OK, this is the tricky one. There’s no quick fix for this and a quiet mind requires sacrifice. There’s no way around that.
I think the first sacrifice is the biggest: my expectations. This is what I mean: do I expect interior silence to make me so serene that I float through life untroubled, undisturbed? If that’s what I’m expecting, I have to sacrifice that expectation right off the bat. That’s not interior silence that’s being anesthetized or insulated from reality; that’s escaping my responsibilities and shutting out my engagement with life. It’s also not real or genuine interior silence. Koheleth offers us real wisdom, as uncomfortable as it may sound:
A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
The person who looks very serene or balanced in the midst of turmoil is probably not floating above the conflicts or free from inner turmoil. I all liklihood, that individual is performing the sacrifice of facing the inner conflict and consciously bearing or suffering it. This is very different from the person who exerts will power to act calmly and is yet brittle and generating tension in everyone else because he or she is avoiding the unpleasantness of the inner turmoil by trying to act calmly. Everyone else is left to pick up the burden he or she refuses to recognize or carry. Sometimes my only way to inner silence is through the turmoil. It is more appropriate for me to feel the pain of loss and the sorrow at the death of a loved one (or more disturbing, the loss of someone close who wasn’t all that lovable) than to put on a brave face. Accepting the pain is a surer way to deep peace and silence than evading it. So having realistic, rather than escapist, expectations is a very important first sacrifice.
Then there are sacrifices peculiar to our times and culture and technology. I don’t twitter, text, tweet or maintain a face-book. I realize some people are professionally required to do so. I am connected to the greater world of e-communications through email, enough of a headache for me and very detrimental to the pleasant occupation of writing letters. (OK, there you have it: my prejudices and preferences). But if you must do all the above, can you limit them to work? Can you set sacrosanct parameters? Can you avoid being a slave to every message? Isn’t there a TV campaign to discourage texting while driving? There could equally be a contemplative campaign to limit texting to prevent spiritual collisions. After all, how much input can I juggle without being dispersed in a thousand different directions? Remember the infinitive to recollect: it literally means to collect again all the scattered parts of myself as a single, unified whole. The word itself recognizes that I can’t be interiorly quiet if I’m dispersed all over the place. So, if I don’t need any of our extraordinary (and invasive ) wonders of instant e-communications for my job, can I cut texting out altogether? Can I leave the house without my ipod? Do I always have to be plugged into a distraction from the world around me? Could I just be engaged in what I’m doing, here and now, without some other input coming between me and my immediate reality?
…to be continued