I recently heard a sermon by a bright young priest at an independent catholic church. He began with a story of his Mom, in her mid 30’s huddling her 6 boys and 1 girl together in her arms, . . . at their daddy’s funeral. He said that as she held them close, she kept repeating, almost whispering “God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .” What struck me is that he said that these words, normally heard and spoken in happiness this time of year, came from a place of deep fear, uncertainty and sadness within her.
When I think of the reality of what many in the world will celebrate in a few days, it is far from the pretty, warm cozy picture that we try to create. It was cold, dirty, smelly, bloody and fearful. Joseph was perplexed by his pregnant wife to be. Instead of a warm, cozy home, they had to leave home and when they arrived in Bethlehem there was no room for them. The child was sought after and almost killed.
“God is with us, God is with us, God is with us, God is with us . . .”
Sometimes our lives can be messy, dark and cold; but the reality that we shout these days is “God is with us!” To some in difficulty, such words might ring hollow. But as sweet and sappy as some of this season can be, perhaps we need this time of year when we are reminded of what is good in the world, what is good in the human spirit and when our thoughts turn to “peace and goodwill toward all.” I can’t help but think that since a lot of us are thinking such thoughts, a little bit of it might actually manifest itself in our reality.
As I continue “Just Sitting” – my Zazen practice – I remain intrigued by what it’s doing, yet at the same time trying to be unattached from expectation that anything will come of it. This simple (and not so simple!) opening of the body, spirit and mind connects us directly to Source Energy, God, Spirit and when you think about it, that’s freak’n amazing!! I find myself more aware, looking to see what this silence will bring.
Most of the time I find it difficult not to think, and simply concentrate on my breathing. The mind, the ego will not easily shut up. It does NOT want to give up control! Yet, what a relief it is to stop the incessant chatter within! I can only imagine what this must do to the brain. I can’t help but believe that in the process of this silence of the mind, the brain is literally making new connections. I am convinced that in this silence I am more lined up with Source, and Divine will becomes my will. In this silence the ego is shut up and I somehow feel more directly connected to God – I let go of control. I get out of the way. Maybe that’s what “let go, and let God” means. Normally when I give up control, I find myself, at least apprehensive, if not downright fearful. Yet as a result of this silence I find myself looking forward in hopeful expectation to see what will unfold in my life – and that of the world (because it‘s not just about my life, but affecting the world). Instead of a problem to be solved, life is becoming a Mystery to be lived. I look forward to the journey!
The other day I was made aware of a movie called “Into Great Silence.” It is a documentary film directed by Phillip Groning which portrays the lives of the Carthusian Monks of the Grande Charteuse Monastery high in the French Alps. It’s known to be one of the most austere monasteries. I imagine that many people might be bored out of their minds by this movie, as it definitely takes one “into great silence,” as its title suggests. The movie is around two and a half hours long and most of it is silence. It simply shows the monks in their day to day lives – without offering commentary or explanation. These monks do not talk, except when they are in common prayer and once a week after a meal on Sundays. So it’s quiet! Disturbingly so! Yet, . . . Refreshingly so. Talk about counter-cultural!
After watching this movie I wondered how much we may all be seduced away from the silence by the incessant, and sometimes, unnoticeable noise all around us. I wonder if all the noise that surrounds us, or that we choose to be surrounded by – lulls us into a dull sense of living, and ultimately – in our society – a crisis of meaning.
When I enter into the silence, which is initially disturbing, I am lead to a greater sense of myself, a more peaceful place and, in the process, I become a more compassionate presence in the world. It is nothing short of hard work to stay with silence, but I am becoming more and more conscious of the tremendous difference it makes in my life and work. I feel as if I am slowly being seduced by it. In entering the silence I give up control to a Higher Power, which is initially disturbing. But now I am intrigued by it, curious and interested to see what happens. And something is happening. I don’t quite know what it is, but I know it’s good.
Today I was meditating, and, as often is the case, my mind gets going and I want to get up and start getting something done that I’m thinking about. Sometimes it is “work” just to sit there. Funny huh? “Work” just to sit there?
The White Robed Monks call this “Just Sitting,” a practice adopted from Zen, where one simply sits 15 minutes a day, concentrating on the breath and clearing the mind of all thought. When we do this our mind, our ego revolts. That little voice in our heads just doesn’t want to leave us alone.
What struck me this morning again is that when I want to heed that voice within, when I want to get up and start moving and stop this sitting – I am not trusting! In essence, when I break the meditation and start running, I am saying that I trust more in myself than I do in Divine Power. My experience, however, says that when I stay with this “work,” when I simply sit and make an empty space in my mind, I connect directly with Source Energy, God, the Spirit. Suddenly my work is given energy and much more is accomplished – and somehow – directly as a result of thinking no-thing, my thoughts are clarified and my life is given meaning and direction. It’s like I have suddenly been plugged in!
Can I trust enough to stay with the silent embrace and make a space in my life to connect with Source? Try it. And see what happens!
(Sitting in a coffee house window seat – watching people at holiday event strolling by.)
Light snow, a cold evening. Crowds of people walk the streets. The perfect setting for a night like this. All kinds of people. Straight and gay, young and old, richer and poorer, various races and, I imagine, creeds.. All here because of the season. All here because of a primal desire to connect with Life.
Whenever I’m around a crowd of people I wonder at the diversity of souls that exist; not one exactly like another, not only now, but ever since the dawn of time! Talk about awesome Mystery!. How did we all awaken to be the person that we are? Why am I not him, instead of who I am? Why am I not straight, instead of gay? What is it that makes me so aware of myself in this body, with my unique history, with my thoughts, my inner voice as it were? What is it that made me suddenly so aware of myself now, so aware of “me” that I know that one day I will have to die. I never remember this before – being alive and dying. What is it that creates our individual consciousness? Why did I “wake up” in the 20th century, in this body, into this family, at this place?
Questions that cannot be answered. Questions that lead me to silent awe of the Mystery of it all. How can one but be lead to silence?
What a wondrous thing this life is! And what a pain in the butt at times! The very thing that brings us to delight and joy, can become that which brings us to our knees in pain. And this pain then can become the very place where we are hollowed out, our thoughts given focused vision, where incidentals that once seemed so important simply fall away. And we are born again.
I was recently watching a program on PBS called “Excuses Be Gone” featuring Wayne Dyer. In it, he quotes Aristotle as saying:
“Contemplation is the highest form of activity.”
I so resonate with that statement! I am wired differently from what society, corporations and even churches applaud and hold up as good. “Idleness is the devil’s workshop” we were often told as kids. Certainly that was the message in the church and family in which I was raised. For me, the opposite is true.
The more “activity” I am involved in – the less I do – and the quality of anything that I do, and even the person I am, suffers greatly! It is in the silence of nothingness, in time, seemingly wasted – where great things are born within me. When I don’t take time to be, read, write, pray, listen to music – my life and work suffer. When I have, or take this time – despite great pressure not to do so – then my work finds life and creativity and I am a decent person to be around.
I find this is not very much appreciated either in society or the church. Produce! Produce! Produce! This is the message that most of us receive. It’s funny. I don’t find society, churches or countries any the better for all the incessant activity! Perhaps we would be wise to slow down, take stock. I recently heard these very words in a church, coming from a man who’s an unredeemed, angry workaholic whose toxic energy is oppressive to his staff and his church. He does a tremendous amount of work; but I don’t know of anyone (who really knows him) who looks up to him or actually wants to spend time with him. How sad. But I believe, like all addicts, he’s basically a good person at heart. Perhaps he just needs to slow down and take stock.