Spiritual Exercises

Living Sacrifice: The Third Spiritual Exercise

ImageThere is an old concept that has become popular again in our day, and that is the idea of being ‘centered’. This has caused a renewed interest in what contemplatives have long referred to as Centering Prayer. We normally describe a person who is ‘centered’ as someone who is not blown about by what is happening on the periphery of their life, but lives life from the ‘inside-out’ and is therefore in possession not only of their own responses to the situations and circumstances that confront them, but also manifest a deep peace, joy and presence that indicates that the source of their life is a deep well as opposed to the ephemeral vicissitudes of life.

The more you practice, the more you will find your mind becoming more obedient to the control of this spiritual core. You will find that the source of your life becomes tranquil, clear and full of wisdom as you learn to tap into what Charles Wesley referred to as that “hidden source of calm repose” within you. It is the journey from head to heart, that was best exemplified by the Tabernacle in the Old Testament and can be seen to this day in temple structures all over the world.

The apostle Paul reminds us of this when he tells the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). Like most temples, the Bible describes human beings as being tripartite structures, comprised of Spirit, Soul and Body, with the body being the outer sheath where we come into contact with the world, the Spirit being the inner sanctum where God dwells, and the Soul being the mediating place between these two worlds where Spirit and Body communicate to each other. If our body gives us our World-Consciousness, and our Spirit provides us with our God-Consciousness, then it is our Soul that provides us with our Self-Consciousness.

All were welcome in the Outer Court of the Tabernacle. It was a large, open space, where the hustle and bustle of the day to day activity of the temple took place. It was noisy, messy, sometimes stressful and always busy. If you walked across this great courtyard, you would come to a smaller, Inner Courtyard; roofed against the elements; and as you pushed past the curtain and went inside you would discover a much quieter world, lit by candles, smoky with the heady incense of prayer and provided with a table stacked with bread that only the priests may eat. If the outer court represents the Body, then this Inner Court perfectly represents the Soul; somewhat shielded from the glare of the midday sun and protected from the clamour of all that is happening in the Outer Court, yet lit by the light of reason, nourished by the bread of the emotional realm and suffused with prayer. Beyond that lay a tiny room, no bigger than a small, perfectly square bedroom. Into this only the high priest may enter and then only once a year. Here, in this place of utter darkness, where the light of reason could not penetrate and the unpredictable nature of the emotions could not penetrate was the true dwelling place of God, where the infinite dwelt and burnt with moral and spiritual fire. As the High Priest entered this place, he would meet with that mystery of mysteries, and in the mute darkness where all separation between subject and object dissolved, could be renewed, transformed and energised. From this inner sanctum he would emerge as a new man, bringing deep wisdom to the tribe and yet utterly unable to truly express in words that which he experienced in this unutterable place of being.

The first four spiritual exercises take us on this same journey from the periphery of our lives to the deep centre of our being. There we discover things that cannot be spoken of in conceptual terms, and may only be hinted at in riddle, parable and simile, and yet without such a journey we find ourselves forever consigned to a life lived on the unsatisfying periphery of existence. The great pilgrimage awaits you, leading not outward to ever more frenetic activity but inward to the tranquil core. The first exercise prepares us for this journey. The second exercise helps us to orientate ourselves and become aware of the environment we find ourself in, lest we lose ourselves in flights of the imagination. In this third exercise, we take a survey of the temple itself, this incredible piece of workmanship we call the ‘body’, bringing appreciation, peace, healing and nourishment to it; learning to discover the presence of God that suffuses every atom, strengthens every sinew and brings life to every bone.

The Third Exercise

Sit in a comfortable position with an upright spine and eyes gently closed. Try to find a place where you won’t be disturbed. You may like to preface this exercise by spending five minutes on the First Exercise and five minutes on the Second Exercise as preparation for this.

Take three slow, centering ‘belly-breaths’. Be thankful as you feel the air passing through your nostrils, down your body and into your lungs, filling them with life-giving oxygen. Notice how your stomach rises to receive the air then notice how it contracts as the air is expelled. Follow the air as it leaves your body, realising that you are not separate from the air you breathe – the oxygen has just become part of your very being! As in all of the exercises, we will use the natural rhythm of breath as an anchor for the mind, and come back to it whenever we find our mind starting to daydream, loose itself in analysis, begin to worry or get dispersed in anything other than the matter in hand. When distractions come, just gently notice them, return to your breathing and they will naturally depart.

