Getting Serious with Spiritual Practices in an Age of Crisis

From New Dawn 181 (Jul-Aug 2020)

Over the years, I have used a variety of contemplative practices in combination to achieve specific spiritual outcomes. These practices eventually became ritualised into cyclical patterns in which the stage was set for some surprising results. 

For almost two decades, I became fascinated with the idea that we are living in a computer simulation but I couldn’t wrap my head around that concept because it didn’t fit with the near-death-experience studies of how the soul transitions into the afterlife. To gain a better understanding of what I was dealing with, I put together a set of contemplative practices to give me insight into this phenomenon. I used mindfulness meditation, the mantra sound āh as well as visualising and dialoguing with inner images of spiritual masters from both Western and Buddhist traditions to create a ritual. To help anchor and entrain this experience in my mind, I used Theta music sounds. Entrainment enabled my mind to reproduce the Theta frequencies within the ritual practice.

Intermittently, I had been working with these specific ritual practices throughout the years eager to find some resolution, but none emerged. About a year ago, I set aside a few months devoted to this practice hoping for insight; still nothing. I then changed the routine – one day mindfulness meditation and the next the ritual practice – but still nothing, so I thought. Then a few weeks later while practising only mindfulness meditation, I found myself in an unusual reality, not knowing if it was related to my computer simulation quest.

What emerged was a stunning inner vision. I found myself looking at a small open gate made of shiny sparkling gold. I saw beyond the gate a pathway meandering through a landscape of beautiful colours made up of various shades of blues, reds and yellow flowers, beautiful grasses and trees made up of various shades of green. I was looking out of my eyes at this beautiful scene and decided that since the gate was open I would walk through. Once across the threshold, I found myself in a world hard to describe! Those beautiful colours of blues, reds, yellows, and greens were now vibrant shimmering brilliant colours. I have never seen anything so beautiful. 

It suddenly dawned on me, if I walked further into this beautiful landscape, I would not return to ordinary reality. I gently backed out and crossed the threshold. Once on this side of the gate, the colours muted and the brilliance was gone. Then, suddenly, my timer went off and I moved out of mindfulness meditation and back into ordinary reality. The experience deeply puzzled me, and I wondered why it happened in mindfulness meditation rather than ritual state, and what it meant in regard to what I was pursuing.  

Two weeks later, I decided to use insight meditation and go back to the gate. In the meditation, it was hard focusing my awareness back to the gate, but once there I found a new problem – the gate was closed. Not only was the gate closed but it had a dull gold finish and the brilliant colours of the flowers, grass and trees on the other side were also dull. “Why is it now different,” I asked myself. Since that experience, I have made three more inner journeys back to the gate and in all three, the gate remains closed. This raised questions such as, “Why am I now locked out”? and “Why was I trapped on this side of the gate”? 

Throughout the oncoming months, I puzzled over this inner vision trying to understand its meaning. It all came together with my second vision which was prophetic. It began on 13 August 2019 when I read an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph on DNA bioweapons. These weapons could potentially target specific individuals and groups. I had read similar reports before, but this time something different happened. While reading the article online, I lost it! Something radically shifted inside me. In my inner vision, I saw thousands of people dying from these bioweapons. I panicked, feeling trapped in a new world I didn’t want to be part of. I tried to run but to where? I thought of Canada, the mountains, some island, where I could be safe. My spouse and a friend tried to calm me, but to no avail, I was trapped. For three weeks, I had constant visions flooding my mind of mass deaths and every part of my mind was filled with profound darkness and gloom, watching people dying from these biological agents. I have never had an experience like this before. 

Trying to gain some composure, I reached out to one of the editors at New Dawn magazine, asking if they had published any articles on bioweapons. The tenor of the email I sent New Dawn was one of panic because I was still seeing the death visions in my mind. I discovered they had published an article on the topic. Once I got the email response, I closed my computer for over a week trying to deal with these constant dark visions of mass death. During that week, my contact at New Dawn sent three very consoling emails.

After three weeks, the visions slowly lessened, giving me the chance to attempt to process what happened. For the first time, I connected the vision of the golden gate with the mass death vision. In the golden gate vision, I felt trapped on this side of the gate because the gate remained closed. In the mass death vision, I felt trapped in a dark world I could not escape. At the time, I could not understand what all this meant. Then, in April 2020, after meditating, it all came together – these were visions of what was to come, the COVID-19 pandemic. I saw it all on 13 August 2019! 

