Posts Tagged ‘benedictine spirituality’

Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Ah, the pressure of owning things. I work to stay non-attached but the seductions are great. We grow fond of the appliances, paraphernalia, clothing and accessories that form a self-concept package. We can pretend that we are not attached to such things and know the importance of doing so intellectually but that holding back from lustful living is often itself a clever camouflage for its opposite – unbridled identification with our invented identity and its symbols. The true test is how we respond in the face of the loss or theft of something upon which we have come to rely.

This past December, I was given the gift of anew iPhone. Many of my business colleagues had made the shift and I confess being quite pleased in receiving it. The functionality of it has proven quite impressive. Ease of typing, surprisingly, was better than I expected. The touch screen feature is very efficient, the capacity to combine Ipod and phone, GPS navigation, internet access, document reading and editing, Skype calling abroad, and a seemingly endless supply of useful, if not simply entertaining, applications are striking features. Suffice it to say that, in just two months, I’ve become a true fan.

Last week, while traveling on business, I lost the phone. I simply cannot reconstruct, as so often happens, the steps I took, and how I came to get separated from it, but it is gone. Was it stolen when I was inattentive (perhaps when I stopped to check in with a car rental office and left it in the car on the seat), or did I unwittingly drop it in the snow? Whatever happened to it, the device that I had come to rely on was surely missing.

What was interesting was the way I felt. I was angry and I felt, if it was stolen, somewhat violated. In any event, I found myself very down, self-critical         (deservedly), and acted as if I had lost an old friend. After all, it is just a device, an expensive one, but a device nonetheless. This prompted a series of meditations on the meaning of lost articles to the psyche. Our sphere of personal space expands to include the devices and possessions with which we either adorn ourselves or our environments. We breath meaning and personal value into that which we draw close, whether machine or not. We cultivate strong bonds of dependence to what we label as ours.

While I am certainly disappointed in losing the phone, I am also amused at the two days spent continuing the search and, most especially, the dark feelings that the loss engendered in me. Though the lesson is an expensive one, it is still a lesson. We are creatures who naturally become attached. We cling.

We are reassured by what we come to own. It extends our reach into the world. There is unquestionably narcissism in it for we see our reflection in these things. After all, we populate these devices with favorite applications. We name the device. We give it character through selected wallpaper and personal screen savers. We imbue it with reflections of our values and our interests.

Losses like these are reminders and they are corrective. This is not to say that we should never own such things and make good use of them and enjoy them. It simply makes compelling the speed with which we move our sense of meaning into them. It is right and good to stand naked regularly and look at ourselves, at who and what we really are.

It is good to remember that the unadorned, or beginner’s mind, is the true and primordial state, and the only place in which truth resides. All the rest is fantasy and represents a form of from low to high states of play.

Let us celebrate our inventiveness, our cleverness, our technological marvels, and our sciences. Let us thoroughly enjoy the things that give us pleasure, while always remembering, returning to this central truth each day, that it is all an invitation to a higher play: an infinite play of being the vessels through which divinity flows.

Standing alone with nothing at all, we are still the perpetual focus of the Beloved who forever and unconditionally sees our naked grandeur.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Aurora taking leave of her lover Tithos. Having asked Zeus to make him immortal, she failed to also ask that he not age.

In all things, nature seeks a steady state. Young lovers, like the mythic Aurora depicted in the public domain image above, leaving her now aged and enfeebled Tithos, last only for a season. Thereafter, love must take on new and changing features.

The neurotic pursuit of eternal youth fails to appreciate the natural order of change and re-balancing. There is nothing so pitiful as an older man lusting after a girl who could be his daughter, or an older woman pursuing a much younger man. These couplings are contra-natura and, as such, cannot long prevail.

Mind-body-spirit are continuously being recalibrated to new realities, and finding the “sweet spot” at each station on life’s path is our spiritual task. Neurosis simply reflects our failure to find it. Homeostasis is the capacity of animals to regulate physiological limits to secure a balanced system. Whether we speak about the endothermic animals who have inherent self-regulation of such parameters as temperature or exothermic, who carry out control by behavioral adaptations, the aim is the same: support an equilibrium around a mean value developed in evolutionary time. Such regulatory mechanisms include insulin production, kidney regulation of water and ions, conformance to circadian rhythm, and the sleep cycle to name but a  few.