Now, focussing the light of awareness to your feet, take a long, slow in-breath, seeking to become aware of the whole of the foot, the toes and the ankles. Maybe you don’t like your feet, but the scripture says that those who bring joy into the lives of others have ‘beautiful feet’ (Is. 52:7), and Teresa of Avila also reminds us in her beautiful poem “Christ Has No Body” that we should no longer count our body as our own, but that our hands, our feet, our eyes, our hands and our entire body are now Christ’s. As you exhale, let your heart whisper the word, “Presence” to remind yourself of this fact, and imagine the presence of God filling this part of the temple. 

With the next exhalation, we silently speak the word, “Peace”. The Hebrew word for Peace is the word ‘shalom’, which literally means ‘nothing missing, nothing broken.’ To be in shalom is to be in health, peace and happiness. If our feet are tired or in pain, we can nourish them by blessing them with shalom peace.

With the third exhalation, we use the silent word, “Smile”.  We smile at our feet because they have been such faithful servants to us throughout our life and we smile with great thankfulness as we recognise this great gift we have been given. We often neglect our feet, and think them very stupid when we stub our toe, but today we are grateful for them and extend a smile towards them.

With the fourth exhalation we encourage our bodies with the word, “Release”, letting go of all tension and the stress we so often carry within our muscles and internal organs. when we speak to the body in this way, it is deeply therapeutic and wonderfully relaxing. A relaxed body, free from stress and tension is an incredibly helpful ally when it comes to spending long periods in prayer.

Here is the whole meditation:

(Breathe in…)
Presence…  (Breathing out)
(Breathe in…)
Peace…  (Breathing out)
(Breathe in…)
Smile…  (Breathing out)
(Breathe in…)
Release…  (Breathing out)

Note: If you are experiencing pain or sickness in an area of the body, you may like to substitute the words Wholeness and Ease instead of the words Smile and Release.

Once we have completed this, we move our awareness up our body, becoming conscious and giving thanks for the next part of the temple we come to. If you come to a part of your body that is giving you great physical difficulty, spend some time with it, speaking nourishing words to it and becoming deeply aware of the healing power of the presence of God in that area. If you have a lot of time available, you may break the body down into all of its composite parts and internal organs. If you have less time then you may just deal with the larger parts.  Finish by taking three deep, long breaths and imagine the life giving breath of God rising up from your belly, flooding the entire temple with health and wholeness. Let the wonder of being alive and the knowledge of the presence of God fill you with joy, just as it must have done for the early disciples when Jesus breathed into his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

Here is a list of the parts of the temple you may wish to use in meditation:

Feet / Calves / Knees / Legs / Hips / Abdomen (and internal organs) / Back / Heart / Shoulders / Arms / Hands / Neck / Mouth / Ears / Eyes / Nose / Head

By the time you have finished, I think you will agree with the Psalmist who in joyful wonder exclaimed that he has been, “knit together in my mother’s womb” and that he had been “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). As you grow in your practice, your body will cease to be an unresponsive spectator in your devotional life and become a valuable, active participant, and in so doing you are truly able to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto God. This is your proper and true act of worship” (Romans 12:1)

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Spiritual Exercises

Full Awareness: The Second Spiritual Exercise

C338BD03-C6C0-4A7A-8ADD-FB8E283F034CPerhaps the biggest hindrance to developing a deeply satisfying prayer life is the problem of the mind. The brain is a wonderful tool for solving problems, but can become a terrible difficulty when it comes to the exercise of the spirit. The reason for this is that the brain has for so long dominated man’s being that when it comes time to pray (which is predominantly a spiritual activity in which the mind plays only a supporting role), it rather resents giving up its position of dominance and tries every trick in the book to keep the centre of our attention on meeting its relentless needs, questions, worries and fears.

The first five exercises are intended to help us bring discipline to our unruly mind; quietening it’s insane chatter so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Spirit. This is harder than it appears, as anyone who has made prayer a serious practice can testify! To maintain a calm, serene and peaceful mind, one that is at full attention and deeply aware yet acting only as a servant to the spirit and not the master, is the mark of every true man and woman of prayer. Paul describes this as, “taking every thought captive and bringing it into conformity to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), while he tells us in Romans 12:2 that we will only be transformed when our mind is renewed from being something that dominates the spirit to being that which serves the spirit. 

