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“A center of stillness surrounded by silence” July 29, 2020

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“The more faithfully you listen to the voices within you, the better you will hear what is sounding inside.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Come into a comfortable seated position. You can sit on the floor, your bed, a chair, or a cushion. You can sit on a bench, a stool, or a rock. You can kneel on the floor, a cushion, or a prie-dieu. You can lie down if you must, but make sure you are in a comfortable and stable position, with your back long and your jaw and shoulders relaxed. Let one or both hands rest so that your belly can soften into your hands. Close your eyes, if that is comfortable to you, and do that 90-second thing.

Today, really pay attention to how the soft belly rises and falls and the breath enters and leaves your body. Today, notice the temporal nature of things – how, like your breath, everything begins and ends; changes. Notice how the inhale causes the exhale and how the exhale causes the inhale. Notice any suffering, discomfort, or dis-ease you may be experiencing; and note or name your mental, physical, and emotional experiences, but without commenting or creating a story around the experiences.

Just breathe, with awareness.

This is a specific kind of meditation, meditation that arouses mindfulness.

Vipassanā literally means “to see in a special way” and is often translated into English as “insight.” It is a meditation style/technique, within Theraveda Buddhism, that has also become a tradition (meaning there are people who practice vipassanā, but no other aspects of Buddhism). The original practice, which includes the practice of satipaţţhāna (which is often translated as the “foundation of mindfulness”) was popularized by Mahāsī Sayādaw, a Burmese Theraveda Buddhist monk born today in 1904.

Mahāsī Sayādaw became a novice at 12 years old, was ordained at age twenty, and earned his degree as a teacher of dhamma in 1941. Upon his ordination, he assumed the name Mahāsī Sayādaw U Sobhana. In his mid-30s, he began teaching the technique of vipassanā in his home village, which was named for a massive drum (known as Mahāsī). He was eventually asked, by the Prime Minister of Burma (in what is now Myanmar), to be a resident teacher in the capital and then to help establish meditation centers throughout Burma (Myanmar), Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand. By his late 60’s, Mahāsī Sayādaw had trained over 700,000 meditators and by his mid-70’s he was traveling to the West to lead meditation retreats. One of the places where he led retreats was the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), which is now one of the leading meditation centers in the United States.

“We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

One of the great things about practicing vipassanā is that you can practice it anywhere. (You can even practice it standing or walking, even thought I didn’t include those options at the beginning.) You can even practice at the United Nations Headquarters in “A Room of Quiet” that was established and designed by a team lead by Dag Hammerskjöld (b. 1905).

“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

Born today in Sweden, exactly a year after Mahāsī Sayādaw, Hammerskjöld was the second Secretary General of the United Nations and the youngest person to ever hold the position. His second term was cut short when he was killed in an airplane as he traveled to the Congo to broker peace during the Congo Crisis. President John F. Kennedy called him “the greatest statesman of our century” and, he was posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, he is the only person to be posthumously awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His journal, discovered after his death, was published as Värmärken (Markings, or Waymarks in English). The journal starts when Hammerskjöld was 20 years old and continues up until the month before his death.

Even though he thought the journalist who called him for a comment about his appointment to the UN was actually part of an April Fool’s joke, Hammerskjöld was pretty serious about peace. Peace on the inside and peace on the outside. That is why he was so dedicated the UN’s Meditation Room being “a room of quiet” for all, without the trappings or outward appearance of any particular faith, creed, or religious belief. He led an interfaith group of Christians, Jews, and Muslims who combined their physical and mental efforts as well as financial resources – and he was very hands on. He not only had a hand in the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the room, but also in the fact that there are benches instead of chairs. He even, quite literally, had a hand in the carpet that was laid on the floor and the color that was painted on the walls. He wrote in a letters and is quoted in interviews as saying that “This House” (which is how he referenced the UN) “should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.” He indicated that this silence and stillness was something everyone carried within them and that his aim was “to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.”

Go back to the beginning and do that 90-minute thing. This time, as you sit here and breathe here, noting your experience here, consider that all over the world there are people sitting and breathing, meditating and praying, opening to that same “center of stillness surrounded by silence” that you are opening to within yourself.

“The longest journey is the journey inwards.”

 

– quoted from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.

 

– Journalist Pauline Frederick quoting Dag Hammerskjöld (in an interview for the UN Oral History Collection dated June 20, 1986)

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a meditative yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

“Thou who art over us,

Thou who art one of us,

Thou who art –

Also within us,

May all see Thee – in me also,

May I prepare the way for Thee,

May I thank Thee for all that shall fall to my lot,

May I also not forget the needs of others,

Keep me in Thy love

As Thou wouldst that all should be kept in mine.

May everything in this my being be directed to Thy glory

And may I never despair.

For I am under Thy hand,

And in Thee is all power and goodness.

Give me a pure heart – that I may see Thee,

A humble heart – that I may hear Thee,

A heart of love – that I may serve Thee,

A heart of faith – that I may abide in Thee. Amen”

 

 

– prayer/meditation/poem from Markings by Dag Hammerskjöld

 

 

 

### PEACE IN, PEACE OUT ###

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