A couple of weeks ago, Janine Larsen, who is the executive of the Pacific Northwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association and also a member of my UU church, spoke at a Sunday morning service about her Buddhist spiritual practice.
She called her talk “Cultivating Irrational Mind,” although I wish she’d called it “Cultivating Non-Rational Mind” because, for me, the word “irrational” brings forth images of people shouting and being nasty and totally unwilling to consider anyone else’s point of view during an argument or at a political gathering. But, then, it was her talk….
And it was a wonderful talk, full of things I particularly needed to hear that morning when I was deeply into my late-life crisis. I asked her to send me a copy so I could have some of her words to hang on to.
When I printed it out and read it, I put a giant star in the margin where she quoted UU lay leader David Rynick as saying, “Spiritual practice is what we do repeatedly with the intention of moving closer to that which is most true and alive for us.”
Yes…. Yes. And I should probably add that I definitely view qigong as a spiritual practice.
Farther on Janine said that Buddhist meditation has helped her grow a more spacious mind, that she occasionally experiences internal quiet when she is being still, and that she can more readily let things go and trust who she really is instead of worrying about who she thinks she is or should be.
Which I think/hope is the direction qigong is taking me. Indeed, perhaps what I have termed my late-life crisis is merely the result of the ways qigong is changing me. Change, of course, is not always comfortable.
Janine spoke of Zen Buddhist koans, the seemingly nonsensical stories that Zen teachers use to get their students to shift from logical analysis to intuitive, non-rational understanding. She presented several examples of stories that would once have driven me nuts, including the poem “In Silence” by Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, mystic and amazingly prolific writer.
I had read Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain” years ago but not the volume in which the poem is contained, “The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton,” which perhaps I should read now.
This is the poem:
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your
to the living walls.
Who are you?
are you? Whose
silence are you?
Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.
O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you
speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.
“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”
Oh, my. Listen to the stones. This speaks to me, to something I feel I need to do—in the woods, outdoors, in silence.
Janine offered the poem as a challenge to the intellectual mind to let go into more intuitive, non-rational knowing.
But gosh, my current intellectual mind is fine with this poem. It’s just saying “who knows?”—just as it says “who knows?” about the various energy phenomena I’ve personally experienced and about another woman’s sighting of a guardian spirit at my Yi Ren Qigong graduation ceremony (about which I wrote last week).
My intellectual mind is saying, “Yes, of course. Of course the whole world is secretly on fire. The whole world is energy. It is alive. It does burn.
“And someone who spent as much time in silent contemplation as Thomas Merton did might well have experienced stones burning, just as I have experienced my kidney energy whirling and others have witnessed spiritual beings, or ideas of spiritual beings, in this dimension.