Saturday, October 31, 2009

(48) Peak Experience

"...looking back I will so admit that at the moment of my Peak
Experience I was more truly and more fully myself than at any
other time. And so I find myself confronted with the strange
paradox that I am more truly myself when I forget myself. When
I lose myself, I find my Self."
CONTEMPLATIVE LIVING, Crossroad, 1984, p. 60.]

Comment: Br. David is a Benedictine monk, affiliated with
Mount Saviour Monastery in New York. He was also trained
in art, anthropology, and psychology. And need I note that
he is a famous monk, who has been on lecture circuits,
leading seminars, on-line, as well as writing other books.

I met him years ago during a day when he gave a speech.
Quite frankly I cannot remember what he discussed; but I do
remember that upon my mentioning being a Benedictine
oblate, he bowed and kissed my hand--like the true European
gentleman that he is! (Getting one's hand kissed can go a long
way for a woman.)

As for the Peak Experience, I've read lots about it from other
sources. It seems like a connection with All that surrounds you.
You become a part of the landscape or the sunset or the music.
You are no longer your little ego-self, but rather are part of the
Greater Environ in which you have become. Maybe just for
a split second, this happens,

It's evidently a special experience, which I have yet to experience.
I sometimes wish for this Peak Experience, but wishing doesn't
prompt it. I've read that some people feel that they can "prep" it
by following certain rituals or observances. But that doesn't
seem to prompt it either. From my studies, interviewing some
people who have had a Peak Experience, it just happens. You
can slip into it unawares, but it is boggling when it occurs.
I've also discovered that one doesn't necessarily need to be
"spiritual" either. And it can include all ages, young and old
alike, immature or mature.

From my interviews, too, some emerge a little more enlightened.
Others can be disturbed. And worst of all, some shrug off and
completely ignore the Peak Experience.

Br. David does reflect upon this special experience--as he puts:
"It matters little whether the experience...took place on a lonely
mountain, or, say, in the midst of a crowded concert hall. At the
peak moment you were alone in a deep sense. Not that you
were reflecting on it then and there, but reflecting on it later you
find that the word *alone* applies, even though there may have
been a crowd around you. You were in some sense 'the only
one.' You were, and this is even more important, not only
singled out but of a single mind and so you were 'alone' also in
the sense of being altogether with yourself, all of one piece,
'all one.'" [Ibid, pp. 60-61.]

Besides Br. David's reflection on the Peak Experience, long ago
I found yet another who somehow connects with me. In his last
treatise, THE BOOK, Alan Watts carries forth that in "immediate
contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity to the
sensation, as if you were a leaf blown along by the wind, until you
realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside
your skin is just as much you as the world inside...they move together
inseparably. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego has to
animate and lug around. There is a feeling of the ground holding
you up, and of hills lifting you when you climb them. Air breathes
itself in and out of your lungs, and instead of looking and listening,
light and sound comes to you on their own. Eyes see and ears hear
as wind blows and water flows. Time carries you along like a river,
but never flows out of the present; the more it goes, the more it
stays...[and] all space becomes your mind."

My reflection: we are far more than we know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

(47) Spiritual Explorers

"...I consider [Carl] Jung to be one of the great visionary and
spiritual explorers of our century, along with Pierre Teilhard
de Chardin and Thomas Merton."
[Donald Corcoran, O.S.B., "Contemporary Forms of Spirituality
and Monastic Life," an article in THE CONTINUING QUEST
TRANSITION, William Skudlarek, O.S.B. , General Editor,
Liturgical Press, 1982, p. 242.]

Comment: Sr. Donald is a lady after my own heart. It has
been so long ago, but I actually remember when I first got
into Carl Jung's psychological philosophy. It was because
of some Benedictines, with whom I had traveled to Greece.
They belonged to an abbey out in New Mexico, and they
employed a lot of Jung's thinking both in their retreats and
in their Spiritual Direction school.

Goodness! I had never heard of Jung before then. Freud,
yes, and I didn't like him. Anyway, I began to study Jung and
became a devotee. Not only did his teaching help me
personally, but it helped me better to understand our religious
projections and god-imagery. Most importantly, Jung's
ideas about individuation exhibited how so much of this
religio-spiritual symbolism dwells right in our minds. Somehow
discovering this, myself, it made the Spirit Within far more
real--because I had *experienced* it.

