Monday, June 7, 2021

Still Water Runs Deep

 When water courses through a narrow passage it speeds up. When the canyon opens into a wide valley, then an open meadow, the water slows to stillness – the river becomes a lake.

            So too when we rush about on our important errands, crushing our to-do lists like a boss, something is lost.

            The narrower and more constrained our lives become, the more turbulent the course of our thought-stream. Only in the stillness of contemplative prayer, meditation, or restful pause do we root back down into the ground of being, instead of skittering across life’s surface – unsure where we’ve been, unclear where we’re going, and never knowing why.

            Without periods of stillness, all movement becomes meaningless. As Mozart said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”

            This is why, after over a year of pandemic quarantine, cooped up in our home offices and narrow routines, our morning and afternoon walks took on such sacred significance. To be out under a wide open sky, knowing that the stars arch over us like a jeweled lattice, obscured by the midday sun, then emerging one by one as night turns the sky indigo denim, then black velvet. So too the glare of busyness blinds us to the unfathomable beauty ever-present.

            Truth is never far away. We’re simply paying attention to the wrong things. We don’t have a proximity problem – we have a perception problem.

            It is time to recommit to our contemplative prayer and meditation practice. Taking our cue from nature, we see that all things turn through cycles of decay and regeneration, silence and sound, darkness and light. So too we spend long hours of each 24 hour cycle completely unconsciousness, unaware of our surroundings. And it is through the long, fallow night that our mind-body restores itself to newness. Following this model, may we learn to better step outside the stream of busyness that threatens to drown us in its lifeless undertow and instead, climbing out onto the warm, flat rocks midstream, rest in the sun, and simply be. Nothing less than heaven itself awaits in the gaps between each harried thought.

            I think we are simply afraid – afraid to fully trust ourselves. That’s why we rush about in search of the next answer, the next church, the next coach, or the next book. Fear drives us like a lash. Instead, coming into a rare and unrehearsed intimacy with our innermost depths, we find a rest so complete, so natural, and so healing that we wonder what we were ever afraid of. The mystics of all traditions tell of this inner space, this boundless realm beyond all doctrine, dogma, theology, and belief – a place of nameless wisdom and voiceless song. What we hear and know there can never be brought to the surface. The formless cannot take form. But we can be in-formed by it. It leaves a mark. We carry its scent into the activities of our ordinary lives. The only word that even comes close for this transformative knowing – love – sounds tinny and trite in the cacophony of the marketplace. Oh, that cliché, they say. We simply smile. Yeah, we know. So it’s better to say nothing at all, letting our actions do the talking. As Jesus told his disciples in the days before his death, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NRSV)

[This piece first appeared in my "A to Zen" column in the July/August edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproducted here with permission.]