Home

In Search of Silence

4 Comments

IN SEARCH OF SILENCE

Noise. Clutter. Complexity. Distractions. These are the norm for many of us in the western world. Since the U.S. election of 2016, the mad pace and chaos seems to have gone over the top. It’s as if the whole nation has taken on the chaotic ADD characteristics of a president who bellows contradicting policy statements every few hours and whose twitter-whims regularly destabilize our government, our economy, and the world.

We barely have time to mourn the latest school shooting before another Cabinet member is threatened or fired by the president. And it’s all blared 24/7 by bloviating newscasters with dueling “facts” and “alternative facts.”

That’s not what this post is about, though. This is about silence. And our crying need for it.

Yesterday I took a “day away” at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center in Maryland. Twenty of us began the day sitting by a crackling fire in the rustic lodge, gazing out a picture window at the surrounding wintery woods. We shared what we hoped to “let go of” for the day, it being Lent and a time of releasing the things that weigh us down or distract us from living better lives.

I had brought with me a bunch of church work, all of which I looked forward to doing: notes to help me design a Good Friday service, an outline for a Lenten “challenge group” I’ve been leading on Simplifying Life, and a draft plan for refurbishing the prayer walk on our church property. This is the kind of thing I love doing, but I often have trouble finding the time to focus.

Yet when it came my turn to say what I intended to let go of, I said the words, “church work.” I had not intended to say those words, but there you have it. We’ve been talking in our Simplicity class about letting go of the good for the better, and I guess God was showing me how to do that.

Pilgrimage

Our group spent the next four hours in silence.

I usually read and write a lot at these quiet days. But I didn’t even want the noise of words. Too many words!! Words — especially words that try to capture the spiritual nature — can be counterproductive. If there’s a little glowing ember of insight or wisdom in my mind or heart and I immediately try to capture it, analyze it, and control it, I have lost the ember. It has become about me and my words.

Instead of “wording” and adding to the noise in the world, I sat by the fire for a twenty-minute Centering Prayer session. Then I read a psalm and sat for another twenty-minute session. I enjoy meditating in community, half-hearing the soft sounds of someone making tea in the kitchen, the rustle of pages turning, deep sighs.

Later I went for a long walk. Walking in the winter woods and fields always reminds me of the journey we are all on, the seasons, the dark times, the pilgrimage in search of peace. “To be silent keeps us pilgrims,” as the early Christian desert hermits said.

I walked the labyrinth and noticed that it’s getting easier for me to connect with the feminine God. I’m not as easily distracted by the HE of my spiritual tradition. That was making me increasingly angry, but I’m learning to let that go as a human construct and enter the mother’s heart of God without fighting to get there.

“… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” said Jesus.

Peace & Quiet

After a silent drive home from my retreat, I stopped in to visit my neighbors. I was immediately blasted with the noise of the world: the Secretary of State has been fired! Another top White House aide has been escorted out of the building by security! I checked the news on my phone: The Pennsylvania race! The school gun-control walkout! House GOP concludes no collusion!

I am so glad to have been reminded that my attendance at this noisy circus is not required. I can check in, add words if they are helpful, march when it is necessary, grieve as Jesus did when he wept over Jerusalem: “Would that you had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Yet I can also return to an inner silence, “a peace that passes understanding,” and rest in knowing that God is love and love wins. It may not happen on my timeline, and it may be “hidden from my eyes,” but love always wins in its quiet way.

Reflections

♦ ♦ ♦

Today’s word prompt: Noise

A Gentle Rain Trumps a Hurricane: Mental Health Day

4 Comments

A GENTLE RAIN TRUMPS A HURRICANE: MENTAL HEALTH DAY

♥ ♥ ♥

Sabbath:

It’s warm inside the Vermont Quaker meetinghouse. A gentle rain patters on the roof and coaxes  golden trees circling the house to release their leaves to winter rest.

We sit.

I got here a few minutes late and the room was already in silence. When I settled into my favorite corner, I let out a huge sigh and then felt self-conscious about the audible stress I had just carried into the room. I imagine that my sigh was tinted slightly orange.

The coming forty-five minutes in silent prayer and meditation doesn’t seem long enough to free my mind and spirit from the outrage and uncomfortable memories that Donald Trump’s sexually predatory comments have stirred up in me.

We sit.

I have not been at peace all week. I’ve been trying to write a sermon on gentleness, but keep getting caught up in the violent whirlwind of this election, despite a two-day fast from news and social media. My psyche feels battered by hurricane-force winds, and there’s a danger of drowning. What do I know of gentleness?

