Follow by Email

Monday, February 4, 2013

Meditating on the Amalfi Coast

Love is risky, for when we love we make ourselves vulnerable. Some of us are afraid, and subconsciously choose to hurt one another to avoid lowering our defenses. In that context, to show our love is too dangerous. So it is the love for God. People are afraid of having to give up too much if they come to believe in God, and even more if they come to believe that Jesus died for them. Yet, what Jesus asks of us can be surprisingly easy. If you renounce your self-absorption, you’ll gain a new self instead. 
I couldn’t have changed my life by an act of the will. I embraced Jesus and it simply happened. This is the huge difference between Christianity and other major religions: They have teachers who show the way to salvation. Jesus is the only one who claims to BE the way. What does that mean? Only those who experience it can understand it. Jesus faced humiliation, torture and death because he loved us. God is Christ-like, so He loves us. If we are sure of this we’ll love him back and everything will come easy, out of pure love. We won’t have to work on ourselves anymore, if we believe in Jesus.
When I was attracted to Buddhism and self-knowledge I tried and tried again, but my life did not improve. Why? Because I was once again concentrating on myself, and there was no love involved. I was in my early twenties back then and I was spending a lot of time with some friends of mine who had managed to rent a house in the most amazing area of the Amalfi coast. It was an old villa with thirteen rooms, a fireplace and a beautiful terrace. When the house was built there was no water supply, so a few rooms were beneath the ground level in order to gather the rain and be used as swimming pools. For us they became the grotto party area, furnished with candles and pillows. The rent was very affordable because one had to climb seven hundred steps from the road to reach that house, which was located above the small town of Praiano, and from the road to the beach there were six hundred more steps. But we were young and it was a magical world.

In that house I lived the most wonderful moments of my life. If I close my eyes I can still see the coastal mountains and the blue sea at the bottom of the twelve hundred steps. During the summer we would go all the way down and then swim or climb a hill or take a rowing-boat to reach an empty beach, the existence of which was known to very few people. We carried sandwiches and beverages but no sunscreen or hats. All the girls were rigorously topless, but if there was a lot of sex going on I wasn't part of it. I had just ended a long-term relationship and I wasn’t in the mood. The breathtaking beauty of the place was enough to make me feel elated.

In the evening we would climb our way up to the trattoria, where we ate the most delicious sea food, and then up to the villa, where self-knowledge practice would go on into the night.
During the winter we didn't go out much. We would seat around the fireplace and sing, talk and dance. We could see the Mediterranean deep down under the steep mountains. At night the moon  would draw a silver sword into the water, and all the small boats anchored near the beach would turn black against the light. 

It was the perfect environment for meditation. I tried really hard, but it didn’t work for me. I remember clearly how our meetings were carried out. My friends and I would sit in a circle. One of us would read a passage that would represent a negative state of mind, for example resentment. Then, after turning off the lights, our leader would guide the others into complete relaxation. Finally, we had to imagine a small luminous sphere penetrating inside our head and at the same time face our resentment. 
At the moment the trick seemed to work; whatever it was that had upset me didn’t seem so important anymore. We were supposed to become familiar with the peaceful state of mind that occurred with relaxation, to the point that we would be able to evoke it in real life stressful situations. I practiced this technique for about two years, but I never reached that point. To tell you the truth, I got tired of the silly little sphere that would not appear inside my head when I needed it. It just wasn’t my thing, and now I know the reason. 
In “The Lord” the theologian Romano Guardini wrote:
”Buddha is free, but his freedom is not that of Christ. Possibly Buddha’s freedom is only the ultimate and supremely liberating knowledge of the vanity of this fallen world. Christ’s freedom is based not on a negative cognition, but on the love of God.”

1 comment:

Manny said...

I loved this blog, both for its insight and wonderful image of that house. It sounds like a great experience for a young person. That meditation really does seem silly. I was thinking it before I got to where you said it yourself. You know that's the uniqueness of Christianity. It's all based on love, and I can't think of another religion that does the same.