April 18, 2012
Before I begin this entry, I want to say something about the topics I write about. I suppose it’s actually a form of caveat. I write about things that I have struggled with, learned about and am still learning about. I am not an expert, have not achieved as much as many others in many of these areas. So I am really writing what’s on my mind with regard to these topics, and what I have experienced and learned about some things. I don’t write every week simply because sometimes I don’t have much to say about anything, but when I do write, it’s not from the vantage point of an expert, but of someone who’s traveling the road and reading the signposts.
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Silence. To me it means more than just quiet; it means a sense of peace, of stillness, and of strength. The silence I’m speaking of is not simply the absence of external noise. One can always turn off television, close doors and windows, and rid oneself of outside noises. But there is a silence that goes deeper than simply the absence of those sounds. It is the inner silence that comes when we are able to still the mind.
The mind is probably the noisiest place of any we encounter. It never seems to let up; it’s always chattering and blabbing. You can turn off television, radios, phones – but turning off the mind is a whole different thing. It takes work to still the mind, to reach that point of inner quiet that surpasses just the absence of sound. And once one achieves that inner quiet, it is even more difficult to carry it with you into the noises of life.
Meditation is the only way I know of to achieve a deep silence that brings quiet, calm, and something more – something magical, which is the realization that I am not my mind, and I am not the thoughts my mind creates.
In meditation I become the observer of the mind; I learn that paying attention to the mind is not the same thing as getting lost in my thoughts. The more I simply observe the mind, the quieter it gets, until I am alone, sitting in no time, no place. Quiet. From this vantage point behind the mind I can see the impermanence of anything that troubles me, because in the stillness it is obvious that those things do not matter. They are temporary. The stillness, the silence, has a permanence to it that endures past all the petty occurrences of the day.
Many years ago I talked to a Buddhist monk who was a Tibetan refugee living in India. He came with a group of monks to my town, and one afternoon I said to him, “When I meditate, I have trouble keeping my mind still.” He looked at me directly and asked, “Why should you be any different from the rest of us?”
Yet just because it’s challenging doesn’t mean I don’t do it; I meditate every day. Some days are miraculous; the outer world disappears, time falls away, and there is a peace and stillness that is like a deep, deep well of joy. Other days my meditation might be filled with chatter that takes a long time to die down; some days it never does, But when the silence comes it is a blessing. And the reason it is a blessing is because I realize that all my thoughts do not define me; I am the thinker of the thoughts, but not the thoughts themselves. I am the observer of my mind’s meanderings, but I am not my mind. I simply am.
In the silence of meditation, I know that I am the Knower, the Perceiver. And I can change my thoughts, or ignore them, or use them. The more I meditate, the more I come to see that my mind does not control me, I control the mind.
And if this essay gives you the notion that I’ve ever achieved Nirvana or its equivalent, please read the first paragraph above. I am a work in progress.