Years ago, when I had a spiritual director who was an Episcopal priest and monk, I was trying to develop some sort of acumen at Contemplative Prayer. He assigned me to read The Cloud of Unknowing but then pretty much told me that he wasn’t much for “methods of prayer.” He advised that I just sit in the silence and listen.
He’s a good man, and a good priest, and I am sure he truly is one of those rare people who don’t need an anchor for their thoughts. Or, perhaps it had been so long since he had to use an anchor that he had simply forgotten that any anchor had ever been necessary to him. He also introduced me to the Jesus Prayer and the use of a prayer rope or chotki, but instructed me that the Jesus Prayer wasn’t enough, that I must sit in the silence. It would be hard to pin down one or two times in my life when I was more frustrated with anything.
It wasn’t until I was exposed to Buddhist Meditation – completely accidentally – about five or six years later that I even knew there was such a thing as following the breath. This I could do, rather easily after spending five years spinning my wheels except for my Jesus Prayer Mantra Practice. I knew that my director was a good, well intentioned human being, and I felt certain that he wouldn’t have kept anything from me intentionally. I began to wonder what other gems might be available that Christianity had either forgotten or overlooked, and I quickly became convinced that to limit myself to what what available from any one tradition on my spiritual journey was to quite possibly limit my journey.
Since that day, I have made many discoveries from within Buddhism. There have been times when I felt more the Buddhist than the Christian, and other times I felt I needed to immerse myself in aspects of historic Christianity. In the long run, I truly believe I need both. I have given up trying to explain or justify it – people will either understand or not, but I feel I must be true to where God is leading me.
I no longer pray the Jesus Prayer. It no longer fits my understanding of who the Jesus of my experience is, and it no longer fits my understanding of the relationship between Jesus and humanity. When I take a break from my Buddhist Mantra, I pray the prayer of St. Gregory Palamas, “Enlighten my darkness.” It’s said that is the only prayer that he ever used, and that’s good enough for me.