As in matter so too in spirit, we see homeostatic feedback loops at work as we thread the needle of insight. Carl G. Jung spoke often of the need for complementarity and balance of feminine and masculine,  Shadow and self. The human ecology shows the same socio-spiritual dynamic. As a long-time facilitator of team meetings (large and small), I can anecdotally attest (as so many of my colleagues will as well), that a meeting of all men is a very different meeting than one with mixed gender representation.

The discussions tend  to have more sharp edges with an economy of time invested in discovery and willingness to live in the question. On receiving a facilitation assignment, the first thing I look over is the roster to see just how gender diverse it is. In any event, in such gatherings, mixed representation ensures a better return from extremes to balanced views as issues clarify and strategies are developed.


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His name is Nicholas: a man who was known in his times for having given his own wealth to those in need, and to be a tenacious protector of children. Under Diocletian, Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith and then served as an attendee at the Council of Nicaea after his release. Legends swirl around Nicholas as a kindly and generous man with a fervent and unyielding faith. Many of these legends speak of miracles performed both before and after his death ( e.g., raising young murdered adolescents back to life, and restoring a kidnapped child to his parents).

In time, Nicholas would become almost synonymous with the mythic Santa Claus ( Father Christmas, the Nordic Tomte or Nisse, Pere Noel, Sinterklass, Pere Fouettard, and Kris Kringle). What is the basis for this enduring image that has been so emblematic of the Season? The good and kindly St.Nicholas represents the best of humanity. He had a large heart, placed others first, and sacrificed for the needs of a greater good based in faith and principles. Often rendered as corpulent, I am reminded of Budai, the laughing Buddha.

The Fat Buddha, as he is known in the West, or the Buddha Maitreya and Phra Sanghachai in Thailand, carries a cloth sack and, though poor, is totally content. He is revered as the enlightened embodiment of true contentment, wisdom, a generous and open heart, and the very meaning of Zen. In Zen Buddhism, Budai is himself a Koan: Asked, “what is the meaning of Zen?” Budai put down his bag. When then asked,”How does one realize it?” He picked it up again.

St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, and Budai set the imagination ablaze with wonder at enduring simple truths that are, as always is the case, harder to reliably demonstrate than to extol, sing praises about, and capture in verse, story, and Seasonal trappings:

  1. All that we need to become we already are.
  2. The laughter of a kind heart heals deep wounds.
  3. One’s bag is full when it is empty.
  4. Openness to all means no stereotyping, no intolerance, all loving and spacious regard for all sentient beings.
  5. A smile is a salve for injury, pain, and disappointment.
  6. The child’s imagination is our first and truest state of being – the state of amazement.
  7. Heaven is now. If not now, most definitely not later. Make it so.
  8. Give of yourself. All else is a proxy for that.

It is said that if you rub the Budai’s belly, it brings good luck. His girth is large not from over-eating, but as a result of taking into himself the poison and darkness and evil all around, and he laughs them into oblivion. So, our greatest act of engaged spirituality is to be the inverse of the three monkeys – i.e., see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Instead, we are called to see it and dissolve it in compassion, hear it and make music where there is only rude, discordant noise, and speak of it so that the evil is named and can then be “called out.”

The Spirit of Nicholas/ Sinterklaas and Budai are celebrated with special vigor in these next 12 days. The archetype of the Healer will certainly be in my mind throughout the season.

May you and yours know deep and enduring peace, true contentment, laughter that ends suffering, and the full measure of being close to those who are richer for the fact that you have shared yourself with them.

Merry ( & Happy) Christmas!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says to Arjuna ( Verses 10 & 11):

To those steadfast in love and devotion I give spiritual wisdom, so that they may come to me. Out of compassion, I destroy the darkness of their ignorance. From within them I light the lamp of wisdom and dispel all darkness from their lives.

In the Gospel of John 8:12, Jesus says:

I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.

Twenty-five hundred years before Christ, the message of the divine light was equated with the divine splendor. This universal teaching refers to an inner work whose aim is to release the light that surely burns naturally and brightly in us all. So, what gets in the way?

Sri Krishna sums it up. It is ignorance. It is our illusions, allusions, and delusions. It is the opaque screen of egoistic motive, and preoccupation with our own sense of purpose and design that blocks the otherwise steady stream of divine light.

A soul in deep distress can be as a “black hole” from which Light cannot escape. It consumes itself and all around it. It is the task of a soul to bring forth her Light; to illuminate the whole world, to be a Christic, a Bodhisattva, and to work to dispel ignorance.

The work, like charity, begins inside, within the self. We must remove the shields, the screens, the walls and boundaries and find the source.

