Vigils calls us to a loving listening. Because we have so much restlessness and noise in us, we find it hard to nurture a listening attitude. So even the very listening to chant begins cultivating that listening. It is an attentiveness that begins with our sense of hearing but leads much further and much deeper. Monks are encouraged to listen with their hearts so that in the end they may perceive “what eye has not seen, nor ear heard.” Rising well before dawn for Vigils allows monks to add a whole extra dimension to their day. Not a few men and women outside the monastic life have discovered that they, too, can bring the spirit of Vigils into their lives by setting aside a certain time and space for nothing but spiritual pursuit: meditation, prayer, silence, listening to music- whatever suits them. If we add a little time to the beginning of our day, even if it means getting up fifteen minutes earlier, this contemplative moment in the early morning can enrich our whole day. Without the contemplative dimension, the whole day can slip away into a mad chase, but those few minutes can give it meaning and joy. Once the bright light of day dawns and the demands of the day begin, it is easy to forget the sacred, timeless dimension of our lives. The angel of Vigils challenges us to carry through the rest of the day the mystery of a darkness that gives light; to carry it with wonder and joy, like a melody we cannot forget……David Steindl-Rast
this invitation to be with our life as a sacred act is profound in its small & subtle implications of becoming lost in something other than the daily self……what celebrates us in the deepest, primitive mystery? where can we be most alive?
Gradually, as our perspective deepens, we begin to experience our own lives in the context of a wider purpose. We begin to look at all our melodramas and our desires and our sufferings, and instead of seeing them as events happening within a lifetime bounded by birth and death, we begin experiencing them as part of a much vaster design. We begin to appreciate that there is a wider frame around our lives, within which our particular incarnation is happening.
I was on board the Taj Express train bound for Agra, with a stop at Mathura where I would get off. Traveling by train in India is full of rich lessons. The trains go slowly, express or not, and we moved at a prehistoric pace, the countryside creeping by, palm tree by palm tree, until I wanted to open the window and scream. But then something began to shift. Rather than resist the slowness and count the minutes, I told myself a little story. “This trip is going to go on forever,” I said inwardly. “This present moment will never end. I’ve been on this train my entire life, and will never, ever get off. Now what?”
Meditating on this story, I began to surrender into the rhythms and speed of the train, looking out the window at the passing images without the anger of moments before. My attention fixed upon a young woman in a field; she was wearing a colorful sari and walking along a path by herself, in one of those middle-of-nowhere places, a large clay jug balanced on her head, her undulating gait allowing her head to remain still as she moved. She was close enough for me to see her eyes, which were underlined with black kohl. She wore a pink hibiscus flower behind her ear and silver bracelets on both wrists.
To my eyes, she was like a Gauguin figure, caught in an action that would never end, her past and future filled in by imagination. As my train moved slowly, purposefully forward, covering the passengers with coal dust, the woman moved more slowly still along a path that extended in both directions, out of sight, seemingly without end. Although she was only in view for half a minute, her existence seemed to penetrate me, forming a profound impression. I was both attracted and repelled — attracted in the part of me that yearned to slow down, to move to the rhythms of earth and sky, the seasonal cycles of planting and harvest, the coming and going of generations; repelled in the part of me raised in the West, accustomed to material life and great stimulation. In that moment, I saw these two aspects in stark relief, and wondered which of these parts was actually “me.”
“Throughout the Orient the idea prevails that the ultimate ground of being transcends thought, imaging, and definition. It cannot be qualified. Hence to argue that God, Man, or Nature is good, just, merciful, or benign, is to fall short of the question. One could as appropriately—or inappropriately—have argued, evil, unjust, merciless, or malignant. All such anthropomorphic predications screen or mask the actual enigma, which is absolutely beyond rational consideration; and yet, according to this view, precisely that enigma is the ultimate ground of being of each and every one of us—and of all things.
“The supreme aim of Oriental mythology, consequently, is not to establish as substantial any of its divinities or associated rites, but to render by means of these an experience that goes beyond: of identity with that Being of beings which is both immanent and transcendent; yet neither is nor is not. Prayers and chants, images, temples, gods, sages, definitions, and cosmologies are but ferries to a shore of experience beyond the categories of thought, to be abandoned on arrival; for, as the Indian Kena Upanishad states: ‘to know is not to know, not to know is to know’; and the Chinese Tao Te Ching: ‘Those who know are still.
“’Thou art that,” declares the Vedic sage; and the Japanese: ‘It is your true self.'”
“‘O thou,’ states a basic Buddhis text, ‘who art gone, who art gone, who art gone to the yonder shore, who at the yonder shore hast disembarked: Enlightenment! Hail!'”