I make a living speaking and writing about silence. Isn’t that hilarious? But the mystical path is all about paradox. The emptiness that is plenitude. The fire that is elixir. The longing that is the remedy for longing. Mystics are not interested in logical arguments to prove the existence of divine reality. They want direct experience of divine reality. They do not pay much attention to questions of morality. They want to be consumed with love. The mystic is the person who is inexorably drawn to the Great Mystery. The person who wants to drown in that Mystery, to allow her small self to burn up like a moth in the flame that is the Divine Beloved, and become one with the source of all love.
How do you speak about that? How do you write about that which transcends all language, all concepts? Words are merely the finger pointing at the moon. If the words are true and beautiful enough, listeners will look up and behold the glory with their own eyes.
This is the power of sacred poetry. It uses language to carry us to the vast space between the words. It is in the silence that we are able to hear the voice of the Holy One whispering our name, with urgent tenderness. It is in the stillness that the mud in the glass of our busy minds begins to settle and the water of our true consciousness grows clear. Try reading spiritual poets like Rumi, Basho, Rilke, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Antonio Machado, T.S. Elliot, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield. Let the words take you to the holy silence.
The other technique for cultivating a still mind and a quiet heart is meditation. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Try simply noticing your breath as you inhale and exhale, reminding yourself that you have nowhere else to go and nothing more to do than show up for this conscious act. Do not judge yourself if your mind refuses to cooperate and rushes around doing what the mind is conditioned to do: think thoughts. With practice, the very act of sitting still and breathing with intention will begin to convince your mind that there is nothing dangerous happening here, and it will start to settle.
Finally, remember that experiences of profound sorrow can become opportunities for transformation. When the foundation of our world is shattered through significant loss, an unexpected spaciousness may open in our hearts, giving us a capacity for love and compassion that we never dreamed possible. Talk about a direct experience of the Mystery! Suffering catapults us beyond our comfort zone, casts our ordered lives into chaos, and plunges us into a place of radical unknowing. If we can gently surrender within this loss of control, we may find a sweet stillness and peace just beyond our flailing and protesting. This is the delicate dance the mystics speak of. This is the grace that enlivens us.