Sunday was the first day of Advent. It is a dark time, but also charged with the sense that something new is coming, something that is outside the archives of memories contained by the brain’s default network. Ordinarily, we live in a daze of projection, a haze of memory–new events trigger old emotions. Christmas lights are going up now, triggering the brain to scroll through the Christmas archives, to start play old movies, to whip up special cocktails of nostalgia. Yet through it all the lights in the darkness ignite an ancient sense of expectation and hope: something new is coming.
A lit candle can save your life if you are trapped in a car in a blizzard. This is the kind of knowledge a girl from a snowy part of northern New York stores in her archives–in the winter, it’s a good idea to keep a candle and matches in the glove compartment. Sitting down and being still is like lighting a candle in a car in a blizzard, small yet life-giving. Taking time to be still, observing without judgment, slowly melts the walls of separation between self and other, small self and Whole. Sitting down and being still is a practice that is miraculous in a very quiet way, a way that is hard to describe to the thinking mind. It calls what is beyond the ordinary realm of the default network towards us. It invites the new. It hinges on the ability to be patient and calm yet alert, shepherds abiding mindfully in the fields of our own minds..
To welcome what has not yet come we need to practice noticing what gets in the way of being peaceful and open. We need to notice how own needs and interests color everything we see, how everything is tinged with judgment. We like or don’t like or are indifferent to what is happening or what is being said based on how it effects us. This triggers memories, old emotions, and thoughts, always thoughts, some that seem shiny or masterful and worthy of jumping up to email to someone who needs clarification immediately. Sitting still and opening to what has not yet come is a way to sink beneath this talk, to leave what the Buddha called “the thicket of views and opinions.” Sitting still allows us to remember ourselves–to recover the felt sense of how it feels to be here. Opening to what is coming towards us is a form of wordless wish or aspiration to join something larger, something beyond the thicket. There are moments of silent prayer.
The poet John Keats described this state of openness “negative capability.” He defined this as “when a man is capable of of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” This takes patience and acceptance and kindness towards oneself and the world, an acknowledgement that more is possible, that more will come. As Rilke said: “Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”