As you know the Fourth of July was this past week, a day in the United States that represents and celebrates both freedom and independence typically honored almost exclusively through the egoic (or collective ego/we-goic) operating lens of perception. Regardless of whether there is such a day of celebration where you live, it can be a good time to question the widespread notions of freedom and independence in the cultural milieu which you find yourself immersed in and revisit what the Wisdom paths have to say about them.
In the predominant milieu I find myself in, a quick definition search reveals freedom to mean the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, and suggests it is similar to independence, self-government, self-determination, self-legislation, self-rule, self-sufficiency, individualism, or separation. A quick definition search of independence will show it to mean freedom from the control, influence, support, governing, rule, aid, or the like of others, and is the ability to make your own decisions, be self-reliant, or self-sufficient. These notions of freedom and independence appear to be concerns of one whose identity is rooted and seated in the personality or small self with priorities predominantly of the world/horizontal realm.
Of course these are important elements that at the most primary level are not a luxury that all humans (or animals, plants, or land for that matter) have. Thus, we ought not take whatever egoic/wegoic, personality, small self level freedom and independence we enjoy for granted. Still the freedom and independence that we as Wisdom students are more concerned with setting our sight on, includes the personal egoic or collective ego/we-goic operating self and perception, yet is rooted and seated in an identity beyond personality. . . in the larger interconnected Self, which is not ruled by the pursuit of these privileges alone.
As Wisdom Teacher Cynthia Bourgeault says, in terms of spiritual work what we would call freedom is "freedom of the personality or freedom at the level of the personality – freedom to express and fulfill whatever our personality wants." She points out that "the core teaching of the spiritual paths… is that the freedom of the personality is never freedom; in fact, it’s the prison. And as long as we are enslaved to our personality we can never be more than slaves." I would add that the same can be said of independence.
Cynthia suggests the freedom “for which we long is a freedom which allows us to be present in the moment without demands or expectations or any needing for things to go one way as opposed to going another way. It is a freedom that has no insistence in it. This freedom is connected to an abundance that flows to us from an unstinting Source of grace which is Being itself." Again, I would suggest the same goes for the independence we yearn for which also goes beyond an individual or collective personality level. It is the independence which allows us to be grounded in our interdependent True Self, to be fully engaged 'in the world but not of it,' fully detached and able to act in accordance with the 'Kingdom of Heaven'/Imaginal realm.
Freedom and independence that have no insistence or clinging and are "connected to an abundance that flows to us from an unstinting Source of grace" is what Wisdom Practices strengthen and sustain in us, and why it is important to have some regular rhythm of the practices which nourish this. The Daily Collective Contemplative Pauses—in which we presence ourselves and others in and from the Heart through practices including chanting, centering prayer (or other silent meditation)—are in service of shifting the seat of our identity and tasting a wider way of freedom and independence.
Whatever your rhythm of practice may be right now, I hope that you are also finding some time for integration, rest, enjoyment, space, and/or whatever nourishment the Wisdom of your Being is drawing you to during this season of Ordinary Time.
p.s. These 'weekly' emails will likely continue to come sporadically but I will do my best to make sure that you have access to the readings from the pauses (just a reminder that you can also find them here). Thank you for your patience. Also, this month you will notice the daily readings have been focusing more on the 'why' and 'how' of Centering Prayer. Even if you have been working with this practice for many years it is always good to reground in the basics with a beginner's mind. If you practice a different kind of silent meditation, I hope you will find some congruence.
From the Daily Contemplative Pauses
“…we take up a single, simple word that expresses our response and begin to let it repeat itself within.
As the author of The Cloud puts it: "If you want to gather all your desire into one simple word that the mind can easily retain, choose a short word rather than a long one. A one. syllable word such as God or love is best. But choose one that is meaningful to you. Then fix it in your mind so that it will remain there, come what may.... Be careful in this work and never strain your mind or imagination, for truly you will not succeed in this way. Leave these faculties at peace" (C, 4 & 7).
What we are concerned with here is a simple, effortless prolongation or abiding in the act of faith - love- presence. This is so simple, so effortless, so restful, that it is a bit subtle and so needs some explanation.
