Bishop Philip Huggins – formerly President of the Australian Council of Churches – reflects that the sadness and suffering in the Ukraine have drawn us to prayer and meditation. Here, Bishop Huggins gives an understanding of meditation and the Jesus Prayer.
1. Meditation makes beneficial use of our gift of self-awareness
We are blessed to be self-aware, able to see ourselves as objects of our own awareness. We are able to simultaneously think about what we are thinking about! At least for a moment. We are able to choose what we will think about, or stop thinking about. We are able to choose what we will let influence our thinking.
This gift offers us the freedom of self-determination. It is a powerful gift. Yes, because what we think about will shape what we then say or not say; what we will do or not do. Over time, the pattern of our thinking, our words and our actions shape our character and destiny. We will become what we think!
Meditation helps us exercise our gift of self-awareness for the good.
In my practice, Mantric meditation gives me something to think about when I am aware that my thoughts are not ones that I want to continue. Instead of being absorbed by negative thinking, I place in my mind my mantra – ‘Jesus have mercy’- as a kind of circuit breaker.
The mind can be rather totalitarian – a closed system – as our thoughts take control of our words and actions. We know the tragedy of this when people wonder about their past damaging words and actions and say perplexedly: “what was I thinking?” I have been saved on countless occasions by being able to return to my mantra – “Jesus have mercy”- when aware of thinking that was best not continued.
At some point Russian leadership thought of invading the Ukraine. That thinking has led to actions of unspeakable sadness. And now we hear that there is the thought of the hitherto unthinkable – the first use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Insofar as this is the thinking of one powerful man, we see again the wisdom of democratic forms of governance – that ‘least worst’ form of governance with its resilient checks against absolute political power. Checks such as the separation of powers between the political and legal systems; free speech; a free media and strong intermediary organisations between the individual and the state, like Trade Unions, Universities, the Arts and Religious groups.)
Coming after the suffering of WW2, the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that: “since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
Meditation helps us exercise our gift of self-awareness. In being mindful of our thinking, we can be more peaceful and be better peacemakers. Peace is more than the absence of war, peace is the nurture of human life (attributed to Jane Addams, President of the International Congress of Women, The Hague, 1915). Our peacemaking involves nurturing a respectful, loving culture in which all can flourish. A meditating community is more crucial than ever.
2. The cultivation of an inner silence for better listening.
Meditation cultivates an inner silence and stillness. Silence is another language. It is the language for hearing the voice of God; for hearing our own truest, deepest voice and even for hearing more clearly the voice of an apparent enemy. Meditation cultivates the inner silence which is a prerequisite for accurate listening.
Would this conflict have erupted if there had been more patient and careful listening to each other’s fears and resentments? Remembering that an ‘enemy’ may be someone whose story we do not know very well or who’s understanding of their story has not been listened to respectfully. Like the Russian historical story of past invasions from the west and thus its concern about any closer proximity of NATO.
Would this conflict have erupted if there had been more honest recognition of our own mistakes, as part of a more reconciling dialogue? The Australian Government, for example, has never apologised for its participation in the invasion of Iraq on false grounds. This took place in spite of strong domestic opposition which was not listened to. We all make mistakes. How we handle them together is the key.
Getting beyond negative stereotypes of ‘the other’ requires an inner silence for truthfulness and for careful listening towards possible reconciliation. Nelson Mandela once ruefully conveyed that “hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die!”
President Putin today calls the west “an empire of lies”. Similar rhetoric goes back the other way, as his invasion is rightly condemned. There is resentment on both sides. Experts speak of resentment as the “emotion of justice” because it is usually accompanied by the sense that we need to hold on to our resentment in order to take a stance on some behaviour that we find unjust.
Can our meditation practice help cultivate an atmosphere of inner and outer stillness so that there can be better listening, beyond the hateful poisoning of resentful “Us” versus “Them” stereotypes? Aware of the awful suffering, we can but offer what we have to offer.
The human family is being ravaged by a global pandemic. Preventing catastrophic climate change requires unprecedented global cooperation to fully implement the Paris Agreement. There are more than 80 million people already forcibly displaced and now this number is rising as vulnerable people flee from the Ukraine.
We offer our meditations, recognising the needs of the hour.
3. We meditate as a matter of faith
Meditation is what we are drawn to offer in faith, not yet knowing what will be its fruitfulness. We may have begun in meditation because we knew we needed it for ourselves. Each of us has a story of how, thereafter, we came to see meditation as a crucial part of our service for the wellbeing of all. Accordingly, whatever might be our view on historical and political matters, we offer our meditation as a faithful service, trusting it will be helpful, even if this is in ways we may not see.
“Jesus have mercy”.
On Practicing the Jesus Prayer
We focus on the sacred name of Jesus.
Settle where you are comfortable. Sitting is best. Lying down induces sleep! Settle. Close your eyes.
A few deep breaths help your mind and body settle together.
Deep breaths but not to the point of strain.
When settled, simply repeat over “to Yourself” the short prayer phrase:
“Jesus have mercy”
The only instruction is to repeat the prayer under your breath, rather effortlessly.
When you lose the prayer, find you are thinking of other things, gently return to praying over
“Jesus have mercy”.
Meditate this way for some 10-15 minutes.
Then take your time to slowly open your eyes. Sit in silence awhile. Early morning is a good time as we orientate to the day. The transition from afternoon to evening is also a
good time, but not too close to bedtime.
This is an ancient technique of Christian meditation. Much is written about the Jesus prayer or the prayer of the Heart. You may know this already. There are longer versions at www.orthodoxprayer.org.
● The key is to practise the prayer. You can also pray it while walking, even swimming! It is simple, yet profound, like the Eucharist. Given that our thoughts shape our words and action, when we are aware of thoughts we do not want to continue, then praying “Jesus have mercy” helps us exercise our self- awareness and “think again”. So the Jesus Prayer is both practical and wonderful, as we are taken deeper into Communion with our Saviour .
● Many of you know these matters well and/or have another established pattern of meditation and contemplation with which you are fully satisfied.