just be it It’s about the work involved in establishing a dedicated practice to feelings of a bigger belonging through practices aimed at increasing feelings of compassion, gratitude and forgiveness

Meeting God Without Words

Published on 07/10/16
by randy

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My life study has been to examine how language impacts our life experience. In 1972 I had an amazing stoke of luck and timing. I was studying language and communication disorders at the University of Minnesota when Katagiri Roshi, Minnesota’s first Zen priest moved in two blocks from where we were living. I had been fascinated with comparative religious study and was eager to learn what this Japanese master could teach me. I had previously studied General Semantics and was taught about the arbitrary nature of words and the meanings we put to them. Basic tenets of this study were that the map (word) is not the territory. It recognized that ‘meaning is in the person’. There is no such thing as absolute meaning. The study of interpersonal communication taught me how active, persistent listening and unquenchable curiosity is the main tool for moving closer to consensus meaning. It’s characterized by questions like, “Tell me more”, “I’m not sure about what you said, did you say….?”, “Can you go deeper with that?”. There’s an open inquiry that takes place where we recognize the limitations of words, where we acknowledge that meaning is within each of us and if we really want to meet one another it’s going to take some real work. General Semantics and Zen clearly pointed out the pitfalls with our ‘semantic reactivity’. My ancestral religion, Lutheran, had stressed the power in humility and silence. The Psalm 46:10 states, “Be still and know that I am God”. I had found great peace and joy when sitting still without words. Katagiri Roshi taught me the practice of quieting the language (chatter) of the mind with instruction in zazen. It was a very precise practice that stressed the importance of posture and stillness of body to hold a still mind. He continually made small adjustments to my seated posture and instruction to holding attention to the breath. I found an amazing increase in vitality the more I did this practice. It was almost as if my attachment to the words in my head, the never ending thoughts running through my mind, drained my energy. The release of these thoughts settled my feelings and emotions down. The complaining and anxiety in my head passed by like clouds in the sky. He taught me to be firm and dedicated in my practice, just as my mentor in General Semantics had taught me to view this as a life long practice. They both spoke to the power in holding a ‘witness mind’, almost as if standing outside the concept of oneself just looking at the thoughts that come up.

At first I was taken with the amazing sense of peace and vitality found with this practice of ‘witnessing the language in my mind’ and letting it go. My work improved, time expanded and I accomplished more, and I seemed to be ‘doing my best’. It was working so well, yet what Katagiri Roshi called my ‘excusing mind’ kept coming up with reasons to stop a dedicated practice of stillness, of meeting God without words. We would sit in stillness most mornings at a very early hour. I had made a vow to hold to this practice and yet, my mind of dissatisfaction wanted to sleep longer. The practice of ‘stillness’ was not a natural skill. It became clear that the more I did it the better I got at identifying my wandering mind. I could more easily see how thoughts (language) bubbled up, how easily it was to attach to them and grow them, and eventually they carried me from the task of stillness in the moment. Katagiri Roshi explained how it’s impossible to stop thought completely through a sitting session. He suggested that we look at stillness like a ‘bounce’. With a quiet body and mind, we can meet God without thought/language, touch that moment free from our notions of time and space, and then find ourselves back in thought. This eased my frustration with whether or not I was ‘good’ at this practice. It was clear that it’s just human nature to have a restless mind that fills with desire for conditions to be different. I was learning the skill of witnessing this mind of dissatisfaction, seeing how I suffered to the extent I attached to my internal complaints, and observing the peace that came when I let these attachments go. I was still plagued with thoughts of ‘not having enough’ (greed) and ‘anxiety of the future’ (fear). The daily practice improved awareness to how these negative thoughts could throw me off balance. More importantly, those moments where I bounced into stillness gave me the most profound sense of belonging. This practice increased sensitivity to the impermanence of each moment and the illusion of my concept of separateness. Words can’t describe this and I can only use words to point to this ‘felt’ experience of ‘meeting God without words’. There was a sense of support, no matter what. The feeling of being ‘alone’ was gone. These experiences fed a confidence I hadn’t known before. Some have called this ‘grounding in the groundless’. Katagiri Roshi used the analogy of how we’d respond when the earthquake happens. With a deeper awareness to how the mind plays with us, with practice in meeting God without words, it was repeatedly shown how the less reactive mind produced less of a mess from my actions.

Today I get to share these practices with others looking for a more successful life. I’m careful to not call it meditation, yoga, prayer, mindfulness, or any other term that tends to trigger resistant semantic reactions. For me, it seems best to point out the value in giving our minds some relief from the never ending chatter that seems to cause so much suffering. We recognize the value in tension/relaxation in most life skill training. We deplete ourselves when forever holding a tense posture. We stretch ourselves, deepen, and grow stronger when we tense and then let go. That’s what this process is about. With an estimated 60,000 thoughts per day, well over 90% of them being repeat thoughts, we’re worn down. The results of dedicated practice/training in meeting the moment without words/thought are substantially documented as beneficial to the quality of one’s life. This practice of meeting God without words gives us the strength to meet the arising moment with solid grounding, knowing we’re supported and connected with one another in a deeper way. Better knowing our ‘center’ we’re more likely to hold our balance in facing what comes up. The more we can hold our balance, the less likely we are to hurt ourselves or another. The more aware we are to our thoughts (internal language) the more our ‘doing’ can align with our ‘being’. Breaking the illusions of our separateness, we become the action, we better meet each other’s joy and suffering as our own. We become more sensitive to the limits of language, grow our curiosity, and forever search for how we can steward this very gift of the next breath, family, community, nation, planet and future generations. The practice of ‘Be still’ grows the depth of our relationship in God, diminishes our complaint and feeds our sense of ‘great fullness’.

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