Yesterday I got a strong sense of why traditional Quaker preachers were so keen to suppress their own personalities.
I still think it was an error, from applying a crude theology to reality: the notion that we are a Christ spirit tangled within an unruly animal self--within a personal self that must be murdered to let Christ rule in us all alone.
But I had this responsibility to not blow it, to pass on the Transmission with the cleanest possible signal.
I'd just experienced a monumental communications failure, with a couple old friends I'd once treated badly, and was overwhelmed to be in touch with (via email) again. So that their email addresses are now closed to me; no "What did you mean by that, anyway?" Bad karma, clumsily parked, bleh!
There's this risk, precisely from being too good with words, that you'll forget that they can mean something else in someone else's ears.
Stephen Gaskin says--and you can test this on any long walk by yourself--that "We are all telepathic." You needn't experiment (although he did) by sending people messages and asking what did they get; you feel a connection when you meet a strange person and brush eyes with them! What we used to call "vibes". This, he says, is how we actually understand each other's words, rather than by painstakingly decoding the signal as we've been unsuccessfully trying to get computers to do.
But the mind of the hearer is bound to shape the message received, sometimes ruinously, as when I once overheard a conversation, quite clearly, and interpreted it in reference to something that had been on my own mind.
[Okay, I'm returning to this after a long absence, with another subject on my mind, oy vey & so it goes! Oh man! It's the same subject!]
There's this tension... between knowing that my very being (Your's too!) is God, and knowing that this particular person I happen to be, is a mess! Analogous to "The Kingdom of God is spread out upon the Earth, but men don't see it." The way we can inhabit a world rife with injustice and horror, and see God's hand at work in our own lives, wherever we pay attention!
Anyway [as I'd forgotten to say in my first draft], my Meeting had received an invitation to the Red Lotus Society's all-day Sit-a-Thon for Peace, to join local representatives of many meditation traditions by leading an hour of "Quaker meditation", and I'd taken the job.
I'd written up my own description of Meeting practice for non-Quakers, and the next morning, sparked by aha, added a page of quotes on the back: "Everything Is Quaker; Nothing Is Quaker." There was no problem finding quotes, either from Quakers or from adherents of other religions, quite clearly talking about the same insights and practices, differing largely in flavor. Not expecting a large crowd, I ran off 15.
Having an old friend here from out of town, Anne & I didn't go down to the place until their lunch hour, a few minutes before the woman from Thich Nhat Hanh's Deer Park Monastery was due to lead her hour of meditation.
I'd been to the Red Lotus place before, hoping to score a suitable place for street newspaper vendors to pick up copies etc. While that hadn't worked out, it had turned out to be a wonderful, badly needed sanctuary for meditation downtown. This time, we had to walk a fair distance (from another errand) and get a thorough look at the surrounding area, most notably the guy sitting on the sidewalk, yelling angrily that "There are two movies playing, both of them about me, and I can't even get anyone to give me money to go see them!" Ah, yes, it's all about me, for me too, unless I watch myself!
A lovely day. The Deer Park woman had some helpful things to try, and some I let pass, but it was a good hour. She stayed for my gig--She'd had some good experiences teaching weekends at Pendle Hill--and so did a whole bunch of other people.
A whole new set of unexpectancies... I'm sitting on a cozy little bench in front of a whole array of cushions, a few chairs to one side, no regulation uncomfortable folding chairs, nobody near me... How am I going to end this meeting? "Anne, would you come up here, please?" Ah! Much better!
Not enough handouts; oh well, I'd known I'd need to wing it out of the Silence. It felt right. & with my final words, this intensity of silence coming right at me! A few times, I was starting to shake--a message?--none! Just energy. If we did the Quaker thing like our local Buddhists do Buddhism, wow!
I felt "done" several minutes before our scheduled end. Good, I hadn't wanted the mc to have to interrupt us. I explained that I didn't have handouts for everyone, but that they could find out a lot by googling 'Quaker,' and I would leave these by the door. Anne started taking questions.
They sent us home with two huge flowering stems attached to beautiful little bags containing Buddhist rosaries, each with one of those little gadgets you sometimes see in Tibetan ceremonies. I had to ask Patty the Theosophist when we got home. Ah, yes, this was called a vajra, a 'thunderbolt'... symbolic of enlightenment! A good thing to take to Meeting with me, to leave awhile on that little table we won't call an 'altar,' where we've taken to leaving flowers, a Bible, a Faith and Practice. May all sentient beings be well-zapped!
Probably we won't be inundated with Buddhist converts. Too bad, we could use the energy!
Since then, I've been too taken up with personal tasks & distractions to write this up.
Okay, here we are again, returning to that subject of personal inadequacies. I have felt blocked, essentially fallow for a long time now. I've been overwhelmed, between things I wanted to do and things I think I should do and things I'm supposed to do--and generally I've reacted by burrowing into my computer and playing Civilization. Okay, I do terrible things in that game--but there are no sentient beings in there to suffer, and I've finally gotten past my indignation at software opponents and their innate perfidity. (I suspect this is where our political class has gained its notions of foreign policy; one just conquers whole cities of some alien nation, puts in a temple and a marketplace, and pretty soon everyone there is a happy, patriotic worker. Cheney, I know your secret now! What level do you play at?)
Seriously, I can see why early Friends would caution people about their amusements.
But aren't we supposed to enjoy life and its little pleasures? If not now, when?
But aren't we supposed to accomplish worthwhile things? How, in the midst of endless imaginary wars? Yes, it's sometimes helpful to have a mental fidget to focus on, while unconscious processes take care of business... but I did plenty of that back in my college days, when I learned that I shouldn't expect my Unconscious to do anything I wasn't willing to do myself. Besides, whole months have disappeared into Civilization Meditation, and I don't feel one bit more enlightened.
So, last night it was: "God, how can I resolve all this?" Oh well, the game was getting boring...
Do I have the Answer now, between harsh self-suppression and self-destructive indulgence? It's been less than a day, but yes, I think I do. It seems to revolve around that always recurring question: "What should I do now?" Breathe, pay attention.
"How should I sit? What practice am I supposed to follow in this?"
Breathe. Pay attention. It seems like a good idea, for now. And if that, too, begins to resemble stale habit? Begin again. Breathe. Pay attention. We're in good hands.