out of time

“Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love. At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Meditation: “Saying the mantra is like greeting a line of silent monks on their way into the sanctuary.”

Via Integrativa

time-in-mindTowards the end of the documentary about the passions of artist César Manrique which you can watch at his home in Haria, Lanzarote he lets slip an extraordinary statement. “I wasn’t born. I won’t die. Time is a creation of the mind.”

Manrique was an artist (born and died on the island), sculptor, architect, eco-activist and bon viveur whose personal mantra was ‘nature-art art-nature’. He practised in his art, his politics and his life a strong conviction that we must co-habit sensitively with our precious environment and even built his first house not only on a lava flow but under the lava flow in five lava bubbles or ‘burbujas’. This is where the Via Integrativa meditation walk on The Five Paths is conducted.

I don’t know if Manrique also practised meditation but through his connection with nature and his almost mystical – one might say shamanistic – earth paintings he definitely explored and inhabited the timeless dimension you can experience in meditation. One without a second.

The great thing about meditation is anyone can do it. You don’t need to enrol on a course and you don’t need to pass an exam. No-one is excluded from investigating their own consciousness. It lies there – hidden in plain sight – below the surface of things awaiting discovery and exploration. To my mind it is the last great uncharted territory of human activity. We have Hubble to explore the galaxies. We have MRI scanners to explore anatomy. You don’t need an expensive telescope or body scanner to explore your own consciousness. You only need time. And a cushion. And one of the most pleasant surprises is the timelessness and deep peace that is discovered when you learn to quiesce the thinking mind. It is similar to the state you find yourself in when you get so absorbed in a pleasant (often manual) task that you “lose all sense of time.”

I would distinguish five states of consciousness: sleeping, dreaming, day dreaming, waking with directive thought, waking with non-directive thought. Only one of these is practised with a sense of time. All of the others are practised ‘out of time’ – an altered state of consciousness. Some people refer to meditation as moving to a higher state of consciousness but it gives me a sinking feeling – my centre of being sinks from the head into the heart or ‘the cave of the heart’ as French crossover Benedictine/swami Henri le Saux likes to call it. Following in the footsteps of Ramana Maharshi, the renowned self-realised advaita sage, he spent many days in the caves of Arunachala mountain in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu which you can read about in his spiritual diary ‘Ascent to the Depth of the Heart.’ You won’t find it on Amazon – its extremely rare and he uses his sanyasin name Abhishiktananda.

When I first arrived in Tiruvannamalai or Tiru as regulars call it I visited the four towering temples in town – a cross between ziggurats and the Aztec temples in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto – and was immediately drawn to an underground chamber with a line of devotees entering down narrow stone steps. At the bottom there was a tiny chamber with shiva lingam altar being sprinkled with rice, milk and petals by an orange robed monk who I noted had two leather pouches on his belt – one for the money offerings and one for his mobile phone. I slumped on my haunches in the corner and sunk into what I can only describe as a waking trance. I was completely conscious but completely out of time. After a couple of hours which passed by in what seemed minutes he took me for lunch of thali and lassi and we returned to repeat the experience. I was amazed to read in Abhishiktananda’s diary in the ashram library the next day that he had had the exact same experience in the underground chamber when he first arrived in Tiru. I’m not planning to change my name yet though.

Maybe the title of his diary describes meditation best after all – Ascent to the Depth of the Heart.

“Awakening is attained when I have realized that the centre is as truly everywhere as it is in ‘myself’. And God himself is not this centre, for God is without place, as he is without time.” Abhishiktananda, Ascent to the Depth of the Heart p. 49


what time is now?

“All time is contained in the present Now-moment.”
Meister Eckhart


“Saying the mantra is like dismantling a wall that separates your true Self from union with God … each syllable a brick … each word a course.”

Via Integrativa

m_Time20And20A20Word_01Today the clocks go back – so don’t forget to correct yours. The clock on my wall is perfectly correct twice a day. That’s because it’s stopped. My clock is a record player deck with a vinyl album on it and three hands – hours, minutes, seconds. The album (chosen by me) is ‘Time And A Word’ by Yes not because its my favourite album (it isn’t) but because I nicked the title for the lyrics to one of my songs.

Jesus did not own a record player but he was splayed on a wooden deck his arms and legs stretched out to embrace and integrate the agony of now-in-the-body with the bliss of eternity-in-I-Amness.