A spiritual act is an instantaneous act, an act without time. “The will needs only this brief fraction of a moment to move toward the object of its desires” (C, 4). As soon as we move in love to God present in our depths, we are there. There a perfect prayer of adoration, love, and presence is. And we simply want to remain there and be what we are: Christ responding to the Father in the perfect Love, the Holy Spirit.”
— Basil Pennington in Finding Grace at the Center, p. 16-17
“‘Choice freedom’ means that somehow you acquire the means in your life so that you have a lot of choices at your disposal and you exercise your freedom by choosing… And we try and work in such a way in life so that we develop the means to make choices.”
… “Because that kind of “choice freedom” in terms of the spiritual work is what we would call freedom of the personality or freedom at the level of the personality – freedom to express and fulfill whatever our personality wants.
And the core teaching of the spiritual paths… is that the freedom of the personality is never freedom; in fact, it’s the prison. And as long as we are enslaved to our personality we can never be more than slaves. There is no freedom when we are constantly saying, “I need, I want, I have to have.” This only shores up our sense of irredeemable anxiety. The truth is, I can never be rich enough, I can never be good enough, I can never please Mama, I can never please Daddy, I can never please God, I can never get all that I need. We all have that kind of root anxiety at the base of our being and we can’t always articulate what’s causing it, and we’re not even consciously aware all the time that we’re acting out of it. But when our identity is seated at the level of that egoic functioning or the personality, it is always in company with this vague anxiety, this vague sense of emptiness and lack, and this vague kind of either fear or anger depending on which is your temperament – either fear that you can never get enough and that it’s all going to go wrong and it’s all going to be lost or the anger that I have been cheated by life. That, according to all spiritual teaching, is captivity, is slavery.”
The freedom “for which we long is a freedom which allows us to be present in the moment without demands or expectations or any needing for things to go one way as opposed to going another way. It is a freedom that has no insistence in it. This freedom is connected to an abundance that flows to us from an unstinting Source of grace which is Being itself. It is an ability to connect with that, to replenish ourselves in it and therefore, to have no needs or demands in the physical world. In this freedom we can use the physical world as a way of manifesting the dance of abundance rather than trying to turn it upside down like that little empty piggy bank to squeeze out the last penny of what we think we’re owed.”
— Cynthia Bourgeault, Freedom From Living Presence Transcript 4 (Oct 1999 –13 Nov 2003 Victoria, BC)
“To facilitate our abiding quietly there, and to bring our whole being as much as possible to rest in this abiding, after a brief experience of silent presence we take up a single, simple word that expresses for us our faith-love movement. We have seen that the author of The Cloud suggests such words as God or love. A vocative word seems usually to be best. We begin very simply to let this word repeat itself within us. We let it take its own pace, louder or softer, faster or slower; it may even fuzz out into silence. “It is best when this word is wholly interior without a definite thought or actual sound” (C, 4).
We might think of it as if the Lord Himself, present in our depths, were quietly repeating His own name, evoking His presence and very gently summoning us to an attentive response. We are quite passive. We let it happen. "Let this little word represent to you God in all [God’s] fullness and nothing less than the fullness of God. Let nothing except God hold sway in your mind and heart" (C, 4).
The subtle thing here is the effortlessness. We are so used to being very effortful. We are a people out to succeed, to accomplish, to do. It is hard for us to let go and let God do. And, after all, if we do, if we expend great effort, then when it is done we can pat ourselves on the back and salute ourselves for our great accomplishment. This prayer leaves no room for pride. We have but to let go and let it be done unto us according to [God’s] revealed Word.”
— Basil Pennington in Finding Grace at the Center, p. 17-18
“Whenever in the course of the prayer we become aware of anything else, we simply gently return to the prayer word”
I want to underline the word aware. Unfortunately we are not able to turn off our minds and imaginations by the flick of a switch. Thoughts and images keep coming in a steady stream. “No sooner has a man turned toward God in love when through human frailty he finds himself distracted by the remembrance of some created thing or some daily care. But no matter. No harm done. For such a person quickly returns to deep recollection” (C, 4).
