I have always been an optimist. I grew up watching proofs of positive thinking unfold before me. I was never prone to depression no matter how dire the circumstances. But in the early morning of May 10, 2016, when the presidency was leaning towards a candidate I vehemently campaigned against, I could feel my world caving in and my deepest fears brought up to the surface.
For the next couple of months, I was engulfed in that darkness and every day I descended upon a strange path of depression. It was when I acknowledged what was happening that I willed myself to climb out of it. I looked for ways to distract myself and that’s when I found meditation. At about this time, I re-encountered Wendell Berry’s poem The Peace of Wild Things which goes:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I hastened to retrieve myself from the dark abyss of despair and looked for information online on how to begin. I started meditating every day for ten minutes and the silence that it afforded held me by the hand and gently led me out of that gloomy episode. But it was an un-guided meditation and I thirsted for more.
Six months later, I met someone who would introduce me to a sangha, a Zen meditation community. I signed up and started going every week for a full 75-minute zazen (sitting meditation).
Before this, I only did 10 minutes at a time and at first, I doubted myself if I could last that long. Surprisingly, it was not at all difficult. In fact, it was like coming home to a long-lost space. I have forgotten how I’ve longed for it, on top of my responsibilities as a mother, wife, an entrepreneur I realized I have zipped by life without having truly lived.
Zen meditation showed me what I have been missing to live a meaningful, purposeful, and yes, authentic life. Immersing ourselves in the present moment as it happens, feeling all and everything as it passes, and cherishing the people we encounter every minute of every day. There’s a treasure trove of truths buried inside of us and sitting in silence, journeying inwardly, and encountering our true nature help us find our courage, our compassion, our kindness, our loving selves.
There’s a phrase: “Seize the day!” But Zen meditation showed me how to seize the moment. Observing our breath as it happens brings us to a level of true consciousness. The longer I sat, the more precious every session becomes. Here, you find what’s always been true and you are gifted with hundreds of insights that are helpful with everyday existence.
Silence brings you a core of knowingness, of a powerful gut-feel, of bravery to face your demons and fears, even regrets. Every sitting meditation session provides you a space to peel away layers upon layers of your false pretenses and masks. Like a bulb of onion, every peeling away bring tears, every painful truth stabs at the heart but then you survive and you emerge stronger, more truthful, more compassionate. You realize your un-separateness to a president who loves to kill and curse, to a woman in Somalia who is dying of thirst, of a middle-aged man drowning his brokenness with alcohol, of a girl who dreams of success and fame, or of the teen-aged boy finding his sexuality. It even brings in camaraderie with my dog, my potted rose bushes and my favorite chair.
Silence brings everything and everyone in the surface, asking you to acknowledge them and that you are not different, not separate, not apart. It is when we face each one that we are further gifted with a higher insight, a pure knowing, and a heart that’s more open.
Silence transcended my obscure thoughts into the light, tempered my radicalism, calmed down the fire in my belly, suffused my soul with delight, joy, and gratitude. I learned how to look not with my eyes but with my heart, to listen not with my ears but with my soul, to touch not with my hands but with loving kindness thoughts.
Silence is a gift that is waiting around for us when we are ready to face ourselves and reconnect with our true nature. Once it happens, there is no going back. Life becomes a momentary delight where words are no longer necessary.
As my favorite author declares: “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation. –Haruki Murakami