Silence is one of the major thresholds in the world. . . . Meister Eckhart said that there is nothing in the world that resembles God so much as silence. Silence is a great friend of the soul; it unveils the riches of solitude. It is very difficult to reach that quality of inner silence. You must make a space for it so that it may begin to work for you. In a certain sense, you do not need the whole armory and vocabulary of therapies, psychologies, or spiritual programs. If you have a trust in and an expectation of your own solitude, everything that you need to know will be revealed to you. These are some wonderful lines from the French poet Rene Char: “Intensity is silent, its image is not. I love everything that dazzles me and then accentuates the darkness within me.” Here is an image of silence as the force that discloses hidden depth. Silence is the sister of the divine.
— John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
‘Carthusians mark time not by decades, years, or days,’ explains the writer Nancy Klein. ‘Their time is out of time, directed… by the tolling of the immense church bell… in measured instants of the Latin ‘now’: nunc, nunc, nunc. For the monk, there is no future and no past, merely a series of ‘nows’ (p. 215)
And now I find myself a world away in a basement too, with a window letting out on to mountains and the bells of a monastery nearby and the monks – if I could hear them – chanting their morning prayers. We make a circle of our life and never know it. We hardly pay time its due. The bells here are little different from those in Dharamsala, or the bells that hung from the necks of my goats. Each is a call to prayer, the tongue of the bell saying nunc, nunc, nunc. Does it matter the bell one chooses? (p. 227)
— Brad Kessler, Goat Song
The milkings continue to pleasure. Nobody leaps the line. Before it was a chore but now a meditation, the Hebrew Ameeda. Silence the most important part. During my morning milkings no one talks. The animals like their routine. They won’t tolerate noise or visitors or novelty. The only sounds a song or breath and the squirts of milk and the clank of the gate being closed. The calmer and more focused I become the clamer grow the goats. ‘What is important,’ wrote Basho, ‘is to keep mind high in the world of true understanding, then, returning to daily experience, seek therein the true and the beautiful.’
We live in exile, not from Paradise but from the present. How often do we dwell there? How often does a wind bring us back?
— Brad Kessler, Goat Song, p. 131
“Even modern replacements for priests, rabbis, and Zen masters – the positive psychologists – have something to say on this point. That new breed of shrinks has discovered that happy people spend a lot of time being grateful for what they have and savouring their experience. They don’t rush through ‘now’ to get to later. They don’t make taking care of themselves or taking care of their families something they have to get over with so they can get to the good stuff.
So while I’m humping my three heavy black bags down the hallway to the building’s trash bins, while I’m getting all the undone chores out of the way, what I can’t help thinking is that all this wasting somehow contradicts the very possibility of savouring my short life. Is it not implicit in wasting for the sake of convenience that what I’m doing right now, in this moment, has no value – that the life that produces such waste is itself being wasted?
So I wonder. Just a thought. But if I treated the resources that pass through my hands as though they were precious, might I also begin to feel that this very life – the one right under my feet right now and right this very moment – might be precious too?”
— Colin Beavan, No Impact Man, p.47
Cutting wood means losing yourself – the way you do in meditation… Zen monks long ago learned the meaning behind woodcutting. ‘I pump water, I cut wood. How wonderful!’ Their texts are full of such quotes: ‘When chopping wood, chop wood. When breathing, breath.’ My favourite is attributed to a particularly venerated sage: ‘Before enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, I chop wood and carry water.’
Perhaps we woodcutters are all students of the Catholic monk Saint Benedict of Nursia, who said, ‘to work is to pray.’ Cutting firewood, moving fluidly yet living inside the cave of the body, is a kinesthetic meditation. Every log holds the possibility of enlightenment – the moment the blade drives through, following the grain, splitting its linear universe. It’s the poetry of the everyday, the kind those monks preach; the ability to find the extraordinary in ordinary life – like a wolf on the hunt, at perfect attention to the world.
— Brian Brett, Trauma Farm, p.245
And so one of the worst illusions in the life of contemplation would be to try to find God by barricading yourself inside your own soul, shutting out all external reality by sheer concentration and will power, cutting yourself off from the world and others by stuffing yourself inside your own mind and closing the door like a turtle.
— Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 66