Saturday of Lent – Week 2


John the Solitary (the same one) said the next level of silence is that of the whole body. This kind of silence is experienced firstly through physical stillness. The initial instruction about meditation tells us to sit down, back upright, comfortable and alert – and to sit still.

In some traditions the initial stages of meditation can be excruciatingly painful as you are required to endure a physically demanding cross-legged posture. Maybe, in some cultures, that helps but most find it unnecessarily distracting. Better to combine comfort and alertness from the beginning. That will allow you to come to a physical stillness more easily and with less distraction. The self-posturing ego likes to play games. At first you may have a rush of self-consciousness, either feeling rather smart about looking like a meditator or feeling embarrassed and silly. They are just more thoughts to let go of.

Before many microseconds have passed, however, you will feel like scratching or start twitching, or – a favourite escape from stillness – clear your throat. This announces to yourself and others that you are still on earth and still the same old you. Mental distraction manifests in physical twitching or sound-making. But physical stillness shows the mind that it too can and should become still. Stillness makes us more bodily aware and more at home in our bodies. Whether you are a fanatical gym-person or a couch-potato your meditation will have a beneficial incarnational effect. The relationship between body and mind will become more friendly.

John Main said that the self-restraint involved in physical stillness might be our first step in transcending desire. Want to scratch your left ear? Nice relief. But in a few seconds it’s your right ear demanding attention. Feel like clearing your throat? Do you really need to? Working up to a lovely big sneeze? Encourage it or let it go? In such small decisions the path of enlightenment and the cosmic mystery itself may stand revealed.

Stillness (silence of the whole body) is as important when you meditate alone or with others. Communal meditation brings the useful dimension of altruism into play. With others round you, the more physically silent you are the more you help others in their work of silence and the more the silence itself becomes communal. It is shared and therefore becomes a powerful energy in developing community. Making noise during meditation is individualistic, suggesting a lower level of awareness. The experience of silence in the group meditating will in turn strengthen you and your discipline when you meditate on your own.

I once spoke about this physical silence to a large group and during the meditation a poor woman almost exploded after struggling to suppress a cough shocking me and everyone else. Fortunately she survived and subsequently I have linked this important element of meditation to the universal virtue of discretion.

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