"Be still and know that I am God."
Sometimes his demand was even more desperate.
"Just give me a moment's peace!" he'd plead.
At those times, the threatening tone of his voice and likelihood of imminent violence usually did shut us up--at least for a few moments.
Kids will be kids. Sigh.
I ache now with the memory of his anguish and my own fear. I wish I knew then what I know now. I'd given him that moment's peace gladly -- out of compassion, not fear.
Dad loved to fish.
I remember the day I looked out the front window of our apartment and saw him silhouetted against the sun sparkles of the small lake we lived on. He sat there in his beloved rowboat a couple of hundred feet offshore, fishing pole in hand. Dad could sit like that, motionless, surrounded by the stillness of that lake, just peering at the red and white bobber for quite awhile. He seemed at peace. He'd return to shore afterwards, seemingly in a good mood, calmer, quieter, more content.
I noticed. Forty three years after his death, it is one of my strongest visual memories of him.
Yet, those moments were, unfortunately not all that common. My dad worked hard at the factory all day, and then, a single parent, he would prepare dinner before we kids would take over to do the dishes. Beyond that, he kept himself busy with other activites as well. (He was an avid ham radio operator and a boy scout council commissioner.)
Unfortunately, he suffered from atherosclerosis and cardiac disease. He had hit the trifecta. Longevity wasn't his genetic strong suit. His mother, Vera, had died at age 42. His father, Harold, had died of heart disease at age 57. Dad was also a longtime smoker. And, as we saw above, stress management wasn't his forte. He lived "with gusto" -- and was uptight and angry frequently. (Although years of Practice have allowed me to chill out more readily these days, I, myself smoked for nearly forty years -- and had two stents installed in my heart eight years ago. (Oak trees and acorns come to mind...)
After a heart attack, strokes, and uncontrollable high blood pressure, our family doctor had advised dad to retire and "just go fishing." At age 59, he 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.
A Moment's Peace
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 breathe, to find a moment's peace within the busyness. The promise of the Practice is that we can engage in that quest with some degree of skill. Built on a foundation that is centuries old, 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. They emerge from the vast, tranquil sea of silence that we are immersed in. It permeates and embraces even the noise.
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.
Both Sides Now
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, during a period of meditation. After all, 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 and memories a number of times over the years.)
At those 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 choose to persist.
Although it's not "easy," sometimes it can be as simple as letting go of the storylines running through our mind, then exploring and fully feeling what we are experiencing before moving our awareness back to our meditation object. If you choose to do this -- again and again and again -- at a certain point, you'll notice. The episodes of "noisy" patterns of thought and emotions have become less frequent and pass more swiftly.
It just takes Practice.
The Sounds of Silence
There is also 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.
Although there isn't much traffic as the Early Bird session begins at 7:15 AM, by the time the Monday Morning Mindfulness Circle gathers for our opening period of meditation, there is often a stream of stop and go traffic dancing the stoplights at the corner. At times, it can get pretty noisy.
Yet, at one point this past Monday during the 9:00 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 deliciously and distinctly tangible. Then, as I sat there immersed in Presence, that ineffable sense of vast spacious stillness didn't dissipate as the next car approached. It persisted. The whirr of that car's engine emerged, peaked, and then slowly dissolved within the boundless silence. In that moment's peace, I felt the Presence of the One Love at the Heart of Existence.
(Originally published, August, 2013. Revised. )