Glastonbury Abbey Meditation & Prayer Walk

Glastonbury Abbey Meditation and Prayer Walk

Introduction

Glastonbury Abbey is a place of Christian hospitality. In that spirit, we welcome people of all faiths and of no faith. And we invite you to enjoy our Prayer and Meditation Moments.

For hundreds of years this beautiful abbey was a place of worship, of learning and of sanctuary. As you enter its grounds, you may want to contemplate that your life is a spiritual journey.

Wherever you approach one of the areas indicated on the map, slow down and pause. Take the opportunity to breathe calmly and find peace within yourself. Then, if it feels right, follow the brief instructions.

You can do as many or as few of these Prayer and Meditation Moments as you choose. There is no particular sequence to them so you can do them in any order that works for you. We have however mapped two walks – a short one and a long one – which you might want to explore.

ST PATRICK’S CHAPEL

Many people came to Glastonbury Abbey for healing.  Sit quietly in this chapel. As best you can, breathe calmly and allow your body to sink and be at ease. Quietly say this prayer:

I am open to receive the gift of healing.
May all people and creatures be blessed with good health.

  

HOLY THORN

This Glastonbury Thorn tree flowers twice a year in Winter and in Spring, like a Middle Eastern thorn.  Legend suggests that it is a cutting from an ancient line of trees that dates back to the visits of Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. Quietly contemplate:

How wonderful that the cells of this tree carry its history and its future.
May I always see the connections and wonder of all life.

LADY CHAPEL Upper Level

This chapel is dedicated to the worship and celebration of Mary the mother of Christ. The divine female can be found in many spiritual traditions. Quietly say this prayer:

Mother of the world, help me to love and care for all beings.

 

ST JOSEPH’S CHAPEL Lower Level

There are legends that Joseph, the uncle of Jesus, came to this very spot bringing the chalice from the Last Supper. Walk slowly and mindfully towards the altar. Quietly say this prayer:

I am grateful that I am safe and have a home.
May all people have a safe home.

 

ARTHUR’S TOMB

Legend states that King Arthur and Queen Guinevere are buried here. Their court was home to the Round Table of chivalrous and brave knights. Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of injustice may I have the strength, courage and wisdom to support and champion the weak and vulnerable.

CLOISTER

Here in the cloister the monks walked slowly, praying and contemplating life. See how slowly you can walk around the cloister and at the same time calm your breathing.

May I be slow and calm. May I be wiser and more loving. Help me understand life’s difficulties and guide me into clarity.

ABBOT’S KITCHEN

In this kitchen food was prepared daily for the Abbot’s visitors. Quietly say this prayer:

The food I eat comes from nature, plants, animals, farmers, transporters, traders and cooks. I give thanks to all of them.
May everyone be fed and well.

 

HERB GARDEN

A monastic Herb garden would have supplied medicines, aromas and flavours. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the beautiful diversity and healing power of nature; and I give thanks too for the gardeners and their care.

ORCHARD

Every year this beautiful orchard gives an abundant harvest of apples. Quietly say this prayer:

Thank you mother nature for your beauty and your abundance. May I always remember and care for you.

 

FISH POND (Lower)

Water is one of the four ancient elements. Earth. Water. Air. Fire. This beautiful pond is cradled by earth. It is filled with water.Airand wind play on it. Light from the fireof the sun reflects from its surface. Quietly say this ancient prayer:

Earth my body. Water my blood. Air my breath. And Fire my spirit.
I am one with All That Is. 

WILDLIFE POND (Upper)

‘Ask the animals,’ said St Francis, ‘and they will teach you the beauty of this earth.’ At this pond we find fish and fowl. Pause. Calm your breath and be at ease.  Notice the fish, the birds, and the insects. Be aware too of the sky and the hills around you. Feel the air against your skin. Quietly say this prayer:

I give thanks for the blessings and gifts of all animals. May all creatures be treated with care and respect.

 

PARK AREA – BODY PRAYER 

There is a beautiful tradition of moving your body in tune with a prayer.

Slowly raise your arms above your head and stretch upwards:

The universe is filled with mystery and love.

Slowly bring your hands down and place them over your heart:

I too am filled with mystery and love.

Lower your hands so that your palms face the earth – or kneel down and touch the earth:

I bless the Earth and all living beings.

Repeat the action as many times as you like.

 

WILDLIFE AREA

In this area we celebrate untamed nature – God’s garden.  Be quiet. Imagine our whole planet and humanity living in complete harmony with the natural world. Quietly say this prayer:

From the tiniest insect and wild flower, out to the greatest ocean and mountain, may I celebrate the beauty of all creation.

