Friday, August 20, 2010

Cultivating Silence…

You ever get a song stuck in your head that, try as you might, won’t go away? Wait; let me rephrase that.

When was the last time a song got stuck in your head, and wouldn’t stop playing?! Because that’s happened to you- of that I’m certain. It could start innocently enough; you’re whistling while you work, enjoying the exercise. But eventually, the work’s done, and you move onto something else. The music, however, as if it has a mind of its own, isn’t ready to end. So regardless your next task, that song (and typically, it’s not even a song, but a short phrase of a chorus of a song, whose full lyrics you never bothered to remember) repeats itself over and over, an unwelcome soundtrack to your day, sonically pounding away at your sanity. Here’s a cure for that malady- scream the word, “AHHHHHH!”

Btw, that’s happening to you right now with, “Whistle While You Work,” isn’t it? You’re welcome.

Now while I might cause some eye raising with the forthcoming comparison, tell me if that experience doesn’t remind you of Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practice? No? Try this: I suspect you’ve heard of the classic Buddhist/Hindu meditation tool, ‘mantra’. If not, according to Wikipedia, mantra “is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that are considered capable of ‘creating transformation’”. What happens is a meditation practitioner, perhaps under the guidance of a teacher/swami/guru, will chose (or have chosen for her) a short phrase (mantra), which is spoken aloud or internally and repeated slowly for a specified amount of time. Sometimes, mantras are phrases common to many. Sometimes a person’s mantra is secret, known only to the student and his guide. Maybe the most identifiable mantra to Americans is one word, and isn’t just spoken repeatedly; it’s sung. Or rather chanted. The word is “Ohm,” which means “Peace,” although you might know it better as “Oooooohhhhhmmmmmm.”

And again, the goal is to produce transformation in the life and mind of the meditator. Of course, that doesn’t happen immediately. A person might use mantra for years until a desired effect manifests. But the belief is (and contemporary Neuroscience has been investigating this, with promising results so far) that practicing meditation will train a person to be more mindful of the stressors and opportunities in her life, and of the lives of those around her. It builds our capacity for compassion, like weight training for biceps. Especially if the chosen mantra reflects core religious values.

Now, I realize, mantra exercises and annoying songs in the head are different. But they’re related. Something contemplatives of all religions recognize is that cultivating mindfulness, by entering intentional periods of personal silence, provides a strong counterbalance to a culture saturated with noise and distraction. After all, if it’s not a song lyric distracting you, it’s your to-do-list, or your I-feel-bad-about-this list, or your I’m-scared-of-this-future list. The world bombards us all, in unique ways perhaps, but it’s constant and anxiety producing, and can make us all too self-focused all too often.

Which is another way regular worship can help us live better. Think about it…For Christians, the meditative act isn’t simply focused on a word or phrase. It’s an intentional encounter with the Word (Jesus Christ), and an infilling of the Holy Spirit. In solitude, I’ve found that mantra helps me do this (I use 1 Cor. 13:13; or the beginning of Psalm 46:10). But it works best when I balance personal meditation with communal worship. There’s something reinvigorating and affirming about joining a group in prayer, song, sermon and communion, i.e. focusing together on the Word. It’s like we use the power of each other to help shut out the world’s distractions, and reconnect with what’s most important. On our best days, I take that power home with me, and use it throughout the week.

But for it to work that way, worship must create meditative space, which can be tricky. Have you ever thought that worship has too many words?! I have. Sometimes, I’d like more balance between talk, music, talk, sing, talk, and silence. I wonder the long-term impact that might have on a church?

Grace and Peace,


No comments:

Post a Comment