Finding peace and finding myself in the sounds of silence
Like most CEOs, I prided myself on efficiency. The old “Time is Money” tune played constantly in my head and as a result, my work ethic and production rate were stellar, or so I thought. Not being a digital native, I pushed myself to befriend the computer and found I was gifted in having my right hand work the keyboard while my left held the phone. Not so humbly, I thought, “Golly, I’m good at this!” Multi-tasking with panache and functioning in this fever pitch made me euphoric at times. Did I ever think about mistakes made in e-mails or vague responses to inquiries on the phone, question how my pace was affecting others, or really grasp that stress could be a by-product of industry? Probably not, I was too caught up in being efficient, and although harried at times, I wanted to be measurably effective.
My spiritual life showed the same style and intensity. Being a cradle Catholic, I boldly called out the responses in English or Latin at Mass from memory. With fervor, I flew through rosaries, recited litanies of the saints, and plowed through prayers of the church. Doing drove me, but gradually, it dawned on me. I had become a noisy pilgrim, a bustling disciple more interested in speak- ing than listening.
Through the wondrous gift of grace, I was shown another way, an ancient path walked by holy men and women of many faiths: meditation. Here the emphasis is on being, not doing; stillness, not movement; listening, not speaking. This radical shift required of mind and body challenged me at first. I wondered: Could I sit still for an extended time, 30 or 40 minutes, without wiggling or looking at my watch? Could I empty myself, dismissing plans and expectations? Could I abandon leading to be led?
Practicing meditation with three diverse groups has softened my zealous approach to prayer and life, tempered my tendency to orchestrate and deepened my faith in a greater power, which for me is God.
In a remodeled garage adjacent to The Seton Cove, a spirituality center, a simple, small space welcomes anyone seeking contemplation. On Tuesdays I join a rotating group of fellow wayfarers to sit in silence for 30 minutes once the singing bowl is struck. When it sounds again, we abandon our private still space and re-engage with the group. Together, we read a piece by some enlightened poet such as Mary Oliver or David Whyte. Led by Patty, a former English teacher now Doctor of Divinity, we use the age-old method Lectio Divina — “divine reading” in Latin — seeing which word or phrase speaks to us. It is a holistic approach, not a literary one, inviting inspiration.
Wednesdays in this same location, Ginny, a lawyer/librarian/poet, leads Zen meditation groups where Buddhist followers sit side-byside with Christians in silence and then read a short piece by Zen wisdom teachers like Pema Chodron or Thich Nhat Hanh, sharing insights from the readings that unfailingly open minds and hearts.
On Thursdays, Ann, a pathologist, leaves her lab and leads a meditation session at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, where the doors are open to anyone. Our small interfaith group sits in silence for a half-hour in the darkened sanctuary lit only by sunlight filtered through stained glass windows and a votive candle in the center of our circle. After meditation, Scripture is read and the Lord’s Prayer is recited. In this cloistered spot, contemplation hushes our demons and holiness seems possible.
What these groups have in common is their structure and purpose. Sitting in a circle and meditating is the core of each practice. Stillness matters, shuffling and speaking are cast aside for a time. The present is all there is; the past and the future don’t exist. The goodly women mentioned, everyday people who respond to the call to host a meditation group, receive only the gift of sitting in silence with like-minded others seeking a place to re-center and find peace. Each person enters the quiet zone uniquely; my entrance into meditation is Psalm 46:10: Be still, and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be.