*Brian Wilcox. 'Awakened to the Beauty'. Flickr
Back River basin from the clearing behind the cottage where I stayed this winter on Georgetown Island, Maine, USA.
Love will awaken you.
*Anam Thubten. Embracing Each Moment.
Silence comes as grace.
*Robert Sardello. Silence.
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When I began taking seriously meditation, over 25 years ago, I was working as a professor. I was in a building with much movement and could be called upon at any time by a student or colleague. Still, it was up to me to make the times and discover the places to quieten and worship silently. I longed for more than I had been receiving from my religion, and this longing inspired me to carve out these times and places.
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Many years later, in Gainesville, FL, a neurologist was one of my students in classes on Silent Prayer and, later, Contemplative Living. Of course, he was very busy in his work at UF Health Shands Hospital, in Gainesville. Yet, he felt so drawn to and blessed by his practice of Centering Prayer that he found a good time to engage with Silence, and the place was his office, with closed door. I am sure he could have easily found something other to do in that time away from patients. Yet, his desire and commitment to communion with Silence was important enough to him to take this time in this place. I, also, am sure he likely had no colleague to encourage him to take this time and place. He chose, for himself.
* * *
One place and time for me, in those days as a professor, was between classes. I would literally lie down on the floor and meditate. During these times I decided not to respond to any knocking on the door, a door which would be closed during this silence. No one encouraged me to do this, and I told no one I was.
Another place I found to be alone and enjoy quiet was the forest. There was a wood behind our chapel, which stood on the extremity of our campus and behind a lovely lake, so somewhat secluded. This was an inviting sanctuary.
I learned early that I was the one responsible to carve out these times and places. No one was going to check up on whether I was spending time in this worshipful quiet. No one shared in any of these times with me; I was not living in an environment that encouraged such ‘foreign’ practices, largely associated by persons with Eastern religions and condemned as spiritually dangerous. I learned how the excuse “I don’t have time…” was just that, an excuse. As a lad, I had been taught discipline in conduct and work, this disciple I turned into devotion to these moments in the Inner Sanctum, regardless of where I was outwardly.
* * *
Recently, I had someone to respond to me rudely. I was surprised. It gave occasion for the question “Why?” to arise. I do not know why. I conjectured this is possibly one way this person keeps persons at a distance, being threatened by one who might be becoming intimate in an emotional or spiritual sense. I had sensed the person keeps a distance, safe for the person. I do know we humans often engage in emotional drama as a means to ward off intimacy. Of course, we think we are logically and rightfully on the attack to put another person in his or her place, so to speak. What we are doing is erecting a hard and harsh boundary, saying, “Keep away, don’t get too close, you might touch my wound and hurt me.” I say this, to say, to have a relationship with Grace, the Silence, is like that. Being with the Silence is an increasingly intimate relationship. Our woundedness, our karmic baggage, is going to be exposed, including our fear of intimacy. So, while persons give reasons for not engaging a practice of Quiet, likely, often the real matter is this avoidance of closeness. So, “I don’t have time,” is, “If I get quiet and open my heart, I don’t know if I can trust that degree of intimacy.” Silence, indeed, is like the desert, it can, at times, bring joyful freedom, at other times, it can expose us naked, no where to hide, denuded to the wild elements. It can even peel away the illusions of much of what we think about our spiritual path, about our God, or Buddha, or whatever we give devotion to. Silence is like a mirror that bares all, showing us the 'good' and 'bad' we may fail to see when immersed in noise, social interaction, and entertainments of varied sort. Are we ready for that degree of honesty? Silence is.
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One story I shared early in my teaching on Centering Prayer was one I had heard Thomas Keating tell ~ Keating was one of the three who founded the Centering Prayer movement in the Christian tradition. He told of a student of Centering Prayer who was finding it difficult to find time for her 20 minutes of Centering Prayer daily. She would cook at night, eat with her family, then clean up afterward. Her husband was, also, engaging Centering Prayer and finding the time to do so daily. So, this wife changed the schedule nightly, and her husband agreed to the new plan. She would cook the meal, the family would eat together, and she would go take her bath, engaging in Centering Prayer while soaking in the tub of water. The husband would clean up after meal. This worked for them both, and she found this time and place to honor her need and desire to commune with her Christ. What motivated her? Likely, at least partly, the one thing that we most long for as humans, the same my student meditating in his hospital office longed for, the same reality I longed for and that led me into meditation years ago.
