Guided Meditation x 2 – Video

These two talks were originally given at Throssel Hole Buddhist Abbey Northumberland, in the Lay Common Room, while several monks sat in formal meditation. I suggest that the recordings similarly be heard while sitting in Zazen and you are encouraged to follow and put into practice the guidance offered during the talk, while you sit.

Note: You can download an mp3 version of these talks from the Throssel blog.

Your feedback, comments, questions are welcomed in the Comments. You can also write via the contact form.

Stillness in Activity – Activity in Stillness

Stillness and movement.
I’ve been leading an online retreat which finished on Saturday. There was much talk about seeing and hearing both internally ‘seeing’ and externally seeing. Here is a riff on that teaching sent in by Treasa C. from Leeds. Thank you.

heart ears

heart eyes

entire heart

The talks from the retreat will be posted one at a time from tomorrow with links and comments about the subject matter of the day as well. The first two are guided meditations. All talks were given while people were sitting formal Zazen.

Thanks to Mark for yet another telling image.

The Nothing That Is

Here is a poem written by Wallace Stevens which so beautifully says much of what I have been pointing to this past week during an online retreat. Thank you to Michael for sending me the poem, and thank you to all those who participated in the retreat. I may or may not share the audio of the Dharma talks given this past week.

THE SNOWMAN – Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Source: Poetry magazine (1921)

Listening to The Fruit and Vegetables

It was 1969, I was staying the night on Penang Island just off the coast of Malaysia. I woke to the sound of chanting drifting in through the open window, rhythmic and somehow penetrating, in an odd way. It was probably Buddhist monks singing their morning devotions. At the time I was moved simply by the sound of the gathered voices. It was more than just singing, just sound. Something had stirred and that is what I have been contemplating today. Hearing. Specifically the impact of hearing the sound of another’s voice, collectively or individually, speaking or singing. What is it that makes the difference between just singing/speaking and that impactful voice? I’d imagine most of us have been knocked over on occasion by the sound of a voice, speaking or singing.

Each morning here in the monastery we sing scriptures at Morning Service. The same scriptures every day and several days of the week we sing several more scriptures. I’ve been doing this, when in a monastery or priory, for a good number of years and I know them and can sing them fairly much automatically without thinking about what I’m doing. I could, and sometimes do, drift off mentally to other things. However, whatever might be going on in my private world there is always the sound of other voices in the room. I hear not just my own voice, I’m hearing the sound of voices outside of myself. It’s a collective event, mine is not a voice alone. We are singing with one voice, so to speak, because we are singing together, linked up through listening/hearing. Even with a mind drifting off from time to time the one voice doesn’t change. We are not singing to ourselves.

Now and then I might be in the same position as I was in Penang, that is hearing singing but not being part of it. Not lending my voice, together with the others, in the same physical space. Hearing the sound, the collective voice outside of myself is completely different in ways I can’t put my finger on. This happens when for some reason I’ve had to miss morning service and happen to pass by the ceremony hall and hear the singing. The impact that has is remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring just as it was back in 1969. Why is that I wonder?

I’m thinking this has something to do with intent which is largely out of conscious awareness, though very much a background intention. That is to listen and to hear amidst, beneath, around, beyond audible sound – to meditate seamlessly. A few weeks ago I pondered in a blog post on the whys and wherefores of talking to oneself. Is it or is it not a problem. Even a mental health problem? I think the conclusion was, it wasn’t. Any more than singing to oneself or whistling or humming to oneself is. There isn’t an overt intention to communicate further than oneself, it’s just one’s own thoughts, tunes sound escaping into the public domain. Others might be present but the sound isn’t for them, it’s primarily for the sound maker. Thus it is that chattiness and general random sound-making are discouraged since the business of meditation, the background intention behind everyday and formal meditation is to quieten down. So that?

So that the sound of one’s own voice (internally or externally) gives way to that remarkable, compelling, deeply sturring ‘voice’ which communicates . Not exclusively or primarily in words, sung or spoken, though indeed that can be the case, more in a sort of calling. Which is heard if one is intent on hearing; past one’s own individual voice(s).

This evening in the kitchen the Lemons in the fridge were calling. I didn’t consciously know they were however I’m glad I was listening since one of them had gone bad and needed to be binned! I seem to be particularly tuned into the fruit and veg, but not exclusively! We tend to think quietening down and listening, the basic intent behind the religious life, that’s religious practice lay and monastic, will have us ‘knocked over’ with profundity. Sometimes yes, most often it’s something like the lemons this evening or in the Autumn, a box of Pumpkins needing attention.

Writing ? A Silent Talking to Oneself

Oliver Sacks said this about his writing:

…for the most part, I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

Well, that quote struck a chord, I often find myself surprised at how a blog post ends up talking about something, a point, I’d not thought of when I started. Thinking my thoughts onto ‘paper’ really does help draw out ideas I’d not thought of before! In this process, I concern myself about ‘rambling’, shifting this way and that as I’m thinking through something. Perhaps that’s a speech habit too! Sometimes rambling is just fine however at other times, and especially if I’m trying to ‘make a point’ the whole piece becomes stilted. Words do not flow on reading them back.

Sacks was an avid journal writer. He always had paper and pen with him and would stop and write whenever a thought worth noting came to him. There are photographs of him doing just this, outside a train station, resting paper on top of his stationary car. He even had paper beside him at the swimming pool, apparently! This is what he is quoted as saying about his journalling…

My journals are not written for others, nor do I usually look at them myself, but they are a special, indispensable form of talking to myself.

I find it quite absorbing to look into a writer’s ‘process’ such as Sacks and others. It’s an intimate look, through the window of their words, into their minds. Not spying, more appreciating their allowing themselves to be so vulnerable. Writing a journal is a kind of waystation; a silent talking to oneself.