There has been a lot of silence in my life in the past 7 weeks. Two were in an ICU unit and on a bed. Four were in a garden in a big, orange chair. One was, well, largely in a fetal position, breathing through belly cramps …and in the orange chair between cramps. But there was time to train in silence.
I remember one of my most beloved professors in Seminary, Ellen Davis, saying to me; “Charles, if you want the monastic life, the best thing to do is to work in a high school as a night janitor or in a nursery, caring for plants in the greenhouses. Everywhere else, there are too many words- especially in churches and monasteries.”
This lotus flower winked at me one day in the Denver Botanical Gardens where I do my walking meditation. I loved the way the sunlight radiated from its center and it reminded me of what the monks of one particular mauve monastery in Northern Thailand taught me about silence. (Their commentary was almost identical to what a monk on Mount Athos told me, which made me break out in hysterical laughter, given the spiritual bigotry we Episcopalians can muster under velvet gloves.) He said “light come from the One, a light which has never, not, been. Our job is not to make light. Our job is to stop, quiet, and step into light.”
But here is the hard thing. And this is what we so often miss. We do not need to go to monasteries. We, you and I, can practice this centered wellness by simply training in it.
Some things are very simple and, at the same time, difficult. What he meant is that deciding to act is simple,but the results of the decision may be very difficult. Recovering addicts know this well. Deciding that one’s addiction is destroying joy and deciding to train in addiction-management is simple. It can take 20 seconds of clarity. The difficult part is then stepping into the living-out of that decision … out in the world…off our prayer cushion or pew-kneeler. And it may not be as big a deal as being a drug addict (which few of us are); it may be as small a deal as being unwilling to be made-spiritually-stupid-by-busy (which many of us are). There are consequences to making recovery decisions, but there are also consequences to not making them.
Training in the work of silence is like (and here, make no mistake, I mean VERY, VERY like) training for running a marathon. What is hard (and a bit wonderful) is that training to be a well, centered, peaceful person is very hard, demanding work. But I am increasingly aware that it will be the only hope for our culture, our planet and our lives. Or at least mine. And until I find a model of well, peaceful perfect living, Kai will do just fine.