One of the things that we might be learning as we live through the restrictions of the pandemic is that our primary identity in this world is not as consumers. We find, instead, that our lives consist in many small acts of care and attention. When there are no places to go, thrills to seek or sprees to be undertaken, we see that our day consists in rest, time together, contacts with others, food to be made, messes to be tidied, quiet to be savoured, life to be lived. It is unspectacular and undramatic. At times, it may be intense, especially where there is sickness and loss, and there is nowhere to go to flee that intensity. So we learn how to abide with it, to sit with it, to go through it rather than round it.
The title of this post comes from a wonderful little book by the Spanish priest and novelist, Pablo d’Ors. His Biography of Silence is an account of his attempt to do what I have just outlined – to learn how to live. And his constant teacher in this school is silent meditation.
Meditation – or should I simply say maturity? – has taught me to appreciate the ordinary, the elemental. I will live for these things according to an ethics of attention and care.
Attention is the practice of a steady gaze, unflinching and unjudging. Care is the practice of compassion for all things, breathing or not. Compassion for weakest and also care for the material world; compassion for ourselves and also care taken over the words we speak and thoughts we allow to grow. All of these things are practised in silent meditation where we attend to our breath and our posture, our prayer words and our emerging thoughts, where we learn to open our hearts in compassion. I don’t think this practice is any easier in this time of confinement, but I do think it is more urgent.