This new book by Allan Armstrong is about our individual spiritual life, which means that it deals with the interior world of our heart, our mind, and our soul. The title says it all – Spiritualise Your life – and the means by which we achieve that elusive goal is through engaging in Prayer and meditation. It requires no public demonstration, although it may be shared, nor does it require the approval of our peers; however, it is in no way diminished if we take those we respect into our confidence. Prayer and meditation go hand in hand, one a preparation and a platform for the other, enabling us to enter the inner world of our soul and to grow therein. I have heard and read many great minds describe Space as the great unknown, the ‘final frontier’, but, vast as it undoubtedly is, compared with the interior world of the soul it is little more than a pond. For those who engage in this great and beautiful work, it is not another planet or star-system that is our destination, but the inner kingdom of the soul, and that is the subject matter of this book.
Spiritualise Your life is divided into two parts; the first explores the frequently misunderstood practice of meditation from a unique perspective. That is to say, it is concerned with a) developing an understanding of the core biological and psycho-dynamic factors that stand in the way of our ability to meditate, and b) provides simple tried and tested guidelines, methods and techniques that enables us to recognise, understand and overcome the wide range of obstacles that confront our endeavours.
The material is designed and set out in a series of modules that may be undertaken either by an individual, or used in a group setting, and requires no further knowledge than is contained within each module. The exercises are self-explanatory and easy to engage with. It should be noted that the exercises contained within the modules, especially those regarding meditation, are not in themselves objectives, but a means by which effective meditation may be achieved. They are essentially stepping-stones or preparatory stages for the beginning of a journey of self-knowledge and should be approached as such; simply reading the text will not impart the ability to meditate effectively. Arguably, this material has an infinite potential of expression, limited only by the imaginations of those involved.
The word ‘meditation’ carries many connotations, derived from both popular culture and the richest faith traditions. Within the major faiths we find, for example, Mahayana Buddhists devoting their lives to meditation and contemplation, and Sufi mystics committing themselves to the lifelong development of spiritual practices. And similarly in popular culture: the Beatles sat briefly at the feet of the Guru Mahesh Yogi; the currently fashionable concept of ‘Mindfulness’ is derived – out of context – from Tibetan Buddhism, whilst New-Age centres from Scotland to the Greek islands offer their own versions of meditation, albeit with little guidance. In the Christian context contemplatives, from the third century desert monastics and Celtic saints, to the present day, have shown that it is a disciplined approach to the spiritual life which brings the greatest peace and deepest discernment.
Despite the endless search for meaning, there is in our secularised world a distrust of institutional religion – a suspicion reflected tellingly in the growth of weekly ‘meditation’ classes in local community centres. The counterpoint between populist froth and the richest faith traditions, indicates that a new approach to meditation is needed. Too often the words concerning the practice of ‘prayer’ and ‘meditation’ are devalued by insufficient understanding about the nature of the practice. As an example, there is within contemporary evangelical Christianity far too much exhortation for a daily ‘waiting upon the Word’, with little instruction about how one should approach that time of quiet in God’s acknowledged presence.
Meditation is more than a rational comprehension of a thing, such as in grasping the meaning of a sentence. It is an act of engaging with the interior life of the soul and with the chemistry of consciousness taking place therein. With this in mind, the exercises concerning meditation, contained in the first part of this book, are designed to enable the student to control and transcend that chemistry of consciousness, rather than being controlled by it. For it is what takes place when that chemistry is identified, understood and sublimated in the fires of meditation that makes it such a
powerful and amazing tool.
The second part, is concerned with developing a greater understanding of prayer, which for most people rarely transcends the notion of asking for a special favour from God! However, such a narrow definition of pleading for divine assistance is insufficient to describe the vital part that prayer fulfils in our intimate relationship with God, which is clearly more than begging, or plea-bargaining with divinity. Yes, clearly, we will often ask for divine assistance, especially when in a difficult place, but our relationship with God is an evolving relationship that is not limited to material and social need. Despair awaits those who see God as a being made in man’s image, for such a God will truly fail us, as such a being cannot avoid being full of the caprice that is common to the unregenerate human. For those who have the courage to look beyond the animal nature, red in tooth and claw, full of ignorance and fear, then another interior world opens and the greatness of God becomes apparent. It is to this end the author shapes this book.
The focus of the second part of the book is the central role of prayer in the life of humanity; discussing its history and roots with the purpose of developing a greater understanding of what prayer means, beyond asking for divine assistance. It also introduces useful insights concerning the traditional approach to prayer, along with techniques and traditional Christian methods and practises that have the power to enhance our prayer-life, such as Lectio Divina and Devotio Moderna. Those who work with these modules, who are sufficiently motivated to return again and again to the exercises set out therein, to engage with them and to study them in depth, will achieve great things in the work of spiritualising their life.
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