BEAUTIFUL TREE 

Choose any tree that you like. In many spiritual traditions, trees are a symbol of strength and wisdom. Pause and imagine that you are a tree. Imagine and sense that you have roots growing deep into the ground. Feel the strength of your trunk. Feel the flexibility and movement of your branches.Quietly say this prayer:

In a world of endless change and noise, may I be like this tree – strong, flexible and wise.

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You can view and download a PDF of this leaflet on the Glastonbury Abbey website: https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/resources/glastonbury_abbey_meditation_and_prayer_walk.pdf

What is Health and Healing?

Every Thursday at noon I sit in St Joseph’s Chapel in Glastonbury Abbey and participate in a healing meditation. It is a simple twenty-minute session: being still; awareness that healing is always available; receiving healing; sending healing to wherever there is suffering.

Sometimes in this meditation I contemplate what exactly is happening. I have one sceptical brain cell enquiring whether spiritual healing is real, or whether it is just a displacement activity to make me feel useful in a world where I may be useless. But this doubt is more than balanced by a clear sense, a deep knowing, that something real and useful is truly happening

In my meditation I also enjoy contemplating the nature of good health. Good health it seems to me  is best defined as a state of comfort and flexibility.  There is enjoyable harmony and flow. This applies to both our physical and mental states. It is similar too for societies. Bad health is the opposite. Illness is pain and rigidity. Movement hurts – physically and emotionally. Nothing flows.

If we accept this simple flip-flop – comfort and flexibility versus pain and rigidity – then we can suggest a coherent definition of healing. Healing is surely anything that facilitates comfort and flexibility. This definition is appropriate for modern medicine. It also reflects the Taoist philosophy that the universe is a harmonious ocean of flowing states; so a healthy state, for an individual or a community, is also to be in harmony with this continuous flux and flow.

In this context the process of all healing methods – surgery, medication, touch, spiritual healing, exercise, diet, being in nature and so on – can then be easily described. First, identify what is uncomfortable and rigid. Second, intervene with an appropriate strategy to enable comfort and flow. 

There are obvious problems of course if we deny or misdiagnose the rigidity. More difficulties can be triggered too if we seek an easy healing intervention, instead of an effective one.  A simple example from most of our lives is when we feel emotional pain and then intervene with food instead of perhaps some quiet in nature or a dance.

It is a simple reality of life that most of us at some time or another experience pain and therefore seek healing. The good news is that within each of us is there is a great doctor, a wonderful agent of healing: our own consciousness. 

Your consciousness – your mind, your awareness, your soul – can acknowledge your pain, seek to understand it and find the best medicine to bring yourself back into flow, comfort and flexibility.

The Spirit of Findhorn

 

Two decades ago I wrote a short article about the ‘Spirit of Findhorn’ for Network News. I forgot about it until last week when a conference organiser at the Findhorn Foundation asked me whether they could reprint that article to help promote their coming Autumn conference. I replied. ‘Yes of course you can.’

Re-reading the article I quite like it still. Most of all, however, I find myself pondering how I am also in an awkward situation. On the one hand I am deeply involved in a project to mainstream a holistic and person-centred approach to spirituality; so I have to appear acceptable and sensible. (Great I have a Ph.D. from LSE etc.) On the other hand I have written a book on angels and fairies, and here I am too writing an article about the angel of Findhorn. (Whoops. This is a bit woo-woo and flaky and bonkers.)

So this is what I say to people who are snobbish and sarcastic about fairies and angels. I say to them: Have you never felt the beauty of landscape? Have you never felt the presence of a tree or mountain or river or ocean or cathedral? Where is your poetic imagination ? Why do you lock yourself in a realm devoid of mystery and imagination? Etcetera!

What follows is my original piece for Findhorn. If you are interested in their Autumn conference click here
On the other hand you might want to join me for the Diploma in Practical Spirituality and Wellness that I am leading at Findhorn starting in October in four four-day slots. More info here

 

THE SPIRIT OF FINDHORN

People often ask me about visiting Findhorn and I also often have an intuition that people need to visit Findhorn. I also often find myself saying this:

“Even if the workshop is rubbish, even if the workshop facilitators are rubbish, you will nevertheless have an extraordinary experience. There is a spirit to the place that transcends and permeates even the worst events.”

This, I know, can sound like faint praise. But it also acknowledges one of the most important realities about the Findhorn foundation: It has an extraordinary and wonderful spirit.
The spirit of Findhorn. What do we mean by this? We mean that there is some kind of mythical and energetic being, some essence, which is at the very core of the place. This spirit of Findhorn can equally be called the ‘over-lighting angel’ of the place.

