Friday, November 25, 2011

There be dogs

There’s a house on my regular walking route with a chain-link fence that contains several dogs whose sole purpose in life seems to be to alert the world to the existence of any passersby. I have long since given up being annoyed at them. They’re just dogs, after all.

Their owner, on the other hand, I find to be unbearably annoying. An otherwise nice old lady, albeit a bit eccentric with her dozen animals and cluttered yard and eagerness to chat your ear off about as much as you’re willing to listen to, she has a frustrating impression that she can get her dogs to stop barking by yelling at them. Were this true, I might not mind so much. Yet as it is, with her dogs to alert her of my presence, she comes running to the sidewalk to chat with me whenever I pass by, yelling at her dogs to shut up every couple seconds while she has me stuck there, even telling me to wait there while she goes to the fence to yell at them from at a closer distance. The dogs, of course, never respond.

There be dogs inside my head, as impossible to silence as these lady’s backyard barkers. I never noticed how incessant they are until a friend started a weekly contemplative prayer group in one of the chapels on campus.

“This is not a time to articulate prayers or come to deeper understandings,” he explained. “The monastic tradition holds that God is beyond understanding, and we find him past ‘the cloud of unknowing.’ This is a time to learn the posture of waiting before him, listening, receiving.”

As an academic who spends my day accumulating and interpreting information, I find silence to be a harder a discipline than any I have tried.

“Inevitably, you’ll find yourself thinking,” my friend went on. “Don’t be upset at yourself for doing so; just gently push the thoughts away and return to silence. Sometimes it helps to have a particular word like ‘love’ or ‘Jesus’ to say to push the thoughts away, but don’t meditate on those words; try to quiet yourself before the Lord.”

In these weekly gatherings, I find my attempts to silence my mind to be about as fruitless as the lady’s attempts to silence her dogs, my silencing words about as ineffective as her yells.

The contemplatives call us to let “your thought of self be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.” My mind is fragmented and scattered indeed, but there is a longing in me to be whole, to be unfragmented, to be listening, to be in his presence without the constraints of my own understanding. One day, I might learn to be silent long enough to begin that journey.

1 comment:

Christian H said...

Buddhist meditators call this monkey-mind. I have found this an evocative term.