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The Silence of Being
By Martin LeFevre
Contributing Writer
Angelus Silesius (1624-1677) was a German Catholic priest and physician, known as a mystic and religious poet. Born and raised a Lutheran, he adopted the name Angelus (Latin for "angel" and the epithet Silesius ("Silesian") on converting to Catholicism in 1653.
Having had so-called mystical experiences since I was 18, and also being of a philosophical bent (though that word has a double meaning), I've come to understand mystical experiencing as a universal phenomenon that transcends belief systems.

Consider the following koan-like poem by the 17th century mystic Angelus Silesius. An early follower of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, Silesius became a Catholic when he found there was no home for his mystical experiencing in the breakaway religion of Lutheranism.

His poem, which speaks to me as a contemplative, and in a paradoxical way as philosopher, goes like this:

God, whose love and joy

are present everywhere,

can't come to visit you

unless you aren't there.

To someone who regularly experiences the truth of this little poem, it brings a wry smile, with no need for translation or interpretation. To most Western philosophers however, Silesius' koan is not a paradox to be pondered, but a nonsensical contradiction to be dismissed. Philosophy for me however, has been an endeavor to rationally explain phenomena that are not rationally derived.

I was raised in a highly traditional, ritualized Catholic Church, in a parish where the Mass, which we had to attend every day before school, was in Latin. As a boy, and altar boy, I accepted the manufactured mysteries of the Mass, and was, until the 8th grade, a conventionally conditioned Catholic.

Then one day I served Mass before school with a boy who, unbeknownst to me, was flirting with the girls as they lined up for communion on the other side of the priest. I held the golden plate under the chins of the boys in case a consecrated wafer fell, and he held it for the girls, some of whom he smiled at. (“Corpus Christi,” the priest repeated to each communicant. It literally means, Catholics believe, “the body of Christ.”)

Later that morning, as I walked down the hall with friend who looked like the fellow I served Mass with that morning, the terror of middle school, Sister Clemencia, came barreling towards us. Before I knew it she was slapping and beating the face and head of my friend, screaming something unintelligible about Mass that morning.

By the time I understood that she thought this was the boy I served with, and that he had committed the unpardonable sin of flirting with the girls during the holiest moment of the Mass, she had reduced my friend to a teary, red-faced mess.

Her violence was bad enough, but what she did next started me questioning the Catholicism I had heretofore accepted as true and good, and with it organized religion in general. When my entreaties — "Sister, this is not the boy I served Mass with this morning" — finally got through to her, she simply turned on her heels and walked away, without so much as a word, much less an apology.

It took a few years of questioning, observing and researching, but by my senior year I could no longer, in good conscience, go to church. So I came down one Sunday, when it was still a mortal sin to miss Mass, and announced to my conservative parents: “I'm not going to Mass today or ever again. I'm done with Catholicism and organized religion.” Needless to say they went ballistic, but I never looked back.

About six months later, there was an explosive 'mystical experience' that changed the course of my life.

I had taken to sitting alone in my parents' backyard, attentively watching nature, and myself in the mirror of nature. I began to notice that there was always an observer that seemed separate from what was being observed. I began to ask: What is this observer, which appears separate from what it is observing?

For some weeks I persisted with this question, without pressing to find an answer. I had never read anything about meditation, much less read any of the gurus from India that had begun to introduce Americans to Eastern spirituality. The feeling of nature, passive watchfulness, and the question about the observer arose completely from within me.

Then one day, as I was intently watching a robin bounce around on the grass, having forgotten my question about the observer that day, there was an explosion of insight. In retrospect it had clearly been percolating within me, and suddenly erupted in insight.

Beyond words I saw that the observer is a trick of thought, an ancient habit of psychological separation that keeps repeating itself generation after generation! The effect was like holding a mirror up to a mirror to the mind, and the mirrors falling away. Suddenly, for the first time, I saw things without the filter of thought, as words, images, conditioning and prior experience.

Instantly colors were very intense, and the robin intensely alive and beautiful. An impersonal sense of love permeated every living thing, and covered the Earth. There was a tremendous insight into the roots of human alienation from nature, an insight that has remained with me to this day, 50 years later.

The insight into the observer became the foundation of one's meditation, which is still the cornerstone of my day. There have been meditations over the years when one is so overwhelmed with beauty, silence and bliss that the body becomes frozen —what the ancient Greeks called 'aesthetic stasis.'

In the timeless state of silence and emptiness, something comes beyond words, something I hesitate to call ‘God’ — since that word implies a deity and God is not a deity. There’s simply a palpable sacredness and intelligence, which imbues all energy and matter. I don't know if it has anything to do with this dreadful world, but I know that I could not live in this awful society without regularly experiencing it.

I'm sure sacredness is there for everyone. All one has to do is question and passively observe the movement of the mind until the infinite regress of the observer suddenly ends. Then in the silence and emptiness of the mind-as- thought, when the ‘I’ is not, what we call God may come to visit one.

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Martin LeFevre, a contemplative, philosopher and writer in northern California, serves as a contributing writer for The Seoul Times. His "Meditations" explore and offer insights on spiritual, philosophical and political questions in the global society. LeFevre's philosophical thesis proposes a new theory of human nature. He welcomes dialogue.






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