And now I am holding that stillness to give it back to you, because the truth is so much of the world is broken, and I want to be part of its healing.
*Alison Hawthorne Deming (b. 1946)
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I have titled this presentation today "The Healing Stillness." I do this, for the Stillness is healing. This inner healing ~ by "healing" I do not refer to physical cures ~ arises as an expression of Grace. Stillness, here, is more than being still. Stillness, like Silence, is a means to refer to Grace, and our natural, primordial being, the Heart of Enlightenment. So, Stillness invites us to be still, to receive comfort and peace, and love. When we embody this Stillness, we become healing beings. Out of this Stillness we can act in healing ways.
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The above quote I read on a sign, during a day off at the Jacksonville Zoo for the hospice team I worked with. I wrote it down, for it says so well something so important for contemplatives and persons who spend time daily in the Quiet.
We enter the silence, worshipfully, prayerfully, for we are welcomed by the Stillness as broken ones in a broken world. Christians have called this brokenness "original sin." Here, this does not mean a collection of wrongdoings, rather a state of missing-the-mark. We are, according to this, primordially errant. Many Christians among conservatives will say we are "totally depraved" from birth. I was raised on this "totally depraved" theory, and totally disagree with it now. It sounds abusive to teach little ones they are "totally depraved," does it not? How sad we humans have created such a teaching.
Buddhists refer to the brokenness as "suffering." This can read "dissatisfactoriness" or "discontent." Buddhists would not use the word sin. Buddhists generally refer to this "suffering" as an emotional matter. We seem never to find contentment, inner peace, but for a brief time; we habitually create inner pain, Buddhists say. Just look all around you. Does it not seem we humans find it difficult to tolerate love, joy, and peace? Do we not tend to attach to emotional drama? Just look at our entertainment. Look at the daily news. We seem to find suffering normal. We cling to suffering, acting out this brokenness, though it makes no sense in light of the preciousness of life and our coming death. As the Buddhist teacher Anam Thubten presents, in Embracing Each Moment, the irrationality of the suffering we create within ourselves over and over:
Wouldn’t it be funny to imagine that you were dying and were anxious about your hairstyle? Imagine that you are dying right now, within a few seconds, and are worrying about your weight. That would be very funny and a little bit insane. Imagine that you are dying, and you are asking people to carry you into the bathroom so you can look at yourself in the mirror because you are worried about your image. Wouldn’t that be insane?
Then, Thubten continues with this straightforward, sane reminder:
But the truth is that we are dying. The moment we are born, we are dying. We are, of course, living fully, but we are also dying. Every breath is actually the sound of the clock ticking.
I worked at two hospices. I would have thought persons working with the dying would be touched deeply by it, and this would lead them to work together well and healthily. Yet, I found a lot of emotional drama in both places ~ as I did when a pastor in churches. I was amazed. So, it seems, we humans are much attached to our pain and needing others to suffer with us. This is what we do, we suffer and spread the suffering. So, what does it take to awaken us from this sleep, sleeping in our suffering while even worshiping what we call "God" or working with dying persons? I do not mean to be critical here. I say this, from experience, only to affirm how attached we humans are to this suffering, how resistant we still are to non-suffering.
Just look at war. We seem to find some enjoyment in war. In my country recruitment for war makes being a warrior appear a glamorous matter; and, of course, war makes a lot of money. So, war is an example of the extents to which collective suffering can lead us, being a result of our individual suffering. Imagine if another being came from a peaceful planet, where no one killed anyone, and that being learned of our warring. Would that being consider war anything but an irrational way of trying to make peace on Earth? Or, possibly we are not interested, collectively, in peace at all. No, I am not speaking that war is not sometimes necessary. I am not speaking for or against war. I am, however, speaking of the irrationality of the human species being in the 21st Century and glamorizing war and still not accepting we can find peaceful means to live together. This results from the magnification of suffering, which leads to more suffering, for war is not a solution. Jesus himself spoke wisely, "Those who take up the sword (i.e., violence) will die by the sword." So, this is the way of immense suffering being projected in killing and being killed, maiming and being maimed. So, the warring within us becomes the wars outside us. Suffering, suffering, suffering.