Interestingly, later retraining as a philosopher, studying with
the Jesuits, I chose to focus on Teilhard. He, too, talked about
a Within--not only within ourselves, but a Within of the Universe!
Comparing Teilhard's theory of "Cosmogenesis" with David
Bohm's Implicate Order, I was able to modernize Teilhard,
linking him with the new scientific understanding of modern
Quantum Physics.

As for Thomas Merton, well again I can trace my interest in this
great spiritual explorer via my connection with the Benedictines.
What I love about Merton was his willingness to evolve
spiritually, growing, moving into what might be called an
"Ecumenism of the Spirit." He dared to study other cultural
expressions about the World and God, i.e. Buddhism. Today
monastics from both East and West come together, teaching
and learning from one another. Merton helped get the ball
rolling, so to speak.

But best of all was my discovery that Benedictines are *great*
spiritual explorers!

Monday, October 26, 2009

(46) Universal Monk

"The hermit, the sannyasi, freed from caste and family
responsibilities, is a sign of the Absolute for those still
bound to them, but he does not form the seed of a new
society; no spiritual community gathers around him. "
[Thomas Matus, O.S.B. (Cam), ASHRAM DIARY: IN INDIA
WITH BEDE GRIFFITHS, O Books, 2009. p. 47.]

Comment: Thomas Matus is a well known Camaldolese
hermit, whose community in Northern California is part of
the Benedictine Order. An author of a number of books,
he is also a noted musician and is devoted to yoga and
religious ecumenism. And, especially, he spent lots of
time, over a number of years, in India--with the late Fr.
Bede Griffiths, also a hermit, who established an ashram
devoted to the life of the sannyasi.

Frankly, the sannyasi--which is a kind of "universal" monk--
is a whole new territory for me, especially when considering
that some Benedictines have adopted this lifestyle. Yet,
Fr. Thomas does make mention that he still holds to his
Christian orientation. The late Wayne Teasdale, a lay monk,
also said the same. (See Post 30 in Benedictine Beacon.)

I don't know if I ever will move into the sannyasi territory,
but I do know the appeal it holds for me. And that is
being a "universal" monk. As a lay person, monastically
oriented, I felt guilt over decades because I marched to a
universal drummer rather than to a institutionally prescribed

Perhaps on the fringe of the Benedictine world, I eventually
crawled away from my sense of guilt but nonetheless held
strong to Christ--even as his god imagery shifted into new
phases, as I continued to broaden my horizons.

Anyway, it is such a relief to discover a sense of Benedictine
"universality," whether by monks involved in religious
ecumenism, in depth psychology, in studying new forms of
theology and Christology, and even in comparative studies
that try to relate modern science theories with spirituality.
And now comes the sannyasi!

It's all about what I call the "Challenge of the New," or
sometimes the very old. I am always happy to find
Benedictines who are not afraid to be spiritual explorers.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

(45) Peace & Place

"We need to live at peace with the natural world around us,
and also with other men and women, our neighbors. If we
fail to do so, our temporal well-being and even our survival
will be at risk."
[Christopher Derrick, THE RULE OF PEACE: ST. BENEDICT
AND THE EUROPEAN FUTURE. St. Bede's Publication, 1980,
pp. 97-98.]

Comment: From the cited book, I cannot discover exactly who
Christopher Derrick is or was. In the Preface there is mention
that this book was "originally written for the Association of St.
Benedict, Patron of Europe." Also there's mention that people
outside of Europe need not be excluded, in that the boundaries
of the Benedictine Tradition really do not exist.

Reading through Derrick's book, it becomes obvious that he is
quite miffed by our modern technological civilization and would
love to harken back to a more ideal time. Won't happen of

But I certainly can understand his concern--especially recently
when I had occasion for a stay-over at a "casino hotel" in Nevada.
It was the only lodging in the middle of a desert. Night came on
quickly, and I had little choice. I don't gamble, so this occasion
was an eye-opener. The place seemed like chaos, machines
clanging, lounge singers moaning, glasses clicking everywhere.
The place was loaded with all sorts of people, talking, gambling,
drinking. The servers were obviously exhausted, thus rude.
It all seemed rather uncivilized to me. Thus I quickly retired to
my room, watched the TV weather, and went to bed early. I
left early, too! Glad to be rid of the place.