He said some pretty strange things in relation to time: “Before Abraham was … I Am.” (John 8:58) This little aside was enough to get him stoned for blasphemy. And when one of the criminals alongside him asked a favour “remember me when you come into your kingdom” Jesus replied “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Was Jesus a Time Lord like Dr Who?

His take on time seemed to be that the eternal kingdom is here, is now. For it is not a place it is a state. “Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) As Einstein says “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

It is only when we calibrate time on external reference points that eternity loses its immediacy. “Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once” puns Woody Allen paraphrasing science fiction writer Ray Cummings which is why, on a day like today, we put our clocks back so we can all experience each other in the same time zone – the time is always now.


Gardeners Question Time

“What we are looking for is what is looking.”

St Francis of Assisi


“Saying the mantra is like reaching hand over hand for the rungs of a monkey ladder over a gorge.”

Via Integrativa


One of the great railway journeys in England is the Settle to Carlisle line renowned for the viaduct across the Ribblesdale Valley. I travelled it for the first time as a guest in the Green Room of a specially chartered Gardeners Question Time train being recorded for BBC Radio 4.

As we approached the viaduct no matter how we strained to look out of the carriage windows we could not see the beautiful arches of the viaduct … because, of course, we were on it. It took question master Eric Robson to announce “we are now crossing over Ribblesdale viaduct.” You could also see the whitewashed cottage where Michael Faraday was born.

It reminded me of my favourite John Davies photo of Stockport viaduct (unfortunately stolen … from me not by me) which looks like an Escher illusion as the factory disappears into the arches. It also reminded me of St Francis’ saying “What we are looking for is what is looking.” John-Davies-StockportViaduct

Just as you cannot see your own eye, you cannot see that which you are seeking in awakening – it looks upon itself as That.


Life of Pi

“Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.”
Meister Eckhart


“Saying the mantra is like reciting the genetic code of God.”

Via Integrativa

Life of Pi

If you don’t know which God to believe in (if any) then do what Piscine does in The Life of Pi – believe in them all. Bob Hope was asked why he does benefit gigs for all religions. “Why risk the afterlife on a technicality”, he quipped.

Joseph Campbell who developed the idea of the universal ‘monomyth’ in his seminal book ‘The Power of Myth’ held that numerous myths from disparate times and regions share fundamental structures and stages, which he summarized in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won:

The formula works for every hero’s story from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ to Simon Beaufoy’s ‘Full Monty’. In essence, there are three stages of the journey – the call/departure, initiation/crisis and the return/victory. Works for all religions and all vocations … try it for your own life and journey.

In the case of Pi he is confronted by Richard Parker – a tiger in the boat. For me, this represents a mirror of our deepest fears – in this case of being eaten. We all have our fears which co-habit the same boat we’re in. Like Pi the only way through is to embrace them and make them our friend. Grrrr ….

Pi says to the Canadian novel writer who comes to hear his story, “my story will make you believe in God.” Our own story is to make us believers. That’s why we can be grateful for the perils as well as the thrills of the journey we experience as Life.

“(the monomyth is) the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with the challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told.”
Joseph Campbell


hidden in plain sight

“The shell must be cracked open if what is inside is to come out.”
Meister Eckhart


“Saying the mantra is like giving a prisoner in a cell a syllable spoon and little by little digging themself free.”

Via Integrativa

We come home to ourselves when we realise … there is nothing missing. We can call off the search. The place we were looking for is the place we are looking from.

In India, meditating on the roof near Ramana Maharshi’s ashram in Tiruvanamalai, an image came to me that made me laugh out loud. Imagine a boy straddling the neck of an elephant. The boy is looking for the elephant. “Any sign yet?” asks the elephant. “No, not yet”, says the boy.

The boy is the ego-self; the elephant is the universal-Self. He can’t see for looking … hidden in plain sight.

Until we come home to ourselves …

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
TS Eliot


“no hay camino …”

“there is no path …”

In the entrance to artist Cesar Manrique’s ‘Seventh Wonder’ – Jameos del Agua – there is an extract from poet Antonio Machado’s poem Proverbs and Songs 29:

“Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.”

“Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.”

Here you will find meditations for the journey … back home to yourself. For “what you are looking for is what is looking.” St Franics of Assissi

The meditations each comprise four elements:

a quote from a mystic from the Christian tradition
an image to encourage you in the regular saying of a mantra – “ma-ra-na-tha”
a written meditation on The Five Paths

These will be published as a book and e-book “No Path Home – meditations on The Five Paths”.

It is my heartfelt hope these meditations will help guide you home on your own journey – no path home.

Phil Shankland