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Contemplative Living with James Finley, Ph.D
The Contemplative Way Newsletter November 2009
   
Greeting Everyone,
 
The writings of the mystics contain many guidelines to help us in our search for spiritual fulfillment for ourselves and others. Three such guidelines are to: Find your practice and practice it. Find your teaching and follow it. Find your community and enter it. Whenever we become confused or discouraged, these three guidelines for contemplative living can help us. By sincerely recommitting ourselves to these three guidelines we can get our bearings on the path that leads to a deep, abiding experience of God's oneness with us in all things. And so I thought it might be helpful to reflect on each these guidelines, beginning in this newsletter with find your practice and practice it.
 
Finding your practice means finding the way to practice meditation that is most natural and helpful to you at this stage in your spiritual journey. In the brief space we have here, I will reflect on relaxation, presence and awakening as three evolving ways in which meditation helps us in our search for spiritual awakening. As we begin to settle into meditation, we become relaxed. As we become relaxed, we become more present. As we become more present we awaken the presence of God, giving itself in and as our very presence, the very presence of others and all of things.
 
The first and most rudimentary phase of meditation is relaxation. It does not matter whether our method of meditation is sitting quietly, attentive to our breathing or yoga, or something as simple as being alone in the midst of nature. We can notice that as we settle into our meditation we are becoming more relaxed. We will discover in our fidelity to meditation our anxiety is dissolving into peace and our stress is dissolving into state of deep relaxation.
 
The relaxing effects of meditation are in themselves enough to make meditation a good and healthy thing to do. As we become more relaxed, we become more solidly grounded in our own bodily being. The habit of meditation can cultivate the habit of being more relaxed as we go through our day. Being a more relaxed person it is easier to be a happier person, in being someone who is more at ease in the midst of the all the ups and downs that life sends our way. This does not at all mean that we become indifferent to what must be dealt with, or that we do not become upset when upsetting things happen. Rather it means that our fidelity to meditation helps us to become upset less often, with less intensity and to recover sooner, by not holding on to negative emotions after the upsetting incident has passed.
 
In the classic work The Golden Bough, there is story about a king, who can never sleep because if he sleeps someone will kill him and take over his kingdom. He has his kingdom but only at the price of the hyper vigilance that prevents him from relaxing enough to live with peace in the kingdom of his own life. If at times we feel like this king, we can do ourselves a huge favor and take to time to enter into the relaxed state of meditation in which we can reclaim our right to live in the kingdom of our life.
 
Presence is the second and more interior phase of meditation. As we sit in meditation, our bodily relaxation deepens to the point that our mind merges with our body in a wonderful state of relaxed presence. Sometimes this state of relaxed presence and peace occurs quite by chance after physical exercise or while having a massage or after making love. It can happen in those moments of first waking up in the morning before the body has moved and our mind is calmly, serenely awake. In such moments we rest in a wonderful state of being serenely awake and present to the miracle of simply being alive and real in the present moment. The difficulty is that these moments tend to be fleeting, as they give way to our customary ego based concerns. This is why we meditate, so that can learn to settle into a sustained bodily relaxation in which our mind merges with our body in a quiet clarity, a sustained attentiveness as subtle as a breath.
 
Each of us enters into and experiences this deepened, body-grounded clarity at our own pace in our own way. When our mind is racing we can learn to settle on the shore of our racing mind with reverential attentiveness. We can learn to breath into the mystery of our racing mind, to talk to it-just where do you think you are racing off to? Then listen to what our mind might say. We can learn to be present to each to each thought that arises, endures and passing away within us without being kidnapped by thinking and dragged away from being simply present in the present moment. Neither clinging to nor rejecting all the thoughts, feelings and memories that arise, endure, and pass away within us, we enter into more interior, contemplative consciousness of more interior dimensions of ourselves, others, and all things. This transformative process takes time. It takes quiet, humble, patient perseverance, but the blessings to be gained are beyond what we could ever imagine, as we come to discover as we enter into the third phase of mediation.
 
The third phase of meditation occurs as a sustained state of relaxed presence ripens into a spiritual awakening that is nothing short of divine. In order to appreciate this divine fulfillment we must keep in mind that the mystics assure us there is much more to meditation than relaxation and becoming more present in the present moment. The mystics tell us that meditation is a way to experience God's presence in our lives. In Buddhist terms, mediation is a path to enlightenment. In Christian terms meditation matures into contemplation that lays bare our true nature, and in doing so lays bare God's nature given to us as our own nature.
 
