Monday, December 16, 2013

The Voice That Doesn't Use Words

For better or worse, people have always remarked upon my quiet, calm demeanor. Some people complain that they can't hear me because I speak so quietly, or because I communicate with a poker face that betrays little emotion. Some people are unnerved by my — or anyone else's — propensity towards silence, and they ask me, with visible discomfort, "Why are you so quiet?" They seem to need to have every moment filled up with speech of some kind, even if it's the noise of a television set in the background or the earbuds pumping a constant stream of music into their ears. Still others are thrown off by what they describe as the intensity of my gaze, which appears to be communicating a great deal without uttering a single word. It's the rare person who finds comfort or solace in my quietude.

What few people (except my closest friends, who know me well) seem to realize — for I've become very good at hiding it — is that beneath my quiet, calm demeanor lies the same incessantly chattering "monkey mind" from which every other human being suffers. When I sit down to meditate, the mind that I encounter is usually not a calm, still lake; it's a roiling sea of thoughts, hopes, fears, judgments, fantasies, memories, plans and dreams. It is what Bhante Henepola Gunaratana called a "screeching, gibbering madhouse on wheels, barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless."

But then, there are moments, fleeting glimpses, of what lies behind or beneath all that. The simple ground of awareness, uncontrived and unburdened from the baggage of concepts and language and commentary and ideas. And a glimpse — whether it's five seconds or five minutes — is all it takes to remind me that there is an eye of calmness within the center of my storm, a calmness that is accessible to me anytime I choose to drop down through the layers of clouds and the blowing winds and rain and make contact with the empty space and the stillness and silence that lies at the heart of it all.

"Zen practice is always about returning to that place where there are no words. Early on, I realized that to use words, you have to live life beyond words, before words, without words. Only then do you have the right to speak." - Seido Ray Ronci

Lately in my meditations I've been trying to observe the difference between still mind and moving mind — which is another way of saying between quiet mind and chattering mind. What happens when you release the mind's habitual tendency towards saying something — anything — about anything at all? What is left over when you stop conversing with yourself, remembering, fantasizing, planning, or even commenting upon what's happening in the present moment? What happens when you stop worrying about whether you're meditating correctly and just experience what is actually happening without talking to yourself about it? Who are you when you finally shut up and — for ten seconds of your life — stop talking about yourself and your experience, and just experience it?

What does the voice of your naked awareness sound like when you're not trying to make it say what you want it to say?

"There is a voice that doesn't use words," said Rumi. "Listen."

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