Shhhh . . . Start Talking

I used to think I had a whole lot to say.  A friend joked that I must have had a daily word quota.  I was, well, verbose.  Teaching seemed a perfect fit for me with all that strutting and crowing  I was able to do at the front of a classroom.

Perhaps the most obvious change I’ve noticed in myself as I’ve gotten older is the attraction that silence holds for me.  Some who know me might contend I can still hit my quota now and then, but generally speaking, I prefer listening or even the absence of that – just being.

I find that I’m not as certain of what I think these days. That will quiet a person down. The impassioned, assertive, and sometimes obnoxious speechifying of my youth seems somehow . . . dangerous . . . scary . . . unnecessary.  It has been said that wisdom begins at the place where you realize how little you know.  Well, I must be getting wiser, because some days I don’t know my ass from my elbow.

I also no longer feel compelled to engage in the energy drain — oh, god, the energy drain — that comes from the dogmatic pedantry of head-driven conversation.  Some days even the very lectures I’m paid to give my students leave me with, at best, a feeling of exhausted detachment, and at worst, a particular sort of soul weariness caused by over-analysis or maybe just by the verbalization itself.  It’s as if the thoughts are creatures of mayhem made immensely more powerful in the act of speaking them into existence.

As mayhemly powerful as my spoken words might be, however, I have learned they are but cowering and skittering field mice when compared to the elephantine magic of my silent intention.  More is accomplished through my silence than I can ever wrangle into being through circumlocution.  Some problems actually solve themselves without me controlling them.  Who knew?

I still love words.  I still love teaching and speaking and writing.  But, the silence speaks, too.  In fact, silence, it would appear, actually has a few things it would like to get off its chest.

The words that spring forth from the place of stillness are words that contain the essence of silence even in their audible form.   They come from a completely different place, and they have a completely different impact.  Those are the messages that energize me when I allow them to come through.  I also believe those who hear them are somehow enriched or at least a little more aware of being alive, and they may not even know why.  I’m sure I don’t know why.  I just know that the message is somehow less important than the place from whence it sprang.  And the words that are born in silence have so, so much more to say than I could pack into a thousand days.

Moore on the Buddha

So, my friend Blanche got me one of those Page-A-Day calendars with zen sayings.  It’s becoming a holiday tradition, actually, since she got me one last year too.   It’s kind of like my spiritual Red Bull.  Every morning I sit down at my desk and rip off yesterday to find the wisdom of today.   This morning’s saying, however,  was more like caffeine-free Diet-Rite.

From the end of the nose

Of the Buddha on the moor

Hang icicles.


Okay, does anybody else read that and have to fight the desire to respond, “And the dog barks at midnight”?

So I sat here and glared at that all day long.  It was in my peripheral vision as I worked and periodically I stopped and looked at it like it was a child tugging on my sleeve and begging for my attention.  “WHAT do you WANT?”

And, you know, the more I looked at it, the more it started to make sense.  I’m still not sure how it made sense or why, but it just did.  Maybe that’s the essence of zen.

Possible interpretations of today’s zen-on-a-rope:

The Buddha meditates in any environment, even a cold one that will make icicles on his nose.

The Buddha is not immune to nature, even in meditation.

The Buddha has a cold, but will not blow his nose during meditation and thus has icicles, or snot-cicles as it may be.

Perhaps I was subconsciously drawn to the saying throughout the day because it contained the origin of my name – moor.   My family name is of Scottish descent and comes from the moors, or rocky cliffs, on the shores of Scotland.   In fact, that word stuck out to me because it seemed so non-Buddha and far more Maxwell McCormack to me.

And the word drew me back and drew me back, again and again.   It drew me back to the same spot over and over until I saw that there are icicles on the Buddha because the Buddha is still.  And I hadn’t been in so long.  And I needed it desperately.

There is another saying from the above-mentioned calendar:  “Life without zazen is like winding your clock without setting it.  It runs perfectly well, but it doesn’t tell time.” (Shunryu Suzuki)  Zazen is the place of stillness sought in meditation.

Shhhhhhh. . .