On the Value of Silence
We leave today on retreat for a weekend at Camp Brotherhood, north of Seattle. We call it, “Retreat to the Heart of Silence,” and it’s an annual retreat that we have done for many years.
Just as our body and mind needs its nightly rest and without which life would be untenable, so, too, our soul needs spiritual rest lest life only be an unending and ceaseless motion from one extreme to another, only to be relieved by sleep or boredom.
Ideas, inspiration, and refreshment descend, as it were, from above: from the heart of silence. Silence is more than empty: it is dynamic, it is rich, it is creative, it is full of life and vitality! The most difficult part to entering this realm of refreshment is putting to rest our mind’s deeply embedded habit of taking over, of trying to run the show, of pushing itself into the picture, molding reality to suit its own agenda, and of taking stock and pronouncing judgment upon everything and everybody. All of these activities would no doubt delight a Darwinian but survivalists fail to answer the question, “Survival for what?” For its sake alone? Lying in a bed paralyzed for life: is that what we live for? For grasping desperately at whatever passing pleasures we can wrench so tentatively from life?
Jesus said (paraphrasing), “I came to bring Life, that ye may have it more abundantly!” It’s not just mere existence we seek; nor merely the pleasure and satisfaction of creating new life and seeing our ourselves immortalized (or so we imagine) in our offspring (as if our genes were whooping it in some celebration: We won!)
As night follows day and day follows night, we cannot live in this ceaseless flux without following its rhythms nor without rebelling and withdrawing from the enslavement of those rhythms by seeking stillness.
If we have the courage and the strength we can confront our own Self in the silence of meditation. Who is the Seer who is sitting, observing? Am I looking or is someone else looking at me? Are we One and the Same? To return to the Silence from which we, and all creation has emerged is to go “home” and to confront, engage and meet our Maker. This is true existentialism: to trace our consciousness back to its source in Self-awareness. The experience is thrilling and revitalizing to our core.
Yet meditation (going beyond the techniques which are like a rocket being fueled on the launch pad) requires lifting off the solid earth of our mundane preoccupations and very few people have the courage and the inspiration to attempt it. For most it’s uninteresting and for many it’s scary: like the child who laughs (nervously, but relieved) when you pop out from behind the couch crying “Peek-a-boo,” the small self cannot be certain what will happen when all bodily motions, rollicking emotions, objects in the field of the senses, ceaseless (but petty) thoughts, images, and memories are at last completely still. Will I, too, disappear?
This is the adventure in Self-awakening. The Self of I is the Self of All and there is no loss when we rest in this Self. Instead there is complete immersion, expansion, and fulfillment: an objectless and unconditional dynamic energy and joy that knows no bounds. Whether the experience lasts a second or hours makes no difference at least insofar as the experience itself has no dimension (of time or space). To enter it is all that counts. “You have to present to win” is how I like to put it.
So, wish us luck as we dive deep and retreat into the Heart of Silence!