Dear hearts –
For the last twenty-eight days, I have been on a discernment retreat.
I have thought about The Way of the River, about my life, my ministry, my work in the world. I have considered my hopes for those I love and those I don’t know, and for Earth. And I have pages and page of notes (we always say notes are “copious.” Why is that? Well, these notes are, I suppose, copious.)
In my notes, I’ve realized, I’ve come back, again and again, to the concept of clarity. In my lessons from my business coach who also has a Master’s of Divinity degree and is trained in a Sufi lineage as a master teacher, we talk about some essential things over and over. We talk about the willingness to be surprised by the Divine and what we might be shown or how we might be guided if we are open enough to see/sense/hear/feel/perceive what is being offered. We talk about the importance of asking for what one is trying to perceive or receive. We talk about Love over and over and over. (This topic is, as you might guess, my favorite thing.)
But I mentioned clarity first. Clarity. In Sufism, is believed to be enhanced by the cleaning, the “polishing” of the Jewel of one’s heart. It is also enhanced by removing veils between oneself and the Divine. Practically speaking, this polishing, cleaning, clear-“seeing” state is achieved through prayer, fasting, moderation, silence, reading and copying holy texts, and chanting, among other things.
One could say that clarity is the heart of discernment. At least, it is arguably the center of discernment.
On my retreat, one of the teachers was Buddhist, and one was Christian. The Buddhist teacher—he’s a Zen priest—talked about both clarity and openness as ways forward on the road of discernment, the road of wise thinking and right action.
I have not had much exposure to Buddhist teachings. Not much beyond my “Eastern” religions classes and the occasional Thich Nhat Hahn book. But my teacher in this class brought concepts, practices, and stories forward all of which work toward clarity.
He, like my other teacher, talked about Veils. And he talked about them in terms of the Veils of patterning, of scripting, of bias, and perception. If we are to know the truth of the world, we must learn the truth of ourselves. And as we engage the world with friendly curiosity, we learn about ourselves.
In Zen, of course, one of the main ways to learn about oneself, and especially about the mars on the mirror, the Veils between oneself and truth, is through meditation.
I spent some time thinking about what is meditation for me? What is it? How can I do it? Why do it? Do I do it at all?
I spent further time considering what I do when I “pray”? That is what I call what I do to connect with the truths within me and the truths that are offered to me when I am still and silent after singing or chanting. Still and silent.
I’m still thinking about these questions, but I want to consider more that my teachers offered.
They come from a quotation by Rev. Howard Thurman, in which he admonishes, “Become quiet enough, still enough to hear the sound of the Genuine.”
Rev. Thurman goes on, from his Commencement speech at Spellman College in 1980, describing what he imagines we all ultimately want:
I want to feel that I am thoroughly and completelyunderstood, so that now and then, I can take my guarddown and look out around me and not feel that I will bedestroyed with my defenses down. I want to feelcompletely vulnerable, completely name. Completelyexposed and absolutely secure.
Thurman is describing the desire for the Genuine. For our own genuine selves, for the deep truths of the world, for the Divine. What is most essential. After all, the Genuine, the Real, the True, can also be called God. The Holy. Goddess. Ultimate. Goddex. Sacred.
In the first quotation above, Rev. Thurman notes quiet and stillness as essential characteristics of “hearing” the Genuine. I want us to notice the noise of our lives. The constant, unrelenting noise of the world and of our own activities. My chair squeaks. My typing is like a Gatling gun. (I never took typing, but I was a piano major, and so my typing always wears the letters off the keys in no time flat.) My own breath and sigh and groan. The crack of my ankle as I turn it gently where it aches or my back when I do “Cat Cow” yoga in my seat.
Can I notice these things without judgment? Without aversion? Just noticing and accepting that they are here. I am here. My body is here. I am breathing, my heart is beating.
I also want to notice the movement of my life—what is not still. And even my resistance to stillness. “Find a stillness…Let the stillness carry me.” The words from the Unitarian Universalist grey hymnal come to mind right away, especially, “carry me.” Stillness. Stillness. Stillness. I find as I type that I long for stillness.
I long for…
I long for silence, is what it is. Quiet that is beyond the ceasing of noise. Stillness that is beyond ceasing movement. Silence.
Eventually, I have been told, silence becomes a buoyant friend. Like someone who holds us, carries us, enfolds us. And when we are with that silence, then we can see what arises within us and simply regard it, behold it, realize and name that it is. Without critical judgment or meanness of any kind, simply acknowledging and breathing and being in the silence. Being in the silence and allowing ourselves to perceive without veils more and more of what is patterned or scripted or habitual in our lives.
What is perception and what is interpretation?
If my hope is – and it is – to be as genuinely myself as possible in any given moment, then I need to let the stillness carry me, let the silence enfold me and comfort me and be my friend.
If my hope is – and it is – to be as present as possible, as truly and deeply here in every unique moment as I can, then I need to learn to see where my patterning, my pre-determined wiring shows up, rather than my deep Presence.
If my hope is – and by now you know I’m going to say that it is – to be as loving as possible, then I need that Presence I just wrote about. And to find that Presence, I need to “incline the ear of my heart,” as Benedict of Nursia wrote, incline the ear of my heart to what I find most genuine, real, good, and true.
And it seems likely, given the wisdom I have received these last weeks and at other times, that quiet, stillness, and a deep silence of the heart, an opening and waiting, is one way to learn to be Real. (More on The Velveteen Rabbit later, for those of you who are interested. 😊 )
I want to be Real. Authentic. True.
And I reckon you do too. So perhaps consider slowing down enough that you can hear (and even see) the noise around you. And then be still in it. Be still. Just breathe and feel the pressure, speed, and sound of the breath. And find the silence within you. The silence that is friendly, buoyant, loving.
Blessings, my friends –