Pablo d’Ors

Glen Argan: Meditation ‘brings us back home’

  • September 19, 2019

Early in his book, Biography of Silence, Pablo d’Ors notes some of the many experiences he cultivated in his life as a young adult — travelling, reading voraciously and having numerous romances. “Like many of my contemporaries, I was convinced that the more experiences I had and the more intense and stunning they were, the sooner and better I would become a complete person.”

But he concludes that the quantity and intensity of those experiences only serve to bewilder a person and leave them estranged from themselves. Better to stop having stunning experiences and devote oneself to simply living one’s life.

I wondered about that. I have long been cool to the “bucket list” mentality — toting up all the experiences one desires to have and setting out to check off as many of those items as possible. 

For one thing, it is too contrived and self-centred. It is an extension of the consumer mentality, only now we consume experiences rather than things. For another, bucket lists usually involve substantial air travel which pours evermore greenhouse gases into an already over-carbonized atmosphere.

However, I don’t think insularity is a great accomplishment either. 

If humanity is to live in peace in a globalized world, we need to understand other cultures and meet people with experiences much different than our own. Such encounters must be much deeper than wallowing on a beach in Bora Bora while the locals bring you food and drink.

I also thought of how my trips to Bolivia, France and Spain had enriched my own life. 

Walking the Camino de Santiago four years ago was an experience which seemed to open a mysterious new dimension in my heart, something I am still living and discerning.

But d’Ors, now a priest and well-known writer in Spain as well as a member of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is asking more of us than to explore the question of insularity versus the cosmopolitan lifestyle. Rather, he wants our experience of the ordinary to be more than ordinary, to be transformative.

He describes his own efforts to meditate and how, through meditating, one can live more fully in the here-and-now. “We normally live scattered — that is to say, outside of ourselves. Meditation concentrates us, brings us back home and teaches us to live together with our own being.”

Enter into silence, stop dreaming of yourself and see the many distractions which attack your silence. Let them go, if you can. 

Yes, it is demanding. You may be beset by physical pain, uncomfortable memories, boredom, mental restlessness and a desire to do anything but sit and meditate. 

D’Ors says it was his personal tenacity which kept him faithful to the practice. Tenacity and the call of the silence itself. Once undertaken, the practice of meditation takes hold of a person and keeps drawing them back to the silence.

Some maintain that meditation is the key to world peace, an extravagant claim. That if each person allows themselves to be formed by silence, they will come to know themselves and to develop empathy and compassion for others. 

Maybe there is something to this. Western society is spiritually asleep; we need to wake up. When more people adhere to spiritual disciplines, perhaps the alarm bells will ring so loudly that they cannot be ignored.

I do not know whether d’Ors buys that notion. But he is clear in maintaining that the fruits of meditation will be seen not during the time of meditation, only in one’s life afterwards. One may begin to encounter God more and more in ordinary life, not so much during meditation itself.

Meditation is not a form of self-absorbed navel-gazing, although admittedly, it can become that. But aren’t we most self-absorbed when we daydream about ourselves and our pie-in-the-sky desires and ambitions? Aren’t we most self-absorbed when we are bathing in some new, stunning “experience”? Our thoughts and ideas distance us from ourselves, leading us out of the moment into a fantasy world. 

Meditation, whether Christian, Buddhist or whatever, begins with putting our thoughts to the side. The more we do that, the more open we will become to the love of God and the suffering of others.

Meditation and contemplation then are challenges to the contemporary world and its project of turning human beings into human doings. Anything human, let alone divine, starts by withdrawing from the perpetual steeplechase after nothing and becoming rooted in the silence.

(Argan is program co-ordinator at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.)

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