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Rest Awhile

When anyone asked Hazur about their struggles in meditation, his answer to their plight could generally be boiled down to two words: “more meditation.” On one of the Q&A sessions on the website, a woman recounts all her difficulties slogging through meditation, and Hazur said he could share a very secret answer with her – “meditation” – and everyone cracked up laughing.

This is the consistent advice from the Masters. It seems to be the consistent advice from spiritual teachers the world over. From the early Christian mystics known as the “Desert Fathers” we read:

A monk came to Abba Sisoes and said:
“What should I do Abba,
for I have fallen from grace?”
And he replied, “Get up again.”
The monk came back shortly after and said:
“What shall I do now, for I have fallen again?”
And the old man said to him,
“Just get up again.
Never cease getting back up again!”1

In other words, the only solution to distracted, discouraging meditation is more meditation. For monks in early Christian monasteries, studying, repeating and pondering sayings such as this one was part of their daily spiritual discipline. Hundreds of these sayings were gathered into manuals of instruction for the monks. Each day, along with their times of prayer and silent, inner contemplation, they would take one such saying to memorize in the morning and then to repeat and muse over all day. We can imagine ourselves when meditation has been difficult remembering over and over, “Just get up again. Never cease getting back up again!”

Yet, when we are exhausted from battling an enemy who simply doesn’t give an inch, how do we find the enthusiasm to take up the only solution the Masters offer: more meditation? We might find a helpful suggestion in another of the sayings the monks studied and repeated. This one comes from the early Christian mystic, John of Dalyutha:

If you are tired and worn out
by your labours for your Lord,
place your head upon his knee and rest awhile.
Recline upon his breast,
breathe in the fragrant spirit of life,
and allow life to permeate your being.
Rest upon him, for he is a table of refreshment
that will serve you the food of the divine Father.2

John of Dalyutha’s advice sounds different, but is actually the same as that given by our Masters: “If you are tired and worn out by your labours for your Lord” – that is, meditation – do more meditation. For how else can we, metaphorically, place our head upon the Lord’s knee other than through meditation? Isn’t meditation throwing our exhausted and weary selves on his mercy and “reclining upon his breast?”

Sometimes, when our two and a half hours of meditation has been a vivid and convincing illustration of what the saints mean when they say we are mere slaves – slaves of the mind, willingly dancing to its tune – and we’re feeling dry, desolate and discouraged, it might help to hold on to the image of meditation as a place of rest and refuge. The idea behind the monks devoting an entire day to pondering over one saying was to go deeper and deeper into its meaning, seeing how it applied directly to their own struggles on the spiritual path.

So we might wonder: Why do the Masters tell us that the only solution to dry, uninspired meditation is more meditation? Why do they say the only solution to restless, jumpy, let-me-out-of-here meditation is more meditation? Because, as John of Dalyutha puts it, it is in that meditation practice that we can “breathe in the fragrant spirit of life.”

Caught in the vast and tangled net of the world, driven by our karmic script, and reacting to every sensory input, we’re not alive. As slaves of the mind, we are like the walking dead. All day we play the part we’ve been assigned in the drama of the ever-changing world around us, but our time of meditation is – or can be – a time to “rest awhile” and allow “life” to permeate our being. It is in meditation that we can be nourished. As John of Dalyutha puts it, if we want to enjoy the divine food at that “table of refreshment,” we have to “rest upon him.”

  1. The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent, from the Desert Fathers and other Early Christian Contemplatives. McGuckin, John Anthony, translator. Boston: Shambhala Press: 2003, p. 46
  2. The Book of Mystical Chapters, p. 25