Updated: Apr 27, 2018
A rabbi was walking down the street when all of the sudden a man came running past. ‘Why are you in such a hurry?’ the rabbi called out. The man responded breathlessly, ‘I’m chasing my fortune.’ To which the rabbi replied, ‘Maybe your fortune is chasing you but can’t catch up.’
We are a lot like that running man - we strive and plan and run around, all the while neglecting the fortune present in very this moment. My talk this week shared some of the ways my fortune caught up with me on a recent 7-day silent retreat.
Ours is a non-stop society. We believe that increasing our productivity will increase our happiness. A century ago, there was concern that all the new labor-saving devices would precipitate a crisis of over-abundant leisure time. Instead, we followed our habit energies and simply expected more from ourselves. We lost our rhythmic connection to the natural world: to the growth of spring and the quiet of winter; to the activity of day and the rest of night; to the ever-present cycles of birth and death. Instead, we grew to see every moment as an opportunity to collect, gather, and gain.
Wisdom traditions all point toward the value of rest. For it is only within the space of rest that we see the truth. Rest gives us room to aspire to actions that create meaning in these few precious moments we’ve been given.
The retreat form in our Zen tradition recognizes that we often arrive exhausted and need to rest. So our retreats begin with spaciousness, giving us permission to stop our busyness and recharge through guided relaxations, free time, and lowered expectations.
When we’ve recharged, we then focus on calming our bodies and minds. Calmness creates space for neglected needs to arise and allows our bodies to let go of accumulated tension.
Within calmness, insight shows itself, shedding light on deeper truths invisible to the careening mind. Insight helps us find joy in a child’s smile, in life’s ungraspable preciousness, in the miracle of interbeing, in the place we occupy. Insight shows us how to live in an ever-deepening spiral of question followed by revelation followed by question. Insight invites us to clarify our aspirations and act with agency rather than habit.
We closed with Pablo Neruda's poem, ‘keeping quiet’:
now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still.
this one time upon the earth, let’s not speak any language, let’s stop for one second, and not move our arms so much.
it would be a delicious moment, without hurry, without locomotives, all of us would be together in a sudden uneasiness.
the fishermen in the cold sea would do no harm to the whales and the peasant gathering salt would look at his torn hands.
those who prepare green wars, wars of gas, wars of fire, victories without survivors, would put on clean clothing and would walk alongside their brothers in the shade, without doing a thing.
what i want shouldn’t be confused with final inactivity: life alone is what matters, i want nothing to do with death.
if we weren’t unanimous about keeping our lives so much in motion, if we could do nothing for once, perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness, this never understanding ourselves and threatening ourselves with death, perhaps the earth is teaching us when everything seems to be dead and then everything is alive.
now i will count to twelve and you keep quiet and i’ll go.