An old woman on the bench in front of me is slowly rotating her ankle around and around, causing her leather boot to creak, creak, creak. At first it’s annoying and distracts me from my meditation, but after a time I begin to imagine I’m journeying on horseback, saddle creaking rhythmically beneath me. It’s soothing.

I sit.

The rain falls softly outside, slowly seeping into the drought-parched earth, deeper, deeper, patiently seeking ways through hard and rocky soil, at last reaching thirsty roots with nourishment and life.

If You are Struggling Emotionally . . .

This is a hard time for Americans, no question. I highly recommend finding time for silence and solitude, walks, and news & social media fasts. Women in particular have been triggered by Trump’s sexually aggressive words and actions.

My 2016 news year’s blog, How to Forgive described a spiritual practice to help you deal with tough emotions. It’s called Welcoming Prayer, and I offer it again today in recognition of World Mental Health Day . I wish you gentle peace:

♥ ♥ ♥

Letting Go

Go someplace where you can be alone in silence. Gaze out a window or at a candle or a piece of artwork. Relax. Allow yourself to focus on the “bad” feeling. Name it. Anger? Hurt? Rage? Desperation? Sadness? Notice where in your body you experience the feeling. Your chest? Your head? Your stomach? Your throat? Put your hand there and sit with the feeling. Then say: “Welcome, {feeling}. I know you are here to teach me. I welcome you.”

Solitude and silence: Step One to Serenity

Solitude and Silence: Step One to Serenity

Some background: This method is based on the work of Father Thomas Keating and his belief — backed up by many psychologists — that humans have core “emotional programming for happiness” that gets us through life. From a very young age, we learn to seek and cling to safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Memorize these. I can guarantee you that at some level, no matter what gets you stirred up or upset, one or more of these “needs” is at the bottom of it. When one of them is threatened, we often react from deep childhood survival programming and lose perspective. We act like angry children instead of adults.

So, after you have named and welcomed your feeling and identified where it’s centered in your body, you may sit with the feeling as long as feels right. Because you are going to let it go, so you want to be completely ready. If you give it some thought, you will likely be able to tell exactly which of childhood emotional needs has been threatened by the situation/person that was the catalyst for your pain and resentment or anger. Sometimes all of them are involved — these are the toughest to release.

When you are ready, say “I accept the lessons I’m learning from this {feeling} and I release my need for safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control.” Then you may release your feeling. Or you may keep it around a while to pray about, think about, write about, and learn from. Think of it as a visitor, no longer a permanent resident.

The God Question

I’m a God-person, so when I release my emotional needs and pain, I do it by turning them over to God. God’s got my back; I don’t need to protect my safety and security, esteem and affection, and power and control. Using this method over time, I get stirred up less and less often, being assured that I belong, I’m safe, and I’m loved beyond imagining. My clinging, fearful child has quieted down. I forgive “trespasses” soooo much more easily than I used to. 

At Peace with the Past

Learning to Be at Peace

If you’re not a God-person, I suppose you could release those needs to the universe or the cosmos or some “higher power that is greater than yourself,” as the twelve-step recovery folks say. Perhaps you could imagine putting your unwanted emotions on a train and then watching it disappear down the track. Or imagine dropping them in a river and watching them float out of sight. However you envision releasing your negativity, the point is to send it packing.

Day thirteen of my daily blogging practice.

Breaking Through to Peace

7 Comments

BREAKING THROUGH TO PEACE

Pursuing the wisdom of the ancient Enneagram was not on my list of things to do yesterday, but I got lost in a website in the wee hours of the morning, and you know how that goes. (Hey, at least I wasn’t tweeting!)

I’ve had enough training in the Enneagram to know I’m a Type Nine – “the peacemaker,” but haven’t paid it much attention. Here’s what the Enneagram Institute has to say about Nines: “No type is more devoted to the quest for internal and external peace for themselves and others. They are typically ‘spiritual seekers’ who have a great yearning for connection with the cosmos, as well as with other people. They work to maintain their peace of mind just as they work to establish peace and harmony in their world.”

When I embarked on the most recent of my spiritual quests about twenty-five years ago, I specifically wrote that I was seeking peace. That’s all I wanted, after an alcoholic upbringing and then many years of dysfunctional relationships and adrenaline-driven workaholism. Peace.

