A few weeks ago I found myself unable to perform my regular Centering Prayer practice for much of the week. My schedule was very unusual, including two sleep studies, one at a sleep lab, and several night’s sleep interrupted by my young son.
At the same time, I faced setbacks in several projects at work. And irregular circumstances required I stay at the ready for much of the week and skip my regular work out times. The fogginess from the lack of sleep only made matters worse. In the midst of this general slog, I received a co-worker sent me an antagonistic, disrespectful email.
On a recent trip for my day job, I headed to the main office for a week of meetings and strategy. It can sometimes be a bit of a culture shock to go from my predominantly left-leaning community into a right-leaning context.
In one conversation, a colleague became heated about current affairs and started spewing angrily about Obama and the Clintons and lunatic Sanders supporters and we needed someone strong like Trump to finally have the intestinal fortitude to do what needs to be done, and so on.
Coming from a daily context where almost the polar opposite can be heard in a coffee shop or in casual conversation drives home the deep divide in our civil discourse. And then the news this past week pours in with tragedies in Orlando and Leeds. And it strikes me all of this has something to do with contemplative practice.
So, what’s the connection? It can seem pretty far afield on the surface. If we have any context for the word contemplation at all, it might call to mind escapist monks chanting Psalms in a distant mountain monastery, hiding out from the world.
But let’s look a little more deeply.
A few years ago I was going through a period of prolonged inner tension. For work purposes, my wife and I had lived apart for some time and developed our own rhythms. I had been on one career track and was changing course to live in a new situation, a new job, a new city.
There was both relief and renewed tension in this life change. We were also adjusting to life with a newborn and trying to find our footing. I had taken steps in recent years to address long standing destructive patterns and addictions, but here I was out of rhythm and found old mental-emotional patterns returning. Dark moods born from regret, resentment, or anxieties about parenthood were easily triggered.
Recently an old friend of mine suggested we get together for a silent retreat to catch up, rest, and spend time in silence and meditation. We usually struggle to find a time that works with both of our schedules, but we finally managed to make it happen. We picked a retreat center about halfway for both of us and made the reservation.
I’d never been to this location before and had no idea what to expect. What were the accommodations like? Was there heat in the rooms? What would the food be like? Who would be there? Would we be expected to participate? What would we be participating in exactly? It was all pretty vague, and I don’t particularly like vague.