Nuts, rocks, pine cones. Watercolor and ink drawing, 3/16/2015
From my journal, March 11, 2015:
During Lent I've been basing the meditation talks, every other week, on the teachings and lives of different teachers from various traditions, and especially how they came to realize their calling to contemplative prayer or meditation. Yesterday evening, the talk was about having "the courage to become more and more silent." I spoke about Merton's life, and how he did exactly this, but not solely for the purpose of silence itself, but to learn to allow his words to come out of that silence. A decade ago, would I have understood what that meant? Yes and no, I suppose - it's an understanding that deepens and grows, through our own failures and embarrassments, through meditation and thinking things through. The talk ended with these words of Merton's:
"There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of others."
I'm trying recently to deliver my talks more spontaneously, after relying on writing them out and mostly reading them for the past two years. I've opened up the time beforehand a little too, speaking conversationally, making sure I greet everyone personally, keeping it more informal among us, even though we've all just entered a special space which is dark, lit only by a single candle in the center. I wanted to try to connect with the participants more informally and personally, and this seems necessary for me, too, if I am to keep going in this ministry. I'm surprised how immediate the change has been, both ways. The participants are more attentive. They stay longer, and some want to have a word afterwards; I used to ask them to leave in silence after the meditation, but I think it was unnecessary; a gentle quiet prevails anyway. I now feel better about the ministry myself, too: more inclined to continue, more convinced that maybe it really is something I'm supposed to be doing. It may morph into something else, or end - I know that, and that's fine - but for right now, something has shifted in a positive direction.
What does it mean for me to have "the courage to become more and more silent?" Merton never stopped writing, but he learned to differentiate between what was driven by his ego and what was emanating from his higher self, and in the process his reasons for writing changed, as did his expectations for it. I'm not sure Merton was a natural introvert: he was articulate, witty, social, and chatty, although other people could really get on his nerves. He struggled a lot with his pride, with praise and fan mail, and the irony of being a cloistered monk who was famous, talked-about, sought-after. He longed for humility. So this was a long process for him, requiring a lot of solitude, reading, struggle, and self-examination. The silence he found, I think, wasn't empty at all. In fact, it was very fruitful.
Like the quilt top, which is more than half done, I think this line of thinking is a direct outcome of turning away from the online chatter. I don't miss it, and have had no trouble checking in once a day and leaving it at that.
The over-stimulation of the everyday world, online and off, is kind of like caffeine: you don't realize what a strong drug it is unless you give it up for a while, and then you drink a cup and go "whoa!" I've been able to think and focus better without interrupting myself as often during the day -- because that's really what it was: I was drinking the drug, nobody was forcing me. There are times when I want that, and when it's probably helpful, and times to become more silent. That's all. But I do think it requires courage to turn into the silence, to face oneself, to consider change, yet again.
So the question occurs: what does this mean for my blog?
My semi-weekly meditation talks are archived on the Christ Church Cathedral website.