This led me to Jesus, the “Prince of Peace,” and then specifically towards contemplative and mystical practices. I’m drawn to silence, solitude, and meditation, practices that are often associated with eastern religions, but which also date back two thousand years to the “Desert Mothers and Fathers,” very early Christian hermits and monks who lived in caves in the desert.

desert-fathers

So I like being labeled a seeker of inner and outer harmony. But then I came across this:

“Nines demonstrate the universal temptation to ignore the disturbing aspects of life and to seek some degree of peace and comfort by ‘numbing out.’ They respond to pain and suffering by attempting to live in a state of premature peacefulness, whether it is in a state of false spiritual attainment, or in more gross denial.”

Nines tend to run away from tensions “by attempting to transcend them or by seeking to find simple and painless solutions . . .”

Oh dear. Maybe I haven’t made any spiritual progress at all! Maybe I’m placebo-transcending!

Maybe all my “striving” for spiritual centeredness is just that — “striving” after an idea I have in my head, rather than surrendering to a Reality that simply IS?

Sigh. Will I never find peace? Good thing God doesn’t give exams.

The Yonder Side of Sophistication

Today I found this excerpt in the slew of inspirational emails I receive every day but don’t usually read. It’s a quote from one of my favorite spiritual books, A Testament of Devotion by Quaker missionary Thomas Kelly, and he’s talking about a “second simplicity,” a second childhood that is the goal of mature adulthood.

“It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naiveté which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity . . . The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. . . . Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the Love of God and ever cleaves to {Her} . . . Some of you know this holy, recreating Center of eternal peace and joy and live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center where the soul is at home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing.”

The latter description is my experience exactly. I sense that state of being “just over the margin” where the soul is at peace with God, and I “wistfully long to slip into that amazing Center.”

This is what peace is all about. Breaking through to that Center and living there. The practices that bring true peace may take courage because the western world  generally rejects “eccentricities” such as silence, solitude, and surrendering the ego. (And an Enneagram Nine hates rejection; their biggest fear is loss and separation.) It’s scary to step outside “the norm” and into the ether. Still, don’t you think the world could use a little more peace?

” . . . the heroic first step of the journey is out of, or over the edge of, your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported.” — Joseph Campbell

Day six in my effort to blog daily.  

The Day it’s OK to Be Sad

2 Comments

I thought I’d re-post this four-year old September 11th blog, since it still seems relevant. Little did I know four years ago when I wrote about the divisions and anger in our nation and at the 2012 political conventions how much worst it could get! Be kind to yourself and to others today, please.

Re-post from 9/11/12

I’m terribly sad, which I suppose makes sense, since it’s September 11th. Everyone is allowed to be sad on this one day. You’re not told to “buck up” or “move on,” you just get to be sad.

The odd thing is, I had forgotten the date. I don’t watch television or get a newspaper, and I usually spend my mornings “unplugged” and in silence. And yet I felt myself sinking from the moment I dragged out of bed, late. I turned on the car radio on my way to the doctor’s office and heard some guy talking about how pain is often a shell around understanding or something like that, and how we have to go through the pain to get to meaning, which is very important in trauma. I turned it off. I was already down and didn’t want to hear about trauma.

Then I saw about a dozen people waving huge American flags from an overpass. Something to do with the election, I guessed. Perhaps they wanted us to honk, but nobody did. It still didn’t register.

It wasn’t until late this afternoon that I was writing a check to my doctor and asked for the date. She looked at me like I must’ve just returned from the Mars expedition. “Oh,” I said, and wrote September 11th.

I feel kind of bad about not remembering, like it’s dishonoring to the people who died and their families. I guess my psyche knew, though I was not aware of it. I had plugged into the cosmic stream of grief and loss that is part of the human journey without even knowing I was supposed to be mourning with the rest of my nation.

Thing is, I no longer feel the sense of oneness and spiritual attachment that was so beautiful during the 9/11 aftermath. (I am *not* saying that 9/11 was beautiful, I am saying there was beauty in our response.) It’s long gone. One of the things I mourn on this day is the fact that we can’t have that unity more often. Even the chants of “USA, USA!” at both the political conventions were accompanied by clenched fists and mostly angry or righteous expressions.

Today my response is not to reach out for community or conversation. It’s to isolate and allow myself to be sad. I’m sure there’s a load of talking going on out there in TV/radio/internet land. Nothing more needs to be said, and I don’t want to hear it.

I’m just doing simple, nurturing things. Writing in my journal, watering plants, filling the birdfeeders and birdbaths, making a healthy salad for tomorrow’s picnic with someone I love.

But here I find myself reaching out, after all. Somehow I just wanted to tell you, whoever you are out there in the blogosphere…I am sad today.

Are You Too Busy to be Happy?

10 Comments

Do you ever take the time to ask yourself what you really want; what you are really here for?

