Quietude – a state of stillness; calmness, and quiet in a person or place
Really, quietude is not about noise or sound or silence. It’s not a drugged state either.
Some stories come to mind…
When I was a high school student and had difficulty falling asleep, I’d turn my clock radio on as I went to bed and listen to a baseball game. Within minutes I would fall asleep. The sound was a comfort. Fast forwards several decades, we are living with noise as comfort all the time. Music is played in stores and elevators, and gas stations, and waiting rooms, and dentist offices. Most people walk down the street wearing ear buds. It seems that, collectively, we feel the need to be surrounded by noise of some sort. There is even a TV commercial, I have no idea what product is being advertised, but a couple goes on a camping trip and can’t fall asleep because of the forest sounds. They play street sounds on their phone and instantly go to sleep. We have become used to being surrounded with noise.
Many years ago, I attended a silent Zen retreat. After the retreat, on the car trip home, I remember commenting that I thought the retreat was very noisy, lots of talking…that people weren’t keeping the form of silence. My car-mates totally disagreed. They felt it was a particularly silent retreat. This puzzled me. I slowly began to realize that the noise I was hearing wasn’t from other people. What I thought was talking was actually my mind. My mind was where the noise was coming from…thoughts, memories, judgments, plans. After the fact, I could see that the actual physical silence wasn’t a comfort for me. The noise that was making me so discomforted was in my mind!
Late last August I was in an accident walking my dog and broke the neck of my femur. It took a trip to an Immediate Care center and an ambulance to get me to one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the area. It was about 7:00 p.m. when I was finally transferred to a hospital bed. Every slight move of my leg brought excruciating pain. Laying perfectly still brought relief. Being perfectly still brought thoughts of deep breathing, remembering that I wasn’t my body, wishes for a miracle that the pain would go away and my leg immediately healed. The pain was like a grey cloud hovering around me.
Early next morning Liz and I met with the surgeon. He recommended putting three pins in the bone rather than a hip replacement. We agreed and I was scheduled for surgery at noon. Liz was able to come with me to the surgery prep area. I was hooked to the monitoring machines but had not yet been given any anesthetic. This is where I experienced quietude. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I waited I just wanted to be still. I told Liz not to ask me any questions. I just lay still. Liz watched the machine monitoring my vital signs…everything went down…breathing, blood pressure, and heart-rate. In remembering back, I knew I was in some spiritual place. I wasn’t afraid. I could hear the sounds in the room and hallway. I was aware and not aware. I was not trying to meditate or do deep breathing. I just went into a deep quietude…a place of no desire, a place of contentment.
It was not a place I willed myself into. It just was quietude. Quietude is ever present. I went there.
Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya
Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun
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