An Ocean of Light: Book Review

 

I am excited to share my review of An Ocean of Light: Contemplation, Transformation, and Liberation by Martin Laird.

Martin Laird, O.S.A, is Professor of Early Christian Studies at Villanova University. Laird is the author of several books on Early Christian thought and Christian contemplative life, including Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence. He lectures widely through the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

This is the type of book that must be read twice if not multiple times to fully grasp the depth and width of this wonderful topic. Let me share eight key points I found very enlightening.

Intention

“The more we give our lives over to the practice of contemplation, the more our thinking mind is trellised by silence, the more easily thinking mind remains still and focused on what it is good at, such as thinking, inventing, writing, creating new ways to hold and heal.”

“Practice gradually trains the attention and grounds us more solidly in our bodies, increasing our ability to be where our bodies are at any given moment.”

“The present moment is our home.”

Silence teaches us how to live. Silence is a place we come from. Silence teaches us to be present. When we are present we do our best work: thinking, inventing, writing, creating new ways to hold and heal. Silence seems to show us the way forward!

Awareness

“Cultivating the skill of becoming aware of our thoughts allows for the possibility of choosing what we give our attention to.”

“By learning to choose what we give our attention to we open ourselves up to the possibilities of experiencing a situation with less anxiety and with more compassion.”

“We may think we are feeling our feelings but what we actually feel is the story we tell ourselves about our thoughts and feelings.”

We are not our thoughts. Yet, so many of us believe we are our thoughts and what they seem to tell us. When we  cultivate the ability to observe our thoughts, we can choose which ones to believe and which ones to let go of.

There are thoughts that merit our attention and there are ones that will hinder our growth, progress and movement forward. It becomes particularly important during life’s most stressful moments to choose what we give our attention to. We can became an important source of strength and calmness for those around us.

Radiant Ground of Light

“The practice of contemplation gradually declutters our minds, gradually revealing the brightly polished floor—the radiant core of all—that we did not realize was already there.”

“The mind cleared of clutter allows the grounding radiance of unitive mind to manifest the fullness that is its essence, both in time and in eternity.”

“The practice of contemplation proceeds by the gradual removal of layers of clutter so that the radiant ground of light now shines less lumbered and encumbered.”

“Similarly the vast and radiant core of all being is already unspeakably vast and radiant despite the abundance of noise and clutter in our heads.”

During silent prayer we enter the vast and endless depths of God. Each time we return to the silence, we clear away more and more of the clutter. We begin to discover a new world that we did not know was there. Each time we enter the silence we explore more and more of the vastness and spaciousness of silence. It becomes a life long journey.

Dig Your Well

“Changing our practice often does not allow our practice to put down roots deeply into the soil of the present moment.”

“As we have said, a contemplative practice is something like a plant. If we are frequently digging up and replanting the plant elsewhere, it will not put down roots.”

My mainstay is centering prayer. I practice twice per day, twenty minutes each time. I have done so since June of 2014. I have found my well. Now I will dig deep into my centering well. And see where it takes me.

Reactive Mind….Receptive Mind….Luminous Mind

“Reactive mind simply does not register this depth-dimension, which has always been present.”

“Receptive mind is characterized by a growing sense of inner spaciousness.”

“It is important to emphasize that this luminous vastness, which begins to expand as our practice transitions from reactive mind to receptive mind, is not an extra quantity of vastness that has been added into the mix. Ever flowing, luminous vastness has always been shining like the sun.”

“In luminous mind our practice is free of any strategy to acquire, possess, and control.”

I love how Laird eloquently describes the stages we seem to go through in our silent prayer: reactive mind, receptive mind, luminous mind. Though it is more likely that we move back and forth between these stages. Silent prayer is never a linear process. Laird nicely describes the experiences one might go through in each “mind”.

The Mature Contemplative

“The maturing contemplative is too poor to be concerned with spiritual progress.”

