Archive for September, 2020

The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. –Khalil Gibran

Good morning Gentle Reader.  These times are, indeed, ‘Threshold Times.’  These ‘Threshold Times’ – think the past five years, for example – continue to present us with a number of diverse thresholds of change.  They continue to provide us with challenges and opportunities, with darkness and light, with opaqueness and clarity.

During these turbulent times, each threshold reveals the potential for a shift, a change or a transformation.  In this place of uncertain potential, in this place of decision inviting-making, we are required to slow down, be patient and be aware of what is happening (awareness is a crucial step in seeking to understand and can benefit us even if we never fully come to understand). 

In choosing to discern a threshold we choose to embrace the challenge and to yield to potential growth and change.  In order to cross the threshold we often sense, if not directly know, that we must let go of something or we must empty our self in order to make space for the new.  We must also do our best to make sure that we have the energy and the commitment so that we can take the step — tentative or determined — that will put us over the threshold. 

‘Threshold Times’ can cleanse us of false perceptions; they can also sharpen our perceptions.  These perceptions will help us see what depletes us and what nurtures us.  ‘Threshold Times’ are our spiritual chrysalises which provide us the times for our four life-dimensions to grow.  During these times we heal and we nurture our physical, our intellectual, our emotional and our spiritual dimensions. 

My oldest sister and I were estranged when she died suddenly.  I was thrown into darkness and grief and I remained there for many months.  I so wanted to reverse time and I wanted to be able to step back over that threshold so I could reconcile with her.  I wanted to tell her of my love for her.  I wanted to thank her for so many things.  Slowly, over many months, I began to glimpse little pieces of light and as more light penetrated my dark soul I made a decision that I would never allow myself to be estranged from the other members of my family; this was a commitment I made to myself and to my oldest sister.  In more than twenty-seven years now, I have not broken that commitment. 

For me, also, the power of a threshold resounds in the resurrection story — from the darkness of the tomb Christ came forth transformed.  I-You-We are also given throughout our lives the gift of the ‘tomb’ and we can choose to remain in the darkness or we can choose to use the time of darkness to foster our transformation so that we can move across the threshold into the light. The hope for me is that as long as I am alive I can choose to embrace the ‘Threshold Times’ of my life in such a way that I will emerge changed, if not transformed.

Men who know themselves…stand on the threshold of the door of wisdom. –Havelock Ellis 

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Thomas Merton used the words discern, discernment and distinguish.  What do these words mean in the context of ‘Silence’? 

Discern = to perceive, recognize or apprehend. Discernment = acuteness of judgment and understanding Distinguish = to choose between or to choose among

Engaging ‘Silence’ involves my ability to perceive, understand and choose between/among the tsunami of sounds that daily and hourly whelm me over.  We choose what we listen to – consciously or unconsciously – rooted in the three ‘Ds’ or rooted in habit or need or addiction.  In order to freely choose the ‘sounds of silence’ I must be awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full. 

I believe that each of us has been gifted with an inner guide (some refer to this guide as our ‘Inner Teacher’ or as the ‘Spirit of God’).  Our inner guide speaks to us in whispers and so we must quiet our inner voices and the noise within in order to begin to hear the whispers our guide offers us.  With practice and discipline over time we are able to develop or develop more fully our three ‘Ds.’  We allow our inner guide to be more available to us – we might even pay attention to the whispered guidance provided us (then again…).  

‘Silence’ is not just NOT talking.  It the practice and discipline of choosing what to say, when to listen and what to listen to.  I am thinking of Robert K. Greenleaf’s challenging question: ‘When you speak how will your words improve on the silence?’

Nurturing ‘Silence,’ then, involves the growth of the three ‘Ds” which enable us to more clearly and freely choose the focus of our attention, care and commitment.  Jesus offered us challenging counsel when he told us to simply let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’ (ah, Gentle Reader, the daunting challenge that ‘simple’ offers us). 

Here is another ‘simple’ counsel.  Limit what you say to be rooted in the ‘true,’ to be rooted in love, care, compassion and empathy.  If you do this simple task then you will find that you will have much less to say.  However, when you speak you will be more influential.  My father was a man of few words and even as a child I remember that when he spoke folks paused and listened. 

‘Silence’ requires us to block out noise.  We cannot do this perfectly.  ‘Perfect Silence’ is the exclusive realm of those who cannot hear or see.  The deaf-blind are limited in their capacity to choose.  On the other hand they have the gift of not having to listen to the banal noises that minute to minute swamp the rest of us.  And the removal of power to choose is indeed a cruel fate.  I am thinking of Helen Keller.  She remains a positive role-model for me (and I believe for many thousands of others).  She concludes her autobiography with these words:

Fate – silent, pitiless – bars the way.  Fain would I question his imperious decree; for my heart is undisciplined and passionate, but my tongue will not utter the bitter, futile words that rise to my lips, and they fall back into my heart like unshed tears.  Silence sits immense upon my soul.  Then comes hope with a smile and whispers, “There is joy in self-forgetfulness.”  So I try to make the light in other people’s eyes my sun, the musts in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.

You and I, before old(er) age or the massive sensory overload deafens us, have a choice.  The impact of a noisy world, the blaring of contentious voices within our hearts press upon us and remind us of the power we have to choose: ‘Silence’ or Noise.   

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Good morning Gentle Reader; let us continue our exploration. 

In addition to what I shared with you in PART I, I am also able to find and enter a place of ‘Silence’ when I set aside (or ignore) all that is artificial or invented in the ‘world of sound’.  For example, I focus on observing and listening to that which nature presents me.  The great poet John Keats captures this when he writes:

I stood tiptoe upon a little hill. The air was cooling and so very still…  And then there crept a little noiseless noise among the leaves born of the very sight that silence heaves… Linger a while upon some bending planks that lean against a streamlet’s rushy banks… How silent comes the water round that bend. Not the minutest whisper does it send.

For me, this experience enables me to set aside the artificial noises and enables me to open a space for silence to enter into my very being and find a place to rest a while. 

I grew up in the Nature that permeates Wisconsin.  Nature is alive with sound – the music of the wind and birds, the creaking of tree limbs, the sound of water caressing the shore.  These sounds are different from – and more desirable than – the screeching of tires, the blasting of horns, the vibration that a semi-truck generates as it lumbers past you.  For me, Lord Byron captures nature when he writes:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods.  There is rapture on the lonely shore. There is society where none intrudes, by the deep Sea, and music in its roar; I love not man less, but Nature more.                                             

In the early 1970s folk music was on the rise – in some places it had truly risen to new heights.  I became friends with a trio of folk singers, their collective name was ‘Chestnut Dawn.’  On one occasion I was invited to join the three of them and a few others into their sound-proof studio.  We gathered together for a long conversation.  We prepared ourselves by sitting in silence for twenty minutes.  As the silence grew we became aware of the sounds that the building was making – we heard the walls shift, we heard popping and cracking as the building moved.  It was if the very building was restless or it was striving to take a step or two. 

As I recall this experience of sitting in silence I am reminded of the words of Thomas Merton:

Be still. Listen to the stones of the wall. Be silent, they try to speak your Name. Listen to the living walls. Who are you? Who are you? Whose Silence are You? Who (the quiet) are you (as the stones are quiet)?              

‘Silence’ speaks out of the world of walls.  Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk.  As a Monk he was charged with discerning what was useless and harmful from what was use-full and nurturing and strove to choose the latter two and ‘in all things glorify God.’ 

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Good morning, Gentle Reader.  Two weeks ago I offered a ‘Wellness Community’ a poem.  Since then I have been holding the concept of ‘Silence.’  This morning I will share with you some of what has emerged into my consciousness in response to my holding ‘Silence.’  First, here is the poem that I shared with the ‘Community.’

Silence                                                                                                                 Silence soothes                                                                                                      heals the fevered nerves                                                                                       balms hurt feelings.  

The comfort and calm                                                                                               the serenity and repose                                                                                            the tranquility and peace that silence offers                                                              is a vitalizing tonic                                                                                                   the human spirit needs.    –George Kaitholil

‘Silence’ is the ‘absence of’ and the ‘presence of’ sound and noise.  Silence involves ‘waiting’ and ‘acting.’ ‘Silence’ involves one waiting in the ‘absence of’ in order to hear the faint whispers of comfort, encouragement, forgiveness, laughter, insight and guidance (there are more, but these will suffice for now). 

‘Silence’ involves ‘acting’ – as in telling someone or something to ‘Shut Up!’ or in inviting someone to bring his or her voice or in speaking one’s truth or in verbally offering forgiveness or in verbally accepting the forgiveness offered (again, there are more, but these will suffice for now).

‘Silence’ is a gift you can give to yourself – a gift you can savor and enjoy and a gift that can soothe, heal and provide balm, comfort, calm, tranquility and repose.  ‘Silence’ can help calm a noisy mind and a noisy heart.  ‘Silence’ must be nurtured and sustained as a practice and discipline if these gifts are to be offered to you. 

