Sounds of Life

The days and nights move along slowly for me. Activity and busy-ness don’t come into play much as I move slowly towards recovery. Patience is now a mantra as I try to allow this slow moving, almost stillness, the space it requires from me.

As I begin to write, one of my cats, Bert, sits in front of the window making little chirpy cat noises as she watches birds at the feeders. Short, high pitched little snippets of sound that indicate she is excited. She interacts with life in her own way, but what she takes time to observe and respond to is what animates her. Otherwise she is asleep!

There is sound all around us. An infinite soundscape, like a smorgasbord of food, but for sounds. Right now I hear the subtle sound of the timer on the fish-tank ticking the minutes down before it comes on again.

I have seemingly endless time now to be aware of the variety offered up by my home soundscape. From kitty chirping to timer ticking, there really is no true silence here. Life around us is all about doing things, being busy and productive. It’s all about noise: music, TV, movies, radio. There is beeping and buzzing from endless sources. Even the refrigerator and furnace speak up from time to time. And Bert and Stewie chime in with their meows, purring and squeaks.

When life creates a lot of noise I find myself becoming jittery and tense. Almost anxious. To be clear, it is usually an anxiousness about nothing in particular. It just a response to noise. Maybe you’re thinking “So what?”

If I pay attention to my body and mind I find that I can get wrapped up and lost in background noise. Some of it is like fingernails on a chalk board. Not all noise grates. There are also softer, melodic sounds. Sometimes they get drowned out by the harsher more abrupt sounds.

With these sounds and noise just about everywhere, I expend a great deal of energy trying to buffer or quiet them. I find I am more aware when there is a pause or lull, and I notice my mind and attention wandering all over they place now that I don’t have to filter the noises as much. My thoughts speak up, usually creating their own stories that may be positive or not. The point is not always to judge them but rather if they are true or not. An unchecked mind can wander aimlessly and walk along, arm in arm with emotions and feelings. Generally this results in thinking that becomes lost and confused. Stories are narrated that are not real.

If you think about all the “noise” in our lives that is generated by re-playing conversations/thoughts/events, self talk, list making, small talk, negotiating, important conversations and all added together with car and traffic sounds, machine noises, other people talking, the radio, electronic buzzing, quiet, let alone actual silence, is hard to come by. Does it matter? I think it does. It does for me.

It is difficult to silence thoughts that come to us as we settle into sleep at night or as we rustle awake in the morning. When our feelings get hurt we become expert story tellers.

As I spend time sitting, reading, drawing, “working” on recovering I become more aware of sounds and thoughts. Sometimes I can figure out how to turn off or ignore some of those sounds. My thoughts are a challenge to turn off. If I have presence of mind to stop moving  I am able to focus on listening to the softer, secret sounds surrounding me. In so doing the other sounds fade and sometimes even silence arises.

The softer, secret sounds may be leaves dancing together in the wind, the sound of a snowflake landing on a carpet of snow, an eagle calling across the valley,

Why does it matter? For me, I am reminded of that snowy winter day when I stood still, my boots no longer squeaking  on the frozen ground. When I stopped moving I saw fluffy snow falling around and on me, it was like being in a snow-globe. Then I heard it. The sound of a weightless snowflake landing on a drift of other snowflakes. Just a soft, soft, pffft sound. I had heard wind and sleet before, but never a snow-flake landing! A feeling of awe and wonder embraced me.

Another time I was reading outside on a summer’s day and heard a buzzing sound. I looked up thinking I would find a bee or mosquito darting around. Nope. No bee or mosquito anywhere. But there was a hummingbird! I was hearing the buzzing of those insanely fast wings working to keep the little body in the air.

Decades ago as I lay on the grass near the Taj Mahal in India, eyes closed, body and mind at rest, I heard chattering near me. Without moving I opened my eyes to see a squirrel sniffing my hand. Tentatively his paw reached out and I wiggled my finger. He scurried away squealing something in squirrel language.

Something happened to me as I experienced these things. First I experienced awe and joy, but I also had found beauty and mystery in the place I inhabited. “Nature” became something important and not abstract. It was dynamic and alive and I sensed how little of it I probably paid attention to. When I did, it presented beauty and mystery and awe.

When I tuned out the sounds of a “busy” life I discovered the whispers of another world and the wonder of this world. A world I share with miracles. A world that sustains awe and beauty, fragility, power and life.

Now, when snow falls I listen for the feather soft landing of a snowflake, and I experience wonder. Now, when I hear a sound I look up to see birds dancing together on a branch, a tiny, newly hatched baby bird providing the song they are dancing to.

