Silence and Awareness Retreat
The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. At the place of ‘central silence,’ one’s own life and spirit are united with the life and Spirit of God. There the fire of God’s presence is experienced. The soul is immersed in love. The divine birth happens. We hear at last the living Word. N. Gordon Cosby ( Foreword to Search for Silence by Elizabeth O’Connor)
“Our task here is to pay attention to what is,” our teacher said at the beginning of our eight days of silence.
Not what was, or should have been. Not what might be, or ought to be, or what we hope or wish will be – our task was to pay attention to what is so: the content, tone, and felt experience of this moment, now here, and then gone with each new breath.
One learns a lot from disciplined practice of the present moment. As I watch the fleeting shadows of the mind’s picture show, I encounter my restlessness and my estrangement from my deepest self, where holiness abides.
Day after day I watch my ego stride with a flourish to its pulpit to justify, defend, or convince imagined audiences of its own certainties. Persistent and untiring, it plants its elbows on the podium and tightly grips the sides in its effort to prevail against the horror of its disappearance, its diminishing and dying in the embrace of Love.
All the while, as we sit still as stones, Love stalks us, waiting just beyond the edges of the mind to pounce upon his prey and carry us between his teeth into the divine depths of each moment.
Southern novelist Flannery O’Connor writes that it is human nature to resist grace. So I do what comes naturally, as my mind turns to memory, constructs castles of the past, and walks back and forth among its dim corridors. I note, “remembering,” and then turn to planning lunch, my trip home after the retreat, a writing project, and the next five years. I write fiction and spin yarns. I grow paranoid, making up stories about the people who pray with me. They must think I am too noisy and move around too much. I get the giggles and think, if we were not all so dear and earnest, I imagine God would find what we are up to here hysterically funny.
My chin itches. I watch the irritating sensation and overwhelming desire to scratch it finally disappear. I hurt. My neck aches, my shoulders burn, my leg falls asleep and turns from pricking needles to dull heaviness. I breath and watch the fullness and release of pressure change and muscular contraction that draw in and expel the air.
Paying attention to what is feels like being trapped to most of us artists of the great escape. How dull, how boring, how wasteful of time, how tedious this mind I am burdened with.
Yet we kept at it and didn’t want it to end. For in between the spaces of the mind and the complaints of the body, we supped upon the sweet communion of I Am, the God who said his name was unembellished Being itself, Yahweh, what is. Beyond language and images, beneath the anxious ego, we became absorbed by the murmuring intimacies of the soul and God, an interpenetration and exchange beyond our knowing to which we simply consented.
One day in meditation my mind conjured up this poem, written nearly twenty years before. The poem is about the contemplative practice of prayer, an experience of God which never fails to deeply root me in reality and in the depths of God’s presence within me. It is a practice that changes, heals, soothes, and sets me free for joy and service. And for me it is all about Jesus.
This is my body
broken open for you.
In my palm blazed suchness,
a torn fragrant crust of what is so.
O Common One, you are so plain,
so familiar, so simple
that we miss you
in our desire for some other novelty.
We seek you in mystery, ritual,
knowledge, and magic – all the things
we hope will take away our pain and imperfection.
We think that if we can just become enlightened,
then we will be one with you.
And here you are, hurrying toward us,
loving us so much, broken hearted,
to be with us in our un-enlightenment.
Jesus, you are things as they are.
Here is where I meet you
in still splendor and completion.
Over and over, as I bump up against limitation and fear,
there you are
sanctifying the moment
in streaming satin
what is so.
Like ripe fruit
I pluck you
from the feast of each new moment.
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