In tribal societies, in classical Rome and Athens, there was no problem about discussing the spirits, gods and goddesses, and angels. Every activity had a spirit. Every place had a spirit. Athens was over-lit by the great angel and goddess, Athena. There is a myth that this being went on to over-light Constantinople and then London.

If a flower can be over-lit and coloured by a fairy, if a mountain can have its huge and sweeping mountain spirit, why can’t a wonderful human community also have its angel? Anyone with the slightest sensitivity, if they choose to sit in silence and to open their psychic awareness, immediately feels and senses this presence that permeates and over-lights everything at Findhorn.

When I first came to Findhorn and sat in the sanctuary, I swooned at the magnificence and beauty and healing nature of this wonderful angelic presence that is companion to the whole community.
Sometimes people forget that a human community is also an eco-system, as fantastic and complex as anything in the Amazon rain forest. And like any eco-system, it has its nature spirits. Human beings are, despite appearances in the industrialised world, not separate from nature and Gaia. We are part of nature and we too have our great nature spirits that work with us, as individuals and as communities.

I would dare to suggest that the Angel of Findhorn has a magnificent history of being involved with human communities. Within her energy field she carries lovingly tolerant and understanding patterns of how humans can behave and inspiring blueprints of how fully perfect this community can be.

Even the most cynical of visitors may quickly become seduced by the quality of silence at Findhorn. What is this quality? It is the atmosphere of the Angel’s energy field inspiring us to something new and more loving.

Every time I visit Findhorn, I am touched, moved and educated not only by the people, but by the ever present spirit of the place. I am grateful and I seek to encourage everyone and anyone to enjoy a similar relationship.

For the Findhorn Co-Creative Spirituality Conference:
https://www.findhorn.org/programmes/co-creative-spirituality/

For the Diploma in Practical Spirituality & Wellness:
https://www.findhorncollege.org/programmes/applied-spirituality.php

Gut and Nirvana

What is the connection between the state of your gut and spiritual wisdom?

If you are up-to-speed with developments in medicine you will know that there is substantial evidence now for the health connection between the lower intestine and the brain. This is so well evidenced that some hospitals are performing poo transplants, replacing unhealthy with healthy faeces. The condition of the gut is implicated in so many illnesses. Some of them are obvious, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and cancer. Some are more unexpected such as autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other mental health conditions.

Spiritual traditions have known about the gut’s importance for millennia. You can see it expressed in drawings and sculptures of many goddess figures and Buddhas. These images show a contented being with a large but very comfortable belly.

In most traditions of meditation, self-healing and internal martial arts, there is clear guidance to be at ease in our abdomens – to ground, centre and earth our bodies. When we do this, our stomachs relax and sink. There is a shift in our physical and mental states. We become calm in our bodies. Our centre of gravity drops down into our abdomen and is no longer in the chest or head. The feeling is good and comfortable. From this stable and agreeable state we can then meditate and do our spiritual practices more effectively.

The teaching is always the same. Be centred and at ease in your body. In martial arts and classical Japanese medicine there is a single word for this state – hara. To be in hara means to be grounded down in your body and at the same time kind and mindful.
All of this points to a very clear traditional understanding of mind-body-spirit integration.

This connection between the gut and our psychological state is so clearly demonstrated in anxiety and tension. When we are anxious our gut is tense, acidic and its microbes unbalanced. Our heartbeat is not integrated. Our breath is uncomfortable. Our brains are over-stimulated and it is difficult to think straight. We may sweat or shake or feel nauseous.

Most spiritual traditions teach the same quick and efficient way to manage that horrible state. It is very simple: belly breaths. These are soft, slow and calm breaths down into the abdomen. Just two or three soft breaths can work wonders.
These gentle abdominal breaths send reassuring messages through our neuro-endocrinal system. They are a signal that we are in control and consciously self-managing. Get your abdomen to be at ease – and it will ripple through your whole body, calming your heart, breath and brain.

But for me there is more to it than just the physical and mental wellbeing. There is also an important spiritual dimension. This is the crucial concept that the spiritual purpose of being human is to manifest love and compassion, and to become fully mindful and conscious. I am sure that many of my readers align with this philosophy: we are here to embody love.

And one thing is certain. If we are a bag of nerves, dealing with the frantic arousals of survival and anxiety, we cannot fulfil this spiritual purpose. On the contrary, we need a calm foundation, a gut that is at peace.

Our bodies need to be at ease so that we are oases of calm and blessing in a wounded world. So whenever you can and whenever you need, remember the universal strategy taught for millennia across the world: Gentle, slow, soft breaths down into the belly. Just two or three soft breaths can shift the mood. This is good for your health, your spiritual growth and everyone around you.