“The fruit of practice is compassion, born of the fragrant wound of solidarity with all that is. It has nothing to do with outcomes assessments. We cannot behold if we are trying to assess.”

“As we release into our practice, we also release our control over ourselves as contemplative projects to be realized. What, when, or if anything happens is entirely up to God.”

We are all beginners. Each time I sit I like to think of myself as a beginner. Contemplative prayer is the world in which anything can happen. I simply rest in the rest of God. I open to the presence and actions of God within. I let God pray in me.

Depression

“Depression can help us stay anchored in the present moment; for it limits us to coping with getting through the day one step at a time, one half-hour at a time—whatever it takes. This is actually the only dosage life comes in: one step at a time (one day at a time can sometimes seem over-ambitious).”

“Insofar as we are aware of depression, there is something within us that is free of depression; otherwise we could not be aware of it.”

I do not suffer from depression. From time to time like anyone else I experience times of sadness, worry or a sense of hopelessness. When I do, I try to remember that there is something within me that is free of these feelings. I can observe these thoughts and feelings. They are not who I am. They cannot hold me back from becoming the person God intends me to be: my true self.

For those that suffer from long term depression, part three of this book is devoted to silence and depression. I highly recommend it. Laird magnificently navigates depression and the place in can take in silence.

Self Knowledge

“Fourth, self-knowledge becomes less a matter of knowing about ourselves than a falling away of self, a self unselfed of self, and therefore one with all in the intimate love of God, who has sought and found us from all eternity.”

It is in the silence that we let go of our self to discover a new self: one with all in the intimate love of God. This is who we are. We are a child of God who unconditionally loves us, yet patiently waits for us.

I encourage you to check out An Ocean of Light. Read it once. Go back and read it a second time. I did. Come back to it when needed. I know I will!

Go Further:

Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation  by Martin Laird

 

 

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Contemplative Light offers courses on contemplative practices (Christian Meditation, Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, The Jesus Prayer), the Christian mystics (ancient and current) and spiritual writing. Peruse their wonderful offerings.

Lean In, Lighten Up and Let Go Practices for a Deeper Commitment to the Contemplative Life by Contemplative Outreach, Mary Dwyer: This retreat encourages a life of prayer and practice, both “on the chair” and in daily life. It will support you in making a deeper commitment to your relationship with God, and strengthen your ability to live the contemplative life through dedication to prayer and practice, all within the normal routines of everyday life.

Contemplative Discernment by Fr. Carl Arico, Pamela Begeman, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler: A contemplative practice of discernment is not about decision-making, although this may be an eventual outcome. Rather, contemplative discernment is receptive in nature, a process of opening to receive clues about who we are in God. We focus on ever-deepening levels of relationship and trust in God’s will for us. We learn how to listen deeply to our motivations and sort through and purify any mixed motivations. As this relationship deepens, we learn to allow the love of God to motivate our actions and manifest through us. We discover what it means to truly pray “not my will, but Thy will.”

Embracing Living: The Welcoming Prayer by Contemplative Outreach, Mary Dwyer, Therese Saulnier, Cherry Haisten, Jim McElroy: The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. If Centering Prayer (or another daily prayer) is practiced for one hour of the day, the Welcoming Prayer is for the other 23 hours. It is a “letting go” in the present moment, in the midst of the activity of ordinary life.

Drawing from the wisdom of monastic life, modern psychology and best practices in personal productivity, the Monk Manual provides a daily system that will help you find clarity, purpose, wisdom, and peace in the moments that make up your life.

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4 thoughts on “An Ocean of Light: Book Review

  1. I find it difficult to choose between the practice that Martin Laird teaches, and Centering Prayer. How would you recommend someone proceed after reading Laird’s books along side the Centering Prayer resources?

    1. I got the impression he practiced Centering Prayer or something similar. Here is a quote form Into the Silent Land.

      “ As soon as we become aware that our attention has been stolen by some thought, we gently bring ourselves back to the prayer word.”

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