Loring: Why ‘peace of mind’ just doesn’t cut it
Loring: Why “peace of mind” just doesn’t cut it
I've joined a Friends Worship Group here in Newmarket and we are slowly, very slowly, working our way through Patricia Loring's Listening spirituality, the first of a three-volume set on Quaker spirituality.
Yesterday, we read a quote from Father Thomas Keating (someone I have come across several times recently in connection with Integral Spirituality and the Future of Christianity), that warned: 'don't equate peace of mind with a contemplative attitude' (p108). At the end of the section I asked the group what they thought Keating meant by this as I was having trouble figuring it out.
There was discussion and listening to these wise women speak I was able to clarify it for myself in this way:
The most important distinction to make is that between traditional contemplation, a questioning focus or thoughtful observation of an issue, and contemplative prayer, the opening of oneself as a vessel to God. Both have intent, but what struck me was that the people I discussed this with all felt that contemplation was an active process – something we do or think about – while Loring makes it clear that contemplative prayer
is the name given the still, listening, nonverbal prayer in which we intentionally dispose ourselves to be receptive to God, either in conscious awareness of whatever is present or in openness to transformation in the depths of our being beyond consciousness. In Quaker traditions we speak mostly of 'waiting on the Lord' (p99).
Contemplative prayer takes us beyond the form of discursive prayer where we are talking to God and instead we simply (though seemingly impossibly for me right now) hold ourselves still with the intention of being with God.
How does this compare to 'peace of mind'? For me, peace of mind is the absence of fear and worry and anger. This seems like the same sort of state of mind that one would want for contemplative prayer to be effective, a type of emptiness. The difference that I feel exists between the two states is one of intention. Peace of mind happens when we let go of our concerns and live in the moment while contemplative prayer happens when we set an intention, a focus, a direction, of being with God and being open to God in a very profound way.
So I understood Keating's warning in this way – if you want to open to God you have to be intentional about it, not passive. What do you think?
On a side note, have you been to the Quaker Meeting House? It's one of the oldest structure in the area and quite beautiful in its quiet simplicity. Graceful, elegant and inspiring when I can bring my mind to sit quietly at Weekly Meeting. Check it out sometime – they always seem to be in Doors Open.