The second exercise is called Full Awareness, and trains the mind to focus on what is actually happening right now rather than obsessing about past events, future fears, fantasy flights of the imagination or simply getting lost in analysis. It helps us to calm the mind in order to become gently aware and deeply thankful for the moment we find ourselves in right now, for the environment around us and for life as it presents itself to us. It is an exercise in what Paul would describe as, “giving thanks for all things” (1 Thess. 5:18).  As it becomes increasingly aware of the physical environment in which it is currently immersed, it recalls the mind from its normal state of dispersal to a single-pointed state of deep awareness and heartfelt gratitude.

The Second Exercise: Full Awareness

Sit in a comfortable position, back straight and body relaxed. Close your eyes and rest your hands in your lap. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that the spirit within you is none other than the very life of God, breathed into you when you were created. Like the first exercise, we are going to use breath as a way to slow the exercise down, avoiding the common human habit of rushing through things in order to achieve a goal. There is no ‘goal’ as such, just an ongoing commitment that in the space of this breath, I will devote myself to becoming aware of all that is around me and being deeply thankful for it.

Establish yourself in the gentle rhythm of breath, becoming deeply thankful for each ‘in’ breath and each ‘out’ breath. Then, when you are ready, with your next ‘in’ breath begin to become aware of your surroundings. Maybe you can hear the birds singing, the sunlight on your eyelids, the murmur of the wind in the trees. Maybe you can sense the energy of the person sitting beside you (if you are performing this exercise as part of a group). Maybe a car drives past, a fly lands on your nose or you can smell the flowers. Don’t get caught up in analysing these phenomena (the mind is very subtle and can easily divert you into analysis here). As these sensations arise, just let them come, be aware of them and then let them fade naturally, as though if your body is a house and the various phenomena are temporary visitors. Simply allow them to be, letting them pass through the front door of your ‘house’ and leave through the back door – just don’t make them tea! Remember that you are simply noticing the sensations presented to you by the ears, eyes, nose, mouth and touch without getting involved in them. If you find yourself getting lost in thinking, just return your attention to the natural rhythm of the breath – and then thank God for that!

As each phenomena arises, recognise it and gently offer thanks. It is easy to give thanks for birdsong, but you can also give thanks for a dog barking or a car revving it’s engine. Be equanimous with whatever is happening, and, as it passes out the ‘back door’ of your perceptions, bestow on it your blessing and a gentle smile.

You might like to spend five or ten minutes or even longer on this, and you may like to preface it by using the First Exercise – ‘Coming Home’  as an introductory practice, and then just move right on in to this second exercise after five minutes of preparatory work.

This exercise is a lovely antidote for an overtired, stressed mind that has worked for far too long at far too fast a pace. Often when we are in this state of haste, we can miss the many splendored things around us that God has placed in our path to nourish and strengthen our souls. As we practice this way, we will find that we become naturally much more attuned to these little blessings that cross our path, and our capacity for thankfulness increases dramatically. Of course, the result of this is that we become much happier and peaceful, and far more able to hear the gentle voice of the Spirit as he ministers to us throughout the day. Enjoy your practices!

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Spiritual Exercises

Coming Home: The First Spiritual Exercise

01D52949-E625-491A-AECD-25164BA7387EGod is talking. All of the time. Very Slowly. Very quietly.  And that’s why we almost always miss what He’s saying. In the midst of our fast moving, fast talking world of noise and busyness God simply can’t get a word in edgeways! 

Prayer, at it’s root, is the act of quietening the incessant noise of the mind and opening up the ears of our heart in order that we might tune in to the voice of Eternity. The modern contemplative tradition within the Christian church draws on sources of faith that are truly global and seeks to present practical tools that enable this to take place. These are often referred to as Spiritual Exercises, and comprise an adventure in prayer that is deeply nourishing to the spiritual life; providing a simple set of marker points that help spiritual seekers avoid stagnation and disillusionment as they start to learn the ‘inner way’ and discover the Kingdom of God that dwells within.

At the church I lead, we refer to the first exercise that we commonly use as ‘Coming Home’. To come home is to return to the centre-point of our being, the Holy of Holies where the Creator dwells in the heart of every child of God. It is a simple practice that helps to quieten the mind; opening our awareness so that we may begin to encounter the presence of God. It is also simple enough to teach a child, and powerful enough to calm the strongest emotional storm. 

