Into Stillness

What's happening in the world?

I haven't written in a while. I'm not sure when the email silence began. Maybe early September?

There was just a point when it seemed that we were being bombarded with one crisis after another crisis. Every week, a new natural disaster, a man-made catastrophe, a breaking story of immense human pain and suffering. I would begin crafting a thoughtful note in my mind on one event or injustice, and then another tragedy would hit. 

I took a break from trying. I retreated. I gave up on putting words to my experiences. I wish that my retreat had been an inspired and conscious one, but it was simply escapism -- a flight from the continuous trauma exposure of our time.

This happens, I tell myself. And it's true; we all need to step away sometimes. For me, however, I did not step away to process, to heal, to restore. I've just been running, distracted and reactive.

The path of flight is all inclusive. I don't get to choose to flee from the media and the crises of our world without also fleeing my spiritual practice, my family, and my sense of self.

I have realized that my flight from engagement in the public dialogue of the past few months has also cut me off from greater sources of wisdom; my knowledge that there is a path forward in these times of crisis and pain that is not to flee, fight, or pretend, but rather to engage greater truth, consciousness, and the sacred nature of life itself.

So, Where's the Spirit amidst this realization? 

A few years ago, I made the conscious decision to make my life itself my spiritual practice. I have referred to this as taking my practice "off the cushion." The decision was rooted in my desire to avoid conflating my meditation practice with the wholeness of the buddhadhamma. I still meditate, but I encourage myself to detach from the idea that my cushion is the path.

This choice of mine works well for me when I'm not on the verge of burn out, when I'm consciously engaged with the world, with myself, and with meditation. But yesterday I had a realization that right now the safe space of spiritual practice "on the cushion" is precisely the path I need to counter my flight mode.

I came to this insight as I read this NY Times piece, "Lessons in Stillness From One of the Quietest Places on Earth" by Meghan O'Rourke. I read it three times. And each time felt more clear in the call to take myself on a metaphorical journey into stillness.

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 5.06.54 PM.png
Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 5.06.18 PM.png

I have been avoiding the call because I know that I will "bump into myself" as George Prochnik is quoted; I know that my search for sacred silence will be loud; and I recognize that I will have many companions on my journey, including the pain, chaos, and grief within and around me.

But flight mode has not helped me avoid the bumping or the noise or the pain, chaos, and grief. In running away, these tricky companions seem to have gotten themselves a sublet in my inner home.

So, I suppose I've reached the point where I can no longer dismiss the call to my inner wisdom. And paradoxically, as I write this, I understand that it is precisely in aligning to that call that fulfills my desire to make my life my spiritual practice.

I will carry this thought from Meghan O'Rourke with me as I re-engage back on my cushion in earnest, not knowing where the journey will lead me:

The huge noise of the ocean and nothing but ocean was profound, a silence in its own right, which seemed odd as I though about it—how can noise feel like silence?

I share this all with you in hopes that Meghan O'Rourke's article offers you an invitation to align to your inner wisdom, to seek an alternative to flight (or fight or freeze), and to live your life as your spiritual practice whether you are in the silent forest, on the cushion, in the church or temple, in the streets, or watching the evening news.

It's a vulnerable time. We need each other as guides.

In love,

P.S. If you're interested in diving deeper into the practice of embracing vulnerability, we've outlined an exercise for you on our website -- Embracing Vulnerability: Spiritual Leadership for Social Change