We busy-body, noise-full, and distract-full human beings often seek out (or is it hunt for) ‘Silence.’  We rarely find and experience it fully.  ‘Silence’ is timid and elusive and she quickly vanishes when her sibling ‘noise’ appears.  As fragile as ‘Silence’ is she is necessary for our sustenance and survival.  ‘Noise’ dominates and depletes, ‘Silence’ supports and nurtures.  Today, more than ever before in human history we need to cultivate the practice and discipline of ‘Silence.’  ‘Silence’ is a major tap-root that nurtures and sustains us as we strive to live in a noise-filled, busyness-filled, distraction-filled, and addiction-filled world.  WE NEED ‘SILENCE’ NOW!

Now there is a paradox (why is there always an ‘and’ or a ‘paradox’ or both).  We seek and need ‘Silence’ and we also respond as Pascal did when he said: ‘The eternal silence of the infinite spaces terrifies me.’  Simply stated, the paradox is that we run from ‘Silence’ because we know that ‘Silence’ if embraced will reveal our real selves to us (one of a number of things that she will reveal to us about ourselves).  ‘Silence’ heals and accuses.  ‘Silence’ soothes and disturbs.  ‘Silence’ reveals our virtues and our vices. 

Where might we look for ‘Silence’?    

 ‘Seek and you will find.’  I have found this to be true.  I seek and find ‘Silence’ in my mind when I focus my attention on one person, thought or experience at a time.  I am, like all of us are, whelmed over by multiple demands, noises, distractions and experiences – all seeking my attention.  My focusing on ‘one thing’ supports my silencing the ‘noise’ that is whelming me over. 

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The mystics counsel us that spiritual transformation requires sustained nurturing [a reminder: ‘transformation’ is a fundamental change in character or structure].  Our commitment and our capacity to sustain spiritual transformation is often hindered, if not interrupted, when we discover that we are unsure, or hesitant, or full of doubt and angst or when we simply question — especially when we frame questions from that deep place of not-knowing. 

At these times, the mystics remind us, we become aware that we would rather be someplace else rather than standing before this particular door facing this particular threshold.  It is at these times that we make like a rabbit and run away (or is it hop?).  We know, deep down inside, that if we remain committed and open the door and step over the threshold that we will never be the same again and because we don’t know, truly know, what lies on the other side of the threshold we are filled with a little dread and perhaps fear.  It is no accident that the most often used words in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qu’ran are ‘Be Not Afraid.’ 

Now it is true that not all door-threshold experiences are so daunting, nor are they transformational.  Some are quite manageable and we nurture our spirit in more gentle and yet just as profound ways.  I have been nurtured by opening a door and crossing the threshold in response to a poem, or a story, or even a sentence or a word.  These ‘seeds’ enter into my spirit-garden, into my soul, into my heart and I savor them into life. I might find myself questioning a long-held truth, for example.  Or I might find myself considering something I had dismissed as not worthy of my time and energy. 

Some of these doors-thresholds open pathways of peace — when I open the door and cross the threshold of ‘living in the moment’ I can experience this type of peace.  Some of these doors-thresholds open the pathways to deep, or deeper, relationships.  Some of these doors-thresholds help me cross over from ‘being asleep’ to ‘being awake and aware.’  Some of these doors-thresholds lead me onto a path that brings discomfort, uneasiness, dis-ease, anxiety, and pain.  Some of these doors-thresholds, I have experienced, reveal the pathway to the ‘dark night of the soul’ and some of these doors-thresholds reveal the way to the wasteland — not the desert.  Some of these doors-thresholds reveal the pathway to the land of the lost.

No matter which of these are presented to you-me-us, doors-thresholds connect the mundane with the mysterious [or is it ‘mystery’?]; they connect you-me-us to both to the commonplace and the awesome. Doors-Thresholds ‘call’ us to a different territory; they reveal the road-less-traveled.  The word ‘threshold’ originally referred to the doorway leading to the place where the threshing of grain occurred.  Beyond the entrance lay the place of separating the wheat from the chaff.  Do I really want to know what ‘the wheat of my being’ is and what is the chaff?  Do I really want to separate them?  The types of doors & thresholds I am thinking about invite me to consider these two stretching questions.

Am I willing to frame these doors & thresholds as a gift?  I have experienced that when I choose to open a door and step over the threshold and enter into the land of the unknown that I am affirming that I choose to grow, that I choose to become wiser and healthier, that I choose to lose some of the burdens that weigh me down and that hinder my development. 

Am I willing to be a bit more aware of these types of doors & thresholds that will present themselves to me today?  Am I willing, then, to open one door and step across just one of threshold today?  I am not sure, right now I feel more like the rabbit ready to run away (or is it hop?).   

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