When I experience the sound of a snowflake landing or see birds dancing to a chirping lullaby, I am changed.

I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem: The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

heron2

A feeling of being balanced occurs. I come back into alignment with Nature, with the Earth. I am humbled and renewed. The art of being quiet allows me to hear the sounds of life.

This time of healing and renewal is challenging for me. I become restless and frustrated, wishing for a faster return to strength and health. As I watch sparrows dancing together at the feeders I am coming to understand I can choose for this slower pace, this occasional stillness, to be a blessing, if I would only close my eyes to just listen and then, when it is time to open my eyes and see what I may not have noticed and feel the power of awe and wonder as healing powers. So many gifts and lessons from Nature.

 

 

 

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Counting to 12

Settling in. Settling down. Close your eyes and count to 12. Take a deep breath. In and out.

easter blog2

For many people around the world this is a season of religious importance. For me it is Spring. Rebirth comes in many forms. Literal. Spiritual. Let us pause for a moment and just be, in stillness and silence.

Keeping Still

Now we will count to twelve 
and we will keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

~Pablo Neruda

What does happen when our thoughts are slowed? No rush or worry.

It never could happen, but, what if, for a moment, the people of the world could stop. And just be? Be together. In silence and stillness. No spoken language as a barrier. No arm waving flurry of activity. No going or getting. No having or wanting.

What if we could collectively experience unity as human beings as well as unity with Nature, with all other living things?

What if we stopped hurting each other in this moment? What if we just tried, with our hearts, to understand each other? What if people forgot to hold each other down, forgot to hurt or oppress others? What if those struggling and in pain forgot their pain, for just a moment? What if for a moment we became united?

What if we tended to Nature as our own child? What if we protected Earth as if it mattered. As if it was a life or death choice? What if war was obsolete and we walked side by side, doing no harm, causing no violence?

What if we just had a moment of silence to think about what it means to be alive.  Not to worry about death and salvation, but to be alive. To survive. To thrive. To love. To heal.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive

It is spring. What slept as if dead is awakening. Rebirth. Nature can teach us.

Count to 12 and be still.

Readings This Week

Nourished

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need to be nourished. I forget I am no different from any other living thing. There are things I must have to thrive, to blossom, to succeed.

suna

Sunrise, March 3, 2027

Sometimes I forget. I forget I need a specific kind of nourishment. I put time and tender thought into living with certain intentions: to be loving, to be kind, to be compassionate, to be considerate, to be humble. I put time and tender thought into my job. Yet, it is so easy to forget I need to put the same, if not more, time and tender thought into remembering to be aware of, to feel the cycle of my breathing, the beating of my own heart and the tiny pauses between both. Those pauses, felt only in the fleeting moments of stillness and silence are the source of my nourishment. My source of renewal. Of healing. Of remembering.

“Even the smallest shift in perspective can bring about the greatest healing.”
~
Joshua Kai

Sometimes I forget about restoration. My restoration happens in those quiet, transitory pauses when I am able step out of the busy-ness of life and step away from “important” things and return to that which is timeless. My restoration happens when I am aware of the breath I take, when I feel the wondrous, rhythmic beating of my heart. It happens when I listen to my soft-spoken inner voice that has a connection to that which is in a symbiotic relationship with the world, the universe. Something eternal. Here, in this restorative process I have the chance to be reminded of and reconnect with my heart’s calling.

The nourishment of my “being” is about balance. It is about finding the balance that includes stillness and silence walking in unison with my daily life. It is about acute awareness of those pauses that ensure my heart will be open in order to love and serve others, but also to love and serve myself.

“The warm and radiant yes of the heart is perfect, like the sun,
in bringing all things to life and nourishing all that is truly human.”
~John Welwood

What I’ve been reading:  This Week

The Place Where Potential Sprouts

the-heart-is-like-a-garden

I set aside 3 hours of my week to take care of me. It’s not a lot of time, but it is what I have promised myself to protect. In a quiet room with teachers, students, moms and dads, business owners and leaders, bankers, techies, various types of administrators, musicians, a scientist, librarian, chef and an artist, the lights are dimmed and we allow silence to embrace the room as we share and hour and a half of yoga and meditation twice a week.

There is a yoga pose called the “Child’s Pose”. Sitting back on your knees, you bend forward, like a seed, placing your head on the floor or stacked fists and you breathe. This is a comfort position. A rest position. A safe position. A healing position.

