Friday, January 19, 2024

ARTICULATE SILENCE – The Power of Presence

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing...not healing, not curing...that is a friend who cares.”
                                              ~      •     ~      •.     ~     .     

It’s taken me a very long time to realize that just sitting, with no task, no agenda, no expectations, isn’t necessarily a waste of time.

“Just being” is something babies and old folks do very well. I suppose you could say that’s because they can’t walk and their hands don’t work very well. But more important than how they might have come to be so acutely in the present moment is the fact that only the most cynical observer would ever conclude from their lack of “productiveness” that they’re wasting their time.

It’s a shame the art of just being is so lost on the rest of us. For it’s in that state, devoid of ambition and guile, liberated from expectations of any kind, that we’re best able to experience what I’d argue are the human pursuits of the highest order: curiosity, compassion and wonder.

By the time we’re in grade school, most of us have already been indoctrinated with the familiar mantras: Keep your nose to the grindstone; Idle hands make for the devil’s work; Work hard enough and everything will be fine. You know, the good old American dream. Trouble is, there are some worthwhile goals that don’t fall within the reach of anyone who’s reaching.

          There are some worthwhile goals that
          don’t fall within the reach of anyone
          who’s reaching.

We’re all conditioned to place enormous value on the past and the future. We think the past, the sum total of all our life experiences to date, defines who we are. We think the future is where all our hopes, dreams and fears will play out. In fact, we tend to focus so much of our mental and emotional energy on the “then” and the “when” that we fail to fully experience the “now.” As much as we’d like to think we can do it, no one can be in two places at the same time.

I learned a lot about just being during my parents’ last days in this life. These lessons come naturally when you’re with someone who can no longer communicate with words. You sit there. Maybe you talk a little, hoping the person understands you at some level. But mostly, you just sit.

Simply sitting with someone may seem like an old-fashioned idea, like visiting or court-
ing. These are things no one used to think much about; there were fewer options, fewer distractions, so they just did them. But now that we’re all wired in, on call, connected 24/7 wherever we go, it’s gotten harder and harder not to feel we should be “productive” at some level nearly all the time.

Yet it’s precisely in such moments of “emptiness” that we are most apt to be fulfilled. That’s when we let go of any notion that, somehow, we’re “in control,” that there’s something we should be doing or thinking, or that anything but our presence matters.

When our consciousness is full of stuff from the past and future, there’s no room for what’s happening now. It’s only by clearing the decks of these preoccupations that we can be open to a communion with the present, whether with our own true spirit, the soul of a loved one, or the astounding beauty of Nature’s gifts that surround and fill us.

            We focus so much of our mental and 
          emotional energy on the “then” and the
          “when” that we fail to fully experience
          the “now.”

To be truly in the moment is a difficult concept for some people to grasp. After all, how can you achieve something that’s accessible only to those who don’t try to achieve it? Is it really possible to notice the absence of everything?

Can you really hear silence, feel emptiness? You can if you’re ready. Just as a sponge can’t absorb a spill until it’s wrung out, you can’t understand these things without first wringing from your consciousness the concerns and constructs that saturate your mind.

Perhaps the one mental construct that clashes most with just being is our notion of time. We imagine our lives as linear paths; we move along a time line. Each day, each experience we have, becomes another part of our past, that which defines who we are.

And the line extending in front of us, the future, holds all the experiences we will have from now on, illuminated by our hopes and dreams. It’s precisely in such moments of “emptiness” that we are most apt to be fulfilled.


Curiously, we even tend to see the spatial aspect of our existence as linear, imagining, again, that only those places where we’ve been and where we’re to go delineate the sphere of our existence. Imagine walking through a Costa Rican rain forest, touring the Musee D’Orsay or even riding the bus home from work, looking nowhere else but straight ahead or straight behind you. Would anyone consider this a whole experience?

As Eckhart Tolle says in his wonderful book, The Power of Now, these linear paradigms are just illusions we’ve invented to help us deal with the incomprehensible reality of the infinite. 

If you're looking to the past, the future or a change
of scene for the secret of happiness, you're looking
in the wrong place. If fact, it makes no sense to be looking at all, because you already possess it; it’s already inside of you. It is part of you; you are part
of it.

This is why just being is such a powerful, articulate force. Notwithstanding its utter simplicity—or, perhaps, because of it—it is a most eloquent expression of a reality few of us are ready to grasp. That, outside of the present moment, nothing—literally, nothing—exists.

Even the most defining moments of your past exist only as you interpret and apply their lessons now. Even your fondest wish, your most compelling goal, exists only in the work you begin now to realize it.

Monday, January 15, 2024

ANGELS AMONG US – A New Year’s Tradition Takes Wing

For the past decade or so, Sally and I have spent every New Years Eve in Scandia with my brother, Dan, his wife, Ruth Ann, and two other couples we’ve gotten to know through them.

Of course, there’s always good food—Ruth Ann’s an excellent cook—and wine—Dan is a fine sommelier. And everyone contributes an appetizer, side or dessert. The setting is incredible; their beautiful home sits atop a bluff overlooking a stretch of the scenic St. Croix River.

All these people are, each in their own way, smart, funny, talented and kind, and we share many interests. So conversation and laughter come easily.

Nonetheless, every year Dan, a week or two beforehand, throws out a theme for that year’s celebration. Everyone’s to bring something creative, their own or borrowed, that somehow expresses that theme. A reading, a hand-made craft item, a work of art or musical piece, or a group activity.

New Year’s 2023’s theme was “Angels,” and, as usual, everyone responded with something thoughtful and expressive of who they are.

It was heartwarming seeing and hearing all the interpretations of “angels,” ranging from silly to solemn, plainspoken to poetic. Some were quite touching.

While most saw their angels manifest in other people or things that have happened to them, Sally’s offering, typically, turned that on its head: First she handed out halo garlands. Then, once they floated above our heads, she asked each of us to share an experience in which we had been the angel.

Some were reticent to pretend to that status. Still, I think everyone walked a little taller after being urged to claim it. I mentioned my hospice volunteering.

The influence of the angel theme didn’t stop there. For the rest of the evening it kept popping up in the conversation. There was even talk of folks showing up Sunday at church next Sunday wearing those fuzzy halos.

And I won't be surprised if the evening's effects extend well into the new year
for some of us—maybe in the form of resolutions. Twenty-twenty-four: year of
the halo?

(In case you might be interested, here’s what I shared as my take on “angels”):


Once, they hovered, haloed
Revealed by none less than God,
A bridge from divine to human.

I’ve not seen such angels,
Not that they don’t exist,
Just that I don’t believe they do.

The kind I like are real, and I’ve met a few:
People, animals, trees…even experiences
That showed me the way, saved my hide…or soul.

My angels are like my god; they’re everywhere.
In me, around me, beyond me,
They show up exactly when I need them.

As mortals, though, we miss more than we see.
For angels don’t just happen to us; they happen from us.
From love, from presence, from faith.

We discern what we expect.
So with angels, as with other wonders,
Believing is seeing.

And that same generosity of sight, belief and spirit
That allows us to see angels prompts us to be angels.