Thursday, March 24, 2011

the empty heart

The great emptiness at the heart of every perspective I seek to take
There have been moments in my experience in which reality seems to have shifted. Rather than life ticking over in its usual way time has seemed to open up, so that I seem to be looking through life rather than at life. I suspect that this is not very uncommon given conversations which turn in this direction and the hints and suggestions that sometimes enter the flow of words. An analogy which I find useful is when a DVD is run slowly or backwards resulting in the insight the illusion of a constant stream of images is exposed as a series of individual views. Why is it that mostly we are caught in this trance like state into believing that the world is as it is rather than as a kaleidoscope of possible interpretations where the appropriate response is to be tentative and search for the plausible?
Dropping into silence, seeking silent places, stilling the mind can create the conditions in which we may catch a glimpse of this other dimension which is not a dimension at all but a gazing into the great emptiness that pervades all things and weaves together all things.
I tentatively place the word ‘God’ into this reflection although I prefer the Jewish way of writing this word as G_d which helps me to avoid thinking about that which is by very nature totally removed from understanding and awareness. I don’t believe in the existence of G_d and neither do I believe in G_d’s non existence, since existence is a predicate that only applies in a material world. G_d is like the invention of zero. Without zero it would not be possible to type on this computer, since all computer programs and all mathematics are surely built on the predicate of zero. Is there a measureable zero; is zero something to be investigated or does it show up without at the same time being absent?

When I read the ancient Christian writers, especially the Cappadocian fathers I see this emphasis on the non definition of God.  Affirmation and denial sit alongside each other as a way of exploring 'the peace of God which exceeds our understanding' as the old prayer of blessing puts it. We are enabled to 'know' because that has been made possible for us but there is always more as our time bound view is met by an infinity of eternity which draws wonder and humility from me.

I find that often I am in flight from this deep 'full' emptiness.  I fear annihilation and I fear loneliness and loss of meaning more, so I go faster filling my days with words, concepts and stories just like someone running across melting ice that breaks under each step. Who is it that is running and who is it that is fearing because the identity of this being typing these sentences is really much more fluid, more emptiness, more ‘zero’ than the naive belief, that must be jettisoned sooner or later, in a fixed personality rather than a multiplicity of aspects.
 The Void and Emptiness are not the opposite of Being since these terms are themselves misleading us to think of a place where being and awareness are absent. That’s the way our brains work but yet sometimes it all drops away and we glimpse for a few moments the formless, the gaps in time and movement through which the fathomless depths are forever flowing.
Pyrrho of Ellis who I think of as a kind of ancient Greek ‘Buddhist’sage, (although what I call Buddhism here is the kind of agnosticism and scepticism that was alive and active in the ancient world). Pyrrhonism created through forms of meditation, internal dialogue and cognitive re framing the kind of conditions through which the practitioner might glimpse the underlying emptiness of flux and flow underlying the illusion of ‘life’.  All becomes convention from this perspective and thus one become free to live life without clinging to the concepts and beliefs that so many falsely claim provide a firm foundation for society and for individual flourishing. St Augustine drew from this ancient scepticism an understanding that this is the first step towards the One who draws us back to intimacy with the unknowable. Plotinus another influence on Augustine speaks about the 'One' at the centre, the 'Word' speaks from the eternal Silence and the Soul creates matter inhabited by soul constantly drawn back to the One, the Centre. Augustine saw the work of the Trinity and grace and mercy at work. The emptiness is 'lit up' to use Plotinus' terminology.

