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Guided Meditation and the Teaching of Jesus Joan Cooper

June 20, 2013

JCooperThe author believed that the sayings of Jesus were not some sort of oracles to be taken literally but were mystical teachings to be mulled over prayerfully in the way that Ignatian spirituality deals with them – you use your imagination to enter into a story, see yourself and Jesus, smell; the smells, visualise the street, field or whatever and conclude by pondering what Jesus is saying to you at this particular stage in your life and in your particular circumstances. So Christianity is about heart knowledge, not head knowledge – though might it be Gnostic to separate the two?

I discovered this book at a time when the Christianity I knew had grown dead for me. Matthew Fox had written his book ‘Original Blessing’ and the Nine o’clock Service was in full swing in Sheffield. Lots of books were written about the use of visualisation and guided fantasy and there was a growing interest in this style of meditation for use, in a secular way, in Religious Education in schools. The publishers, Element Books, were part of this wave – regarded by some as heterodox but providing a new lease of life in me which revolutionised my understanding of Christianity, of teaching and, eventually, led me to becoming a spiritual director.

This book is a series of guided meditations on the teaching of Jesus with commentary. I have used most of the exercises with small groups, both of adults and of children. They are very powerful.

It is often the slightly heterodox who provide key insights which mainstream orthodoxy has lost. Whether or not you think she was orthodox is for you to decide. She was for many years a licensed Reader in the diocese of Bath and Wells, and I know people who found her preaching to be excellent and her one-to-one work life-giving. However, some may hear alarm bells when they discover that she was a student of Yoga for about thirty years. (Yet she used her own methods to teach yoga, relaxation, and meditation in Devon, and for West Somerset Community Education.)  She was born in California in 1927, obtained a degree in International Law there at Pomona College, studied for some time in Geneva, and then read Psychology for her Doctorate in Berlin, before settling in the small hamlet of Culbone on the Exmoor Coast, working as a part-time free-lance psychologist.

So far, I am not alarmed. Then I was, when I read: she has been identified as an Ascended Mistress of the Rainbow Programme and a ‘light-being worker like Abram Maslow, Mozart (they’re OK) and Timothy Leary (not OK!) Then again, this is what others said of her, not necessarily what she claimed about herself.

More alarming still: Cooper explains that light was built into Culbone in the form of an invisible spiritual temple long before any physical construction began. Spiritual temples were created in the etheric membrane around the earth after the fall of Atlantis for the regeneration of mankind. We are definitely into New-Age, Glastonbury territory here.

The imagery of a house is a commonplace in dreams and the ‘interpretation’ is that the house represents our self and our various experiences and memories. She offers us a meditation about going into the house of our inner selves: Visualise a house (a simple Mediterranean house with a ground floor, first floor, flat roof . . . and white‑washed). There are two halves to this house and the door is in the middle…. In your mind walk up to the door of the house open it … walk in … and turn to the right. The rooms of the ground floor are full of possessions … your own possessions. Experience your satisfaction and pleasure in these possessions. Experience a sensation of self‑assurance and confidence through having possessions…. Now go up to the first floor … and experience here the fullness of your own mental possessions … your practical skills that enable you to live your fife … the knowledge you have gained from the different kinds of experience you have had … your intellectual knowledge ‑ maybe there is a library full of books…. Experience, as far as you can, the completeness of all your knowing as it exists now … and include those intimations of intuitive knowledge which indicate deeper levels of spiritual awareness and knowledge which belong to your innermost being…. Experience how your mental possessions, together with your material possessions, give you the feeling of your own identity. . . . There is also a temple ‑ chapel ‑somewhere in this part of the house . . . it may be only a corner of a room…. Experience this place which contains your religious beliefs … the rightness for which you strive. . . . Experience the principles that make your life and you seem right ‑ and even sometimes righteous…. Experience also the feelings of guilt that refer to the unattainableness of this structure of principle and rightness….

Now, go back to the front door of this house and stand inside, with your back to‑ it, experiencing the entire section of house you have just visited…. Do you experience that it is complete in itself? … Do you experience its lack of space? How nothing new can enter into it … because there is no room? Do you experience confinement and a kind of airlessness or suffocation in this part of the house? Or are you satisfied with it as it is? . . .

