Saint Julian Press

I am delighted to announce that Saint Julian Press has published a poem I wrote titled “Preparation” on their website

Saint Julian Press is a new nonprofit imprint whose mission is to identify, nurture, and publish transformative literature and art by encouraging the work of emerging, established, and world-renowned writers, poets, and artists. In our vision we seek to build a world community by embracing and engaging in a global literary and artistic dialogue that promotes world peace, cultural conversations, and an interfaith awareness, appreciation, and acceptance.

Thanks to Ron Starbuck (Executive Publisher-CEO/Author-Poet)

PHOTOGRAPH: Guest Cabin at Loretto Maryholme Spirituality and Retreat Centre, Roches Point, March, 2012

Below the Surface (Parabola, “Opening To You,” February 2010)

There are moments where I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like a complete stranger. All the things I normally feel compelled to do: check my emails, surf the internet, have a beer, listen to music, etc. are gone. I am a completely different person. Everything feels entirely new and I feel like I’ve dropped something very heavy, like a traveler who has left his entire luggage at the door.

Even my relationship to the person I spend my life with has miraculously shifted. I realize that I don’t know her at all and at the same time I suffer the fact that I habitually take her for granted. Suddenly there is this capacity of listening to her more deeply. A great mystery has undermined all of my fixed ideas and preconceived notions. It is the feeling George Saunders describes so beautifully in his article, “Buddha Boy“:

You know the feeling at the end of the day, when the anxiety of that-which-I-must-do falls away and, for maybe the first time that day, you see, with some clarity, the people you love and the ways you have, during that day, slightly ignored them, turned away from them to get back to what you were doing, blurted out some mildly hurtful thing, projected, instead of the deep love you really feel, a surge of defensiveness or self-protection or suspicion? That moment when you think, Oh God, what have I done with this day? And what am I doing with my life? And how must I change to avoid catastrophic end-of-life regrets?

It’s extremely odd and discomforting, but at the same time it is bittersweet because it is a taste of a new possibility, a taste of real freedom. I have stepped out of the old recorded tapes that constantly play in the background of my psyche, telling me who I am.

I have ceased, for the time being, lying to myself or believing in the stories I create about myself. I am no longer living in mental constructions or concepts which Herschel says are, “delicious snacks with which we try to alleviate our amazement.”

Of course, we can’t stay on the summit forever. We start leaking out this gathered energy like a sieve and then it’s back to the level of reaction. These moments of a profound inner separation are merely a preparation for something to penetrate into my daily life. I don’t think they are the ultimate goal. I need to go further, to include more, and this leads me to a deeper questioning.

I think that something within us is aware that our stories aren’t real, even though we are continually living in them. We gather these moments of seeing ourselves and find that we don’t sleep as peacefully as we did before. To see ourselves, as we are, becomes more important. Even when the forces are heavily weighed against us we can try to oppose a continual passivity with something that is active on the inside. Rainer Maria Rilke describes this war against passivity when he says that, “what we choose to fight is so tiny! What fights with us is so giant!”

I see that either I am moving outwards towards dispersion or I am gathering all the pieces of myself inwardly and moving towards wholeness.

So maybe along comes a moment where I am inwardly active and without any manipulation, I can see the thoughts, the emotions, and the bodily sensations that are continually taking place. I am able to openly inhabit my life by being in relationship with it directly. I allow a life that is beyond the surface of my self to come into focus.

There are two currents present in the moment of seeing – a vertical one as well as a horizontal one – the level of my ordinary manifestations and that of another level which is the seeing. There is an acceptance of myself as I am and in this moment.

In my negativity, for example, I can see my reactions as well as the pull to self calm the situation by pushing it away or by escaping from it.

We need to see all this movement in ourselves, all these energies at work. We need to be in relationship with all this magical chemistry that is taking place. Now, ask yourself, “Who am I?” It’s the eternal question, the Zen koan of all Zen koans. The ego will immediately try to fortify itself but if we answer that question truthfully, all the freedom in the world is in not knowing.

How can I be available to that question? I think that anything I have understood in my practice has had emotional involvement; it’s been learned through the heart as well as the head. It is the clear distinction Jung made when he said that “the utterances of the heart- unlike those of the discriminating intellect- always relate to the whole.”

So how do I try to bring more emotion into my efforts? Well, I can try to remain close to my own mortality that continually follows me, perched on my shoulders. The presence of death is so constant and so familiar that I forget about it. I can make use of it as a constant reminder to make an effort.

For a long time my practice has involved trying to maintain an attention on my breath, always and everywhere. Often I forget and I am taken by my mind functioning, the endless circle of associations. I am swallowed up in that current again.

No matter, I just return to this body, breathing.

