by Brenda Brisch
Our group was meditating in San Damiano, where the cross first spoke to Saint Francis centuries ago. Here he heard the words “Francis, rebuild my church”. He was at a dire crossroads in his life; he desperately needed direction on what its course should take. He was wide open and listening with full attention to the wisdom of his heart.
We were asked to feel the emptiness and peace within, and simply to listen, without expectation. If we had a particular question or concern, we could put it on the inner alter and then let it dissolve in the quietude.
Addressing my inner Self, my question was a simple one: “What is it You want me to know once and for all? What is the most important message You want me to hear for my entire life’s course? Please make it simple… and especially clear!”
As I settled down deep inside, I heard these words: “Know that I am always with you. I am here fully available, fully awake, in this moment. You need nothing else.”.
And for the cherry on the cake, it seems that I was given yet another moment the following day to underscore the precious teaching I heard.
Our group was walking up to Mount Eremo to meditate in the caves that Francis and his brothers frequented, to dive deeply into the stillness and the beauty of the pristine nature there.
As we were walking on the trail that the saints took, I saw a piece of paper with some writing on it. Without even thinking, I said to myself, “I will take these words as a personal message to me from you, God.” It was written in Italian, so when I got home I immediately translated it.
The words I read brought tears of joy and laughter to my eyes:
teneramente, carezzato, compreso, incoraggiato e diffuso dal tuo Dio!
Quanto ti amo!
Se tu potessi capirlo, “impazziresti” di gioia.
How you are loved!
Tenderly, caressed, understood, encouraged and protected by your God!
How I love you!
Let me repeat it again and again.
For when you understand it, you will go mad with joy.
During our retreats in the sacred environment of Assisi, it is my experience that we witness miracles, shifts of perspective and deep transformation as we open and listen to what our true heart really wants to tell us.
We are so happy to share our new meditation room with you.. The peace of Assisi wraps around us and holds our hearts !!!
Press link to: Dates & Costs for a retreat in Assisi Italy
By Rob Stucky
Given that most people want peace, but many are unclear on how or where to find it, it occurs to me it might be helpful to share some great and timeless observations on the process of attaining inner peace from a tenth century Greek Orthodox saint named Simeon the New Theologian. He wrote a beautiful treatise on the Art of Prayer, in which he described “three levels of attention in prayer”. I find they apply not only to prayer, or any overtly “spiritual” practice, but to life in general, and share them here:
The first level of attention is external: we focus on the various elements around us (whether the wording, trappings and choreography of the liturgy, or of our daily routines). Even if we are filled with devotion and enjoyment of them, believing they make us happy, to stay focused there alone is a trap, because by nature externalities are impermanent, so if our joy is dependent solely upon them, we are doomed to lose that bliss when the externalities change. So much for our acquisitiveness and material dependence!
Logically, then, we must go deeper. Simeon then speaks of the second level of attention as mental prayer- in which we shut out external distractions, turn within, and contemplate a particular object of our interest- be it a name of God, a sacred image, or uplifting ideal, even a secular one. The problem there is, we are then stuck in our heads, and apt to get caught in the constant mental churnings of “what ifs” and “if onlys”… and never find peace, because of our mind’s constant busyness. Simeon likens being stuck in our minds to boxing in the dark, where we can’t even see our oppponent.
So apparently, we must go still deeper – to the prayer of the heart. This third level of attention is not about sentimentality or warm fuzzy feelings. It is literally about getting to the axial point in our center- the hub from which everything else radiates. To get into the heart we must penetrate the roadblocks of fears and desires that surround it. This requires developing our capacity to listen, in silence, and without judgment, to whatever is going on within or around us. When we do that, refusing to get caught caught up in or identify with the particular content of our mental activity, by letting go of all that, we penetrate that barrier, and achieve a clarity and peace that then informs and illumines our thoughts and actions. We’re not talking about intellectual understanding, but directly enlightening experience. As a well-known prayer says, “The peace of God surpasses all understanding”, and it transforms the quality of living into something truly joyful.
Sounds easy- and in principle, it is. In practice, however, it may take some work to break old habits that tend to block us from experiencing it. For me, one of the most helpful tools in getting out of my head and into my heart is to be aware as much as possible from moment to moment, where my energy and focus are- and if I’m in my head, I redirect my focus to the center of my chest and simply breathe, fully and slowly. Every mystical tradition on earth speaks of the power of the breath, and of the stillness of the heart as the temple, the illuminating place where we actually experience divinity. “Be still, and know”. That is divine. To get there we need free ourselves from the tyranny of the mind.
A Spanish mystic once described the process of overcoming that tyranny perfectly: “When my mind becomes agitated, I take a lesson from the fishes, who, when a storm arises and troubles the waters, dive deep, where the waves cannot batter them”. So, unless your goal is to surf the tsunami of your mind, (good luck with that), take a deep breath, and dive deeper into your heart!