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Sitting in Silence for our Childrens Children

June, 2011

Ice melting in the Arctic, climatic changes throughout the planet, many of us are concerned about the environment that our children's children will inherit from our decisions and actions today.

My larger concern is the "mind field" that we will bequeath to future generations. What do I mean by mind field? When one practices meditation and enters into certain expanded states of consciousness, the reality that our minds are interconnected becomes obvious and clear. Whether called consciousness, the collective unconscious or the Divine, the fact that we live simultaneously as autonomous individuals and in a state of inter-being becomes both verifiable and undeniable.

Even without these "altered states", when one experiences the kindness of strangers and the spontaneous blessings that are constantly shared throughout the planet, we can also know this sense of interconnection. My recent writings about the Unborn Mind points toward this shared inheritance. To paraphrase Zen Master Bankei, "the greatest gift we receive from our parents is the Unborn Mind". The Unborn is our access to and membership in the shared, collective consciousness out of which everything we experience arises.

Imagine this moment, each thought and each feeling, every creative impulse, arises from the Unborn, also known as silence. When Zen masters speak of "emptiness" they are pointing toward the infinite potential of the next moment, which arises from this vast field of silence.

Remember the old Zen story of the philosophy professor who visits the master and can't stop talking. The master pours him a cup of tea and does not stop pouring even as it spills all over the table. The startled professor finally notices and says, "what are you doing, the cup is already full". The master says "you say you want to learn about living and dying yet your cup is so full there is no room for anything new".

The challenge is to allow enough empty space for the creative potential of the new moment. On one level we can say there is nothing to be concerned about. New moments are always arising and creativity lives deeply in our lifeblood. We will always have creative potential. Yet, I do worry deeply about the loss of two essential, overlapping capacities- the appreciation of silence and our tolerance for boredom.

To sit in silence, refraining from the usual means of self-entertainment: computers, TV, smart phones, reading etc. is uncomfortable for most of us. To be at home in our own thoughts, feelings and sensations, without creating distractions is rare. I believe this "wasting time" is very important for our health and creative potential. As Hafiz said, "Everything is God speaking, why not be polite and listen". To listen means to empty your cup, allow enough space for something unexpected to emerge, to become permeable to the moment.

For me, just sitting quietly is the most nourishing gift to and from my inner world. How might this also be a gift to the larger world? First, there seems to be an alteration in the brains of people who sit consistently that seems to influence the field around you. We can say that you radiate certain qualities. People feel more at ease in your presence. There is something calming about you. Second, you are less quick to react in habitual ways. Though you can respond effectively with speed when needed, the unconscious patterns of reactivity seem to have more insulation around them. Your less skillful reactions and comments can be more readily inhibited. This generates more peace in your universe. Third, as you spend time with other people who are practicing silence, you notice a shared depth that allows a more authentic sense of self to emerge. Fourth, as anyone visiting a meditation room can attest, the space itself is influenced by the silent practice. As many say, it is as if the walls themselves are meditating.

We all hate boredom. When my father would come home to an empty apartment he would turn on two TV's and a radio just to have some "company". Most of us can relate to this impulse. Filling up the empty spaces protects us from all those feelings we would rather not experience. What is the price for this "filling up"? Does the temporary calming actually sustain a kind of omnipresent, low level anxiety?

Over the last 35 years as a Feldenkrais teacher I have observed a startling change in the children that I see. The level of inner agitation when in a quiet setting seems greatly elevated. I remember kids in the early days coming to my office happy to play with a little stuffed animal, a ball or one of the favorites, the plastic jack-in-the-box. Now, I notice an uneasiness, a dis-ease, that is somewhat ameliorated only when engaged with the flashes, beeps and bells of their favorite electronic toy. As neurological research is showing, our brains can be conditioned to a dependence on the "rewarding" sounds and fast, bright images that accompany all the games that they love to play. The pleasure centers in our brains actually become addicted to these stimuli. As adults we can notice the same thing, that little inner tickle that comes when a new email message arrives and the urge to immediately find out who it is from. Fully formed brains have far greater capacity for regulating these phenomena, our children's brains are so innocent and vulnerable, sponges for the stimuli they are offered. Certain school environments such as Waldorf Schools take this very seriously and strongly discourage these kinds of stimuli for young children.

Tolerating more moments of "boredom" often can create something unexpected. If one meditates regularly or finds other ways to explore "not doing", emerging from that open space are experiences that often seem very deep, whole and authentic. By becoming available to unscripted, unfilled moments, we can be surprised by a sometimes blissful, often illuminating present. Said another way, we become permeable to the constant blessings and offerings emanating from the Universe.

Without going into the whole sociological debate about technology (I am writing on a computer, I value my many emails each day and can relish electronic media; I am not suggesting an attempt at retro-living), I want to stand up for the great blessing of silence and boredom. In fact, I will go even further, suggesting that as more people learn to sit in silence, we will influence the mind field for future generations. I suggest that the capacity for being at home in the mystery of Being requires a willingness to take time each day turning off the various forms of entertainment and just Being with one's living moment. If humanity loses this great capacity, we will simultaneously surrender our creative potential and our capacity for true freedom.

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