"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call! Musings on Life and Practice by a Long-time Student of Meditation.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

"Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10


I remember my dad yelling, angrily, demanding that we kids shut up so he could get some "peace and quiet."  The threatening tone of his voice and likelihood of imminent violence usually did shut us up--at least for awhile. 

Dad loved to fish.  One of my strongest visual memories of him is of the day I looked out the front window of our apartment and saw him silhouetted against the sunsparkles of the lake a couple of hundred feet offshore, sitting quietly in his beloved rowboat, fishing pole in hand.  He could sit like that, motionless, surrounded by the stillness of that small Northern Illinois lake for long periods of time just peering at the red and white bobber.  Often, he returned to shore seemingly in a good mood, quieter, more content. 

I noticed. 

It wasn't at all surprising that when his doctor advised him to finally retire and "just go fishing", my dad did just that. He bought himself a camper and a trailer, and for much of final year and a half of his life, he traveled and fished from coast to coast.

I think the quest for "peace and quiet" is probably universal.  Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that even the businessman's smoke break was an attempt to stop and breath, to find a moment's peace within the busyness.  The promise of the Practice is that we that we can engage in that journey with some degree of skill, that there is actually some method to our madness.

As today's quote from Ram Dass points out, there are deeper and fuller realms of experience available to us.  As we cultivate Mindfulness, we are more likely to notice ourselves being calmer, quieter.  The cacophony of random thoughts and feelings and bodily tensions tend to release their grip a bit, and a sense of silent spaciousness emerges in our lives. Yet--and here's where it gets interesting--we are also more likely to experience sounds and other sensations more vividly.  Sometimes it may be helpful to remember to look at Ram Dass's statement a bit differently:
The quieter you become, the noisier it gets!

As more time and energy are devoted to Mindfulness Practice, there will be times when the volume
knob on thoughts and uncomfortable feelings may get fully cranked to the right.  Oftentimes at those points, our attachment to a model of "peace and quiet", will generate a level of resistance to that experience and we will think we are having a "bad" meditation.  That, of course, is not the case.  In actuality, it may well be a sign that the Practice is deepening!

Layers and layers of restlessness and dissatisfaction and pain and fear can and will emerge at times, on the cushion and in our lives.  Many of us have stuffed that stuff down for years.  (I've met Dad in all his not so peaceful guises incarnated as "my" emotions many times over the years.)  At these moments, the courage and care we devote to staying with the Practice offers the possibility of healing our hearts and minds at deeper and deeper levels.  With compassion and effort, as gently and diligently as possible, we persist.  Although it's not "easy", it can be as simple as letting of the storyline, fully feeling what is going on, and moving our awareness back to our meditation object--again and again and again. At times, tonglen and maitri practice are quite useful as well.

There is another way, perhaps a bit more pleasant, that the volume knob can also get cranked up as we cultivate the Practice. It happened to me last Monday.

For those of you who don't attend Monday Morning Mindfulness, MMM meets at Community Yoga, a studio perched on the second story of a building half a block from the main downtown intersection of Greenfield, MA.  Although there isn't much traffic as the Early Bird session begins at 7 AM, by the time the Beginner's Mind and Beyond Group meets for our opening period of meditation at 8:30, there is often a steady flow of stop and go traffic streaming through the stoplights.  It can get pretty noisy. Especially on an August morning with the window's open.

At one point this past Monday during the 8:30 Sit,  a pause in the traffic noise emerged.  Suddenly, it got quiet.
It got really, really QUIET!

At that moment, what my first Zen teacher may have called the Soundless Sound, became delicious, distinctly tangible.  Then, as I sat there feeling the Presence,  that ineffable sense of vast spacious stillness didn't dissipate at all as the next car approached.  It persisted.  The whirr of that car's engine emerged, peaked, and then slowly dissolved within it's embrace.

I love it when that happens.

Thanks, Dad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Meditatively speaking the 'sit up, shut down' works right? LOL!
En 'joy'ed the story of your dad finding his 'joy' peace and quiet. Growing older ourselves, we 'seek to find',unbeknown to us, the best lessons our parents offered as they themselves were on 'learn as you go' mode like everyone else. Sometimes I find the best teacher/lesson comes from a memory of that parent/adult/hero, who appears in my old family photos. They may not have sat on a cushion, but they shut out the noise and found ways to be open and listen.
Nice stewarding. Thanks