Interlude: A Scottish Blessing, performed by Mystic Harmony, on the Kindle a Flame album
September is here. Students are back in school, or starting in the next few days. You can see leaves changing their colors, here and there. Soon the county fair will be held. On any particular day, we may feel the heat of summer, but fall is beginning, and the signs are all around us. The fog will subside soon, and the fall constellations will come out.
Beginning a new season, or a new school year, comes with some excitement. You know what to expect — falling leaves, homework, a chill in the air, tests — you’re beginning something familiar, and yet it is new. Perhaps the gingko or maple will be particularly vibrant this year, or the new subject will be especially interesting. You don’t know. You haven’t lived it yet.
Do you feel the same anticipation when you begin to meditate? What do you expect to be the same? Are you open to experiencing something a little different? Meditation is like the seasons, like a new school year, yet not so long. Your meditation seat is a place of beginnings.
When we begin meditation, a sound signals the beginning. Three firm, evenly timed strikes on a bell gong are customary, but the instrument can vary, as well as how hard or how often you strike it. The meditation applications on your phone or tablet will allow you to change the pitch of the bell gong used. The sounds can vary, but they all signal the beginning of this time we have set aside for centering prayer, for clearing our minds, for hanging out with God.
And within the meditation period, we can experience “beginning” more than once. When my mind or heart is full, insisting on monopolizing the now, it seems I begin meditation over, and over, and over. Yet, like the beginning of the season, or the beginning of the school year, things that have happened so many times before, beginning again feels good. Why?
Beginning again can be a form of forgiveness. I do not intend to let my mind wander, to let feelings drown out the mantra in my head. But it happens, and it’s natural. It is human to think, to feel, and to get distracted. But I can forgive the distraction, the unintended waywardness, and begin again, leaving the chatter behind. It’s a good skill, forgiving the past, and bringing yourself back to the present.
As John Main says,
We have to understand that we are always beginning. Every time we sit down to meditate we begin again. Every meditation is a setting out, a re-setting out, and because it is a re-setting out it always remains fresh, always a further entry into the mystery which is infinite, inexhaustible. It is important to understand that although we do speak of meditation as a journey, it is an unusual journey, because it is a pilgrimage to where we are. It is a return to our roots, to our rootedness. It is a pilgrimage to the only place where we can really be, that is where we are. Meditation, as you all know, is a focusing of our attention into the now. It is becoming wholly present to the now, to the now of what is.
[Silence and Stillness in Every Season, Daily Readings with John Main, page 362, December 28]
I hope that as we enter the fall season, your meditation practice continues be a blessing of beginnings, where forgiveness quiets the rustling in your mind, and you can enjoy the beauty of the Now.
Delivered at La Selva Beach Community Church, September 5 and at Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos, California, on September 9, 2017.