It is only when our meditation embodies the intention of a divine destination that we are meditating in the spirit of the mystics. When we stop to think about it, it is strange that we have to search for God. After all, if God is the word we use for the boundryless mystery of Presence Itself, how is it possible that infinite Presence could be so absent? We sense that we are present. We look about and see that all that is present around us. But we do not see the presence of God? Where did God go? Where could God possibly be?
 
As we meditate it becomes clear that God did not go anywhere. We did. We wandered away from the fertile field of simple presence. We have become lost in having become strangers to the ungraspable and precious presence of ourselves in the present moment. But as we settle into the body grounded attentiveness of meditation, we become present to our own presence, and, as we do so, we begin to intuit, glimpse, taste, sense (there is no word for it) the infinite presence of God presencing itself in and as our very presence, in and as the very presence of everyone and everything that exists. This seeing of the God-given Godly nature of ourselves, others and all things is given to whom it is given. It comes as it comes and goes as it goes. It is not for us to worry about the degree to which we realize this. It for us to be grateful that we have been graced with the desire to to seek it. It is for us to trust that this desire for God embodies God's unseen and often unfelt presence in our mind and heart. It is for us to tend to learn to rest with confidence that God's presence is fully present, in some secret and intimate fashion, in every moment of our lives up to and including the moment of our death. Asking for the grace to be childlike enough to rest with confidence that this is so, we practice our practice, and in so doing, ground ourselves in the unfolding mystery that is at once all that God is and all that we really are.
 
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As for my latest ventures, I am pleased that Sounds True has released the audio set Transforming Trauma that I did with Caroline Myss. I am pleased, too, that I will be returning to join Caroline at Findhorn, Scotland, where I will be presenting the spiritual healing retreat based on the audio series.
 
I am also pleased to be returning in January to give a retreat with Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My last time there Richard and I led a retreat titled Jesus and Buddha. This year the retreat is titled Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate, which is based on a book I am presently writing on living the mystical way of life.
 
Most likely, I will not be sending out the next newsletter until after the holidays. And so I will take this opportunity to wish each of you a peaceful Christmas, Hanukah season.
 
Blessings
Jim Finley
 
You can find a continuously updated schedule at my website
www.contemplativeway.org
Retreats
 
Join Dr. Finley for a
contemplative retreat
 
Jim Finley
 
2009 Retreat Schedule
 
Following The Mystics
Dec. 11-13, Palos Verdes, CA
 
2010 Retreat Schedule
 
Following The Mystics
Jan. 8-10, Danville, CA
Jan. 22, Albuquerque, NM
Apr. 9-11, Concordia, KS
Apr. 30-May 2, Auburn, CA
 
Living a Contemplative Life
Apr. 16-18, Willard, WI
 
Little Things That Fill the Whole World:
Gospel Metaphors of Spiritual Awakening

Sep. 17-19, Chicago, IL
 
For more details please see
Retreat Schedule
 
To host a retreat

please contact Dr. Finley
 
"What I got from Merton most of all
was this:
the grace of God utterly and wholly permeates our lives, just as they are in the present moment.
All our failures and weaknesses are absolutely irrelevant in the face of such all-pervading grace."

James Finley
 
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Books by James Finley
 
Merton
Merton's Palace of Nowhere:
25th Anniversary Edition

 
For twenty five years Merton's Palace of Nowhere has been the standard for exploring, reflecting on, and understanding this rich vein of Merton's thought. Dog-eared, tattered, underlined copies are found on the bookshelves of spiritual searchers everywhere. Now this Silver Anniversary edition brings this classic to a whole new generation.
 
For more information please see:

Ave Maria Press
 
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Contemplative Heart
The Contemplative Heart
 
The Contemplative Heart, enables readers to realize that wherever we live, whatever we do, the richest possibilities of a contemplative life are within our reach-that they are in fact what we have been searching for all along.
 
For more information please see:

Ave Maria Press
 
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Contemplative Heart
Christian Meditation
 
A former monk and student of Thomas Merton, Finley teaches readers to expand (or begin) their meditation practices in concert with their faith and guides them to discover that divine moments of awakened consciousness can lead to a deeper connection with Christ. He explains how meditation can enrich our daily lives by connecting us not only with the present moment, but also with the eternal now that is beyond time.
 
For more information please see:

Harper Collins Press
 
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Copyright © 2009 Dr. James Finley