If you experience a lack of space in the section of house you have visited … or any sense of being confined by it … go into the other side of the house. On the ground floor you will find one room only. It is completely empty. Experience its bareness … the shock of its bareness … Experience its poverty … and of how you feel without the confidence and security of possessions…. Experience this bareness in yourself . . . a part of yourself you do not normally inhabit…. Now, move to one of the windows and look out. Observe all the manifestations of nature that are visible to you … the earth and the plants and trees that are near at hand … and everything at a distance, even to the skyline. Observe the abundance of nature’s expression: its colour and form and fragrance. Look at the sky … and its reflection of fight … even from the formations of cloud cover. Open yourself to everything you can see from that window . . . and know it is yours to feed upon. Experience the nourishment which it supplies to your innermost being….

Matthew 5:5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Now, observe people passing by your window … or in the distance . . . and experience compassion and understanding for them as you stand in this bare part of the house … naked and without the inhibiting barriers which possessions and self‑confidence give you. Experience your sensitivity and vulnerability as you watch the people passing … of your need for them … and of the feeling of caring which flows from mutual need ….

Matthew 5:7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Matthew 5:4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Now, experience your own spiritual needs … whatever real spiritual need you can sense in yourself in this bare room, where you are exposed to yourself and cannot hide behind possessions. . . . Experience the comfort flowing into you, from nowhere in particular, unimpeded, to answer your need….

Matthew 5:4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Now, go upstairs to the single room above . . . and observe that it also appears to be bare…. Experience the emptiness in your mind…. Experience your own ignorance . . . and not‑knowing. . . .

Matthew 5:3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Now, experience the desire in yourself to be filled with real knowledge … with the truth….

Matthew 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Observe a ladder in the corner of the room that leads onto the roof… and experience, as you move towards that ladder, your own heart’s deepest desire . . . which is to know God. . . .

Matthew 5:8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Now, climb that ladder … out of your need and your desire … and find on the roof the nourishment … truth … vision you most need….

Matthew 5:14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

After a time, return down the ladder … go back down the stairs to the front door. Pause at the front door and decide which side of this house you will light up for other people to see … and be invited into … in order to experience what you personally have learned ….

Matthew 5:14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Then, come out of the house … shut the door … and return very slowly to a physical awareness of where you are actually sitting.

She says: The essence of the meditation experience lies in our desire to transcend, in however limited a way, our self as it is now and enter into the Person. It requires a letting go of ourself, our limitations, the boundaries with which we define ‘our identity’, and allowing the will-to-grow to flow upwards, without reservations, into the Person. For a moment there is a union of ourself with the Person, in which the Person also flows into us, feeding us. These are words. They cannot describe or truly comprehend the experience. Each time, the experience will be different and the emotional intensity will vary. It is important to remember that this meditation experience is NOT about giving up ourself or letting some­one else, however high or evolved a spiritual being, take over our own being in any way. It is about letting go, momentarily, the barriers that inhibit growth and extend­ing ourself into the Person who can nourish us and grow us into WHAT WE ALREADY ARE in potential.

About preoccupation with sin and guilt: Jesus knew that the greater need in us was for acceptance — an unqualified acceptance of ourselves as we are. The focus on sin and forgiveness creates in us a structure of guilt and striving and self-deception and, ultimately, a situation in which nothing can change in us because we are unable to accept ourselves as we are. God’s acceptance of us as we are, without judgment or the ritual of forgiveness, is the only possible starting point for our spiritual growth.

Spiritual writers often talk about journeying: No experience could better describe this spiritual journey than sailing in a small boat across a lake, like the Sea of Galilee, with its challenges and risks and unexpected dangers…. two contrasting states of being — or two very different places in ourselves. One state concerns the place called ‘earth’ which contains the structure of life and forms of security we have built up for ourselves and is our starting point on the spiritual path. (There is no other starting point than where we are now.) The other state is represented by the place called ‘heaven’ towards which we are journeying, — where a different kind of experience is possible, a different set of values exists, a different kind of `master’ is to be served. Between one state and the other lies a sea — or country — which has to be crossed, where there is all the risk of letting go the known forms and expressions of our life and allowing our innermost desire for growth to launch us into the unknown.