Currently, we do not know if COVID-19 was scientifically created in a lab as a bioweapon. If that’s not the case, then it was probably made in the environmental lab of the earth from pollution, or could have come from outer space hitching a ride on a spacecraft returning to earth from the international space station, or transmitted from animals that have these novel viruses. It appears these visions were triggered by contemplative practices which enabling me to see a dark gloomy future, the one we all globally experienced.      

Components of Contemplative Practices and Lifestyle

When I first began putting together a contemplative lifestyle, I used the Trappist (Cistercian), Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu monastic (ashrams) daily practices as a loose model. This model included working in the everyday world, contemplation, meditations, mindfulness, silence, solitude, spiritual retreats, study to enhance spiritual growth, simplicity, and service to others. I added these activities one at a time until I had a complete regimen. Some activities I used daily, some weekly, some monthly, some quarterly, and some yearly such as retreats. 

As we enter this new age of mass deaths from biological agents, these contemplative practices are essential to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health, and provide insights into our lives. 

If you are a monk living in a community, your daily regimen is set. However, most of us, including myself, live in the secular world and need to create our own personal contemplative routine. I felt that the most important activities for a spiritual lifestyle was to begin with contemplation and meditation practices because I was already using some of them. Contemplation, which includes contemplative prayer and various forms of meditations, are used to alter one’s consciousness to bring oneself into the present moment, as well as focusing and visualising on specific spiritual icons and images. By being in the present moment, a person can explore their inner landscapes; in my case, opening a portal to prophetic visions. 

Mindfulness eventually emerges from various forms of contemplation and meditation. I learned early on that contemplating sacred images and using various forms of meditation put me in contact with the present moment. I attuned to minute details in the present moment, allowing me to focus exclusively on the task at hand, bringing me into the here and now.  

Contemplation, meditation and being mindful is wrapped in a cocoon of silence. Silence allows one to disconnect from the outer world of distractions. It facilitates an inner exploration by gaining insights into one’s inner world – we learn to know ourselves. As with insight meditation, silence allows us to observe thoughts coming into our awareness without the disruption of external sounds. 

With silence comes solitude and with solitude comes spiritual retreat. Silence enhances contemplation, meditation and mindfulness, setting the stage for solitude. Solitude can be practised without going on a spiritual retreat. The best option is to create a personal retreat by isolating yourself for a weekend in your home. In a pandemic lockdown, isolating oneself should be easy if you are alone, but with a family this could be difficult. Solitude enables you to listen and experience the inner presence, that deep connection with your soul, what I experienced with the visions. 

A contemplative lifestyle also includes a study regimen to enhance spiritual growth. I studied the world’s contemplative traditions and religions, and the individuals within those traditions who created new spiritual practices. This information helped me compare where I was in my spiritual growth and where I was on my spiritual journey. I also used spiritual readings called Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is a Benedictine contemplative practice incorporating spiritual reading, meditation and prayer which promotes spiritual communion and connection. 

All these practices gave me perspective on what is important in life. I became aware that I own nothing. I’m only using things in this reality for a short period of time. I knew that shedding a lot of useless physical baggage and clutter, and living a life of simplicity, was the answer to many of my woes and distractions. Besides, in our present situation, human lives are more important than the useless baggage we throw away.

It goes without saying, that if one cultivates a contemplative lifestyle, one finds themselves in service to others, which happened with people helping those during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been in service to others throughout my life beginning as a child, helping family and neighbours as well as others in my community who were in need. When I was a psychotherapist, I set aside a certain amount of time to see clients in need at no cost or at a very reduced fee. As a priest, I help others specifically in spiritual development and tutor students on the college level at no cost. Being in service to others not only feeds our spirituality but our humanness as well. 

The Tree of Contemplative Practices 

In this time of global crisis, where does one begin? The Tree of Contemplative Practices (issued by US-based Center for Contemplative Mind in Society), offers a sampling of some of the practices used the world over. In reference to the above illustration, there are two roots feeding the tree – communion/connection and awareness – which symbolise the various contemplative practices from the world’s wisdom traditions as well as those created in the secular world. 

Throughout my life, I have engaged in at least one of the practices in each category, beginning in childhood with storytelling. I can attest that each practice focuses the practitioner’s attention on the here and now as we must be aware of what we are doing in the present moment for the practices to work. 

The branches on the Tree signify seven categories of contemplative practices: 

Stillness Practices are used to quiet the mind and body to create calmness and focus, and they include contemplation, meditation, quieting the mind, silence, and centring. 

Generative Practices produces thoughts and feelings of devotion and compassion and includeLectio Divina, visualisation, beholding, and loving-kindness meditations. 

