Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brain Change

Can the mind change the brain? A growing consensus that it can is developing among neuroscientists.  Interestingly, it’s meditators who are providing some of the best evidence of this.  Long-time meditators’ brains light up brighter and in more places that in ‘normal’ brains.  Particularly in the places that are associated with compassion.  And (perhaps more counterintuitively) in places that show preparedness for action.

So…if you are contemplative, take heart.  When we meditate, we’re not only cultivating a more abiding sense of sacred space, but we may also be building the very brain networks that facilitate loving action.

If this is interesting to you, see Sharon Begley’s book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Monday, February 22, 2010

What’s the end?

A friend was paraphrasing John Spong this morning: ‘Religion always thinks it’s the end.  But it’s not.’

I sense that the question this naturally follows, 'So, what is the end or purpose?', can be profoundly helpful.

I know religion gets in the way of spirituality for many.  I also know that spirituality is almost impossible without religion.  Religion ‘carries’ wisdom in story and exposition and in spirit from one generation to the next.

One of the great gifts of developing a habit of fruitful silence is that in contemplative practice we experience something of the end or purpose of religion wordlessly.  And we ‘know’ something that in a way is ‘beyond knowing’.

And we can agree with Spong and stay wholeheartedly involved in religion too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Yesterday.  Saw a jet with its long vapor trail at dawn—made me yearn to be somewhere exotic.  Saw a bluebird in the afternoon sun with color out of Avatar.  Made me yearn to be right here.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Imitation of Christ

If I ever write a book on meditation the title might be, Jesus is the Way but the Buddha has a Map. Jesus is such an incredible example of passion, wisdom, compassion, creative communication, courage. Love in action. How did he get so wise, so open, so effective? As Christians we have a strong tradition of The Imitation of Christ. And our style of spiritual formation sometimes feels more like imitation than incarnation. A lot of willpower and the very best intentions but not enough transformation. Could we use some help?

And REAL Buddhism? It seems more than a little impossible for average people. Reaching enlightenment is said to take years of monastic training and decades of rigorous practice. But mindfulness meditation is a rich gift from the Buddhists, something the rest of us can gratefully begin to practice, enjoy and and benefit from today. Something we can also (writing with both humility and hubris) mess with. Which is what this blog is about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hiking the Spiritual Path

I don’t know that I’ve ever been lost hiking. I’ve had boots sinking deep and sucking mud with every step through boggy ground, and my back aching from twisting and crawling through laurel hells, and my spouse angry about our off-trail misadventures, but I’ve always known about where the intended trail was. That awareness comes from having a fair sense of direction and a better sense of the landscape where we usually hike. Our spiritual path has obvious parallels—like being called a ‘path’ for instance. Most—perhaps all—human beings have some innate way of perceiving the Path. And a growing knowledge of the Path comes as a great gift and as hard work.

When I’m tangled in interior laurel hells and feel like stopping, sitting down, swearing or crying I always know (eventually) the path is really never far away, that it is a self-deception to believe otherwise, to believe that here is a time and place to become discouraged and to give up.

The Path is always near, and the slogging or twisting to reach it may seem excessively boring or exquisitely painful. But ultimately and always it is not as painful or boring as giving in to being lost.

Short Prayer

Jesus, Wisdom proclaims that you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And we have heard and trusted and followed. Our minds are daily renewed and our hearts overflow with thanksgiving as we walk with you in this Way. Amen.