Welcome to the ICCD Contemplative Sitting Network
In Alice Walker’s recent collection of poems, The World Will Follow Joy, the poet expresses her yearning for peace in the image of “Turning Madness into Flowers.” She writes: It is my thought that the ugliness of war, of gratuitous violence in all its hideous forms, will cease very soon to appeal to even the most insulated of human beings. It will be seen by all for what it is: a threat to our well-being, to our survival as aspecies, and to our happiness.
Walker looks forward to “a great awakening” she believes has “already begun” that “will turn our madness into flowers….”
ICCD shares Alice Walker’s faith and has been planting the seeds for this hoped-for flowering for almost twenty years through its commitment to communal contemplation.
One of ICCD’s flowerings is our Contemplative Sitting Network. This network originated as part of the follow-up to the one day ICCD program “Transformation in a Time of Uncertainty.” From its beginning in 2013, there are currently over 900 members throughout the world, primarly in North America. They are engaged in contemplative sitting for 20 minutes every morning seeking in the words of Ilia Delio, “new relationships of love that include Earth, all peoples, other religions, all planets and all galaxies.”
If you currently have a contemplative sitting practice in which you engage we invite you to join with us daily, usually between the hours of 6—7:30 AM in your time zone, expanding the intention to be open to the workings of God within to include personal, ecclesial and societal transformation.
If you do not have such a practice, at the conclusion of this letter you will find simple instructions to assist you in beginning such a practice.
As ICCD has been moving in its second decade we have been focused on “Exercising Contemplative Power.” In developing this concept we were reminded of Dorothy Soelle’s words: “Contemplation sees things as God sees them and leads to an active resistance to evil.” We recognized that although we each exercise our own contemplative power, we want to grow in our capacity to exercise it together.
The Contemplative Sitting Network gives us an opportunity to move more deeply into both of these realities.
We are delighted that you are joining with us in your own place as we plant seeds of hope – “turning madness into flowers.”
Nancy Sylvester, IHM
Margaret Galiardi, OP
Delio, Ilia, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution and the Power of Love. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013.
Soelle, Dorothy, quoted in “Exercising Contemplative Power”
Walker, Alice, The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers. NY: The New Press, 2013.
Commit to Sitting
Commit to a daily contemplative practice, usually between the hours of 6:00-7:30 AM in your time zone, knowing you are part of this larger network.
How to Begin a Contemplative Sitting Practice
As the intention is to build a contemplative sitting practice into your daily routine, not simply to turn to it on occasion, the following considerations will prove helpful:
Select a time of a day and place in which you will practice every day. There will no doubt be exceptions to this, but generally if your desire is make contemplative sitting a part of your daily routine, it is best to begin with a set time and place until you have established this practice.
Our Contemplative Sitting Network hours are between 6—7:30 AM in your time zone. Again there may be occasions which demand that you practice outside of these hours. It is better to do that than to skip the practice, especially as you begin.
You may wish to light a candle as you begin to signal to yourself that what you are about to embark upon is special.
You posture should be such that your spine is straight and your feet flat on the floor. You want to be both relaxed and alert. If you wish you can open the palms of both your hands on your lap.
As time becomes somewhat illusive during contemplative sitting (sometimes the minutes seem to pass very quickly; at other times the minutes seem to drag), you may wish to use a timer and set it for the desired minutes…for our purposes here 20 minutes. (A digital timer eliminates ticking.)
There’s lot of thinking about eyes open or closed. Do what works for you.
As you begin your contemplative practice first set the intention to access the Divine within you.
Then begin your sitting. Here are some ways to assist you in focusing and letting go of your everyday thoughts opening yourself to this deep presence.
Follow your breath. Turn to God with love and begin by watching your own breath. You can count your breaths if you wish. One being the in-breath and two the out-breath. Slowly keep on counting until you have reached ten. Then return to one and begin again. Or simply follow your breath on the in-breath and then the out-breath. Returning to your breath when your mind starts to wander.
Repeat a phrase or word. Select a phrase or word that you will keep repeating. It is called a mantra. You might wish to select the name of Jesus, or more generally a word such as Love,” or “Peace,” or the Greek word from the New Testament, “Maranatha.,” meaning “Come, Lord Jesus.” Slowly keep repeating this word in synch with your own breath. When you notice you are thinking of something else, gently return to your mantra to refocus your attention.
Begin with a word then let it go. Begin by repeating a sacred word. Then when you are centered, stop saying the word and drop down into the silence. If thoughts come, simply let them float through your mind. You are creating an openness and cultivating a detached attitude toward your thoughts. Go back to your sacred word and refocus your intention when you notice you are thinking of something else.
Do remember not to become upset when you notice you have begun to think about something else. This is very normal.
When the time for contemplative sitting is concluded, take a minute or so to bring your attention back to your immediate surroundings and then begin to go about your daily routine.
Summer often brings opportunity for a change of pace in a variety of ways. Perhaps it is a few extra shows or a different kind of reading. As Labor Day looms on the horizon I ask myself among all the characters I have encountered during these “lazy, hazy days of summer” who offered a nugget of wisdom that I/we might hold on to in this most interesting of times. My response: Rafiki the baboon. If you have seen Lion King you will recall that it is he who asks Simba the question: “Who Are You?”
Although we are repeatedly told by teachers that contemplative sitting is most authentic without any agenda, it is amazing how daily periods of intentional silence brings us face to face with our deepest identity. Without seeking an answer to Rafiki’s question we discover it in the embrace of Unconditional Love. Then ever so slowly the realization dawns: We are meant to be that Love in the world today—nothing less.
As we respond to white nationalism from our deepest level of being: Unconditional Love; as we respond to gun violence from our deepest level of being : Unconditional Love; as we respond to anti-immigration sentiment from our deepest level of being Unconditional Love. Norman Fischer, the poet and Zen priest has a book entitled: The World Could Be Otherwise. I haven’t read it yet but I love the title—more than that, I believe in the truth the title conveys. It flows after all, from the gift of Deepest Being offered to each of us in contemplative sitting.
The world needs you—each of us at our deepest level of being so, keep sitting!
Enjoy the remaining days of summer!
Margaret and Nancy
Wow could the world use some imagination right now! The deceased Jesuit Tom Clarke defined this rare quality as, “The ability to re-arrange the elements of experience in order to make room for new possibilities.” Dorothy Day had it. Rosa Parks had it. Gandhi had it. Jesus certainly had it. They all seem to share a consciousness which continues to surprises us—even down to our own day– with the most unconventional of thoughts and/ or actions. We all have our favorite examples. And we all wonder how they got there.
These days we have verifiable evidence that contemplative practice can change the brain. We are told that intentional silence has the capacity to carve new neural pathways in the brain making different thoughts and actions possible. This gives new meaning to the old adage “Prayer changes things.” It helps to create that most insidious of questions, “What If.” Hence Dorothy and Rosa sat down and Jesus and Gandhi stood up, all in service of that divine reversal that brings good out of evil, justice out of injustice, and love out of hatred.