A Word About Breath: In order to listen clearly to anyone, we must give them our full and undivided attention, in just the same way that in order to truly ‘see’ a sunset we must become fully present in the moment and give ourselves entirely to the event unfolding before our eyes. Because our minds often resemble a bag of monkeys, the process of attaining single-pointed concentration is tremendously helped by having a stable object to focus the mind on. This gives us a bit of ‘space’ in which we can gently reach out with our hearts to apprehend the spiritual reality without our efforts being constantly sabotaged by ‘monkey-brain’.  Within the Christian contemplative tradition, the act of praying in rhythm to the breath is often called Breath Prayer. When we use breath in prayer, we simply take a word or phrase and marry it to what is naturally happening with the breath. An example would be:

“The Lord is my shepherd…”  (Breathing in)
“I shall not want…”  (Breathing out)

We will be going into this practice in more detail as we journey through the exercises, but for now it is enough to seek to gently join the phrases used in the ‘Coming Home’ practice to the natural rhythm of breath, understanding that it is “the breath of God that gives me life.” (Job 33:4)

Word about Posture: The spiritual exercises can be used at any time and in any place and need no equipment to perform. This is one of the wonderful things about them – they may be used on the train during a commute, whilst standing in a supermarket queue or even waiting for the traffic lights to change. While this is true, it has also been found that to adopt a slightly different posture for intense periods of prayer can be very beneficial. With practice, the mind starts to associate a particular position with the act of prayer and naturally begins to quieten down whenever that position is adopted. Choose a position where you can sit straight, with unobstructed breathing and a straight spine. Some people may choose to kneel, sit cross-legged on the floor or use a prayer-bench or cushion. Adopting a different position may involve a little discomfort at first as our bodies are used to spending most of the day in a sitting position, but if you persevere your posture can become part of the act of prayer, just as the lifting up of hands can become a helpful part of the act of worship.

The First Exercise: Coming Home

Find a comfortable position for prayer where you are unlikely to be disturbed and which is as quiet as possible. Take a few deep, nourishing breaths and allow your body to relax as you turn your attention from the busy external life to the perpetual calm of the internal source.

Take each word or phrase. As you focus on each, let the word and the breath become one single act, rising and falling together. At the end of the exercise, simply return back to the beginning until your meditation time is finished. Try to bring your body into line with the word being meditated on. For instance, when we say “I smile”, let a gentle smile be upon your lips. When we come to the word, “Presence”, tenderly reach out with your heart and become aware of the presence of God that fills and enfolds you.

“In…”  (Breathing in)
“Out…”  (Breathing out)
“Deep…”  (Breathing in)
“Slow…”  (Breathing out)
“In His Presence…”  (Breathing in)
“Is peace…”  (Breathing out)
“I smile…”  (Breathing in)
“I am home…”  (Breathing out)

You may like to begin by setting yourself five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening for this, as soon as you wake up and just before you go to bed. If this works for you, extend it to however long you find helpful.  Shalom

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Feasts, Fasts & Holy Days, Spiritual Disciplines

30 Things to Do for Lent

If there is a time to feast and party then there must also be a time to reflect, repent and realign our lives.  Now before you scroll to the next story, WAIT!  This is actually good news for us, and it is exactly the times of focussed prayer, gentle introspection and self denial that not only set us up to flourish as spring hits our shores, but also gives purpose to the times of celebration, festival and feasting.

All ancient cultures recognise the importance of rhythm in life; adjusting the rhythm of their human experience to mirror the natural order of things. The ancient Christian church also sought to follow this pattern, infusing and enriching nature’s cycle with fresh, deeper meaning. They observed that a hard winter sets the scene for a glorious summer and the autumnal stripping away of leaves on the trees makes way for the new growth of spring.

Herein lieth the rub. The rhythm of the seasons that is coupled with the stripping away of the excess baggage of summer are compulsory for the rest of creation. Trees are forcibly pruned by the wind. The ground is sodden with rain without ever being asked about its thoughts on the matter. Only human beings have that level of free will that, should they choose, enables them to disregard the natural rhythm of life and live as though they were in some way separate. Every year, humanity is drawn further away from such natural cycles and every year the internal psychological pressure on us increases, along with the spiritual dislocation that is inevitable when we live in such a way.  What has this to do with me this Lent season, I hear you ask?

During Lent, Christians (and many others) use their free will in order to observe what may be seen as a ‘wintering’ period before the great celebration of new life that is Easter. We set aside extra time to pray and meditate, perhaps take a mini-retreat or serve the community in some exceptional way. Always in the mix is selfdenial. Self denial is simply the joyful recognition that although I may be able to afford to live like a king,  for my spiritual growth (and physical well-being) I choose to give up some of life’s luxuries and lash the otherwise overweening flesh to the discipline of the Spirit. Perhaps I abstain from alcohol or from rich foods. Perhaps I take a day each week to fast, cleaning out not only the toxins of body, but also of mind and heart. Perhaps I go barefoot for the season (my personal favourite) as an act of solidarity with the poor. Maybe I volunteer at a night shelter, or give the money I save on rich foods to the local food bank.

