This post appeared first in the series, “Denim Spirit,” published weekly by The Finger Lakes Times (NY).
It is hard to stop. Hard to stop long enough for all the parts, movements, and voices to catch up and be heard.
I am an extrovert and we think out loud. The idea of stopping to let the internal dialogue catch up is daunting. From what I hear, introverts suffer the same malady just in different ways. Sometimes I close my eyes amidst all the yammering emanating from every electronic orifice, and these precious print outlets too, and imagine what might transpire if everyone – every one, everywhere – was silent. Whoa.
I am at the bottom of any recruitment list for the monastic life, truly. Yet it is not difficult to understand that yearning. Monasticism is found in every spiritual tradition, historically springing up in the context of urbanization when populations coagulate and religion condenses. The stories of earnest souls stomping off in frustration from all the noise and dithering go way back in human civilization. I couldn’t do it, but I ‘get’ it.
Everyone needs ‘a place.’ Even those who are steadfastly unreligious and scornful of religiosity and ritual, benefit from having a place away.
When I lived and worked in larger cities, I would seek out the chapel in hospitals where I visited members of the congregation. They were perfect places to be quiet. Neutral to me, and almost never occupied, I didn’t have to compete for time and space. I could stop at a chapel on my way in or out of the hospital, offer prayers for those I was visiting, and quietly sit. The familiarity of the ones I was able to visit frequently, streamlined the process. The place itself cupped me in its hands and allowed the listening to come faster and easier.
It is not magic. Those of us who are religious call them sacred spaces, but all that means is a place set apart for special purpose. Those that hunt and fish have such sacred places, so do runners, I am guessing. They are the spots we go to, and maybe for a completely unrelated purpose, but they are conducive to stopping and listening and allowing our lives to catch up with us and be heard. It happens just by going to such spots, and sometimes automatically.
There is a large boulder at the Abbey of the Genesee near Piffard, New York that I have only been to once. Nonetheless, I bet if I went there right now and sat down, all the noise and ruckus in my life would quickly be distilled. I sat there once for two hours, and then later wrote a poem about it; a poem I have been refining for seven years. A place can become sacred like that, even from a distance.
Whether living tight within a city or way out surrounded by forty acres of forest and field, all of us are urbanized. The loud, commercialized culture seeps up, in, and around us wherever we are. The noise penetrates the stoic quiet of nature and even the dark of the night. We can turn it off. Go to that place, disconnect every electronic tether attached to you, and listen.