'The Way to Saltbox'
We can invite a wide range of atmosphere into the Quiet. And we may find as we are transformed in our relationship with the Silence, we become more lighthearted, playful, and humorous about our path, practice, and ourselves.
Hebrew Bible... Proverbs (Mishla) 17.22
A cheerful heart is like good medicine,
a downcast mood dries up the bones.
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October 2020 - Woolman Hill, Deerfield, MA
It has been a few years since I went on a silent retreat. The Covid-19 delayed this one. Now, here I am alone in the wood, in rustic Saltbox. Nightly, I sit alone and read in this old, bare cabin. Possibly, what most surprises me is the laughter. I cannot recall laughing during a time away in silence. I would do all I could not to make a sound. This time, there has been much laughter and at the least little thing. Like reading something in a book, which would not usually appear funny, and a torrid of laughter gushes out of my body into the quiet, dark, still night. - Laughter, too, can be prayer. - It seems the Silence likes to laugh and has invited me to join in. I do. It feels so good not to remain mute but to bow in resignation to articulate, unleashed merriment. Maybe, this is saying something has changed over the years, something about touching a deep, pure joy that often remained concealed in the undercurrents of my daily life.
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June 2019 - Dharmata Maine, Brunswick, ME
She and I enter the room for the Friday evening Dharmata Maine gathering. We begin preparing the room before others arrive. We enjoy friendly banter, behavior some might say frivolous for persons preparing for the sangha, with whom we would chant, meditate, and engage in Dharma teaching. Yet, here we were, smiling and laughing like two kids hurrying off to the ice cream parlor instead of outfitting the room for Dharma-time.
As the time comes to relax into quietness, I find it challenging to settle down and shift from the comical sharing. It feels like a fragrance of jolliness lingers around me and saturates the room with its light aliveness. This sense contrasts with my oh-so-serious manner in which I often enter meditation. Yet, could it be this night Life fated my usual solemnity to an unyielding exception to its illusory normality. It seems so, at least now.
After chanting, we five sit in quiet for 35 minutes. I can still feel this gesture of glee. In the Silence, I watch it; I explore it. I cannot escape it, cannot shift to that oh-so-serious attitude that seems to afflict most of us who take a spiritual way seriously. We seem unable to see the seriousness is of the warp-and-woof of the suffering we are trying to escape.
November 2020 - Easton, ME
Last week, I had an intrusive voice to arise in meditation. Repeatedly, in the mind tumbled, like two struggling, sweaty wrestlers, holding to each other and neither getting the upper-hand, a conflict of opposing sides on a matter of politics. Suddenly, a voice blurted out, not respecting this of grave consequence which my mind was attending to with such seriousness, "Who cares!" I thought, "Well, but this is important." Then, I dropped both wrestlers, stripping them of their right to continue their arduous conflict, back into the Silence.
Yet, I think maybe the voice was not trying to be sensible - not in a usual sense. It seems to have been meant to shock me back into what is most important, even more so than the threat to democracy in the nation I live in. My sense is it was, "Who cares!" - like, "You're wasting your time ruminating on this nonsense going on in Washington when you are here to be with your heart, not all that stuff." I mean, if you went to a sanctuary to worship, would you welcome the city to dump trash in it? Yet, that was what I was doing - inviting rubbish into my heart time. It is one thing to accept whatever arises in the Silence, another to court it, marry it, and bear children with it. Simply because you pray for all sentient beings does not mean you welcome roaches to treat your home like a hostel with a red-blinking sign out front: Always Vacant for Pests. Do you see?
I realized I needed to relax into the Silence. I needed to get off this matter of apparent and immediate gravity of which the mind was saying, "You must take this very seriously, so much you can't relax even in your meditation time, set apart to place the mind quietly in the heart." So, I ran the roaches out of the house and told them, "You're not welcome here!" I tore down the sign. Yet, they will come back and try to take up residence. Hopefully, I will be more awake next time and dismiss them quickly, rather than let them settle in and cause such a fuss.
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I came up in a home and religion where joy was much lacking. There was a lot of anger in my family. Rarely did I have a friend over to my house. I was lonely. Almost all my time was with only myself. We had no close neighbors out in the rural area. Allen came over this day. We played ball outside. We had a lot of fun. We laughed a lot, too. I suffered from depression. What could be better medicine than this? What a good time we had, and it was better for being like a never-experience. My mother was inside. After Allen left, I walked in intoxicated with the afterglow of my time with my friend. My mother looked at me with a furious countenance, her face drawn tight. She stared at me with the same harshness, saying I was loud outside and how ridiculous I had behaved like that. She was upset she had been disturbed. I was stunned. I was hurt. And in my home, you did not reason back, for the parents were always right. I just had to eat the pain. So, what message was that to a young boy? Well, the message, it seems, has run deep in me during my life. That kind of message gets into the sinew and bones, burrows deeply into the brain of a child. Yet, how we were raised does not have to remain an indelible stamp on us. We may never fully recover from it, but we can recover some from it. I am thankful I discovered the freedom to laugh hilariously, dance wildly, live joyfully, sing blissfully, and know such celebration is a good and proper thing. Who are we posing for anyway? Who are we helping by being miserable, crabby beings? My mother was simply heartless that day, and it was before she underwent a spiritual transformation. She found joy. I have, too, and my life becomes more joyful with time and age. And with this joy, there is love - love and joy always go together. That day, my friend and I were joyful, for we were sharing love. We were celebrating Life. I reclaimed that right.
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When I used to teach meditation classes, I would invite students to smile slightly when in the Silence. To me, that smile would reflect gladness in engaging a prayerful posture of the heart. Possibly, a splash of jolly laughter would be an apt exercise before entering the Silence, too.
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Finally, that Friday evening at Maine Dharmata, I realized the sprightly lightheartedness was present, for it needed to be present. My whole being, including the body, needed a dose of good cheer. I acknowledged this, too, is a way Life graces me. Yes, there are moments of solemn quiet, where reverence bows the heart before the Altar of Love. Yet, I need times of this lightheartedness, putting things in a more healthy perspective than what is offered us from so many about us, who entertain us with doom-and-gloom. I decided to relax into the gaiety the Silence was offering me as a gift to enjoy. I honored it as fitting and reverential.
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Several days after that evening at Maine Dharmata, some words from Jesus came to mind. They are from the Gospel of John 15.11: "I have told you these things so my joy will be in you, and your joy will remain complete." May it be! Yes.
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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.