It is the journey of our lives to uncover and recover what we have always been: to be as we truly are, once all the mist and fog of doubt and worry and plots and subplots are cleared away.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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In general, I focus on direct experiences of the sacred instead of beliefs about these experiences. My aim is to get beyond beliefs to the mystical center that we colorfully dress up in diverse ways through our beliefs.

Nevertheless, as a philosopher-theologian, thought is another path to help transcend belief, but the first task is to know how I clothe my sense of the Spirit. It is a valuable practice to take stock and check the state of belief as sincerely as I can at various points in time.

Today is just such a time as I pose the question: What is it that I believe ( i.e., my dogmatic theology)?


Six Meta-affirmations –

✠ All my beliefs are hypotheses, a framework that I erect and use to navigate my experiences, make sense of them, and on which I base my choices.

✠ All “isms” are collections of beliefs and have the character of religion.

✠ All those who subscribe to any “ism” will always find evidence to support it. There is no sense or purpose in arguing them. Instead, it is best to see where all religious beliefs converge – what binds them all together.

✠ Mysticism looks past the metaphorical “clothing” applied to dress up sacred mystery, and seeks instead the naked experience behind the trappings. As such, it is esoteric in character. The churches and temples are often breathtakingly beautiful, but even the most inspiring are weak approximations to the power of our direct encounters with the sacred.

✠ Every orthodoxy derives greater definition and boldness by having a heresy to war against. Putting aside all notions of one set of “right” beliefs, leaves heresy meaningless and so ideas can become poetry, prose and iconography in search of the miraculous.

✠ Science is another lens on mystery. It too reveals the “footsteps” of G-d and in studying those footsteps gives us so much more on which to meditate in the service of our spiritual adventure and clarity.


Eighteen Theses –

  1. All ideas about G-d are constructs, mental models, and say more about our own state than the character of the Sacred.
  2. The image of the One to whom we pray is primarily a result of social learning, cultural traditions, and projections of personality.
  3. That we pray attests to our need to stay connected to the One, the core of Being, and allows us to become better attuned to the infinite and timeless.
  4. As G-d is not organic ( without genetic or neural substance) the Divine Presence cannot be said to express or embody what we experience in terms of ideas, emotions, intentions, pretensions, expectations, reasons or the lack thereof. So, in G-d ” there is no male nor female,” as G-d does not feel, think, or act as we know those things.
  5. In G-d, whose vantage point is infinite, there is no time; no past, no future.
  6. G-d is pure essence, the ineffable matrix on which everything rests and is ever Present, ever manifest in the Sacred “Now”.
  7. The sacred presence is a meta-archetype that makes all that emerges in space-time coherent, intelligible, and evolving: a root field on which literally everything rests and, according to which, all things derive their nature, shape, and attributes.
  8. All other archetypes are branches off of this root meta-archetype of the Sacred adding further dimensionality and particularity to the process of diversification and complexification of the “prima materia,” the elementary particle nature of the Cosmos.
  9. In G-d, all things evolve consistent with their nature and assume a pattern over time that is increasingly more stable and adaptive.
  10. Absolute Love, in terms we can understand, is not emotional or ideological compassion, it is patient demonstrated commitment to giving all things and persons what they need to flourish spiritually. It recognizes that all diversity arises from a core unity and that we are of a piece.
  11. Good is that which affirms the qualities and spirit of absolute love with our choices measured against those qualities and that spirit.
  12. Evil is the choice to act to subtract from the dignity of things and people, and assert separation and independence from the unified fabric of creation: i.e., acting in opposition to absolute love.
  13. Happiness, joy, and suffering derive from our life circumstances as creatures, from our bio-psycho-social process: the way we think, the environment, the challenges we navigate, and the personalities we project.
  14. Whatever happens in finite space and time, our attributions to G-d are mostly about our desperate need to make sense of events. It’s all about us and says nothing whatsoever about     “G-d’s Will”. Suffering happens because it is in the nature of systems to wind down (entropy being another fundamental tendency of systems).
  15. With moral implications of absolute love in mind, we can choose to act in support of what helps reduce suffering. This is consistent with the return to wholeness, unity, and movement toward pattern coherence, robustness, completeness, and the personal actualization of the archetype of the Phoster ( Light-Bearer).
  16. As we are persons among persons, it is self-evident that it is in the nature of the meta-archetype from which the evolution of the universe arises to itself become personal: consciousness springs from dark and luminous matter. So, G-d is a “Person” and we meet the Spirit directly when consciousness is stripped of distraction, illusion, allusion, ego and small ideas.
  17. For the Abrahamic faiths, Jesus is the Anointed One, the “Christ,” in being a mirror of the Christic archetype of the way of G-d incarnate. As such, he is the “Way, the Truth, and the Light” which, in no way, denies that Buddha (having attained enlightenment, or Buddha nature) was also a pure mirror of the sacred. Both were spiritually transparent exemplars of the scared meta-archetype, completely consumed by them.
  18. Religious and spiritual practice exists to condition consciousness for deepening and expansion, and to realize the “Knowledge of the Heart.” Through images, poetry and movement, consciousness bends toward the sacred and this is the process of conversion and revelation.