We are then invited to meditate thus: You are going on a journey. . . . You are in a boat. Experience being in a boat ……. Each one of you has a large parcel…. It contains things you cannot leave behind…. You are on the sea … and the boat has moved away from the shore…. It feels overladen … but Christ is in control. .

Christ now says: We cannot continue with such a load. The boat might manage it … but this is a spiritual journey . . . and the parcel you have contains parts of yourself which belong to the place we have left behind…. These parts of you have nothing to do with the place to which we are going. You will have to open your parcels . . .. and look inside and see what is there. . . . Then you can decide whether or not to proceed with the journey….

Now, open your parcel . . . and look carefully at its contents….

Christ says: Let spiritual light shine through your eyes … and see the truth about the parcel and yourself… Eventually, Christ speaks again: Decide what you want . . . . Do you want to hold onto all that is in your parcel . . . and return to where you came from? … Or do you find you have outgrown some of its contents . . . which you can therefore jettison … and continue with me on the journey trusting me and your own desire for this journey?

Decide what you want … what you can do….

“If you are really wanting this journey. some things must go; these are the parts of your mind which you have outgrown, which you no longer need. Maybe they were useful at one time, like attitudes of caution, anger, certain fears. In any case, they were natural to you ‑ and to other people ‑ in the one state and in the place where you are at present; various forms of security and material possessions are important at one stage and lose their relevance later on, when you have grown. There is no command here, no requirement, but simply the question: Have you outgrown them sufficiently to follow Christ and your own desire for spiritual growth to the farther shore? Or do you need more time, more experience where you are, before you can really commit yourself to the journey? There is no shame in abandoning the journey, because it cannot be undertaken until you are able to jettison some of the contents of your parcel. Until this happens, there is no journey ‑ only imagination.

“None of us can anticipate how we will feel when we are at sea, separated from the shore of familiar places and still a long distance from that unknown shore towards which we are desiring to move. On a little boat, at sea, Christ can ask us this question: What about the parcel you are carrying …is it out of habit? What is in it? What are you finished with … and can throw overboard or give to me? “

Journeying requires trust – trust that it is right to leave where we are and trust that we are going in the right direction: .The conflict lies not only in the unwillingness of the independent self to give up its control, it lies equally in the existential fear of being taken over. Can we trust there is a power that comes from Someone’s love strong enough to guide us to ourselves, our higher selves, and not usurp our will? …….Again, there is no absolute answer. There is no question of trust or not-trust. There is only the experience of grow­ing trust — growing slowly, as seeds grow — and of dimin­ishing un-trust. Christ, or our spiritual teacher, accepts the growing and the diminishing as realities. They are within the texture of our daily lives. This is what the last verses of the sixth chapter of Matthew (25-31) are about. Anxiety comes from the independent self, the self that thinks it can go it alone. As trust grows, anxieties fall away and we become free to go on that journey where we need to live each moment and every day for itself. In this way we approach the new shore, the new stage in our being.

About our inner resistance to change and growth: Jesus was not referring to any conflict between outside forces: between the ‘devil’ and ‘god’. It was not a question of taking sides. Rather, he was pointing out that there are two sides within each person — within each one of us; there is the side that wants to grow and the side which resists growth. The burden we are carrying contains its own will, and this will can not only resist our desire to grow spiri­tually but even stop our journey temporarily — but not forever. In the course of day by day living experience with his friends, Jesus showed them the two sides of themselves. Sometimes the side desirous of spiritual growth was upper­most and he could be the Gardener for them. On the other hand, there were times when his friends resisted growth, became frightened and obstinate and wanted to remain as they were. Then Jesus became the ‘devil’ for them. He had to accept misunderstanding and even calumny. At such times, he helped them to express their resistance to growth ­and to himself who represented their growing side — and bore these burdens of themselves. And when again they had returned into that part of themselves which longed for spiritual growth, he reminded them of the opposite part so they could come to know and recognise the two sides of their beings.

