Still watchful after all these years

Christian contemplative life holds dear a sense of watchfulness: there are Psalms and other scriptures that speak of watchmen on the walls, watchmen who wait for the morning, and so on (Psalm 130:6; Isaiah 21:11; Ezekiel 3:17, among many others), and the concept has its place in most traditions of Christian contemplative practice. This is not quite the same thing as Buddhist concepts of attention or concentration – there is a sense of waiting alertness, of “keeping watch” that I don’t read in most Buddhist texts.

Watchfulness, too, brings with it a sense of stillness, of poised attentiveness that reminds me of the old Zen tradition of asking, “What is this?” As Daishin Morgan says, “To ask, ‘What is this?’ can also be expressed as ‘just look’.”

To be still is grace; and inside that gift is gratitude. True stillness is nothing less, really, than open awareness: a place into which come sense data, the movements of the mind, traces of feeling, memory. The mirror remains unclouded. Stillness allows that to be seen, opens to light.

I am, as an aside perhaps, profoundly grateful to the emerging secular dharma. The knowledge that there is a growing community of practice that does not depend upon religious traditions, or on the acceptance of either dogma or the teacher/disciple relationship (however open it may be to learning from whatever source proves nourishing) is something I missed in my early dharma investigations in the 1970s. Growing up as I did outside of formal religion has left me much more comfortable outside of its traditions, whether Christian or  Buddhist. From here, where I am, I can simply ask the question “what is this?” without needing to look for an answer that fits.

Paying attention, keeping watch – the heart too is open in stillness, and that is a solitude, a place apart from which compassion can extend, for which I am increasingly grateful – more so as the long days of this springtime pass into early summer.

2 thoughts on “Still watchful after all these years

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