Creative Practices are activities that begin with inner fermentation and move into outer manifestation in the exploration, development, expression and interactions with our creative potential as well as our humanness resulting in a deep sense of fulfilment, and include contemplative arts, improvisation, journaling, music and singing. 

Activist Practices are in service to others and include pilgrimages to areas where social justice issues are highlighted, work and volunteering, vigils, marches, and bearing witness. 

Relational Practicesfocus on the interaction with others and include council circles as in Native American and other indigenous cultures, dialogue with deep listening and storytelling. 

Movement Practices are actively focused practices that brings one into the moment through physical actions, and they include labyrinth walking as in many monasteries, walking meditation, yoga, dance, Qigong, Aikido, and Tai Chi Chu’an. 

Ritual/Cyclical Practices focus on specific intentional routines that brings one’s attention and awareness into the here and now by altering consciousness through various rituals connecting us to the deepest parts of our spirituality. They include symbolic ceremonies and rituals based on replaying mythical stories from spiritual and cultural traditions, establishing a sacred/personal space and spiritual retreats.

This is only a sampling of contemplative practices as there are many more, for example, eating meditation, contemplative walks, gardening, and chanting. All these practices are intended to cultivate awareness, wisdom and being in the present moment. These practices can help relieve the anger, tension, and desperation that one may feel when coping with crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

© The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Concept & design by Maia Duerr; illustration by Carrie Bergman. Permission to use given by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Developing a Contemplative Lifestyle in the Age of COVID-19

One of the key objectives when developing a contemplative lifestyle is commitment. Commitment to making major modifications in one’s spiritual journey by changing the habitual patterns that keep us locked in a destructive mindset. These habitual patterns often divorce us from our humanness, and we became mediocre and lifeless. By helping others, we move away from the mundane and reconnect with ourselves and those we love. Once we set ourselves apart for a short period of time to unplug from the distractions of everyday life, we commune on a vastly different level. The practices that we incorporate into our contemplative routines are those we commit to observing daily, and this commitment allows us to help others. Commitment is extremely important!

If one does not currently use contemplative practices, select at least one from the Tree of Contemplative Practices and learn to use it by yourself through readings or with the help of a teacher. I suggest starting with a stillness practice such as contemplation or meditation because these practices centre a person and bring them into the moment – and being in the moment is that state of mindfulness which allows us to think more clearly. 

You may then go on to add another practice such as silence. With silence, one becomes aware of the small gradation in thoughts and a deep awareness of one’s spiritual core – the soul. 

In all contemplative traditions, simplicity is the key to happiness. Without simplicity, we are caught in the cluttered web of meaningless materialistic consumption that never makes us happy. True happiness comes from simplicity because it unclutters our mind so we can think of more important things such as our connections with each other. Being in service to others allows our humility and compassion to grow and can give meaning and purpose to our lives. 

All the years I engaged in contemplative practices, beginning in high school with the study of Thomas Merton and later joining the Rosicrucian Order, all those practices helped open a prophetic portal in myself. The one thing I now know that I did not know before is I have visionary insight. I had two prophetic visions which I did not understand at the time. With hindsight, I know our world was caught in the grip of a new biological threat coupled with the other threats we currently face. My extra burden is that I had these prophetic visions and did not understand them at the time – in a sense I knew what was coming – a situation I now have to grapple with. 

In this age of crises and sudden threats such as COVID-19, contemplative practices are truly an effective panacea to help us cope with anger, frustration, and fear of an uncertain future. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, can calm us and create a solid foundation for connecting with each other. I cannot guarantee you will have a prophetic visionary experience as I did, but as I look to the future, one question haunts me, “Is this the shape of things to come?” 

This article was published in New Dawn 181.
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About the Author

Rev. Gary W. Duncan began his career in the funeral business, became a polymer chemical researcher, a behavioral/social science researcher, a psychotherapist and sex therapist for 21 years and 12 years in the natural health business. He has taught in various colleges and universities and has studied world spiritual traditions, mystical, magickal and esoteric traditions for over 40 years. He is an ordained Gnostic Catholic Priest, Spiritual Development Practitioner, published author (Twin Souls Merging), lecturer, spiritual/esoteric philosopher, educator, and consultant. Currently, he is writing his autobiography Death, Transcendence and Beyond: Journey into Awakening. He is founder and director of Monastery of Inner Awakening, which is part of the New Monastic movement. The Monastery of Inner Awakening includes the Quantum Spirituality Institute which focusing on the human impact of advanced technologies, and Center for Soul and Afterlife Studies focuses on the soul’s transition into alternate realities. Rev. Duncan can be reached in the USA by phone on 919-403-0009 or email at or (currently under new construction) or Skype at gary.duncan12.

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