(Parabola, a quarterly print magazine about the study of the myths, rituals, symbols, and arts of the world’s spiritual traditions, has featured this piece on their website.)

The spring issue of Parabola will be exploring the theme of love. It’s available on newsstands this month of February, or you can order it directly from their website.

Image: Edward Steichen, “Eva,” found on LaContessa’s tumblr)

As Above, So Below (Parabola, “Opening To You,” December 2009)

The León Cathedral, León, Spain.

I am sitting in the silent whisper of a vaulted cathedral. The noise of my own mind is all that there appears to be. Once in a while, tourist’s footsteps can be heard echoing through the massive room. Sometimes the mild disturbance of the footsteps captures me. When they do, my attention is brought up to my head as though I was a cork rising to the surface of a body of water.

I remember that I am in a church; that I am here now.
I keep bringing myself back from the great distances that thought can travel.

No expectations.
Just sitting here, remaining active on the inside.
I sense the hard surface of the wooden pew, I breathe in the heavy scent of the cathedral’s atmosphere with its vast history of contemplation.

Can I have contact with a sacred substance?

The church bell rings out an invitation every 15 minutes with its distant song that vibrates into space.
My eyes are closed.
My thoughts grow quieter.
Slowly I am sinking deeper within myself.
The breath naturally deepens and expands the lungs.
I am being breathed.
I seem to be worlds away from the person I happened to be who entered the church moments ago.

One could read a thousand books on meditation and be none the wiser for it.
It would be like glimpsing a mountain through a train window and afterward telling people you had been there without actually having set foot on it.

Each time, the mountain must be climbed anew.
Its terrain is forever changing and shifting.
I always have to approach it in a different way; from a fresh perspective.
Fearlessly I climb, stripping off everything that is in the way; even the climbing itself.
Vertically. Horizontally.
In-Between is Now.
The axis mundi.

(Parabola, a quarterly print magazine about the study of the myths, rituals, symbols, and arts of the world’s spiritual traditions, has featured this poem on their website. You can visit there wonderful magazine here.)

Photo: Getty Images

I Heart Meditation (Alive Magazine, June 2009)

The practice of meditation bestows a myriad of health benefits including increased concentration and a general feeling of well-being. But undoubtedly one of the most important benefits is reduced stress and improved heart health.

Heart disorders are common in today’s always-on-call, wired world. People suffer an estimated 70,000 heart attacks each year in Canada, and the number of people living with some form of heart disease is steadily increasing.
Rigorous scientific studies have proven that regular meditation practice has powerful health benefits that can lower high cholesterol levels and normalize blood pressure.

Scientific Support

An article published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke (2000), demonstrated the effects of teaching meditation to people suffering from atherosclerosis
(hardening of the arteries).

Utilizing ultrasound technology, researchers found that people who practised meditation for 20 minutes twice a day for seven months reduced the amount of plaque (fatty deposits) in their arteries. They reduced their overall heart attack risk by up to 11 percent and their stroke risk by up to 15 percent. Meditation may trigger the body’s self-repair mechanisms.

Previous studies have shown that meditation can also lower blood pressure, another major risk factor for heart disease. Researchers reported that people who practised meditation had lower blood levels of stress-related biochemicals, including serotonin and adrenaline. Meditation also increased the formation of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up. This, in turn, lowered blood pressure.

In 2004 the American Journal of Hypertension reported the results of a study which showed a significant lowering of blood pressure in a group of adolescent African-American meditators compared to a control group that didn’t meditate.

Heart Health

These results reveal that meditation is not only a method of relaxation and stress management, but it can also have a profound influence on the heart and its activity. Scientific studies indicate that meditating for just 20 minutes a day can result in a healthier and stronger heart.

In meditation we have to start where we are. In the beginning the most important thing is to develop the habit of meditating every day and not to be too concerned about how much time to allocate for it. Start with five or 10 minutes daily until you are comfortable with longer periods of time. You can even take a two-minute breathing break several times during the day.

Meditation is a skill that requires practice and more practice. Your heart will benefit from the deep relaxation and stress reduction that meditation brings.

Quick Meditation

Need to quickly relax or find some immediate inner calm? A simple 3-step breathing meditation can be effective when you have almost no time at all.

  1. Just take a long, slow, deep breath in and feel the air fill your lungs.
  2. When your lungs are full, hold the breath for a second or two; keep your mind clear or simply tell yourself to relax.
  3. Now slowly exhale all the air in your lungs. Repeat

Take five to 10 of these deep breaths to quickly feel calm and more relaxed.

Try meditating when you are:

  • waiting in line at the grocery store
  • preparing dinner
  • doing the dishes
  • sitting in traffic
  • feeling upset

Alive Magazine, June 2009 (Image: Meneer de Braker | Rainy Buddha)