'A Sunday Morning Walk... Deerfield, MA'
Let me begin anew, as a child
at its mother's breast,
who basks in love.
*Nan C. Merril. Psalms for Praying. Psalm 70.
By an unescapable spiritual gravitation the best things in the universe belong to open-hearted, open-windowed souls.
*Rufus Matthew Jones. The Inner Life.
* * *
Naive... Latin, nativus, "born, innate, natural."
* * *
The late Zen teacher Robert Aitken, in Encouraging Words, writes of one's approach to zazen, or sitting meditation: "Someone asked me, 'What attitude should I hold in zazen?' I replied, 'a naive attitude.'"
Reading Aitken's anecdote, I was surprised by his speaking of entering the Silence with a naive attitude. Usually, naivety is used in a non-complimentary way. "Oh! he is so naive," meaning, "He is stupid" or "gullible" or "mindless." Yet, what if Aitken means what the origin of the word "naive" implies; hence, entering the Silence, we enter with a native attitude. In this sense, the attitude is of the Eternal, undivided and unsullied, free of past and present and future, but not excluding these constructions of time - for the Eternal is the Mother of time.
* * *
In spirituality, there has been the usage of "second naivete," which is a return to our first innocence. In the Hebrew Bible, Bereshith (Genesis) 2-3, the myth of the Garden of Eden portrays the loss of innocence - our nativity. After Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden tree, they realize their nakedness and cover their genitals with leaves. They hide from Elohim - God, the Creator -, when Elohim comes to walk with them in the evening coolness, as was the daily custom. Hence, shame and guilt have entered the good creation. With this change comes a fear of their beloved Maker, with whom they had been on friendly, even casual, terms. This Edenic innocence is analogous to what Aitken means by naivete - approach Silence in the first innocence.
Reflecting more on Aitken's words, the recollection of words of Jesus appeared. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew 18.1-5 (NRSV), says -
At that time the disciples [students] came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [or, the heavens, skies]?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change [literally, turn, turn back] and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
* * *
Hence, becoming childlike is the resultant of a turning. From what? To what? We turn from shame, guilt, and alienation; we turn to our natural selves. What is natural is born, the accrections to the born are added to the born. We begin becoming our natural selves. We have to be uneducated from much we have learned about what is natural, for what the masses see as right-side-up is often wrong-side-down. Even much of what we learned in our religion may be wrong-side-down.
This transformation links with Jesus' teaching, in the Gospel of John, that we must be born again, or from above, to enter the reign of the heavens. This does not mean anyone is keeping us out of the Life, only that a refusal to return to the second naivete itself excludes us; hence, refusing to turn, we exclude ourselves. How can the Light shine upon us, if we refuse to turn to the Light?
Jesus joins this turning and innocence with powerlessness, for the child he placed before his students, as children in the culture, had no legal rights and was not deemed a full member of society. So, Jesus is indirectly referring to the naivete, a pure beingness having nothing to do with social standing or how others view us.
The entire Way is relearning this innocence, this delight - Eden means "delight." We may fear the powerlessness, yet in that same condition, we discover Life - not a sequence of moments, but the Life free of time altogether. Innocence is not of time; hence, one experiences the bliss of communion with the birthless and deathless. We have no name for this Truth - but we name it... the Light, God, Mother, Father, Love, Great Spirit, ... Yet, in the native posture, the most revered words sink back into the primal, undivided naivete - Silence silences words.
This naivete relates to the dropping of prejudice-of-mind in the Silence. The late Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi coined the English "beginner's mind," though he borrowed the thought from Dogen Zenji, founder of Soto Zen. Suzuki Roshi says, in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, "If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few." So, when in the Silence, we do not suppress thought, but we allow the mind to be emptied, which means fresh and ready, open. Entering the Silence, we return to innocence and, through time, live more this purity outside our set aside times.
* * *
The late Trappist contemplative Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude, writes of silence filled with ourselves and silence filled with awareness of God. He writes, "Both pride and humility seek interior silence. Pride, by a forced immobility, seeks to imitate the silence of God. But the silence of God is the perfection of Pure Life and the silence of pride is the silence of death." Silence as only a void is deathly, and we can try to force this emptiness of mind through sheer effort. Silence filled with Life, which is received by openness to the Light, is life-giving. The emptiness of God-aware silence is our original innocence, even without any idea of God. While many images of the Divine arise from the Silence, Silence Itself is without any idea of anything. For all things coinhere in the Silence as Potentiality. In fact, clinging to a God-image, so equating formless Presence with a form, easily can bar us from the naivety of our first, unborn selves as spirit in Spirit.
Hence, as Suzuki Roshi taught, this beginner's mind is not an absolute absence, as when persons try to suppress thought, but an absence of preconceptions - this is a fertile void, not a mere vacuity. Silence disrobes us of prejudices and preconceptions about Reality. The mind becomes pure. Then, we can listen inwardly - not meaning trying to hear something, but remaining in a mode of receptivity. Hence, we can say, in the quiet of the Inner Sanctum, as did the young prophet Samuel, who had never heard the Voice, and after first mistaking the Voice for the priest Eli, "Speak Adonai [Lord], your servant is listening." So, as the Psalmist sang, "Rest in Adonai [Lord], patiently wait for Adonai" (Psalm 37.7), we can rest.
In not trying to hear, one listens with no thought of listening to anyone or anything. This listening is a quiet receptivity, a fresh openness. In the absence of words, the Word arises and often takes on flesh (See Gospel of John 1.14) - the sound of breathing, birds chirping, raindrops falling, someone sneezing, or a feeling of simple, consoling presence seems to encircle one in Love. In the naivete we have spoken of, we find a sense wherein we cannot separate Spirit from the bodily sensations of love, joy, and peace. In the Silence, all creatures, of any form, seen or unseen, become hallowed, for they already are in and of the Light.
* * *
Here, in the Silence, to listen to any creature, even something like a car passing by on a highway or the dripping of a faucet, can be experienced as listening to the Light. This broad receptivity is possible, for, in the first naivete, we do not divide the Formless and form; instead, form is the sacramental means of the ever-unspoken Word. Silence finds a way into our hearts through the gateways created by sounds, sights, and sensations. The song of a bird can be clothed with a sacramentalness equal to any religious rite, and a common place can suddenly be seen to be a holy place. And we ourselves, having possibly felt unfit for and lost to Grace, find ourselves imbued with the Light and offspring of the Light in our first innocence, an innocence that was overlaid, but never lost.
* * *
*(C) Brian K. Wilcox, 2021
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book is a collection of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.