After eight days of virtually no speaking, I am clear about the difficulty of stopping inner chatter – at least for me. I realized somewhere during the past eight days how many thoughts flow through my head (several often at the same time) without my consciousness recognizing each or any of them. I began to wonder when I began to multi-task so much that the practice invaded my inner state as well as my outer daily life. One good place to start a reversal was at meals. Because we did not talk at meals, we just ate. I came to a renewed awareness of the awkwardness of spearing raw carrots or grape tomatoes in a salad as well as the fact that I often switch hands for guiding a spoonful of soup to my mouth. (Being very left-handed, I was taught that it was only proper to eat with one’s right hand, so as a child it was necessarily a conscious practice to do so. Now I know that even very early unconscious habits die hard.)
The week was filled with grace in small and great ways. Having thought I was in need of total solitude I realized early on that I would find more benefit in the communal silence which I found in several periods of centering prayer daily, in body awareness and movement sessions, in chanting and chopping vegetables and in daily worship. These practices enhanced the ample personal time for reflection that filled most of the afternoon and shorter spaces in between.
I would love to have taken a survey of the other participants to see if my sense that all the introductory short readings, poems and chants were really chosen just for me. God is funny in that we can all feel that way sometimes – but I was sure of it in this experience. How could everyone feel as “chosen” as I was for the word that was given each time we gathered? On the first morning, the first words I heard were from the mystical poet Hafiz, in a poem that sounded like a personal message for me. I write it in prose form below, just as it was spoken by Allen, God’s messenger, to set the tone for my response all week. See if God would speak to you this way – if God were able to catch your full attention.
This place where you are right now God circled on a map for you. Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move against the earth and the sky, the Beloved has bowed there. Our Beloved has bowed there, knowing you were coming. The place where you will be in a year, our Beloved is bowing there now, setting the table for the feast, knowing you are coming.