I’ve just returned from a six-day journey to London, Cambridge and Norfolk spending time with several good, long-standing friends, engaged in conversation about G_d, faith, spirituality, meditation and contemplation, and our experience of life and worship in the Church of England. My final day, Sunday, was blessed by a Communion service of rare integrity and depth in the parish church at Blakeney.
I’ve been given various books and book recommendations along the way and am already immersed in Interspiritual Meditation: a seven step process drawn from the world’s spiritual traditions by Edward W Bastian, founder and president of the Spiritual Paths Foundation based in Santa Barbara, California. Meditation is one of the cornerstones of Bastian’s life. His path is rooted in Buddhism and his teaching about interspiritual meditation integrates Buddhism with Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism and Native American traditions.
Bastian’s teaching would of course be condemned as false by many Christians who adopt the labels orthodox and traditional. But other Christians, myself included, are drawn to the same integral, evolutionary spiritual path. I explored many dimensions of this integral vision with my friends last week. The picture is complex and multi-faceted and I’m finding it challenging to organise in my mind and write about.
Bastian’s introduction and opening chapters in Interspiritual Meditation provide a valuable guide to the common elements in meditation and contemplation which are shared and can be shared by those of other faith traditions and none. Much of my own practice has developed from the body-centred psychotherapy training I undertook at the end of the nineties and this also finds its place in Bastian’s work.
I believe there are two core ingredients which are essential to the formation of an integrative, evolutionary spiritual path for Christians being called to growth and depth along a path to truth, holiness and G_d. One is the development of a vision of God which opens to unconditional, infinite, intimate love and the other is a willingness to open the self to truth, beauty and inner presence in silence and meditative/contemplative practice.
Bastian claims universal truths – that every human being has the potential for unlimited wisdom, compassion and happiness. I’m not sure about the ‘unlimited’ claim – perhaps I’m too much of a realist – but I do believe we all have the potential he describes. Christianity, as I hear it preached and taught, wants to limit people by continually reminding them that before anything else, they are sinners in need of repentance and confession, seeking the mercy and grace of God. They may believe that God’s love is unconditional, but there’s always a catch, and I rarely hear sermons proclaiming God’s unconditional love. Christian teaching and practice is riddled with conditional clauses.
Bastian imagines interspirituality as the shared mystic heart beating in the centre of the world’s deepest spiritual traditions. It is less concerned with metaphysical truths than with process, method and practice. It is openhearted and unbiased, creating a core of spiritual intimacy based on shared experience and never regarding people from different traditions as ‘other’.
It is designed to help people develop a foundation for health and well-being, inner peace, wisdom and compassion, to foster these sacred qualities and to share experience of the sacred. It draws on the common values and truths of ancient wisdom traditions in a process which embraces spiritual diversity.
To use Bastian’s language, meditation is the practice that provides the context for a spiritual path in which the sacred potential of our innermost being can expand to pervade our entire being through wholehearted spiritual practice.
The practice of meditation helps us enter into and rest more deeply in the essence of our being. In meditation, we begin to move through the world with an inner stillness and contentment and a compassionate empathy. In the depth of meditative awareness, we find ourselves connected to the essential nature of all beings.
Meditation is a technique for attuning consciousness and may lead to altered states of awareness including profound focus and tranquillity.
Bastian identifies something that has always been important to me – how does it work? How does praying or meditating change anything in the world? Many Christians pray in the belief that G_d is a God who can be influenced by our praying and as a result, can intervene in human affairs.
For Bastian, whether prayer is directed to another being, within our self, or into the universe, we are evoking a deep personal wish and, I would add, aligning ourselves with energies in creation. I pray in the confidence that there are profound spiritual realities that can flow when our lives are congruent with the healthy ethical precepts of our tradition, the power of our essential being and the innate presence of love in creation.
Developing the ability or the gift to centre ourselves in the core of our being, resting in the present, helps us maintain a calm, compassionate mind and a relaxed, healthy body. Prayer, meditation and contemplation are all practices which can help us dwell deeply within our own being, bringing us into the presence of essential reality, the divine presence of sacred unity and energy in our core – the soul essence of our humanity.
What we believe about G_d and what we believe about ourselves are fundamental to the development of a healthy, creative life path and a deep, flowing, energised spirituality.