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Love is that which most motivates us to be loyal to quiet and prayerfulness. We feel an inner call to this quietening. This call comes from the Source of our longing to love and be loved, which is our greatest need as humans. Even many of us have felt the disappointments and, yes, betrayals of human love. This heightens our longing for a love true and dependable, and more than human. We feel a Grace inviting us to bring that woundedness to a space of healing Presence. We aspire for a love that handles tenderly those wounds and can apply the salve of healing Life. Often, we have had experiences we feel we cannot share with others, yet, this prayerful quietness is the open invitation for divulging our deepest, most hidden secrets. Here, in the Quiet, we learn to trust again. Here, we grow in wholeness. It is okay not to be ready to trust intimacy with humans, intimacy with whatever we understand as sacred Presence can be trusted, and in this safe place we can heal, later to learn trust again for other persons. Later, for we have grown in the Silence in self-compassion and respect for our own inner beauty, we are prepared to live among others more wisely, heart open to the world but accepting it is okay to be discerning in how to relate with the ones that make up that world. I certainly know I practice more discernment in how close I get to persons than I once did, and this is partly due to learning more respect for myself as an expression of the Good, the True, the Beautiful. I have learned this through being taught by the Silence, and exposed to the healing rays of the Light.
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For many of us, our fidelity to our times and places with Silence are most inspired to keep returning to this Love within us. This Love is not merely an emotion, this Love is a Being. Yet, saying “Love” and “Being” cannot speak the wonder and joy of this Presence. And, also, this Being is not separate from our Being. We may begin with an idea that this Presence resides out-there-somewhere, like up in a heaven way above. In time this changes. So, we are motivated to grow into this Love, and we know we need time alone with Life to be graced deeply. This longing pulls us gracefully into Grace, over and over and over. As I have written before, here we are marinated in this Mystery. Hence, we do not say, “I don’t have time,” and we cannot wisely say, “I find time,” rather, we honestly admit, “I have time.” When we prioritize this relationship and the time we set to be quietly, reverently, all our other relationships take shape around it. This, rather than expecting all other relationships to be priority and, then, our intimacy with Life to take shape around them. As the sage Jesus is attributed with saying, when speaking of our basic human physical needs: "... seek first the Way of God (lit., Kingdom of God) and the righteousness of God, and all these other things will be provided for you."
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This does not mean each time we engage in quiet meditation we will feel this Love or Its joy and wonder. We go through times of aridity, when we feel no sensible sense of this Presence. Here, we, over time, trust that this Love is present in this sense of aridity. We learn to relax into this self-offering, in response to the Silence, our response being a loving fidelity. We learn this sense of absence is alive, is simply another face of Life. Life is as present in the dryness as in the showers of blessing.
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Possibly, for some, we engage this life with Silence to the point of having equanimity regardless of what does or does not happen when in the prayerful quiet. We relish when the Silence seems wonderfully to fill us, and we, as well, do not complain or flee when the Silence seems to hide. We have grown to this, through time and times of the felt-absence of Life. Why? Love. When Sardello says, “Silence comes by grace,” we could say, as well, “Silence comes by Love.” The very longing for the Lover, however we understand that, that inspires our loyalty to the Silence, that is already the presence of Love, Itself leading us into Itself to become Love by Love. As Anam Thubten reminds us, “Love will awaken you.” I would add, “Love alone will awaken you.” And this Love is not religious or spiritual or emotional or divine, not essentially, this Love that awakens us is Love, while even the word “Love” cannot capture the beauty of this Mystery that leads us to Itself and fills us with Itself.
Away from Home, lost,
I sought you when a youth; I discovered later
this seeking was none other than
Your seeking me ~ then, I knew.
I took You into my mind
Learning of you was a joy
I felt You with my heart
This bliss filled my being like an overflowing cup
Pains and delights satiated my being
Unable to go further
Groping in the dark, lost, no guide to guide without
Mind and body drunken with Grace
I helpless, disoriented by such intoxication,
You drew me into Yourself
with the ropes of tender and fierce compassion.
Now, where am I? You? After all these years,
the veil removed between us, maybe the only reply
I need offer, in Silence, to a Love like Yours is:
*Brian Wilcox. 'Mirror'. Flickr
(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2019