…the kind of attention we ought to have in prayer. The principal thing is that the heart should not be cast down and listless, but vivacious, intent and raised aloft. However, though it be necessary to maintain this attention and recollection of heart, it is fitting, on the other hand, that this attention be restrained and measured, that it may not injure the health nor impede devotion, for there are indeed some, as we have said, who injure the brain by the excessive efforts they make use of to be attentive to their thoughts. Others there are who, to avoid the hindrance, remain very listless and inert, and easily liable to be swept away by every wind that blows. To avoid these extremes, we must pursue a middle course, neither tiring out the mind by excessive attention, nor yet being so careless and remiss as to leave the mind free to ramble away as it chooses after every thought that comes. We are wont to advise the rider of a restive mount to hold his reins firmly—that is, neither too tight nor too slack—that the animal may not rear backwards on the one hand nor dangerously career forward on the other. So should we contrive that our attention be moderate and not forced, prompt but not straining and anxious. –St Peter of Alcantara ‘Treatise on Prayer and Meditation’
Every now and then, in order to focus, to ground my feet upon my path, the need to dig this verse up from the Tao Te Ching arises. It is powerful for me in developing prayerful mindfulness. I knew it was important to me the first time I read it over twenty-five years ago. The words exploded within consciousness; bombs igniting relevancy, appropriateness, and attention within a young chaotic adult mind.
Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.
Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsence!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting not knowing where I am.
Like a new-born babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.
Other have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea.
Without direction, like the restless wind.
Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother.