Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Silent Gateway

As a Quaker, I’m well acquainted with the silence of worship.

Not surprisingly, silence takes strange forms when we try to describe it, when we break our silence about it and use words to define its content.

We talk about the “depth” of silence. But why not the “height” of silence? Do we not transcend in the silence? Or, as Quakers say, do we “settle” into silence?

As someone who is hearing impaired, in the world of noise and speech, I’m at a clear disadvantage. But in silence, my “hearing” is as good as anyone’s.

Silence is the great equalizer.

I find that my “silent hearing” takes place at various levels. I try not to think of the levels as “up” or “down” although they do have a spiritual hierarchy.

The first level is “thought hearing.” The thoughts are similar to those that get me through the day except that they aren’t stimulated by my immediate surroundings. What I “hear” are reflections. Reflections on my life.

The next level is “feeling hearing.” That’s something akin to “getting in touch” with my feelings, or the feelings of others. The phrase links the sensation of touch/feeling with that of hearing. Clearly, when we get beyond words and thoughts, we begin to do more than “hear.” Indeed we are often “touched” by what we “hear” when we allow ourselves to feel. It might frighten us at first, but we should be open to being touched by what we hear/feel in the silence. It may move us to tears of sadness or joy.

Beyond feeling, is “being hearing.” It can be defined in terms of the opposite of the first two kinds of hearing. It is utterly free of both thoughts and feelings. Practitioners of Zen will recognize it immediately. It is the “hearing” of “is-ness.” It is all and nothing at the same time. And it, too, expands from the single sense of hearing. At this level our entire beings become one, all-encompassing sense organ.

I could stop there, because I know these levels and have, to a greater or lesser extent, experienced them.

But as I grow older and ponder what might lie beyond this existence, it seems to me there is a realm of “hearing” beyond thinking, feeling and being. For lack of a better word, let’s call it “non-being hearing.” Put that way, it seems to be simple “egoless-ness,” but I think (and feel and “be”) that it is more than that. It is all-encompassing. It beyond all and nothing. It is out of time and out of place. It is perceived by a “sense” beyond any senses that we know or conceive of.

Can we experience this last form of “hearing” while we are alive? Does it require the death of “being”? Can we experience that “death” while still alive?

I am certain there are those who believe they have had such an experience. It may have been drug induced. It may have been during a near-death episode. Or it may have been the result of a mystical experience.

Whatever or however it has happened — or will happen — its gateway is silence.

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