In an experience a year or so back out walking the dog suddenly I ‘saw’ myself from the other side of the road and I had a great sense of release at ‘seeing myself’ from a distance and then back in my own body felt as if the wind was blowing through me, that there was nothing of me anymore and that I was caught up and returned to myself by emptiness. At the same time I experienced myself as given an identity by this 'G_d' to return to this helpful way of naming.
It seems ungracious to claim this as a consoling experience or as some kind of grand insight but if I am able to make my home here in this place then maybe as I listen to people I can have the sense that their words and feelings are blowing through me like the wind. It’s not that I don’t care but caring itself is an idea too to which I can cling so easily and fashion into more building blocks to the task of rebuilding the tower of Babel as a monument to my over anxious ego.
One of the joys of the blog is that one is under no constraint to make ones writing’s clear, cogent or compelling and this author can only gently suggest that embracing silence, letting go of the practice of constantly judging of noticing the wanting and the not wanting the visits to the past or the future can be worthwhile for those seeking to unplug from the matrix.
The majesty and the greatness of the architecture of classical Patristic theology, a way of lived prayer and contemplation is in contrast to the 'tower of babel' which leads to empty nihilism and to spiritual death.  I’m over religion in the sense that I have moved through it to the other side where there is only emptiness, a place of eternal dimension.  In this dimension, (itself a misleading term) there is the emptiness of despair and disgust, the collapse of the created self that with grace moves into the emptiness and receptivity to that which is truly and utterly the mysterious, vibrant heart of the universe that which we term ‘God’, one is hell and the other heaven, one leads to misanthropy and the other into generous and compassionate living, life as a sojourner in a society based on illusion.  I see Jesus here as the great contemptative, his life shaped by his thirty years of hidden life. As Paul says the pre existent Christ embraced kenosis, emptiness to be born among us as fully human flesh and blood, mind, heart and emotions.  As Hebrews says Jesus experienced all that we do as human beings yet without turning away, as I have done so many times, to the pursuit of the ultimate. The Gospels are spoken words and descriptions of actions but deep within there is the silence of the One at the heart of the all.
Blessed silence, blessed emptiness, blessed freedom, nowhere to go, nothing to do, an eternity out of which I choose to act moved by compassion and grace since today I will be here and tomorrow i may be gone, one breath traversing the path between being and non being, the paradox of this strange life. I still feel in deep darkness, it’s not comfortable, I feel mighty depressed but I must not try to escape and take control.  Like the eclipse, like the weather it will come and go, all will pass.
I am released and made whole. I am bidden to the empty cross the empty tomb the empty sky, the great silence which is fuller and more present than any presence or any absence may be. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

an encounter in silence

A couple of years ago Anne and I spent a day in the town of Narita before travelling by train to the nearby international airport to return home to Australia. Most westerners stay around the hotels as they transit in and out of Japan, but we walked into the town which is a popular destination for Japanese people visiting the beautiful Buddhist temple. These memories are particularly focused for me as I think and pray for all those who have suffered so greatly, and those who have died in recent days in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami and for continued concerns about the safety of the nuclear power station.

Anne and I spent a peaceful morning at the temple and were welcomed with great courtesy by the Japanese visitors. Sitting quietly in the temple while families visited and were blessed by the priests was deeply moving and then we decided to walk down to the lake through the beautifully tended gardens.

As we walked down a rather steep pathway we passed an older man being assisted by his wife and daughter. He was in some difficulty and Anne suggested I offer some assistance. I was uncertain given that I was a foreigner and being aware of the taboos about personal touch but I returned, bowed respectfully and offered my arm which was taken gratefully. We walked with some difficulty to the bottom of the path. It was a hot and humid day and I was holding this man with care as both of us were perspiring with the daughter holding her father's left arm. With bows we said farewell.

As I walked away I thought that this man was of an age to have fought in the second world war, perhaps my father from his Wellington bomber had flown over this man in Burma during that appalling war? This hot and sweaty stumbling has become a very precious memory for me, a small sign of reconciliation and hope.

Later Anne and I found our way to the Peace Pagoda in the temple grounds and climbed the stairs which looked over the extensive gardens and lakes. Soon it was time to make our way to the airport.

Like many significant encounters in our lives the meeting with this elderly man and offering him my arm, as I might have offered an arm to my elderly father had he not died so young, at the age I am now, took place in silence and there about it a lovely dignity, a respectful encounter in which I was the guest offered hospitality and offering hospitality.

Let us continue to pray and offer our generosity to the people of Japan with an appreciation of a nation that rebuilt itself with assistance after a catastrophic war and which has been most generous through foreign aid to nations in need.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

where have you experienced deep silence?

This can be a profound question. One woman at a session I ran last year at a Multi Faith Conference on the subject of 'Silence in your Faith or Tradition', responded by telling the group about being in a Swedish forest in the snow. As a European I resonated with that picture.

When in a noisy and stressful sound scape it may be possible for us to at least encounter an inner silence by revisiting places of stillness, silence and peace in our memory. Sound may be part of those memories, wind, birdsong, the sound of water but for most of us those sounds add to the silence rather than detract from silence.

I welcome visitors to this blog sharing their special silent places.