“The Journey is not one journey but consists in the many small steps that we take, day by day … We, too, need to re-learn how to find ‘treasure’ in our moments and our days, with each treasure becoming a special ‘thing’ that lighted up the day and gave it new meaning. The treasure is usually small or slight: a bird poised, a drop of dew, the aroma of steaming earth after rain, but through it we feel the excitement of another dimension entering our life and consciousness. Every day each hour — has its treasure. All the treasures, taken together, create another kind of pattern in our life. They are like beads strung on the same thread, which is the thread of a deeper awareness. We cannot — and should not put this into words, but it exists — and they, the treasures, exist — as points of aliveness and growth. These are our `pearls of great price’, leading us, treasure by treasure ­as they are strung on the thread of our awakening con­sciousness, to the one Treasure, the one Pearl of Great Price which we will eventually seek and to which we can commit ourselves with all our heart.”

Plants are drawn towards growth. Do we reach out towards the source of growth? So we get this: I invite you to imagine your own garden (if you have no garden, visualise a garden familiar to you)…. Enter into the garden … and look around it…. This garden is you and your life …. Observe the different things that you do in the garden . . . the hard work … digging … pruning … weeding … planting…. And how you could work about in your garden forever in this way . . . . Or observe your pottering . . . Or how you sit in a corner of it and relax …. Experience these activities . . . going on and on . . . . Observe how it is still the same garden … whatever you do…. Observe how plants grow and die … and weeds are weeded and grow again…. Observe how the seasons come and go … and come and go again…. Suddenly, you find a treasure in your garden … or maybe it just appears …. The treasure you have found transforms the garden . . . gives it new meaning…. Everything is different … more meaningful. . . . Examine the treasure

 Another exercise about reaching out to the source of our growth: You are in a small boat on the sea … crossing from one side to the other…. The wind gets up suddenly … and the sea becomes rough. Experience being in the boat on the rough sea . . . . Now, you have a vision of Jesus coming to you … walking on the rough seas….Experience his calming effect . . . . Consciously draw strength from him

Now, he calls to you to come to him … over the water…. Look into his face. . and step out of the boat … and walk towards him Experience confidence as long as you look at him. . . . Experience your own ability to walk on the water …. Now, you will look away … and you will be filled with fear at the roughness of the sea . . . strength of the wind…. You will feel that you are going to sink…. He calls to you again … and you look up. . . .you do not sink … but regain confidence as his strength flows into you….

Eventually, the wind subsides … and the sea becomes calm. You are back in the boat.

Seedtime and harvest was another metaphor used by Jesus:  Visualise a piece of ground . . . with a footpath … and uncultivated or overgrown parts … and some soil that has been well dug…. Look at this piece of ground intently with your mind…. Now let yourself become this piece of ground. . . . Experience the ground of yourself . . . consisting of different parts …. Experience the footpath or wayside in yourself . . . . Experience what happens to thoughts that fall on your footpath…. Experience shallow or stony ground in yourself… Experience what happens to thoughts that fall on your shallow ground…. Experience the tangled, weedy, undug part in yourself. . . . Experience what happens to thoughts that fall on your tangle of weeds…. Experience the rich, well‑dug part of yourself … and what happens to thoughts that fall on this good soil …. Experience these varied parts of yourself… and where it is possible for seeds to fall and new growth take place….

“If we allow ourselves to have this experience of ourselves, we will find that new growth can only take place in a certain part of our beings. Other parts of ourselves are too busy with many thoughts and other people’s opinions. Some parts have shallow soil, where bursts of enthusiasm are possible that wither when they meet resistance in ourselves ‑ or from outside ourselves; they cannot root properly. We need also to experience the stones of our resistance ‑ our literal‑mindedness, our obstinacies. And in some parts of our minds there is such confusion of attitude and thought that nothing could possibly grow. Only where the mind has been cleared and space made, where there is depth of soil, can seeds take root and grow properly. We seem to have been born with some soil already prepared, but we need consciously to prepare new places. “

We need, also “to become more aware of the different kinds of ‘soil’ in other people and to be sensitive to which state (or ‘soil’) a person was in, before endeavouring to sow a new idea in his mind. Jesus gave had this twofold purpose of providing self-knowledge and increasing awareness of other people and their states and needs.”

“It is most important to state …..that the new quality of giving, which Jesus’ life was to enable in those people who were ready to learn, has nothing to do with sacrifice. There is no dichotomy in Jesus’ teaching between ‘self’ and ‘other’ the giving of self never means the sacrifice of self. ‘Sacrifice’ is an idea which belongs, like all ideas and abstractions, to man’s intellect; where a person acts from such an idea or abstraction, he is acting from his head. The level of giving which Jesus made possible in people who were ready for it is centred on the heart. The heart contains no ideas about giving but only the desire — which is our will — to learn to respond to the need of another person. The desire to respond may exist in us but the journey is a long one, because there are many obstacles in us that stand n the way of giving. These obstacles, attitudes, reservations have to be recognised and accepted so the desire and the ability to respond can increase in us.”

