Once I agreed with Gertrude Stein that someone else had to hear the words if gratitude were to mean anything. I know I quoted Ms. Stein in a Thanksgiving talk given from the chancel at the UU church in San Francisco several years ago. In that talk I expressed appreciation to many in my life, human as well as four-legged and furry. To some extent I still concur with Gertrude Stein about gratitude out loud, and I now see how silent gratitude has its own worth and beauty.
Must be that meditation has altered my perspective. Indeed, silence has become an positive presence rather than an absence of sound. I have an adverse reaction if in any gathering a speaker says we will now pause for a moment of silence and snaps it off at 30 seconds. I feel short changed. I actively need silence.
This is a wish for stillness to cover more than the noise of the city – the cacophony of construction, the urgent high-pitched scream of police and fire vehicles. It’s also a desire for inner stillness rather than the noise the mind makes reliving the past, imagining the future, or solving problems. In some cases the mind’s noise can be the clamor of indecision and warring mental states.
A week ago Sunday I chose to skip the UU church service. I did not stay away to protest the return to the pulpit of the interim minister accused of misconduct. Rather I chose in favor of inner silence. I chose to avoid a familiar inner conflict. It’s a lot like the conflict I experience when approaching a car wreck pulled off to the side of the freeway. As I see the flashing warning lights ahead, I am torn between minding my own business out of respect for the pain and suffering of others and gawking to feed my curiosity. Often, gawking prevails.
Possibly gawking is no grave offense; certainly curiosity has merit, but conflicting arguments get set in motion as to the purposes served by investing in a disaster where I can't ameliorate suffering. In the case of the car wreck, the skillful response is to drive carefully and offer compassion. As for the church service, the skillful response is to cause no harm, to myself and to others.
Staying away from the service was in the spirit of choosing which wolf to feed as related in a Cherokee Legend wherein an old Grandfather tells his hurt and angry grandson the story of two wolves. He says to the boy that in the past he also felt a great hatred for those that had taken so much with no sorrow for what they did. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. He said he had struggled with those feelings many times.
“It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense is intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.” The boy asked, “Which one wins, Grandfather?” The Grandfather smiled and said, “The one I feed.”
I know that some UU congregants welcomed the return of this minister. They like him very much. For these people I am happy. For those pained by his appearance on the chancel, I feel compassion. But because I chose not to gawk, I avoided feeding the fierce wolf. Rather, I opted to feed the wolf who wants to live in harmony.
For choosing anew and making a good choice, for stilling familiar mental noise, I offer gratitude both silently and aloud.