A lake bound journey of liberation

On a visit to the monastery of St Naum, on the shores of Lake Ohrid, I remember standing alone in the small side chapel that houses his tomb. I was looking at one of the frescoed images of his life and meditating. Suddenly, an adjustment was made to the pattern of my breathing, and its association with the mantra, as if an instruction had been given from without, though silently. It was a micro-adjustment, so gentle and subtle, but one that gave me then, continuing now, a renewing focus. I only have to stand there in my imagination again to receive the helpful 'nudge' once more, to go more deeply into the breath of things.

It is that kind of place for those who recognize or are recognized by it, as Kassabova does, is.

It is at St Naum that Kapka Kassabova finishes her journey in her remarkable book: 'To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace.' It continues and extends her reflection on borders of her previous book: 'Border: A Journey on the Edge of Europe'…

Yoga's surprising journey

When I learned Transcendental Meditation in my early teens in the 1970s, I kept it quiet from my peers for fear of appearing weird. A decade later, when helping to found the Prison Phoenix Trust (PPT) to provide opportunities for inmates to learn yoga and meditation, the situation had not greatly improved. The work being fitfully supported within pockets of the prison service and looked upon with varying degrees of suspicion by its chaplaincy service.

Fast forward and the landscape is transformed - yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry and mindfulness is practiced in the boardroom. Happily too, the work of the PPT enjoys widespread support from the Prison Service, it appears to have entered the mainstream.

Yet too there is a legitimate concern with this explosion of interest. After all, is not yoga meant to be an exacting spiritual discipline enabling the practitioner to discover their fundamental, underlying reality as one with the Self that manifests all that is?

Not necessarily …

Love & forgiveness: Reimagining Christianity through a Course in Miracles

In 1944, C.G. Jung had a near-death experience and like many recipients of this experience found returning to the body challenging and was only ‘persuaded’ to do so by the sense that there was unfinished work for him to do. He experienced the subsequent return as a case of felt imprisonment. This sense that the everyday world we inhabit is seriously out of step with a deeper underlying and freeing reality is a common one. It is one of the key drivers of ‘religion’. We are not as we are meant to be. The world, as currently perceived, is, at best, awry, at worst, an imprisoning entrapment. Is this simply a misplaced uncertainty? One that should be dispelled from our minds with a healthy, materialist reminder that this is the only world that there is, or could possibly be. Purposefully enjoy it until the end comes, and all is finished. Learn to love your transiency! Yet, as Richard Smoley notes, in his recently published erudite, well-constructed and thoughtful book, "A Theology of Lo…

Priestley at Kissing Tree House: An author remembered

It is fitting in the year that I read the 'Good Companions' and 'Lost Empires' for the first time and re-read the magical, 'The Magicians' again that I ended the year reading the newly published, "Priestley at Kissing Tree House: A Memoir" by his long-time secretary, Rosalie Batten. Priestley hoped she might write a book about him, knowing him better than anyone who might undertake such a task, and she did. She started it in 1986, two years after his death and it was only discovered at Batten's death by her daughter. It now appears in an edition by Great Northern Books.

It is an overwhelmingly affectionate portrait but does not spare the author his vanities nor his contradictions. He was most insistent, for example, that people spelt his name right, "Priestley" not, as often rendered, "Priestly", he was overly concerned, at the time, that he was being forgotten just as B…

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Family Scene by Kahlil Gibran

Stewart J. was the first chairperson of the Prison Phoenix Trust, a Quaker and, for many years, a probation officer in Oxford. He is the only person who 'forced' me to have a pay rise (through getting me, gently, to realize that our fund-raising was bearing fruit, we were on a roll and there was such a thing as being too careful with resources)! 
I once asked him how he lived with the challenges of his work, over so many years, given the space for continuous disappointment. He replied, "I have learnt to hope for everything because anything is possible; and, expect nothing as it may not come to be." To hope for everything in a world in which every person carries the 'inner light within' whilst recognizing that the mystery of the person always remains intact. It should never be foreclosed by his expectations, for good or ill.
I sense that this kind of open hope, itself, creates space for real change. It is an invitation for people…

Saintly advice on mindfulness

When the novelist and journalist, Arthur Koestler, visited Japan in the late 1940s, one of the people he wanted to meet was Eugen Herrigel, author of the spiritual classic, 'Zen in the Art of Archery'. This beautiful account of the cultivation of attention within a meditative path is justly acclaimed so it came as a shock to Koestler that Herrigel appeared not to have renounced his profound sympathies with National Socialism in spite of the stark, post-war revelation, of the human costliness of its essential depravity. Without a framing intention and a guiding telemetry towards a transforming goal, the practice of diligent mindfulness can sharpen your awareness to no necessary good effect!

My brief in giving a day to the regional gathering of Christian Meditation groups, affiliated to the World Community for Christian Meditation, this Saturday was to help people think around - what is it that support and sustains the direction of our meditative practice and what meaningfully …

Learning to pray with the Russian pilgrim

When I was at university, there was a 'mission' - three evenings - the first the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, the second the 'double act' of Archbishops Sheppard and Warlock and, finally, third, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. All three days were interesting, the last was compelling; and, as was my way, I wrote to Metropolitan Anthony and found myself sitting in his kitchen, drinking tea, and receiving instruction in the Prayer of the Heart (or Jesus Prayer) that sits at the centre of Orthodox Christian spirituality. The Metropolitan helped to 'baptise' my meditational practice that ever since has been an exploration into the mercy and compassion that is at the heart of silence.

I had been made aware of the prayer by reading 'The Way of the Pilgrim' that is an anonymous text, published in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century, that is probably best known (outside of Christian circles) for being placed as a central &qu…