In this prayer we go below the thoughts and images offered by the mind and imagination. But at times they will grab at our attention and try to draw it away from the restful Presence. This is so because these thoughts or images refer to something that has a hold on us, something we fear, or desire, or are in some other way intensely involved with. When we become aware of these thoughts, if we continue to dwell on them, we leave our prayer and become involved again in the tensions. But if, at the moment of awareness, we simply, gently return to our prayer word (thus implicitly renewing our act of presence in "faith-full" love), the thought or image with its attendant tension will be released and flow out of our lives. And we will come into a greater freedom and peace that will remain with us after our prayer is ended."
— Basil Pennington in Finding Grace at the Center, p. 18
“"Should some thought go on annoying you demanding to know what you are doing, answer with this one word alone. If your mind begins to intellectualize over the meaning and connotation of this little word, remind yourself that its value lies in its simplicity. Do this and I assure you these thoughts will vanish" (C, 7).
We can see how pure this prayer is. In active forms of prayer we use thoughts and images as sacraments and means of reaching out to God. In this prayer we go beyond them, we leave them behind, as we go to God [God’s] self abiding in our depths. It is a very pure act of faith. Perhaps in this prayer we will for the first time really act in pure faith. So often our faith is leaning on the concepts and images of faith. Here we go beyond them to the Object [God’s] self of faith, leaving all the concepts and images behind.
We can see, too, how Christian this prayer is. For we very truly die to ourselves, our more superficial selves, the level of our thoughts, images, and feelings, in order to live to Christ, to enter into our Christ-being in the depths. We "die" to all our thoughts and imaginings, no matter how beautiful they may be or how useful they might seem. We leave them all behind, for we want immediate contact with God [God’s] self, and not some thought, image, or vision of [God]—only the faith experience of [God]. "You are to concern yourself with no creature, whether material or spiritual, nor with their situation or doings, whether good or ill. To put it briefly, during this work you must abandon them all' (C, 5).
— Basil Pennington in Finding Grace at the Center, p. 19
“There is another consequence of this transcending of thought and image. This prayer cannot be judged in itself. As it goes beyond thought, beyond image, there is nothing left by which to judge it. In active meditation, at the end of the prayer we can make some judgments. "I had some good thoughts, I felt some good affections, I had lots of distractions, and so forth." But all that is irrelevant to this prayer. If we have lots of thoughts—good, lots of tension is being released; if we have few thoughts—good, there was no need for them. The same to feelings, images, and the like. All these are purely accidental; they do not touch the essence of the prayer, which goes on in all its purity, whether these be present or not. There is nothing left by which to judge the prayer in itself. If we simply follow the three points, the prayer is always good, no matter what we think or feel.
There is, however, one way in which the goodness of this prayer is confirmed for us. Our Lord has said, "You can tell a tree by its fruit" (Matt. 7:20). If we are faithful to this form of prayer, making it a regular part of our day, we very quickly come to discern—and often others discern it even more quickly—the maturing in our lives of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, benignity, kindness, gentleness—all the fruits of the Spirit. I have experienced this in my own lite and I have seen this again and again in the lives of others, sometimes in a most remarkable way. What happens—the way the Spirit seems to bring this about—is that in this prayer we experience not only our oneness with God in Christ, but also our oneness with all the rest of the Body of Christ, and indeed with the whole of creation, in God's creative love and sharing of being. Thus we begin, connaturally as it were, to experience the presence of God in all things, the presence of Christ in each person we meet. Moreover, we sense a oneness with them.
From this flows a true compassion—a "feeling with." This contemplative prayer, far from removing us from others, makes us live more and more conscious of our oneness with them. Love, kindness, gentleness, patience grow. Joy and peace, too, in the pervasive presence of God's caring love in all. Not only does contemplative prayer help us to take possession of our real transcendent relationship with God in Christ, but also of our real relationship with each and every person in Christ.
May this simple form of prayer prove to be for you, and for those with whom you share it, a gentle, loving invitation from the Lord to a fuller, richer, deeper life in [God], a life marked by the fruits of the Holy Spirit."
— Basil Pennington in Finding Grace at the Center, p. 19-21