On Sunday, I showed up to teach mindfulness meditation with no voice, or almost no voice. When I opened my mouth to speak a rasping, breathy whisper came out and sometimes (when I really felt moved and enthusiastic) there was a layer of squeaking and gasping. In the acoustics of my own head, I sounded a like Gollum from the film version of The Lord of the Ring with a dash of Minnie Mouse.
I showed up because I knew that what really mattered weren’t my words but the chance to sit together with others. Given the projected blizzard, I pictured sitting with a small group of noble friends (who happen to know that usually I can talk and really love to talk), in a circle in candlelight, sharing stillness.
In walked five or six people new to meditation, including some much younger people. Instinct told me they didn’t want their introduction to the practice to me rasping on about, say, the inevitability of sickness, aging, and death (Behold young ones! Things fall apart!). So I whispered meditation instructions. After I said this: things happen in life. All kinds of things happen and keep happening; jobs, lovers, voices get lost and found. Mindfulness and the path it is part of is a way to relate to what happens in a new way, a way to stay centered in the present moment, yet able to receive and respond to what is happening without so much judging, contracting, and running away.
The first step on the path is translated these days as “wise view,” which starts with realizing that our conscious actions choices have effects. We broke into pairs to practice deep listening and sharing about conscious actions that bring feelings of joy or ease and actions that bring worry or tension. As I listened and talked with my young partner (the young have excellent hearing, by the way), it was confirmed that letting go of fear and daring to be vulnerable and true feels so much stronger and more vibrant than holding back.
We came back in the circle and pooled our wisdom. We spoke of the power of conscious listening, discovering that this imperceptible action can bring about a radical shift. Instead of lunging into another person’s air space, we let go and experience a new ease, peace, and interest. We find that our awareness can expand to take in more that our own point of view. We spoke of the power of speaking the truth, and of the power of presence.
I experienced the power of presence in our circle. Daring to show up in all my croaky vulnerability and raspy-voiced suffering, I felt all the more keenly the awareness, compassion, and wisdom in the circle. I began to confirm for myself that the steps of path are not a solitary line but a web that connects us with other beings, a net that catches and holds us when we let go.
May all beings in the Northeastern U.S. enjoy the snow!