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A Vow of Silence

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Sometimes the first words of the day come out a little hoarse. This doesn't surprise anyone when you've just woken up and your vocal cords not yet limber. But it's odd when it happens after noon.

Cloistered all day in my apartment, often I don't speak until mid-afternoon. It's strange, because while I may have already been very busy online, socializing, messaging and emailing any number of people all day, I haven't actually vocalized. I may have listened to a couple of Youtube videos and heard a lot being said, but I haven't said a word all day. My mind has been chatting it up, but my voice hasn't yet woken up.

Mid-afternoon when, out for my short, but vigorous bicycle ride, driven by a need for human contact, I am apt to engage with people on the street, who are just minding their own business. I'll make some pithy comment as I roll by and/or actually stop and attempt to strike up a conversation with someone.

Recently, for example, riding slowly up a hill close to a school that was dismissing for the day, I spied a taciturn working man walking down alongside his little, uniformed, four year old daughter. They made quite a pair. "¿Primer dia de la escuela?" (First day of school?) I suggested. He lit up, smiled and proudly replied, "Si." "Felicidades," I congratulated him. There is only one very first day of school for each of us.

It didn't happen then, that first day of school, but every once in a while, in similar situations, my first words come croaking out, surprising me, if not my listener.

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Buddha's statement, "Everything changes," always puzzled me. What is the spiritual significance of it? Surely one does not need to be an enlightened master to realize that things don't stay the same. Even that little girl walking with her father home from school, understands that things aren't the way they used to be; now she goes to school

"Everything changes," I think, is an invitation to rejoin the whole, to be a part of everything and allow ourselves to change. Buddha, it seems to me, is recommending mental-emotional flexibility. The solution to (almost) all of our quandaries is to be able to look at whatever the problem is in a different way, to get a new perspective, to change our mind.

I am amazed at how much of what we take to be character can be understood in neurological terms, brain chemistry, hormones. There are many different parts of our brain, different dimensions of consciousness, and, depending on what is happening, more or less, we habitually fall into one or another of them.

We react defensively or aggressively. We pay too much attention to this and not enough to that. We reside for a while in one or another of these brain centers as opposed to using another. Sometimes, for some time, we get stuck. The point, it seems, is to be able to change your focus, to switch into another brain center.

Enlightenment I think is not some grand exalted state, at least not usually. Enlightenment when you are getting irritated or when you are unreasonably afraid or sad or hurried is to be able to adopt another perspective, even if only for a moment.

When you are eating too rapidly, putting down the fork, actually, making the decision to put down the fork, shifts your focus up from the reptilian brain stem to the human frontal cortex. I tell my patients, "Dropping the fork, even if you pick it right back up, breaks the trance."

August is the time of vacations: "Anyone with any sense had already left town," - Bob Dylan. My girlfriend, Veronica had been on vacation from her teaching position since the end of June. But it wasn't until the last weeks of August that she also took a break from working several days a week in the school's garden. When she did, early risings abolished, I started living up at her place. More attractive in most regards than my rather monastic domicile, for the last month it has been my home.

There was a lot of coming and going, a lot of beautiful day trips, to the hot springs and then to the school's campus, always lovely, but particularly so while we had it almost all to ourselves as Vero got her classrooms ready for action.

Still, as nice as it was to live with Veronica, in some ways I missed my solitude. Gone were the meditative mornings, the Zen-like simplicity of my open schedule, the long periods without saying anything. So, when school started last week and Veronica got back to her early schedule I came back to my humble abode.

Those of you who know my penchant to gab might not believe it, but I glory in this inner quiet. Some people take a vow a silence for a week-long Vipassana meditation retreat. Some do it for longer. Not so valiant, I'm back to keeping silent until mid-afternoon. A meditation all by itself, it's like being in another dimension. Certainly it's a different way of using the brain.

The trick is to access this quiet part of my brain when I'm out in the noisy world, when things don't seem to be going my way. Everything changes, hopefully also including my bad attitude.

Objectivism reduces our inner world to neurons and chemicals. I don't mean to do that. But, again, Buddha said, "The belief in personal identity is the first error of mind." In modern terms, we might say, "Don't take it personally." Don't identify too strongly with your negative experience.

When I am in the midst of some unpleasant moment, it helps for me to consider that the present "bad" feeling (also) has physiological roots. Becoming aware of that, like dropping the fork, puts me in a different frame of mind.

The church bells are chiming 5:00. It's time to clear my throat, to warm up my voice and go out for a ride.

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Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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