by: David Xi-Ken Astor
The sixteenth century mystic John of the Cross said “Silence is God’s first language.” However, he did not have the advantage we do in the 21st century to know what every kid learns in their physics class that the universe is really noisy. Just the term “Big Bang” connotes the potential for that reality, even in it’s apparent quite as we look out into space. We might even say that it depends on what you mean by quiet. Of course we know what St. John was really saying. Silence is the normal context in which a contemplative practice takes place. Not the physical, but the mental state of quite. There is the outer silence that can surround us at times. But it is the inner silence that is the challenge. The quieting of the busy-busy mind we work to achieve in mindful meditation or zazen. In zazen, we practice to not follow our thoughts. But the contemplative state moves beyond this. We sit to listen to the quite. And that quite is heavy by nature. We become quiet itself. As Mother Theresa once said, “If you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.” It is at the intersection of mindful mediation and this inner quite that a contemplative practice begins. Our meditation practice prepares us for our contemplative one. They are not the same. Zazen is study of the self in order to know the self. With that accomplishment we become ready to experience the Universe beyond just it’s material expression. Contemplative thought is a practice that brings about this third aspect of zazen, while mindful meditation works to achieve the first two. Insight beyond the spoken language is the mind state of the contemplative. We focus on a thought so we can manifest a contemplative-state of mind no longer requiring the thinking process. We are propelled into inner quite. It is an awareness of “something” beyond language to express, but our human capability to experience this wonder does not require a language to understand.
Most of us encounter effective quite moments when we attend retreats. The reason for this is that in a retreat we get a chance to step back from our busy lives. It is a time to “get into” quiet. We may even “get a way for the day” and go out into the woods for some quiet-time. In these moments we get a chance to draw inward and allow our mind to wander. Then something happens and we experience a quiet state where are body-mind for a few minutes is at rest. Sometimes we can create this moment from reading a special inspirational piece, especially if we are in our “scared” place, a place we find peaceful. Your mind free-associates away from normal dispositions and personal preferences that provides the key to renewal and transformation. Silence is the backdrop where this awakening takes place.