Happy breathing.

BBC Radio 2 Moment of Reflection

This is the text of my BBC Radio 2 ‘Moment of Reflection’ broadcast on 8 October 2017

 

BBC RADIO – MOMENT OF REFLECTION

 

The annual season of party political conferences has just ended
And I find myself thinking:
Political parties are a bit like religions.
There are
Strongly held beliefs.
Internal divisions.
Conflicts with those of other faiths.

But both of them – political parties and religions –are fuelled by idealism
– a wish to make life better for everyone.

People who are into religion and spirituality however
Don’t need power.
We influence through personal behaviour,
through modelling
how to live in a way
That serves and cares for others.

We are, I suggest, inspired by a personal connection
With life’s wonder, goodness and beauty –
By whatever name we call it.
And we are inspired too by a knowing that the purpose of human life
Is not
material success and status.
But we are all of us on a journey
Developing
love,
compassion
and wisdom.

So I have a prayer
May our politicians– here and across the world –
be inspired by those same high ideals.
Love
Compassion
Wisdom

Pause

Silence

*

You can listen to the audio of this here on the BBC website:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05jh54q

If you want to listen to the whole interview that precedes the reflection, you can listen to it here on the BBC website. My interview starts at 7:40am
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b096xwzl

Your Daily Bath in Paradise

Your Daily Bath in Paradise

Published in Cygnus Review August 2017

Iceland Hot Spring

 

Your Daily Bath in Paradise – Earth and Fire

What kind of spiritual education do children deserve? Or to put it another way what would you have liked when you were a child?

This question was triggered for me when I recently helped develop a personal and social health education programme (PSHE) for a large secondary school. I started to think about what I had received and not received from my parents and schooling. There were some good things but there was also an awful gap.

Starting with the good things, my parents definitely gave me a sense of ethics, of what is right and wrong, of social justice. They gave me a sense of valuing every individual. From school I also learned about fairness and the unacceptability of bullying. There was a general ethic too that our work lives and careers should in some way benefit society. Good guidance.

But then there was the gap. Spiritually there was nothing. We had some Bible study at school, with dismal hymn singing and a shallow look at world religions. At home there was atheism and a suspicion of anything religious.

There was not a single person in my childhood who shared with me their sense of the sheer wonder, energy and beauty of nature and all existence.

And that is the very heart of spirituality, isn’t it? Our natural experience – by whatever name you call it – of the beauty and awesome benevolent wonder of life. Like many children I had a sense of this wonder. Watching clouds changing shape. Standing next to big trees. Sensing there was something deeply special about Jesus beyond the church pomp.

But no adult, parent or teacher ever affirmed this spiritual dimension to me. Like most of us I had to develop it alone.

*

Today many years later I work as a spiritual companion and mentor.

Probably the most important thing I ever do for people is this: I reassure and affirm that the spiritual dimension is real and true.

On top of that I encourage and challenge people to develop a spiritual life style in which day by day they consistently connect with and fully experience the wonder, energy and benevolence of life.

This spiritual connection I advocate is our only truly reliable fuel, support and nurture. One colleague recently called it her ‘daily bath in paradise.’

So thinking again of our childhoods I wonder if it would be useful if parents or teachers said to children:

Look. Feel. Sense. Notice how wonderful and awesome life is.

The spiritual dimension is true, real and good.

Being reassured of that would surely be beneficial. It is the appropriate balance to the crude demands of materialism, isn’t it? It points to what really matters.

There is then a next step.

We then need to take regular time actually to experience our spiritual connection. Don’t just dip your toe in the water. Swim.

Here we meet the challenge.

I have supported many people in starting their daily spiritual practice. It is like a New Year’s resolution. The intention is clear. The fulfilment and self-discipline are unreliable.

People find it difficult to maintain a practice on their own. As a solution some people join a religious group for a group rhythm of worship or meditation. This can be very useful but also has risks such as fundamentalism and emotional harm.

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So Yes I do want a companion, parent or teacher to point out and affirm the spiritual dimension of life. But I also want a realistic awareness of the self-discipline we need to develop a daily spiritual practice in which we consistently connect with the beauty and wonder of life. It is a balance of beauty and purpose.

I do not want to force spiritual discipline on anyone. But daily practice requires a clear purposeful decision, an act of will.

Some people might bandy back that human beings are already too wilful and we just need to surrender to a divine will greater than ours. To this I respond: look at the spiritual teachers who inspire us — are they weak and without self-discipline and purpose?

Spirituality is not just air and water. It is also earth and fire.

*

(If you want some help developing your spiritual practice my book The Power of Modern Spirituality may help.)