However, this experience illustrated how really important it is
to gather peace within yourself and all around you. It can be
tough to do some times, but it's well worth being able to do this.
I suppose "peace" can be likened--scientifically speaking--to
making Order out of Chaos.

On this trip I was returning from a remote canyon in Arizona,
a place of vast red-rock mountains, millions upon millions of
years in the making. Quiet, at peace in that place, I felt myself
surrounded by God's very own ancient temples. Within, there
was also a Indian ruin where the Sinaqua People once lived.
Sometimes they are called the Western Anasazi. These people
honored the Earth and the Spirit.

Standing in the midst of this great canyon, I realized where these
ancient People were coming from. Maybe not high-tech folk,
having never lived in great urban conclaves, they were most
fortunate to live right there in the very center of these great
and beautiful mountains--of many shapes, looking truly like
glorious temples with a lovely river running through. Swaying
cottonwoods along the river lent to the peace that permeated
this place. I really felt a love, felt myself standing in the midst
of God's Garden of Temples.

So, what a contrast--after this--having to spend a night of
casino chaos, if you will.

Yet, I had the good sense to withdraw from the chaos, even
if it meant clearing my mind with the weather report. Looking
at the weather map, I kept looking to the place where my
red-rock canyon was--and, lo, there was a word placed over
it: Sunshine! That charged me, and I felt better. It was a place
of Life and Light, quiet, enormously peaceful, presenting its
beauty and power.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

(44) Personal Integrity

"It is at this point, we must face it squarely, that the
behavior of the externally 'good religious' who, in good
faith, unconsciously, certainly without guilt, has in fact
compromised with one of the most basic demands of his
humanity (the demand for authenticity and personal
integrity), is a scandal to those who are still deeply
aware of their need to attain to a fully human and
personal integrity..."
ACTION, Image Books, 1973, p. 83.]

Comment: The more I read Thomas Merton, the more
I like this late great Trappist. Of course I suppose it's
natural to agree with people with whom you agree. And
speaking of "natural," I suppose this is a good time to
inject my appreciation of the Ancient Stoa.

The Stoa was a school representing Stoic Philosophy
all over the ancient Mediterranean World--founded
some 2300 years ago by Zeno of Citium in Athens.
Interestingly, I encountered both the Benedictine
Tradition and the Wisdom of the Stoa nearly at the
same time. I won't go into detail about Stoic Philosophy,
only to say that a few of it's tenets correspond somewhat
with those of the Benedictines. (Indeed the early
Benedictine monks saved a lot of classical works,
including Stoic writings, by both securing them and
maintaining them by making copies in their scriptoriums.)

But the point I want to make here is the Stoic emphasis
on following your personal nature. They were all about
coming to "know thyself." Good advice, because when
it comes to integrity we need understand our personal
proclivities, our natural inclinations!

That does not mean we have to throw away the text
books or the rules or regulations, but rather see how
we can personally operate under their aegis. In some
cases, circumstances might be so extreme as to disallow
one from following some rules, some regulations. Here
it's about choice.

And I must admit that occasionally I have worried when it
comes to my choice to hold close to the Benedictine
Tradition. When I first entered the Benedictine world, I
was about as "unconscious" as I could be. I was operating
on instinct, I guess. I was dying of spiritual thirst, and for
some odd reason I chose a monastic oasis.

Interestingly, it was this encounter with the Benedictines
that I eventually strived to come to know myself, strived to
understand what made me "tick." I cannot even point to
what it might have been that jump-started me. I'm just
grateful that it happened.

Slowly I learned how to mesh Benedictine wisdom with
my own natural interests and proclivities. But I must
emphasize the word "slow." Earlier I surely was a midget-
sized scandal, when I was trying to be a "good religious."
Rote, all rote, with little natural input. Eventually, from the
depths of me, I nearly walked away from the Benedictines--
thinking that I had made a mistake, thinking that they were
all wrong for me.

But something just as deep in me, said "stay." And it was
at this point that I began accommodating the Benedictine
tenets with my own inclinations. It was not easy. I had to
get my head out of the box, so to speak. And that can
sometimes be disturbing. Because you think that you are
breaking the rules!

It took me a long time to accommodate, seeing the
Benedictine tenets in new ways with new eyes. And
after years of inner struggle working to accomplish this,
I did. And guess what? After I woke-up, so to speak,
I discovered that Benedictine authors were writing about
the very same things over which I had struggled for so

There's room for personal integrity in the Benedictine world.