I’m talking about REAL time? Even in the spiritual communities to which I belong, people often don’t.

Which is weird, right? I mean if we truly believe we are part of a larger spiritual reality that can offer us peace and happiness and empower us to make the world healthier, why don’t we enthusiastically embrace every practice that might help us enter into that reality?

To my mind, the primary practice that helps us discover and align ourselves with our true nature and purpose is taking the time to be open and present to a reality beyond what our tiny minds can grasp.

George Bernard Shaw wrote that the true joy of life lies in being devoted to a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one,

… being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. 

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OK, that’s strong language. I’m not calling anyone a selfish little clod of anything; I’m just saying, think about it.

Are you too busy to do “nothing,” which rather than being nothing, might actually mean everything to your happiness?

Life by the Pond

Yesterday I went on a silent retreat. I sat by a pond and watched a family of geese — the father, every feather aquiver with protective instincts, stood tall and alert by the mother who had nestled down and lifted her wing, welcoming her tottering yellow gosling into warm, downy safety.

Down the hill, a coyote led an intruder away from its den, trotting slowly and then looking back over its shoulder to be sure the ruse was working; and it did, as the binocular-bearing human hustled after the animal and away from the pups.

The sun caught the cerulean gleam of a bluebird perched atop its box, repeatedly announcing the family territory.

All of nature was doing exactly what it was meant to be doing. Instinctively.

Grasses by the Pond

Grasses Being Grasses

I Want You to be Happy

But we humans are different. We have the gift/curse of self-reflection — of ego — which can drown out our true selves and keep us on the go, trying to satisfy hungers we don’t even know are there. To get in touch with these hungers and decide if they are in our best interest, we need to slow down and listen.

How about planning an intentional fast from busyness as the relaxed summer season approaches?

Are you laughing now because what does she know, the summer isn’t any slower, it’s even busier?

Whose choice is that?

You are not a victim. You are in charge of your life. Cancel some stuff. Why not make a little time to ask yourself, or better yet, a power beyond yourself: what are you meant to do here in this one, short life? Are you on the right path?

Anyway, I don’t want to preach. I just want you to be happy. I know, odds are you are a stranger to me outside of the blogosphere — but happy people put happiness back into the world, and so I hope for happiness and centeredness and every kind of health for you.

Resisting the Demon of Busyness

I’m sharing this reading from Janet Ruffing that might give you food for summer thoughts.

Go ahead – give yourself a break, literally.

Centered

Centered

“Resisting the demon of busyness requires choices we would prefer not to make, and if we should succeed in making them, I can guarantee they will go unrewarded in both the secular and religious cultures in which we participate.

If we’re honest, we admit to ourselves that there’s something about all this busyness that we love. We like it this way, despite our half-hearted protests to the contrary. If we’re as busy as we pretend to be, then we’re too busy to allow ourselves to be affected by the pain and suffering of our world. We’re too busy to be addressed personally by the social, political or ecological disasters occurring in our relationships.

We are too busy to listen to our own feelings or those of others. Our busyness insulates from care and from compassion. Our busyness deadens our feelings and numbs our responses. The expectation that we must be busy all the time feels as if it is an external expectation, with the result that we don’t recognize that it is also self-generated in collusion with the culture.

I become flighty with so many things to attend to, moving from one thing to another, sometimes intuitively, sometimes impulsively and unreflectively. By this time, I am divided in my consciousness. It requires a different kind of discipline not to allow my attention to get caught in these ways.

This divided, distracted consciousness is a large part of the demon of busyness. This state of consciousness is literally illusion. It is something our collective consciousness keeps going because we agree to it. By keeping it going, getting captured by it, I fail to ask myself what I really want. I collude in frustrating my deepest desires by indulging the demon of busyness, so that I never have to ask what I really want to do or really need to do. Were I to do so, I might make a different set of choices in response to it.

What we need to resist is the sense of time-urgency and all the internal diffusion of consciousness which simultaneously thinks of the future, basks in self-importance and maintains an illusion of control. All of those internal ‘thoughts’ actually divert us from all dimensions of the present reality. They are literally useless and exhausting, yet somehow we love them…”

— From Resisting the Demon of Busyness by Janet Ruffing

Related Posts:

I am a member of Bloggers for Peace and this is my monthly post on the topic of Peace. I thought you might enjoy this thought that I borrowed from a post by fellow blogger for peace Elizabeth Obih-Frank:

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” Black Elk

Also see:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/how-not-to-screw-up-your-holidays/

http://everydaygurus.com/2012/12/20/we-can-make-a-difference-right-here-right-now/

%d bloggers like this: