The Bishop and Me

As an intelligent Catholic girl from a poor family, when I was 17, I began studies at the University of Melbourne, the first girl in the district to go to university, and one of only 2% of tradesmen’s daughters who went to university in those days.

The Bishop and me

One of my first year subjects was Philosophy A, taught by Dr Eric D’Arcy who went on to chair the Philosophy Dept at MU. At that time, Dr D’Arcy was also Fr D’Arcy, parish priest of Parkville, whose church career saw him become Bishop of Sale and then Archbishop of Hobart.

The text for Philosophy A was Plato’s Republic.  I loved the program, and my teacher brought such clarity to Plato’s Socratic investigations that I experienced an opening of the intellect. Issues such as justice, goodness, reality itself… these were for consideration without doctrine or dogma. My mind began some serious contemplation, and a glimmer of light fell on the way my mind had been formed in a rather one-sided way by my religious upbringing. Because he was so illuminating in encouraging open-minded enquiry into profound issues, I took one of his topics in a later year, too. The fact that I majored in Philosophy was partly influenced by his teaching.

Years later, when I had established a meditation practice but then moved to the country, I sent my children to a Catholic school, so that they might have a benchmark for making their own decisions later in life. Nothing so dogmatic as what I experienced, just an environment that purportedly espoused love as the foundation of living well.  Then came time for their Confirmation… and along came Bishop D’Arcy of the Diocese of Sale to do the confirmations.

It was not the first time I had heard him preach – I guess I went to the Parkville church from time to time.  And he had appeared occasionally at Newman Society camps.  At the time of the confirmation, though, I must have been aged about 4o, and certainly some maturing had happened since I was the wide-eyed teenager considering The Republic as expounded by Eric D’Arcy.

This experience was disheartening, though.  From those early investigations stimulated by first year philosophy, thanks to Eric D’Arcy, my inner life had developed considerably, and was further broadened by meditation.  But his seemed to have shrunk. The man before me was a religious duffer whose way of maintaining his Catholic faith had been to separate intellect from belief.  And it did not matter how narrow or absurd those beliefs were, he stuck to them, even though his insight must have said, please don’t do this.

In fact I have a vague memory of him saying something along those lines, that faith was superior to intellect, perhaps at a Newman Society camp – that if there were a dichotomy between faith and intellect, a Catholic had a duty to stick to faith.  That is, never question the superstitions, corruption, or obvious non-sequiturs of faith,  or the egocentric or cultural biases of religion… just close off the mind and maintain a weird sense that doing so is heroic.

As it happens, I never read The Republic at university. I swanned through the exams because  he was such a good teacher that my mind considered the material in absorbing detail, so that writing for the exam was a pleasure.

In the picture above, Bishop D’Arcy is asking me how I enjoyed The Republic.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him I hadn’t read it.

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Christmas Resentment

Years ago my yoga teacher at the time invited us to a Christmas break up after the last class for the year.  We all sat round and had a nice time, and of course the talk got around to Christmas plans.  And then one of the women, who’d been quite amiable till then, suddenly went into full Christmas Resentment.  Her face twisted into an angry grimace, and she began to speak very bitterly about Christmas Day coming up.  She said she was going to have about 15 people at her place, most of whom she didn’t like (relatives, that is – either on her side or her husband’s side) and she was going to be left to do all the work, including cleaning the house, doing all the cooking, and all the cleaning up afterwards.  And then she was going to have to do the packing for the family to go away early next morning on Boxing Day.

Well, I being always the undiplomatic one, said, “why don’t you refuse to do it?”

Most of us have experienced Christmas stress and Christmas resentments.  And the TV ads that show happy families at a big table having fun and enjoying each other’s company is rarely the case in real life.  Some have managed Christmas Resentment eventually by – yes! – refusing, giving up the charade of giving pointless gifts with money that you can’t afford, or giving so cheaply that you feel ashamed to give, whatever the present is, when it’s all you can afford for anybody.

And some have given away the Christmas gathering altogether.

Personally I think that’s fine.  Once upon a time gifts were handmade, or a gift was something that was of value to yourself, that you owned, and that you chose to give to a loved one or to a dear friend.  The current notion of grabbing something from anywhere off-the-shelf and paying somebody else for it, even for the wrapping, and all this by people who mostly don’t even believe in Christmas as a religious festival anymore, really is ridiculous, isn’t it?

In my case, my much loved long-term friend, partner, former husband and beautifully supportive person in my life, has his actual birthday on 25th  December, while Jesus was certainly not born on 25th  December.  So we tend to have a small Christmas Eve lunch for family and invite a couple of close friends, and it is a sweet time.  And then on 25th  December we celebrate Rob’s birthday – just us, his own family.

Perhaps that’s easy for me now that I’ve been a Swami for 10 years – people are a little uncertain about what to expect from me.  And I learnt to handle the stresses of Christmas much better years ago when I learnt to meditate.  With meditation, little by little, perception changes.  For me, quite a long time ago, there was a shift out of the programmed ideas about Christmas and family that had been instilled without my knowledge or consent, and I recognised the difference between loving consent and programmed behaviour.  With meditation came insight and choice.  With insight and choice came a more realistic understanding of how resentments arise from doing something as an unchallenged duty when so much of you is resisting and seeing it only as an imposition.

What about you?  If Christmas is sweet and lovely and loving, and there is a spirit of generosity not only from you, but also amongst the people who share Christmas with you, with nothing being repressed, no passive rage, if there is is full-hearted sharing of gifts and the work entailed in putting on Christmas festivities amongst your family –  the close and the extended relatives – and if Christmas for you includes a joyful spiritual connection with the great being that was Jesus, then fine… Enjoy.

If you feel totally imposed on, resentful, resistant, angry, bitter….  Then gosh,  don’t you think there might be a better alternative?  You can read my last year’s  Christmas reflection, on ways to handle Christmas stress, if you like… but what else can you do?

What do you think?

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Anger…meditation…mindfulness… or Resilience?

When was the last time you were angry?  Finding out about why we stress out is just the best thing we can do for ourselves. Learning how to deal with anger and stress is good for our health and wellbeing, and better for the people around us, too.

Anger is a stress response. Your pulse went up and so did your blood pressure. Hormones flooded your body. You may have felt hot or flushed.

Can you remember what caused it..?  How long did it take you to calm down again? (That is, how long until the body turned off the hormonal response, your pulse returned to  normal and your blood pressure lowered to a healthier rate…) Which is the best way to handle it – by meditating, practising mindfulness….or maybe by finding a way not to be angry in the first place?

Continue reading

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A Night in Hospital

Feeling ill after a week of wildly fluctuating pulse rates… weak, cold, poor concentration,  feeling so unwell… loved ones insisted on taking me to Emergency Department (ED) at the local hospital.  Me expecting to have to wait at least four hours.  But no… triage put me straight into care. And to my astonishment, kept me overnight.  So … my night progressed with being “plugged in” to monitors and automatically timed blood pressure machines squeezing my arm, and an IV catheter (which was never used) plugged into my other arm, right in the curve of my elbow.  It was quite sore by the morning. And so many questions, constant questioning!  And odd experiences…. Continue reading

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Resilience vs Meditation

Resilience…really, I wish that everyone who has learnt meditation and mindfulness from me – or from anyone else – would also take the Resilience program that I teach. And I wish that people who have learnt resilience with me would follow up by learning meditation with me, too. They are  two different, but very complementary techniques – together, they give you a stronger, more flexible mind that can be both forbearing and insightful, calm and purposeful, peacefully quiet but also fully engaged and self-validating while active. Continue reading

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Handling Christmas Stress

Four hacks for handling Christmas Stress – and change your life:

When you begin to feel stressed – particularly Christmas stress –  and you feel frustrated, put upon, rushed, angry, remember these fours simple truths that will change your Christmas – and your life. Continue reading

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Scientific Meditation Research

There is a plethora of meditation research – the biology of meditation, the psychobiology of meditation, health and well-being outcomes, and research that shows that meditation changes brain structures. Continue reading

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Spring, Growth, Equinox, Balance, Satsang

Spring – Time of Renewal and Growth – and the Equinox

pictures of Spring flowers

Spring, lush, optimistic

Spring has come to Melbourne with it burst of lush and colourful growth. And with it, a magical moment – the Vernal Equinox.  Two fantastic aspects of the  natural cycle.  Do you feel the change in yourself? Continue reading

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Starting Your Meditation Practice – Part 1, Time

New to meditation?  Here are some tips on getting yourself established. Continue reading

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Physical Body, Spiritual Body

body-mind-spirit2Your physical body, spiritual body… can it be so, or do you suppose that the body is totally matter, perishable and not at all spiritual? That the mind is spirit while the body is only the vehicle?. There  could be something quite back-to-front about that. Continue reading

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