name for it; so I use many different names, depending on how I am feeling at the time—mystery, God, Goddess, father, mother, that which is beyond understanding, love, that which causes the flowers to shine and the stars to blossom, the list goes on. 

            Then I voice what I am grateful for in my life.  I list such things as the cool breeze on my face, the warmth of the sun, the ability to exercise to be healthy, my family and friends…sometimes something like—“I am grateful for being able to write this sermon." I give voice to these.  And I have noticed that voicing my thanks has resulted in an increased awareness of the many blessings, gifts, and grace that I experience in my life. 

            The next section of my prayer is for understanding of all that I am experiencing in my life.  I do not believe that things are put in my life by some greater power to help me learn or grow or be humble or whatever.  I do believe that I am called by my very existence to make meaning in life’s experiences.  Like what meaning or learning or wisdom will I gain as I move through this Covid 19 time.  This section of the prayer is to remind me to open my heart, mind, and soul to life. 

              Finally, I send out my hope and blessings for others.  Sometimes it sounds like this: “May the winds, the oceans, the herbs, and night and days, the mother earth, the father heaven, all vegetation, the sun, be all sweet to humankind.” And sometimes I send blessings and grace to healing for those who are ill or in pain.  I do believe that intentionally sending out my blessings out to others makes a difference.  I have read about studies showing that sending out positive regard positively affects people around you, but even without those studies I believe I would still send out blessings and hope because our world is so much in need of them.

            I also meditate.  When I meditate, I find my mind becomes clear and sometimes I experience insight or a different perspective on what is going on around me.   Not because I am looking for either of these things, but because I am open.

            I use Zazen meditation.  Basically what this is focusing on one's breathing.  I sit up straight, let me eyes rest, put my feet on the ground, and attend to all the sensations of my breathing.  Often, my breathing is from my abdomen, slow and steady.  That is it.  I sit there and breath mindfully.  I don’t expect anything, but I am grateful for what I receive.  My meditation helps me be mindful and live in the moment, and not just while I am meditating.  Through regular meditation, I have come to learn what many teachers of meditation have always said—that meditation needs to be looked upon “as a teacher rather than a servant,” “a process rather than a goal.” So I just breathe without expectations, without goals; I just practice bringing my focus to my breathing.  

            There are some elements that are consistent from one technique to another in meditation:  be relaxed, be comfortable, have a passive attitude, and focus on a “concentration point.”  A focus point or concentration point might be a candle, a picture, music, a mandala, drumming, chanting, sitting or walking.  Like we did in the last part of the first scripted meditation today, bringing your attention to an object across the room.  Or "if not an object, an idea, a person, a dream, a thought, something you can sense as separate and outside of yourself."  Like the visualization in the meditation by Martha that you heard today.  During this focus you might ask contemplate questions:  "What are you today? The boulder? The rock? The pebble? The sand? All of these? What is the energy that is swirling around you? How is that changing you? How is that energy changed by your interaction with it? How will you choose to write your own story?"  

            I haven’t talked a lot about passive attitude, other than to say don’t have expectations or goals.  Jack Kornfield, teacher in the vipassana movement in American Theravada Buddhism, offers this bit of wisdom (1993, Tricyle) about having a passive attitude during a contemplative practice.  He says as we practice "we become our own monastery. We create the compassionate space that allows for the arising of all things: sorrows, loneliness, shame, desire, regret, frustration, happiness."  I would frame this as creating a space for that which is stirring within us, a space that might offer us an opportunity for relaxation, awareness, insight, and/or wisdom to arise and for us to become aware of it.  Or as Kornfield's teacher, Achaan Chah describes this you are "taking the one seat." Achaan said, "Just go into the room [within oneself] and put one chair in the center, [then] open the doors and the windows [of the room], [and] take [that] seat in the center of the room… see who comes to visit. You will witness all kinds of scenes and actors, all kinds of temptations and stories, everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat. You will see it all arise and pass, and out of this, wisdom and understanding will come.'”

            But here's the thing, taking that one seat and simply observing one time, doesn't usually result in much.  Perhaps you get some relaxation of your body or mind that first time, but maybe not.  Let's just say that you are more likely to experience something more if you practice, practice, practice one type of meditation without expectation of what you might receive.  Not a very Western way of doing things, is it?  As with any practice, this is a process, not seeking perfection or a result.  After picking one practice, be patient and open as you stick with it. 

             I hope you do make some time for prayer and or meditation in your life.  I believe that in one way or another we all have some sort of contemplative practice, but I believe be intentional, consistent, and open during your practice offers many benefits for the practitioner, especially during difficult times like we are experiencing in our lives and in the world right now.  Keep in mind what Tibetan yogi Milarepa writes: “The affairs of the world will go on forever.  Do not delay the practice of meditation [and, I would add, prayer].”  There are always distractions, many things going on in the world—prayer and meditation are practices that can help you discern your path as the world moves on around you. 

            This life we have each been given is a journey of the holy, if we just recognize the holy in our experiences.   This life offers experiences of transformation, experiences that no words can express, that are just as real as the ground beneath our feet.  At one time in our lives our spiritual path may be a journey of the heart, for what the heart expresses, we call prayer.  At another point in our lives our spiritual path may be a journey of being, for what our inner being knows, we call meditation. This is your journey, your life practice.  Own it, and know yourself to be fully alive.  Namaste, Shalom, Peace.

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