All these things have a purpose, and that purpose is spiritual growth. Without self-denial, all spiritual development will stall at a certain level – perhaps this is why we in the developed world are producing so few saints compared with the developing world? Self-denial also invariable involves turning the spotlight of conscience deep into our own souls to seek forgiveness and healing for times I have hurt others, acted selfishly or harboured grudges. Maybe Lent for you will mean relationships restored, new direction realised, or the opportunity to totally de-clutter your life from all the extraneous physical and spiritual baggage we accumulate simply by living.

This Lent, I use my free will to joyfully choose to subdue my own selfish desires and physical cravings for the sake of attaining spiritual altitude. I do it joyfully with a hugely expectant heart that in so doing I will become more awake to the Kingdom of God and more aware of the Kingdom of Heaven!

JOIN ME this Lent!  Between Wednesday March 1st – Thursday April 13th, set yourself for a transformational adventure. Maybe you keep a blog of your journey. Maybe you partner with another spiritually minded person to help keep you on the wagon. Whatever you do, let me know, and we can celebrate together when spring is here!

Here’s some ideas for Lent. Pick whatever you think is going to help you, and add to the list – it’s your journey!

  1. Give up chocolate.
  2. Do a 24 Hour Fast (drinking only water) on one day each week, starting after your evening meal and continuing until the same time the next day.
  3. Forego rich and fancy foods for a month, living on nutritious, basic foods. Give the money you save to a local charity.
  4. Stop watching the news or reading the newspaper.
  5. Set your alarm to remind you every half hour to close your eyes and spend the space of three deep breaths in being grateful for all that is in your life.
  6. Go to a place of worship (or go more regularly!)
  7. Drink only water for the duration.
  8. Go to bed early – it may totally transform your life!
  9. Get up an hour earlier to pray, meditate, ponder the Scriptures or just sit quietly.
  10. Do the dishes (without being asked, kids!)
  11. Learn to chant.
  12. Set apart some time to evaluate your goals, values and direction in life. Are they taking you to a place you want to be or do you need to make a course-correction?
  13. Give up shoes and socks and go barefoot!
  14. Write a list of one thing each day that you are thankful for. Alternatively, take a photo of it/them and post on Facebook saying why you are grateful.
  15. Halve your walking speed. You will be amazed at the things you see and astounded at how it helps you to reconnect with your spiritual core.
  16. Every day, get rid of 5 things you don’t use. (Sell them, trash them or give them to a charity shop).
  17. Shave your head!
  18. Do one thing only! Give up multi-tasking. When you drink tea, just drink tea.  When you eat lunch, just eat lunch – no TV dinners. Eliminate ‘background’ noise.
  19. Walk instead of driving.
  20. Take a lonely person to lunch each week.
  21. Quit computer games and game apps.
  22. Give up TV for Lent.
  23. Don’t eat the last bite of your food.
  24. Read that spiritual book you’ve been wanting to read for so long.
  25. Spend a day at a monastery.
  26. Buy only things you absolutely need. You really CAN do without and waiting is a good discipline!
  27. Go for a long, slow walk every week. Go by yourself and let the solitude renew your spirit.
  28. Give up Social Media for the duration.
  29. Go vegetarian or vegan for the month.
  30. Stop eating out for Lent and give the extra money to the poor.

I’m sure you can add many more things to this list, but the secret is to make it something that will cost you something (in times of money, enjoyment or time). You are going to be amazed at all the wonderful new things you discover during this period and will approach Easter spiritually renewed and re-energised!

P.S.  Don’t forget that the day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday and is your last opportunity to indulge.  It’s not called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) for nothing!

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Spiritual Disciplines

The Priority of the Inner Life

inner-lifeIt is a strange phenomenon indeed that though we experience life from the outside-in, it must be lived from the inside-out. Our experience of reality comes to us via the senses: taste, touch, smell, sight and sound.  These five sensory inputs, combined with the relentless (and often neurotic) processing and reprocessing of the mind can often overwhelm us with information that leaves us in a state of constant reaction, fighting fires that may or may not be there, trying to quell fears and deal with anxieties that may not have any substance in reality and obsessively dealing with regret over the past and apprehension concerning the future. This outside-in pattern of living is highly unsustainable and is perhaps an excellent definition of insanity, which explains why our current generation is more anxious than Londoners during the Blitz, more depressed than the average American during the Great Depression and possibly more fearful than at any other time in human history.

