Blissful In Seattle


 I decided to juice up a walk in downtown Seattle one Friday afternoon by coordinating my steps with a prayer mantra.

 That focus helped gradually to put me into something of a bliss state. In fact, it felt after a while that, I was no longer walking, but sort of gliding along. I felt ever so light and elevated, enjoying an integrated state of joy and delight. It was a great walk!

 I have come to realize that sometimes it does not take all that much to get into such a blissful state. Peace, I am suggesting, may be easier to attain than we sometimes think! The simple action of a brisk walk, while repeating a mantra, may be all it takes to find some equilibrium.

 Sometimes we may think that we need to get away somewhere. And that may well be. However, sometimes it’s easier than that. For as I discovered on the walk, I was able to create my own little spiritual retreat in the midst of thousands of harried shoppers.

 I had become blissful in Seattle. Simply by a shift of attention.

 Thus instead of walking restlessly, I walked with awareness, focusing on every step. I was therefore moving in a different way, and experiencing a better way of being with myself.

 And yet there was something else, besides the walk and the mantra, that enabled the bliss state. Which was that, prior to the walk, I had been reading the Irish poet, John O’Donohue, a bliss inducer, if ever there was one.

 O’Donohue quotes from Meister Eckhart who said: “Be silent and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about Him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God.”

 Eckhart is suggesting that when it comes to Divine matters, to cut out the yakety-yak! (Meister Eckhartquoted by O’Donohue, in Meister Eckhart, Selections of His Essential Writings.) 

 I believe I just may have witnessed this level of chattering and prattling. It’s when I have observed the sort of God-talk that sounds a little puffed up or immodest.

 It’s a kind of gassy or flatulent sounding talk, as when someone sounds just a little too sure about what he thinks he knows. He’s just a little too quick to answer, and less inclined to ask really good questions. He prattles on about easy certainties while claiming that no doubts or struggles remain for him. All questions have been resolved. No mystery remains. 

 Eckhart’s councel to those so inclined is to put a lid on it, and for the reason that, to go on chattering and prattling, is a form of self-deception and sin! 

 Instead of the yakety-yak, learn, Eckhart says, to be quiet. When you learn to be silent, you begin to move towards perfection and a state without sin.

 Surely, Eckhart’s implication is that the mark of a deeper and truer understanding involves a hesitation to speak and great humility before that Reality that we call God. After all, as many religious texts warn: ‘If you think you know, you most assuredly do not.’

 Now, elsewhere, O’Donohue writes about the difference between what he calls neon-light knowing and candlelight knowing. The first is artificial, the second, authentic. 

 Neon-lighting, since it isn’t natural, is what he calls a “severe and insistent light.” It isn't "gentle or reverent.” It "lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery.” 

 Thus there is a way of knowing and speaking that corresponds to neon lighting. It is, in O’Donohue's estimation, a way that is fake and false. (John O’Donohue, Anam CaraA Book of Celtic Wisdom, p.80) 

 But when a candle is lit in a dark room, another level of knowing, the authentic level, is facilitated. According to O’Donohue, candlelight is “the most respectful and appropriate form of light with which to approach the inner world. It has the “finesse and reverence appropriate to the mystery."

 In a candle-lit atmosphere, a deeper, truer, level of knowing arises. This is candelight knowing.  

 Eckhart makes another point that encourages a possible experience of bliss. O’Donohue states that "in contrast to many of his contemporaries, Eckhart had no recourse to the notion of a spiritual journey or path." Which is because Eckhart’s conviction was that "the Divine is not a distant goal toward which one must perennially labor like some haunted Sisyphus.” 

 The Divine is not far from us, said Eckhart: “There is nothing nearer to us than the Divine; we need only slip into rhythm with it.” 

 I don’t think I ever got a message quite like that while growing up in the Baptist church! I don’t recall hearing any talk whatsoever of “slipping into rhythm with the Divine in us."

 It was rather the oppressive teaching that God is out there somewhere watching and waiting for us to slip up in some way! It was most assuredly not that God is hoping that we will slip into  rhythm with Him! 

 I’m trying (and failing) to imagine any of the Baptist preachers I grew up with, thundering forth: 'You must slip into rhythm with God!’ No preacher in my experience came close to sounding like that! 

Well, Eckhart’s way is a different way of speaking of God and our relationship with Him. A way, in my experience, that is freeing and inspiring to the point that, after reading and then walking on that Friday afternoon in Seattle that, I entered another zone.

 Another of Eckhart’s lines served to enhance my experience on that afternoon: “In an age that has reduced identity to biography, Eckhart reminds us that identity is a more sublime and eternal presence.” 

 Eckhart is asking the question: 'Is your sense of self exclusively bound up and limited by this ever so brief, flesh-bound existence? Is there anything more to you than that, that is, your biography? Is your identity only your life experience? 

 Eckhart’s answer is to say that we all have a deeper identity that our biography, our life experience: “Identity is a more sublime and eternal presence.

 This is the realization that there is something in us, a presence more sublime and eternal, that is beyond biography. 

 O’Donohue is referencing "a dimension of soul that neither time nor flesh nor any created thing can touch." 

 Well, it is that dimension of soul that I entered and experienced while walking around in downtown Seattle on a Friday afternoon. 

 I have had the conviction for quite some time now that a greater tragedy than a premature death, would be the tragedy of living one’s life in a state of separation and distance from the blissful awareness of God who is, as Augustine says, (echoing Eckhart), closer to us than we are to ourselves

 This understanding, for me, meant bliss in Seattle on a Friday afternoon.