Sheer Silence: Part One

We live in a world of busyness and noise.   Smart phones train us to respond to prompts.   Email and texts blur the line between our work and personal life.  The 24 hour news cycle means we are continually processing data.  Oftentimes we feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious.

In the midst of the busyness and noise where do we turn for perspective and refreshment?  Is there an antidote from this seemingly relentless pace?

The Bible tells the story of a man called Elijah.  Elijah was a Hebrew prophet who lived approx. 3000 years ago.  Elijah felt abandoned by his people and abandoned by God.  Elijah: “I alone am left and my enemies are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Into the story God speaks but not in the way Elijah expects:

God said: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, the sound of sheer silence.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.

Such is the great paradox of this story.  It is not in the noise and fury of wind, earthquake or fire that God speaks.  Rather, in ‘the sound of sheer silence’.   The paradox of being able to hear what is truly important in the midst of quiet.

Quiet…silence…creates emotional and spiritual space within which we can listen for and get in touch with what matters.  The countercultural call remains the same.  To make space for  quiet.  Space to simply be.

The truth is that many of us fear silence.  We fear the loss of control.  We prefer being busy.  Many of us are propelled by an old  joke:  ‘Don’t just stand there, do something!’

We do something, anything, to give us a sense of purpose.  Even if the ‘something’ isn’t the right thing or the healthiest thing to do.  Busyness and noise as an end unto itself.

Elijah knew that what truly matters comes not in the earthquake, wind or fire.  Truth and  value comes from silence.  Imagine.

In 2002 I participated in a ten-day silent kayak trip in the Tongass Wilderness, in Southeast Alaska.  We were introduced each day to meditation practices.  Meditation designed to help us quiet the busyness in our mind and simply be. Open to where we were and what was going on within me and around me.

Truth be told, for the first few days I struggled.  The silence was uncomfortable.  I had so many things to say.   Chaotic thoughts or feelings I wanted to flee from.  But by day three I felt myself shift…where the silence became a gift.  A gift that invited me to become more aware and open… to rest and be restored  ‘in the sheer silence’.

Over the next few blogs I’d like to explore with you ways of entering into the sheer silence.  I invite you on a counter-cultural journey of becoming quiet.  We may well be surprised by where the journey takes us.

When General Patton Goes on Vacation

Many moons ago when I was young and foolish my wife and I took our two children and an unruly yellow lab named Sandy on vacation.  Then living in Oregon our vacation plan was to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

Being wrapped pretty tight at the time I wanted to maximize every moment.  I noticed that our two young children and a dog barely out of puppyhood were not keeping to my schedule.

What was wrong with them?  We had places to go. Old Faithful was waiting on us.


On the third day of our trip, already behind schedule, I gathered the troops and channeling my inner Patton, informed them that speed was of the essence: “At 0800 we’ll have breakfast.  At 0900 we’ll begin to stow our gear and by 0930 we will commence to the route.”

My children ignored me.  The dog chased a rabbit.   My wife (who is smarter than me) took me aside and told me to ‘lighten up, smell the roses and stop being a pain in the caboose. We’ll get there when we get there’, she said.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little wiser.  I’ve grown to realize that a family is a small community that gets by with a mix of compromise, forgiveness and humor.

I’ve been thinking about this as Tricia and I get ready for vacation.  Both our daughters are grown and launched.  Soon we’ll fly to visit our oldest in LA.

‘What do you want to do’? she asks.  We reply: “We’re happy to sleep in, hang out and see your new neighborhood and talk.  We’re just happy to be with you.”

General Patton will not join us for vacation.  No forced marches.  We’re simply content to be with the people we love.

I hope you too get some down time this summer.  Time to simply be.

 

In Praise of Moose

This past week I walked a portion of the Long Trail in Vermont.  For five days I backpacked with my cousin Tom from Lincoln Gap to the base of Camels Hump.

Nine years ago I took up backpacking in the mountains of my then home in Oregon.  For several years I packed with friends in the Eagle Cap Wilderness along the Idaho/Oregon border.  We climbed and camped at the 12,000 foot level.  I thought I knew what tough packing was like.

But the Long Trail is different.  The tallest peaks I climbed were in the 4000′ foot category.  But instead of the gradual switchbacks of a broad Oregon mountain this trail is essentially vertical.  Climbers scramble over glacial boulders and a twisted labyrinth of roots and stone.  Going down is no easier than up.

Photo of Tom on Long Trail

On the Long Trail you have to be mindful lest you fall. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn would likely praise the Long Trail. He’s all about being present to where you are:  ‘When you walk know you are walking’.

The Long Trail heightens your senses.  On one of the few relatively flat stretches I entered a mix of forest and wetlands.  Scattered along the trail were perfect piles of moose droppings.

Moose droppings or the colloquial ‘moose shit’ are perfectly round balls of one inch in diameter heaped in impressive piles along the trail.   Walking my senses were on alert looking for a moose in the flesh.

photo of moose crap

I didn’t see a moose.  Only the tell-tale sign that I was in the land of moose.  I know this  because I was not simply passing through.   I was fully present to my surroundings, my antenna was up my senses on alert.

Like the good Buddha Baptist that I am, I knew where I was.  I was on the Long Trail.  I was walking through the home of moose.

The Long Trail is not for the faint of heart.  It focuses ones attention.  It makes you feel fully alive.  The trail reminds you of where and who you are.

Be distracted at your own peril.