This is not an academic post

A friend remarked recently that the majority of the recent posts on this were rather “academic.” Well, I’m an academic, aren’t I? I didn’t see any problem with this label at the time.

But it turns out that academics are people, too—and, as genuine people, might benefit from exploring outside the ivory tower every once in a while. In celebration of my own human-ness, then, this week’s post has zero intellectual content.

I was sitting earlier tonight at Cambridge Zen Center in a weekly community meeting. It’s a nice, humble get-together where Zen Center members and a few dozen people from the community come to talk about meditation and Buddhism.

Each meeting begins with a five-minute meditation. We had an unusually large crowd tonight, and the room was packed as we settled in for our sit. A clap from the leader signaled the start of the five minutes, and the room fell silent.

But that silence tonight was by no means the absence of sound. I’ve been going to these meetings for about 9 months, but somehow never noticed within the stillness all this noise.

A man behind me pushed air back and forth slowly over tensed vocal cords, singing a high-frequency static like that of a distant sea. A girl to my breathed quickly, occasionally voicing little falsetto squeaks. In front of me, a man exhaled in quick bursts, like a horse just after a gallop. Beneath these solos swayed a textured chorus of ins and outs, ins and outs.

The symphony at the Zen Center cued a memory of a quiet forest, with the wind filtering through the leaves of the trees: in and out, in and out.

The forest behind Dhamma Suttama. Montebello, Québec.
The forest behind Dhamma Suttama. Montebello, Québec.

It was a unique moment. After five precious minutes, we separated ourselves from our branched brethren and began to talk.

This post shall have no conclusion attempting to induce any general lessons from the above story. Instead, without a whiff of conceptual analysis or other “academic” hullabaloo, it will simply end.