Our teacher said, “Child’s pose. The place of silence. Where potential sprouts.”

True Silence is the rest of the Mind,
and is to the Spirit,
what Sleep is to the Body,
Nourishment and Refreshment.

~William Penn

I mulled that over for awhile. If you’ve followed me for any time you know I have this thing for silence. For stillness.

With all the noise of fear, hate, uncertainty, greed, oppression, repression, divisiveness…….finding silence is difficult.

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light,
and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.
Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

How do we find a clearer light by which to see the path that leads to Truth? The path may be similar, or very different, from others in our lives. Without the “attitude of silence” we have no way to rest the mind and spirit. No way to nourish and refresh both. No way to see the crystal clearness of Truth.

If we can invite and allow silence into our life, we may in fact allow that seed of potential to sprout and grow. Watered and fed with silence and stillness.

We have to protect Truth, Wisdom.

“Silence is a fence around wisdom.”
~German proverb

“Silence is wisdom’s sentinel.”
~James Lendall Basford

Our potential is a seed. Waiting to been tended and nurtured. Waiting for the light and warmth, for the soft rains and fertile soils.

 We have the choice over some seeds we plant. Some seeds are given to us. Our thoughts, our actions, our attitude, our contemplative silence, as in the Child’s Pose, gives life to those seeds. In the attitude of internal silence we may find a clearly lit path leading us towards our personal, and hopefully, collective potential.

Your heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. With silence as your guide what will you plant? What kind of potential will sprout from your heart?

Sitting In Stillness. Listening To Silence.

“Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise. You are the love and joy beneath the pain.” Eckhart Tolle

I have come to the practice of stillness and silence after many decades. I obviously had to come to it on my own terms. And it is fairly obvious that as much as I may have needed it decades ago, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t understand it…..was pretty sure there was no time or place to practice it.

Luckily for me, some things come and knock really loudly and all you can say is “OKAY! Okay, I’ll come.” And you’re never the same.

I will be at Springwater for five days, including Easter. There will be not blog next week because there will be no internet.

For five days I will sit in stillness and listen to silence. Oh yes, there will be walking the trails of 200 acres of hills and forests in the Genesee Valley. There will be the sound of streams and creeks, trees creaking, the wind, the hum of lights and the sound of footsteps, the daily chores of cleaning, cooking, maintaining the center. But not much else. No computer, internet, cells phones, music, TV.  Certainly there is movement and action, but it is gentle and caresses life. It does not bulldoze through it.

“Wisdom comes with the ability to be still. Just look and just listen. No more is needed. Being still, looking, and listening activates the non-conceptual intelligence within you. Let stillness direct your words and actions.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

Springwater is a center for meditative inquiry. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but one of my favorites.

There is a healing that happens to me during the hours and days I spend there. While it may seem like a kind of running away and letting life and the world fall away and seemingly not really matter anymore, it is not that. It is sitting with one’s self and becoming reacquainted with what matters.

path spwater

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, not knowing what is next and not concerned with what was or what may be next, a new mind is operating that is not connected with the conditioned past and yet perceives and understands the whole mechanism of conditioning. It is the unmasking of the self that is nothing but masks – images, memories of past experiences, fears, hopes, and the ceaseless demand to be something or become somebody.” Toni Packer

“Things” happen in this kind of space, in this kind of stillness and quiet. Something that is often held behind the closed doors of “too much” of all most everything, finds an opening to tentatively step out into the light to be seen, heard and felt.

“The emergence and blossoming of understanding, love, and intelligence has nothing to do with any tradition, no matter how ancient or impressive-it has nothing to do with time. It happens on its own when a human being questions, wonders, inquires, listens, and looks without getting stuck in fear, pleasure, and pain. When self-concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open.” Toni Packer

Through the practice of quiet and stillness I have learned it is not the losing of anything, like the routine of our daily life filled with important “things”, but the gaining of an understanding that gets so lost in the life we lead. There is something to found that exists without the busy, frenetic, kinetic, noisy life.

“There is something that matters more than any of those things and that is finding the essence of who you are beyond that short-lived entity, that short-lived personalized sense of self. You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”  Eckhart Tolle

I see and experience life and the world differently as I get older.

“In truth we are not separate from each other or from the world, from the whole earth, the sun or moon or billions of stars, not separate from the entire universe. Listening silently in quiet wonderment, without knowing anything, there is just one mysteriously palpitating aliveness.” Toni Packer

When self-concern is quiet, in abeyance, heaven and earth are open.”

