Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keeping The Silence

I was recently corresponding with a friend who had just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat.  Such periodic experiences are a special opportunity to put aside the noise of our normal daily routine and spend a weekend, or particularly a week, in a quiet environment focused on reconnecting with ourselves and with the greater Universe.  Regardless of the specific emphasis of such retreats, we cannot help but experience some change in how we think, feel and act from this time well spent.  Such was the experience for this friend.  But her other observation was that, “I have wanted to continue this silence after coming home, but it has been difficult.”  It is a common lament and frustration – after the creative bliss of a dedicated spiritual time, how do we keep that experience going after we are back in “the real world”?

One way is by focusing on the fact of the quiet, of the silence.  If we really seek to pursue this continued state of quiet, we will find that we actually have more control over our noise than we may like to admit.  All audio and video equipment has an “off” switch that we can use; it is our choice whether to switch it to “on.”  Do we really have to check our email, Facebook and Twitter pages every few minutes of the day?  Do we really need our cell phones on 24 x 7 and have to answer it the moment it rings at someone else’s convenient time?  (We managed to miss calls for over one hundred years quite successfully; the inventor of the telephone refused to even have one in his house!)  Do we really need to watch television shows that educate or entertain us very little, but simply instead serve to occupy or distract our thinking?  At work, do we really need to work through lunch, versus go out for a few minutes for a quiet walk by ourselves?  (The work will always be there no matter how many hours we put in.)  When we drive our car, do we listen to the radio or listen to our thoughts?  Like anything else in our external environment, we can be the victim of our circumstances or the determiner.  We may not have complete control over our time and schedule, but we have more than we like to admit.  It is all about our choices and commitments.

But there is another kind of quiet that we experience at our spiritual retreats.  It is not the fact of the quiet that surrounds us there.  It is the spirit of the quiet that comes to reside in our heart and mind.  The quiet of the retreat allows us to infuse our thinking with an unfamiliar pause.  A pause to reflect about our thinking, a pause to consider our actions.  A moment to re-identify what we are truly about, what God wishes for us, and what we wish to be with God.  It is a quiet of mind and spirit that enables us to act from a thoughtful decision rather than making a reflexive action.

That is the quiet we truly seek at our retreats.  The external quiet nurtures us, but it is not really why we are there.  It only helps us practice for the spiritual quiet that we truly seek; the quiet of spiritually listening to often unheard voices.  We can do much towards turning the outside noise switch to “off” and getting some measure of emulated quiet.  But when we take a moment to stop and hear and consider before we act, seeking to act in God’s way, that is when we truly “keep the silence” of the retreatant.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Message

Today is Easter Sunday, the holiest day in Christian practice.  The day Christians believe Christ rose from his earthly death, transcended his crucifixion, and affirmed his divinity with God.

Whether one is a believing and practicing Christian or believes in Jesus’ resurrection or not, there are powerful lessons and inspiration in the Easter message.  A message of steadfastness in the face of threats and accusations from one’s enemies, silently holding fast to the spiritual purpose of our life.  A message of commitment to one’s faith, commitment that would go so far as to choose death rather than yield to the constant pressure to deny that faith.  A message of forgiveness towards those who knowingly or unknowingly cause us harm and pain, for “they know not what they do.”  A message of compassion for our human frailty and doubts in times when we question whether God has forsaken us in our faith.  A message of knowing when it is time to leave God’s work to others as we move on to a new existence unknown but undeniable.  A message of recognizing when we have done what God has asked of us, and “it is finished.”

These messages can be found in some form in the lessons from all of the Great Teachers we have been blessed to have guide us, reflecting the same exhortations and challenges toward our committing to faith.  These Teachers taught not by rules, not by the laws of the state, not by force or domination.  They taught from the heart of goodness, directed to the hearts of others.  They taught to the eye by showing themselves to be true living examples of that heart.  They taught to the mind by illustrating in understandable stories the irrationality of our limited human thinking, and the higher thinking that can be available to us.

We approach Jesus as one of those Great Teachers.  We approach him not on the basis of labels, ritual, church structure, and theological argument.  We approach him simply on his words, on his teachings, on his proofs by his actions.  As we do with all of God’s Great Teachers.  It is the body of Jesus’ teachings that we honor and celebrate on Easter, teachings that require neither an interpreter nor an intermediary.  They are lessons for all of us; lessons for each of us; lessons in harmony with God and all of God’s Great Teachers.  And the lessons start with Good Will Towards All Men And Women.