To live from the inside-out is to reverse this pattern and learn to flow from the stable, eternal source that wells up inside each one of us. For the person who has discovered this eternal source, the incessant tugging of the ‘urgent periphery’ loses its hold; for the resources discovered within are limitless, timeless and utterly without depletion. The striving is gone. The urgency has vanished. The strain is absent. The storm is stilled. The soul has come home.

The cultivation of this inner life is the greatest and most rewarding activity that a human being can engage in. That you have this source is as undeniable as the fact of your existence, yet it is perfectly possible to live your entire life on the periphery without ever coming to the heart of the matter and discover the source from whence you flow. This is where your song is born. This is where your overcoming power resides. This is where intuitive wisdom is discovered. This is where you are truly known. This is home.

Meister Eckhart once said, “God is at home, it is we who have gone out for a walk.” As we return to this Inner Place, we find an Eden where we are welcomed to eat of the tree of life, a refuge where our weary hearts can find rest and nourishment, a sanctuary from the incessant barrage of modern life and a holy place where the screaming urgency of the world is drowned in the deafening silence of eternity and the dazzling array of sights blotted out by the softly nurturing darkness of the womb.

The doors to the Inner Life are many and have been carefully marked out over the years, yet in our days the Way has become hard to find and the markings of those who have gone before often bewildering to interpret. Many of the old paths have become overgrown and the tangle of years of neglect have made them difficult to trace. Yet for those who have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart that yearns for something more, the ancient paths of solitude, prayer, contemplation, silence and meditation will still open for us a way back to Eden and serve as a highway to the source.

The secret was known by the Jewish Psalmist when he instructed his listeners to, “Be still and know that I am God” just as much as it was understood in 5th Century BC China by the sage Lao Tse when he wrote, “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” The first step on the path home is a step that leads us away from the distracting technology, the urgent agenda, the busy life and the compulsion to keep the plates spinning and, if possible, add even more plates to the frantic dance that is our life.

There are many things we may feel we need to prioritise for a meaningful existence, but the truth is that the one thing we often forget is the most needful of all. To make time to come home to the hearth of the heart, the place of prayer, the shrine of solitude, the chapel of contemplation and the sanctum of silence is to make time to reconnect with the source of not only our own life but the life of every other being on the planet and every other thing in the universe. And coming home to this sacred space we discover that God has indeed never left home, it is truly us that have wandered…

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Spiritual Disciplines

The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

wisdom-epigramYou don’t have to be Einstein to see that our society is big on knowledge but lean on wisdom. Speaking of Einstein, a man who you would likely think of as above all else a towering intellect; he himself attributes his greatest insights not to moments of intense intellectual gymnastics, but to moments of inspired brilliance flowing from a deep rooted intuition.  He said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  

Knowledge is accumulated, stored and processed by the intellect. The disciplines for this are the disciplines of logic, deduction, study and debate, and take place in the study and the classroom.  Wisdom on the other hand is accumulated, stored and ruminated upon by the spirit. The disciplines for this are contemplation, meditation, solitude and silence, and take place in the vast wilderness of the heart and untamed wild places of this world.  He who gives his life to the former things will become a great intellectual. He who gives his life to the latter things will become a great sage.

Someone once said that the disciplines that bring wisdom all involve the slow chewing of the stuff of life until it is properly digested.  For this reason it cannot be hurried, rushed or flat-packed.  It cannot be taken as modules, consumed in fast-food sound-bytes or dissected as a laboratory experiment.  Perhaps this is why ever since the first Christmas story we instinctively look to the East to find wise men and women, and to civilisations that traditionally places great value on the internal disciplines.  The ancient Chinese character for wisdom shows an arrow, a mouth and a character meaning “all day”.  Literally it defines wisdom as the ability to speak and do that which is insightful and needful all day long.  It is interesting that the modern western civilisations that gave us the atom bomb and are currently showing the world how to destroy planet through insane consumption are civilisations that have no place for solitude, silence and contemplation, and therefore have little appreciation of wisdom.  As the King Crimson rock group sang in the song “Epitaph”:

“Knowledge is a deadly friend,
If no one sets the rules.
The fate of all mankind I see,
Is in the hands of fools.”

Knowledge will help you earn a fortune; wisdom will help you be content with very little.  Knowledge will gain you followers but wisdom will nurture your friends.  Knowledge will teach you about life; but wisdom will make that life worth living…

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