The Quiet Mind
Many of you know that I’m a lifetime member of the American Psychological Association – my original professional home as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. And a few short years ago, I attended the annual meeting when it was held in D.C. (Can you imagine thousands of psychologists converging on one city? In addition to providing the major venue for scientific papers in areas of research extending from neuroscience to personality and social factors that shape our minds and behavior, the annual gathering is a great excuse for reunions with old friends from across the country.) Many of you know that I’m a lifetime member of the American Psychological Association – my original professional home as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. And a few short years ago, I attended the annual meeting when it was held in D.C. (Can you imagine thousands of psychologists converging on one city? In addition to providing the major venue for scientific papers in areas of research extending from neuroscience to personality and social factors that shape our minds and behavior, the annual gathering is a great excuse for reunions with old friends from across the country.)
APA is made up of many specialized divisions, and I’m a member of Division 36 – the Division of Religion and Spirituality. And one of the paper sessions sponsored by that Division was one concerned with what is termed “mindfulness.” As you probably know, this is a meditative practice primarily situated within Buddhism, but a popular spiritual exercise practiced by Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others of no religious affiliation.
I got to the session a bit late, and I was astonished that there was standing room only. The conference hall where the session was held was a huge ballroom, and folks were sitting on the floor and standing in the aisles if they got there late. (I perched on a platform in the back by the audio-visual guy who was recording the session!) The only point I want to make here is that the subject matter of this clinically oriented session was a huge draw, and it made me wonder about the practice of “mindfulness” and how it might fit into our Christian tradition.
More recently, I had dinner with an old friend from Lexington – a Roman Catholic fellow who for many years has been deeply involved in Buddhist meditative practices. We got to talking about retreat houses where each of us have spent some time, and I admitted that I hadn’t taken myself on a silent retreat in about three years – before my husband Bud got very ill. Oh, I’ve traveled plenty by myself – to Wintergreen to hike; to Lewisburg, West Virginia; to enjoy the town and its quaintness – but haven’t gone to a “sacred” space since 2011.
As a firm believer in providential meetings – how God speaks to us through books and principally through other people – I believe that through that dinner conversation with my old friend, I was inspired to call Shalom House in Montpelier, Virginia — a retreat house that I know well from years past. And so I’ve made arrangements to spend the better part of a week there in early November. I’m so looking forward to that time and place of peace, to practice silent prayer, to rest and to think, and … yes, maybe do a bit of reading research for the book I’m currently writing.
Providentially (!), a book has just come across my desk titled Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, & Wisdom. I ordered it because the particular chapter I’m about to write is titled “I’m on fire. The Celebration of Life,” and is basically about our experience of song and joy as part of our biological make-up with evolutionary roots. The two authors of Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius, are both scientists. However – although they concentrate on brain wiring — they do not rule out the impingement of God as we engage in meditative practice. In the opening chapter, Rick Hanson writes, “Richard and I both believe that something transcendent is involved with the mind, consciousness, and the part of awakening – call it God, Spirit … or by no name at all. Whatever it is, by definition it’s beyond the physical universe.” (p. 9) Later on, he says while taking “a deep bow to the transcendent,” the book that follows stays within Western scientific tradition and evidence.
As I said a couple of blogs ago, I have been a practitioner of silent prayer for many years. Because of life circumstance, I’ve pulled away from silence for the past year or so, but I think I’m ready to return to the practice. So I’ll take Buddha’s Brain with me, and glean from it what I can find useful in my own life and writing. And providentially maybe something very good will come of it all. I’ll let you know in a future blog posting!