A recent discovery: Being the linguistic minority is a meditative experience. When I was visiting family with my mom (Ina) in the Philippines, I spent much of my time listening. I have acquired tidbits of my Ina’s dialect since childhood so I can pick up words every now and then, but for the most part, the consonant-heavy percussive conversation sails through one ear and out the other. When I was younger, this experience was annoying. Trying. Bordering on insufferable.
I don’t know what anyone is saying. I feel left out.
(Again), I would think.
But this recent visit was different. The experience. It was meditative. Calm. Rife with lessons to be learned – if I listened.
Engaging in contemplative thought in class and reading the Epstein book constructed a contemplative vessel for the journey. I engaged by listening. I responded to others with looks and smiles. Gestures. Or, sometimes I stepped away to take pictures of pots in kitchens; the ceaseless afternoon rain from the second-story balcony. Silence. Not speaking while in the presence of others engaged with one another in speech, or not speaking while in another room snapping shots – those silences felt similar. It was OK to disengage. It was OK not to know what conversation was unfolding. It was OK to not interject with a comment here-and-there. It was OK. To be where I was. in each and every moment.
While on the trip, I stole 15 min here, 30 min there. To sit – meditate. At some point I made the connection between the two (sitting meditation and meditation while listening to conversation in a foreign language). I watched and listened but allowed the amorphous words to float by as they came and went – as I aim to do with my thoughts when they swirl and bubble up during sittings. Or not during sittings; in the grocery store. While engaged in conversation with an acquaintance. Hearing a song for the first time – the way it digs its hooks into my heart and wins me over before it ends.
Once a thought clutches our brains, our hearts. Sometimes we feel we have to arm-wrestle them away. Sometimes our natural response is to attack. Push. Assume evil or malfeasance. Sometimes silence can elicit these responses. Because silence is foreign, strange, uncommon, boring, uncomfortable, vacuous. This is what we know. But it’s not true.
“We must learn how to be with our feelings of emptiness without rushing to change them.”
“The problem with the Western experience of emptiness [is] that it [is] mixed with so much fear.”