'Calm & Quiet'
The Bhagavad Gita 5.22-24 -
Pleasures conceived in the world of the senses have a beginning and an end and give birth to misery, Arjuna. The wise do not look for happiness [joy, bliss] in them. But those who overcome the impulses of lust and anger which arise in the body are made whole and live in joy. They find their joy, their rest, and their light completely within themselves. United with the Lord, they attain nirvana [eternal peace] in Brahman [God].
*Eknath Easwaran. The Bhagavad Gita.
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In March 2007, I was amid a difficult pastorate, one with much conflict. One thing that helped me was continuing to enter the prayerfulness of silence daily. In the last over 25 years, going daily into the Quiet has been a refuge and strength. Often, also, wisdom has arisen to give encouragement or guidance. This time was such a time. I wrote the following - here with adaptations for an inclusive audience - of one of those times in Quiet.
Sitting alone, meditating in the dark and quiet of the study at First Presbyterian, my mind returned to the discovery of a small pond in my teenage years. The find occurred during an exploration of the woods in front of our home.
While walking among the pine trees, I unexpectedly came upon the pond. The water was restful, sedate, and reflecting the sunshine. I had a sense of mystery uncovered, a peace matching the solaced surface. Maybe the face of the water and its refuge from a noisy world mirrored my search for a quiet center amid the rumblings of adolescence.
Now, about twenty years later, sitting in meditation, remembrance of that little place of dark, still waters touched something deep in me. I mused on the thought of the Center. Returning to the Center is returning to a place we enter through loving attention to the Sacred-Within-Us.
That quiet, eternal placidity abides in our True Selves, as we are created in the Image of the Great Mystery. The Center is the inner Temple, a Garden of Eden, a celestial Jerusalem, the Home we find in the universal Presence. It abides while often neglected in our scurry to escape solitude and get to the next thing we think we must do, and right now.
Going to the Center is not finding a new place. "New" and "old" do not apply. The Center is not really a place; the Center is a Relationship of devout, intense, and blissful intimacy.
If we are willing to be free from the panting pace of our culture, for the good of ourselves, as well as those we dearly love, then, in the Inner Tabernacle, we can find spiritual Rest. There we abide restfully in the divine Love.
Then, we take that Center of Quiet and Peace into our relationships and work. The Light shines through us and on all we meet and do for the Beloved's honor and love of others.
Reflecting on this, 13 years later, one lesson from the remembrance of the pond concerns serenity. The late eminent Tibetan Buddhist, Dudjom Rinpoche, in his Counsels from My Heart, says one of the two fruits always following engagement of the Path is serenity - the second is self-possession, or self-control.
This fruit of calm, clear disposition - serenity - is true of all wisdom paths. In meditation, we can work directly with the mind. Over time, we detach from the ups and downs of its workings. The mind becomes our servant when before we served it slavishly. Likewise, afflictive emotions, such as anger, lose their hold on us. With the conversion of these inner poisons, a transmutation into the Fruit of the Spirit, we enjoy tranquility.
Another means of transmuting afflictive emotions into serenity is by returning to the One in holy remembrance. Some paths utilize the supremely positive to transform the negative. Examples of this are the use of antidotes in Tibetan Buddhist meditation, the Remembrance of Allah in Islam and Sufism, and the Jesus Prayer and Praying the Rosary in Christian devotion. The key is to give loving attention to that which is the opposite of the negative emotion. Jesus still represents for me, as he did when I was a little child, the purity and love that calls my being to devotion to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, and to live a life of gracefulness to all sentient beings, as well as worship of the One. Simply to think of what for us embodies Grace can be a means of transforming suffering into serenity.
Likely, the most frequent reason persons enter a spiritual path seriously is for a felt-need for inner peacefulness. That was the prime motivation when I began the Christian contemplative path in 1996. The meditation practice I started with was Centering Prayer. I also took vows to live a contemplative life. This may appear a selfish place to start - to enjoy peace. Yet, we need to experience inner healing to expand our self's possibilities to be freer to have compassion for others. If we are not peaceful within, becoming serene is an excellent motivation to engage a wisdom path. Once we are calm, this calm will bring grace to others. Someone may even be drawn to Grace solely through witnessing the peace you embody.
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A second lesson from the remembrance of finding that pond pertains to discovery. One may think serenity to lack excitement. There is a subtle excitement that is not counter calm. This excitement is more a cool sense, unlike the more fervent feelings of the ego.
For the spiritual contemplative, calm does not mean a lack of interest or intensity. Today, I experienced that gift. I stood out in the snow and wind, feeling the elements touching my face, listening to the sounds of the breeze blowing through the trees. Most of the time, my eyes were not open. I breathed quietly, and there was a sense of gratitude for all this happening. I experienced a calm enthusiasm, or bliss, as it is often among those speaking of spiritual joy. Someone could have looked and said, "Look at that guy just standing there in the cold." Yet, I was not just standing anywhere. I was one with all happening. I was undergoing the ecstasy of opening the heart to Nature, and my being part of that Nature - for in the One Nature is not an object outside us but something we are with all manifestations. When one feels this, she does not feel a need for the more surface emotionalism called excitement and enthusiasm by those who do not know of this deep, inner, and quiet bliss.
The Way is a way of discovery. That is a reason I never tire of walking the Way. The joy of the uncovering of more of what was unknown brings a feeling of this subtle enthusiasm. There is even some enthusiasm about death. I am curious about the after of the demise of the body, which remains a huge mystery. This same wonderment applies for me to the process of leaving the body.
The Way is not tantalizing to the senses, as is much of modern life. To walk the Way is a stable union with joy. Knowing this serene, quiet enthusiasm, one no longer feels a need for the former experience of the senses being excited repeatedly through surface stimulations. Consciousness has shifted from the body to the heart, so the felt-needs have shifted, likewise.
So, see, here is the union of serenity and enthusiasm. These go together. One could call you a serene enthusiast, for you calmly but intensely enjoy Life. There is no reason the Way should be boring. Likewise, walking the Way leads to what we all want - inner peace regardless of what is happening in the world around us. No human truly, deeply wants to live a life of unrest. Such a life is not healthy for body or soul. We all want to be like that pond in the wood, reflecting the sunlight, calm and tranquil.
Peace to All!
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*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2020
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on mystical traditions, especially Christian and Sufi, with extensive notes on the teachings and imagery in the poetry.