Find­ing peace and find­ing my­self in the sounds of si­lence

Austin American-Statesman - - FAITH & BELIEFS - Ju­dith Knotts Ju­dith Knotts is the for­mer Head of St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Austin

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.

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