A disciple once confessed to her Master that at one point in her life, she had loved him intensely, but with the passing of time she no longer felt that way anymore. Tears filled her eyes as she further questioned whether she had ever truly loved him at all, because she knew that real love is supposed to be everlasting. With much compassion, the Master explained to her that she had not stopped loving her Master, but that ‘life’ had simply gotten in the way. Life?
Yes, life. It happens to us all. Certain life-altering events hit us like a powerful storm that shakes us at our very core. Marriage, the birth of a child, moving to a new city, or even that crucial project at work, are examples of circumstances that can uproot our daily lives. Unfortunately, no matter how joyous or fulfilling, such life-altering events often have the effect of disrupting our daily meditation practice. A new mother who gets up every few hours to nurse her baby, or a young associate who works through the night to close a deal, or a Ph.D student working tirelessly to complete his thesis on time, may all find it practically impossible to adhere to their meditation schedules. When faced with such challenges, some disciples may resort to shortening their allotted meditation time, while others may stop meditating altogether.
Life spares nobody. The demands of life affect even very disciplined souls. While still in the monastery, the author of Adventure of Faith, a nun, explained how she had gotten completely consumed by the task of designing and manufacturing a whole set of pontifical vestments:
The execution of this project demanded an effort that absorbed all my time and energy for about a year and a half, and I was literally unable to think of anything else. I followed the communal prayer mechanically and I practically gave up my personal prayer, so that the inner contact with God loosened more and more. The divine horizon in my life had vanished and the world of faith hardly touched me anymore….
Many of us can relate with the sentiments expressed by the author. Eventually though, life settles down for all of us. However, having neglected our meditation practice for so long, turning towards God again may seem like a foreign task. The idea of sitting still in silence for two and a half hours appears intimidating. In fact, to meditate for even just a few minutes can be so difficult. For many of us, it took years to build our meditation practice and we feel as though we now have to train our mind and body all over again. This author also expressed such sentiments once her project was finally completed in the summer of 1962:
In the summer of 1962, the project was completed and I found myself in the ruins of my spiritual life. Filled with horror, I stared into the burnt-out place that once had been a God-loving heart.… I was paralyzed and knew that a new beginning was impossible. I had neglected Him too much…. At that time, I found myself incapable of a single thought that might bring me close to God again.… My reckless ambition had destroyed everything that had developed in all those years since my first encounter with God.
Where do we start to pick-up the pieces of a shattered spiritual life, or even better, prevent life from getting in the way again? The Master has often told us that meditation is our ‘life support system’, but when we have been unplugged for so long and are completely drained of spirituality, from where do we get the initial boost required to get back on track?
The good news is that meditation is like riding a bicycle; we never completely forget what we have learnt. The skill remains ingrained in us – however, if we have not ridden in a while, our body and mind will undoubtedly wobble when we initially try to ride and balance again. But with practice and perseverance, little by little, we must continue to call out to the Lord for his mercy and grace through meditation – for the Lord alone can rescue us and restore us to a ‘life’ with him. “I need your grace, to remind me to find my own” becomes our sincerest request “so that no matter how intrusive ‘life’ may get, I shall never let go of your hand again.”
Do not be disheartened with your imperfections,
but always rise up with fresh courage.
There is no better means of attaining to the spiritual life
than by continually beginning again.
Saint Francis de Sales, as quoted in The Complete Guide to World Mysticism