Having codified these beliefs, I continue my hero’s journey in a quest to unlock my beliefs, face their essential incompleteness and poverty, and carry on, with vigor the good work of getting beyond them. I also continue the voyage toward the hypothetical “Omega Point” of Teilhard de Chardin, the “Pleroma” (or the Fullness).

I recommend the practice.


© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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A lazy bookstore day ( with an iced latte, a pastry, my wife, an old friend, laptop, and a big picture window) is a truly fine thing. I sit looking southeast with the white powdery half-moon visible in the day-lit sky on a warm Fall late afternoon. It just hangs there, a still life image in such a photogenic pose, framed by a cornflower blue sky complements of the master photographer. The only hint of time’s passage is the high cumulus and lower masses of cumulonimbus scrim rolling South to North. A slow sunset curtain of light has reached the point of long oblique angles, and the red leaves of a nearby tree are aglow as if illuminated from inside by tiny hidden bulbs.

Cars move rhythmically in and out of the parking lot, in a flow that assumes a musical pattern. Everything is going somewhere, telling a grander story than the one told by any one of the players on this stage: a story shrouded in the sleepy ordinary of a nice October day.

Each object I see, the red tree, the cotton-whisp moon, the thickening clouds, the now carribean water-like blue sky, the impatient cars, and the intense sea gulls with full beaks, all move in different ways to their different places. If frozen in time, all that movement is a gathering pattern, a tapestry of meaningful intersections and overlays of tones, shapes, moods, and purposes.

Time for more of the bookstore’s nectar — the iced hazelnut latte.

Wonder what the picture is from outside the window looking in as I sit here typing, sipping, sitting at a table full of books with other people I don’t know moving all about in all directions, reading, studying, eating and just roaming about and flipping through pages of so many books?

I am a painting studying a painting!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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The first word of the “Rule of Saint Benedict” is “ausculta,” Latin for “listen.”

With all the preparations for a new day, my thoughts run ahead as I rehearse everything that I need to do. In the meantime, my body is on auto-pilot.

I fly through my morning process (shower, eat breakfast, catch the news on the fly, pack for the day). Then, off I go in a whirlwind (which thankfully no longer involves the lengthy commuting I did for over 30 years).

So, without the luxury of a quiet and undistracted earlier morning, how does this harried mystic get in a little slice of spiritual practice?

Well, it turns out that Saint Benedict provides the clue.

Listen! Just listen.

For 5 minutes ( at any point in the racing process) I just stop and pay complete attention to what I hear.

This morning, I took 5 in my home office, sat down, calmed my breathing, and then listened with my eyes closed to the complete soundscape around me: noises coming from the upper floor, an unmistakable high pitched hum from the fluorescent lights, my heart beating in my ears, a lawnmower nearby, and ( delightfully) a choir of birds – no doubt doing what they need to do to survive, but doing so with song that is soothing and reminds me of our connection to everything. This is surely what the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thich Naht Hahn meant by “inter-being.”

The time spent feels longer than just 5 minutes but, no, just 5 it is, and I feel qualitatively different.

This little retreat has me in a different and readier state of mind to encounter the day’s stuff. I feel most importantly like less of a machine that dutifully turns on early morning and then goes into sleep mode at night like a desktop computer, and more like a human being with a soul, a purpose, a set of convictions and a love of life.

The “Great Spirit” is all around us and is the matrix on which our entire being rests. The Spirit infuses us at the deepest levels and consciousness reaches well beyond the confines of the brain.

I am reminded of the beautiful statement of Philosopher-Paleontologist- Jesuit Priest Teilhard De Chardin: ” Matter is spirit moving slow enough that we can see it.”

Now, I am ready for the day.

© The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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