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Meditation guru's monastery without walls

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Peter Kirkwood |  23 April 2010

This interview with Laurence Freeman, Director of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), concludes the series recorded at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Melbourne in December 2009. It is sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue at the Australian Catholic University.

Freeman talks about the importance of inter-religious dialogue and openness to other faiths, the practice of meditation in the Christian tradition, and the dangers of religion without the contemplative dimension.

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I made a documentary about Freeman for ABC TV's Compass in 2002, and so had the privilege of spending a week with him on one of his regular trips to Australia. I was able to observe this quietly forceful man as he lectured on contemplation, and led meditation with groups large and small, in a range of settings, including book stores, churches, community halls, and even in Yatala Prison in Adelaide.

All these places, and the groups of appreciative people who come to hear him, form what he calls his 'monastery without walls'. Though he is a Benedictine monk, he doesn't lead a conventional monastic life. He's based in London, but is continually on the move, travelling around the globe visiting the thousands of groups that form his worldwide meditation network. In Australia there's around 460 groups in regional and metropolitan centres.

Freeman is the second director of the WCCM. Its founding director, John Main, also a Benedictine monk, was a close friend and mentor. Freeman first met Main when the older man taught him at a Benedictine high school in London. Subsequently, when Freeman was a university student, Main taught him how to meditate. This formed a close spiritual bond between them.

Main had learnt meditation himself earlier in his life before he became a monk. He was a diplomat in Malaysia, and became friendly with Hindu Swami Satyananda, who taught him about contemplative practice. At the age of 33 Main joined the Benedictines at Ealing in London.

He began to explore contemplation and meditation in the Christian tradition, particularly in the writings of the early desert fathers. So, he recovered a contemplative dimension that had been somewhat lost in Christianity, and began to popularise it, teaching it to ordinary believers. People who join the WCCM are encouraged to attend a weekly meditation group, and to practice daily at home for 20–30 minutes morning and evening.

When Main died in 1982, Freeman took over as director. The network has now grown to include people from most Christian denominations. He has also formed strong links with those who practice meditation in other religions, particularly Buddhists. Every year the WCCM holds a major conference called the John Main Seminar, and this is frequently addressed by leaders from other faiths; in 1994 the keynote speaker was the Dalai Lama.

Freeman is a prolific author. His latest book, published in October 2009, is The Selfless Self: Meditation and the Opening of the Heart. Over the last few years he has edited a number of books about Main, featuring Main's writings. Some of these titles are John Main: The Expanding Vision, Word Made Flesh and The Heart of Creation: Meditation, A Way of Setting God Free in the World.


Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

 



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Submitted comments

Peter, thanks for bringing Laurence Freeman to attention. I recently became aware of Dom Bede Griffiths too. I'm constantly aware of the need to go beyond words. "The Selfless Self" may be a good way to approach the issue.

Stephen Kellett 25 April 2010

Laurence is a prolific author and his books have opened the way of meditation and contemplation for many readers. His latest title The Selfless Self is published in Australia by John Garratt Publishing - available in May. Contact: Phone:1300 650 878 or Email: sales@johngarratt.com.au

Annette Rinaudo 27 April 2010

John Main, the founder of the Christian Meditation Movement and a major contributor to the Christian contemplative tradition said "So prayer, meditation is just not a way of 'doing' something but it is a way of 'becoming someone' - becoming yourself created by God, redeemed by Jesus and in the temple of the holy Spirit"
Christian meditation and centering prayer do not depend on our moods or fatigue; they do however, rely upon an unrelenting intention to be with God. We discover that even in sitting to begin our meditation/prayer that we are more than the sum of our distractions.
Christian meditation and Centering prayer are based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount
"...But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you." Matt. 6:6.
Fr. Thomas Keating, one of the founders of the Centering Prayer Movement says that meditation (or centering prayer) is a way of reducing the obstacles to the development of grace and he is the author of numerous books,and in particular the trilogy "Open Mind, Open Heart; Invitation to Love; and Mystery in Christ

John Keen 01 May 2010

thank you for the work you are doing, the work of john main and freeman is a miracle to me as am learning to be myself and to love others no matter the differences we have. Thank you

maria mukomukambwe 14 November 2010