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So, those who engage a spiritual practice of entering silence, we need to enter knowing we and the world are broken, though we may understand that differently. And, likewise, we need to enter knowing everyone and everything we know is dying, and so are we. You can think of anyone or anything you care about, and know, "He is dying," "She is dying," "That is dying," and, hence, "I am dying."
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I am in agreement with Buddhists, saying we essentially are not broken; our primordial nature is pure and pristine. We essentially are not bad, or sinful, or unholy. This unlike much Christianity, and that I was raised in, teaching that we are primordially sinful and, so, need the mercy of a God. Our brokenness is not who we are, while that in need of healing has arisen in each of our lives. We are all wounded beings. When we go into our silent prayerfulness, we see our suffering, we cannot get away from it. This is good, for this means we are awake to our brokenness. Being awake spiritually means awake, so awake to all within us, to that we see as whole, that we see as broken.
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We share this brokenness with all Creation, all Nature, and this is intimated in the following Christian Scripture, from Romans 8:
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth to now. And we who trusts also groan, even though we have the Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from errancy and suffering.
I live with a couple who have a lovely dog. He has been going to school to be trained and learn to socialize with other dogs. He becomes anxious at school, being a sensitive lad. He will go off to himself, scared of other dogs, at times. Since he has been going to school, I can see his anxiety as I look at him. My heart goes out to him. I, having once been much more sensitive than now, can identify with his pain. One night in sangha during our compassion prayer, or metta meditation, I offered prayer in the Silence for the dog. See, he is suffering. I see his suffering. His parents see his suffering. We humans need to open our hearts to the suffering of all creation, not only to other humans. We cannot hold each being separately, but we can hold it all together in the Silence. We can love all Nature in the Silence, and offer prayer for Its healing. Many offer these prayers who do not believe in a divine Being outside them to pray to, they pray anyway. They trust prayer is a way of being of help to others. Then, others say they are praying to God, or through a saint or Mary, mother of Jesus, to God, or praying to Jesus. These, when praying in love for other beings, are doing good, too.
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How to do this embracing of all in silence? I often use chants when in silent prayerfulness. I do not chant them inwardly, simply say them silently. One I do is the "OM Mani Peme Hung" or "OM Mani Padme Hum." This can be rendered, "OM the Jewel in the Lotus. Yes!" This Jewel is the Awakened Heart, the Heart of compassion, the Heart of joy. So, I repeat this as a blessing, a prayer. I, also, pray inwardly "OM Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha," meaning "OM Gone Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Way Beyond, Awakened-Compassionate Heart. Yes!" This is a prayer affirming the release from suffering and of the joy of our true Nature, the Enlightened Heart, or Mind. I, furthermore, at times, use a prayer based on the first three of the qualities of the Holy Spirit, given in the Christian Scripture: love, joy, peace. We each can find traditional ways or innovative ways, or both, to integrate prayerfulness for the healing of beings into our time with Silence.
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Healing is usually associated with action. Yet, here we are, and where has this prejudice toward action led us? Healing, personal and collective, can most likely arise from persons who have cultivated stillness within. This aligns with the time-honored truth that the best movement arises first out of non-movement, then, as the stillness matures, in union with non-movement.
There is a Center to all life, and action in accord with and inspired by that Center - we could say revolving around that life-giving Center - is healing. So, in healing, not-doing is more vital than doing, and doing needs to evolve out of not-doing, not the other way.
In daily cultivating inner stillness, you are sharing in the healing of our world, by embodying the quietness. Stillness becomes your gift to others in a harried, hurried world.
Wholeness arises from the Center, and nowhere else, and it is natural we will understand that Center differently. Even the insight and creativity to heal medically arises from Grace, even as we all arise from the same Fount of Life to serve the good of all here. When we settle into the Quiet, we give our life as a sacred love-offering that others may taste the sweetness of peaceful Quietness and know the joy of the Heart of Enlightenment.
*Jaric Lavalle. 'prayer'. Flickr
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2019