This Saturday I found myself 12 feet up in a tree (I think it was a yellow birch). My goal was to spend a half an hour figuring out what it means to "empty myself" before God so that I could hear him speak and then to do it.
My biggest observation of my time (of the act itself, that is) is that a half hour is nowhere near enough time to really bear fruit in an effort like that. At least not if one has no practice in this sort of contemplation. At no point did I reach a state anywhere near empty, which is not to say that it wasn't a worthwhile experience, just that it is hopefully more like a beginning to a journey than a singular event.
My process went something like this:
● My group all went our separate ways to begin our half hour alone. I ran off into the woods behind our campsite, across a marshy brook, and found my tree.
● I shimmied up to the lowest branch, and then climbed up to a fork in the tree that made for a good perch.
● I began my contemplation by trying to be aware of my surroundings rather than myself (or with myself as just another part of the surroundings). I could hear birds singing, squirrels and Austin rustling around, a bit farther off the sound of families at their campsites, and beyond that the sound of trucks racing down the highway.
● I started to feel all these things are part of the same earth. At first the people at the campground were a distraction, but soon they faded into the background of the world around me. Once I was at this point I could begin to feel myself as part of that material background as well.
● I could feel myself as part of the background except for my mind. I began to ponder the wonderful gift that God has given me in my consciousness that pierces the divide between the material and spiritual worlds. I worshiped God for his grace in this gift.
● The rest of my time was spent trying once again to remove myself from my mind, this time, though, removing my ego from my thoughts. It was this task that proved too much for so little time. As far as I might think I've traveled down the road to humility, it takes only a few moments to realize that I am the center of my universe almost all of the time. To recognize it for a while is wholly liberating.
I would love to make experiences like this common practice. The value of that time spent is so much higher than almost any other way that I might be spending it, so why not?