In my last post I wrote about the holiness of silent sitting meditation in the company of others. In that post I shared these words from the Plum Village website: Sitting meditation is like returning home to give full attention to and care for our self. Like the peaceful image of the Buddha on the altar, we too can radiate peace and stability. We sit upright with dignity, and return to our breathing. We bring our full attention to what is within and around us. We let our mind become spacious and our heart soft and kind. That all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?! Breathing, peacefulness, calm, quiet… that is the stuff we all need, right? And I did absolutely experience the joy of those qualities during silent sitting meditation. But I would be remiss if I did not also mention some other qualities one inevitably experiences during silent sitting meditation.
In the uninterrupted silence we also meet our pain, suffering, anger, grief, disappointment, judgment, shame – what we church folk sometimes call our demons. In the silence we hear the voices in our head which tell us we are not enough, or bad, or powerless or unloveable. In the silence, all the armor and defense mechanisms come down and we are left with ourselves – the good, the troubling, the beautiful, and the ugly alike. At Plum Village we were taught to allow those uncomfortable thoughts to come and go without attaching any judgment to them or holding onto them. In the silence we see those thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them, and breathe deeply and slowly allowing them to be healed and transformed by the very breath of life.
Sitting in the silence of the early morning and again in the evening, I had the privilege of encountering my own demons face to face. And when I encounter these faithful friends (they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin) I want to minimize their presence or push them back or wrestle them. But you know what? My demons are amazing teachers. And ultimately, facing them allows me to build humility and compassion. For if I am able to acknowledge the disturbing parts of my own personality and presence, I can empathize when I see that in others. When I know I am not perfect and am okay with that, I can accept that others are not perfect either. When I understand with each breath that I am alive and that is a gift to be cherished, other things find their respective place more gracefully.
Sitting in the silence and listening deeply allows me to sort out what is real, and to face the truth with love and grace for myself as well as others. For years I have had a quote on my wall at home from Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: [S]He who controls others may be powerful, but [s]he who has mastered [herself] himself is mightier still. The purpose of silent sitting meditation is to increase one’s power or self-mastery. That happens when we can sit still long enough, listen deep enough, and face courageously and compassionately our thoughts and feelings, including our demons, and our suffering and pain.
In Luke 8:17, Jesus says: Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. When we allow ourselves the time and the space to sit with our thoughts, our heart, our spirit, we are inviting the loving light of God to shine upon us and reveal, heal, and transform the weakness into strength. The very strength Jesus embodied and invites us to share. It is not easy. But it is very powerful!