As summer winds down, the contemplative in me is looking forward to a little more structure, a little more rhythm. During the summer months, there is travel, family visits, and the kids are home from school. This year I was in different cities in multiple hotels and time zones. At times it’s simply not possible to find twenty minutes of quiet solitude twice a day and maintain any kind of spiritual practice.
One of the trickiest elements of the contemplative path is the discipline involved in maintaining a consistent rhythm. When I’m out of rhythm, I’m back in default ego mode. I’m irritable, judgmental, and egocentric. The volume on my mental tapes of past hurt, self-protection, and even aggression is cranked back up. I can hardly hear outside of that echo chamber.
My wife recently officiated a wedding and the couple, knowing we have a young son, gave us tickets to Disneyland as a thank you.
It was my son’s first time at the theme park, so we planned fairly meticulously. I knew it would be a long hot day, full of people, noise, rushing, and discovery for the little man. I didn’t expect to learn a few lessons myself.
During a recent visit one of my family members was recounting a trip they had taken to Europe. On the trip they had visited several churches. In one of them the congregants had written letters to members of ISIS and read them to the congregation.
This family member was recounting with shock and amazement that these parishioners would call members of ISIS “brothers” and claim to be “praying for them every day.”
I was a little shocked that the family member was shocked.
Since beginning down the contemplative path several years ago, I go in and out of extended periods of that state of being that contemplatives call the kingdom – a neutral zone of fulfillment, contentment, and sufficiency. Not grasping, not striving. Just being.
That state is accompanied by a subtle awareness of both internal and external processes, physical, mental, and emotional. As Thomas Merton puts it, non-attachment doesn’t mean insensitivity. This is because, in the contemplative tradition, attachments refer to those things we usually cling to for identity and ego-fulfillment. Letting go of these means being aware of an entirely different set of processes.
One of the things I enjoy listening to in my downtime is a podcast by writer and TV personality Bill Simmons on sports and pop culture. In contemplative terms, it’s a far cry from, say, St. Basil the Younger, but it’s thoughtful, it’s light, it’s entertaining. On a recent episode, one of the ads was for an app that helps people with meditation. During the ad read, the terms “mindfulness” and “meditation” were basically used interchangeably, as these terms sometimes are.
Not a huge deal. It’s a sports and culture podcast hawking an app. No biggie. But I think as a culture, it speaks to some of the misconceptions about contemplative or mindfulness practice.