Have a peaceful day. I’ll be back in two weeks.

* Toni Packer was the founder of Springwater.
*Eckhart Tolle is himself
* photo by me of a Springwater trail in the fall

 

 

5 O’clock in The Morning

“Let the waters settle and you will see the moon and the stars
mirrored in your own being.”
~Rumi

charlevoix moon mh(Moon over Lake Charlevoix, MI)

I woke up at 5 this morning. There are no curtains on our bedroom windows. Our bed faces east, and there are French doors that bring the outside in. When I opened my eyes and looked out, there was the deep, soft blackness of night pierced with millions of stars sparkling. Venus and Jupiter were showing off. I felt very small. I felt awe.

I spent Saturday at a silent retreat. Silence is important to me. The silence created by not speaking. The silence created by being swaddled tightly in silence. In silence I let go of noise. The noise of ego, the noise of fear and worry, the noise of the unknown, the noise of want and desire. Then I hear. I hear the beating of my heart. The gentle whisper of my breath. Thoughts come in all forms like handfuls of confetti tossed from somewhere above. They float and swirl around and cloud the view, then settle and rest.

This morning I woke with my mind settled as in Rumi’s quote and saw the beauty and light of the stars and planets mirrored in my heart, in my quiet, rested being. On retreat I found the same while simply sitting in silence and hearing only life’s murmuring in my body and a quiet mind that was not crowded with volatile emotions and jumbled, confused thoughts.

In this gentleness, this softness is something I cherish.

At the end of the retreat there is a group discussion…one can come and join in through conversation or through listening. Yesterday I listened. Dialogue came around to the idea of the narratives of our lives…how they are “written”, how they “read”.  Someone brought up the idea that entwined in our storytelling are mirages. Ideas, hopes, images we chase after. Imaginary apparitions. Phantasms. In the narratives of our life we often are looking for something, chasing something only to “get there” are find we haven’t really attained what we hoped we would, and poof, the mirage is gone.

I thought a bit about my narrative. Yes, there is a narrative that has gotten me here to this point. Some of it was written in early life by my parents…they made choices, they filled my days with words, ideas, experiences and I interacted with those things and then they responded and we continued on in this way. They have not been involved in my narrative for quite while now. And the story line has meandered this way and that way without their editing.  And yes, I chased after mirages, watching as they became fainter and fainter and finally vanished right before I got “there”.  Tomorrow, there may be a surprise addition to life, an unseen twist.

As the narrative of my life continues, some mirage or another will float seductively in front of me. Trying to lure me towards something that I believe will make me happier, or free from this or that. So, as I strive to live in the  present moment, I try not gaze towards the mirage. I look up at the pre-dawn sky in awe and see those stars and planets in their momentary beauty and splendor and know as present truth that they are mirrored in my being. I have a light. I am a light. I radiate and reflect light. And I am but one in a million lights that all shine and sparkle in their own way and own time, in their own place. In the silence of light my narrative tells the story that I am not separate but joined together with millions of people who are good and kind, as well as those who are not good and unkind. People who are happy and joyful and people who are hurt and afraid. People who are climbing up and out, as well as people who are weighted down and feeling buried. People who have been found and people who are lost. People who are full of compassion and love. People who feel hatred and anger. People who are the fabric and mosaic of humanity. They call themselves by many labels. White, Black. Male, female, trans-gendered. Christian, Muslim, Jew. Agnostic, Atheist. Hindi, Jain. Untouchable, Brahmin. Doctor, patient. Lawyer, criminal. Adult, child. Teacher, student. Oppressor, oppressed. Rich, poor. Awakened, asleep. Lost, found. Loved, unloved. Hopeful, hopeless. Strong, weak. Blessed, cursed. Leader, follower. Romantic, realist. Educated, uneducated. Healer, injurer. Inventor, copier. Doer, idler.

What I understand in silence and cherish is that humanity is a collective reflection of who we are. Perfect or imperfect. Good or bad. We all open our eyes at birth. We all walk our own path, to the same end.  We all will close our eyes and die. The narrative we write in the middle contains a part that is choice. We are the story tellers of our own lives. When the waters settle in my sometimes turbulent, fearful, worried mind, I catch a glimpse of the reflection of our common humanity sparkling like a million predawn stars.

This year two new stars have been born into our family. One tiny star was born just yesterday. The light we shine will be the light that creates her sparkle and will be the light she reflects out into the world. My hope is that it be light of love, tolerance, understanding, peace, respect, hope and humility.