“When we consider truthfully what it means to give ourself, we realise that the Kingdom of Heaven is a vast country which we cannot occupy all at once and in which we have almost limitless possibilities for growth. We may start to give from our heart, and as we go on giving our heart grows and expands and the giving becomes more simple, and less conditioned. The nature of our giving can grow throughout the whole of our life on earth — and into the next. This is the possibility we experience in these meditations.
What do we receive from all this giving? The part of ourselves that still places conditions on our giving, that holds back from sharing, is the part that asks this question. What are the wages of giving and service? This is how the question is put in the Gospels.”

Different people are at different stages in their journey: Jesus presented this as a learning experience for his friends in the form of a meditation. What are the wages of service? Someone asked. The question may have been motivated by jealousy. Someone new came into the fellowship of close followers around Jesus who responded quickly, giving himself joyously. How could he do it and obviously receive such joy in the giving? Jesus must then have explained how people are at different stages in their own patterns of spiritual growth and could therefore respond more easily — more joyously — from the new place in themselves. Some people were born at a different stage; they had already worked through difficulties that others were facing now. Comparisons are useless. Furthermore, everyone has a different kind of work to do — a different harvest to bring in which could not be compared with anyone else’s harvest. This is the meditation—experience he gave his friends.

Visualise a village that you know . . . where harvesting of some kind is going on. . . . Experience yourself in that village . . . being called on to help with the harvest. .
Experience the kind of harvest (whether corn . . . fruit  potato . . . other) and the activity in which you are engaged. . . . Experience the actual work of harvesting. . .
Now, the harvest field turns into people. • • and you are harvesting people. . . . Experience how you help the people in your field. . . . Experience giving to people. . . and what you give. . . . Experience your harvesting of people. . . Experience also what you receive as you give. . . . This is your wage.

Everyone who experiences this meditation exercise may experience joy in harvesting people and a nourishment of that part of themselves from which the giving is expressed. We are fed, when we give from the heart — when we can share even a small portion of ourself, out of all proportion to the giving, the effort, the time. Even if the giving is rejected — which it sometimes is, for that is part of the other person’s learning process, we are still nourished aid strengthened in our growing part. This must be experienced to be understood — not only in meditations but within the context of our daily life. Jesus teaches and enables us there as well.

“The spiritual being of Jesus was always giving out caring and power, wherever he was and whether or not he was aware of it himself. Sometimes his consciousness was focussed on what he was saying to a group of people while his spiritual being was occupied in its own way; but he was always aware of the giving out of power when someone touched him — not because he experienced any diminish­ment but because their need touched his awareness.

“So it is with all of us, whatever the spiritual level on which we are living. Wherever we move in our physical bodies, our spiritual beings give out their vibrations. They may emit fear and tension rather than caring, because we are afraid of our sensitivities and hold back from giving. But they can give out what is within them to give — if we allow it.”

“Jesus used the image of the family many times to symbol­ise a group of people, closely connected with one another through bonds of caring. Jewish society and religion are based on the closely-knit blood relationship of the family ­caring, but often rigid as far as its individual members are concerned. It was the image of mutual caring — the fellow­ship of persons of all ages and both sexes, who desired to ‘do the will of God’, which he referred to as ‘family’. All the people — all the so-called ‘strangers’ and ‘outsiders’ — even Galileans — who desired to grow spiritually, who were aware of their needs, who asked for help in becoming free of their prisons, who asked for teaching — they were his family. The ones who listened were his family. Even the ones who, although unconscious of who he was, received power from him because they knew their need, were his ‘mother and his sister’.

“The biological family unit is held together by the society’s requirements for stability and the religion’s ethics that inflict punishment and guilt for transgression, more than by mutual caring. Very often members of the blood family cannot accept who its individual members are; they can­, not see beyond the physical covering of the person. Jesus: showed how in his own town, where people thought of him only in relation to his family background, no one could receive help from him.”

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