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9. Silence and Meditation
There is an act of the mind, natural to the earnest and the wise, impossible only to the sensual and the fool, healthful to all who are sincere, which has small place in modern usage, and which few can now distinguish from vacuity. Those who know what it is, call it meditation.
It is not reading, in which we apprehend the thoughts of others, and bring them to our critical tribunal. It is not study, in which we strive to master the known and prevail over it, till it lies in order beneath our feet. It is not reasoning, in which we seek to push forward the empire of our positive conceptions, and by combining what we have, reach others that we have not. It is not deliberation, which computes the particular problems of action, reckons up the forces that sur. round our individual lot, and projects accordingly the expedient or the right. It is not self-scrutiny, which by itself is only shrewdness, or at most science turned within instead of without, and analyzing mental feelings instead of physical facts.
Its view is not personal and particular, but universal and immense, the sweep of the nocturnal telescope over the infinitely great, nor the insight of the solar microscope into the infinitely small. It brings, not an intense self-consciousness and spiritual egotism, but almost a renunciation of individuality, a mingling with the universe, a lapse of our little drop of existence into the boundless ocean of being. It does not find for us our place in the known world, but loses it for us in the unknown. It puts nothing clearly beneath our feet, but a vault of awful beauty above our head.
Let any true man go into silence; strip himself of all pre
Infinitely, without limits or bounds: ly, 109; as, finis, the end , finite, bounded, terminated, having a limit: ite, 101; infinite, unlimited, boundless : in, 33. - Individuality, separate or distinct exislence. — Intense, stretched out, raised to a high degree, anxiously attentive, vehement. Lapse, a slow gliding, a smooth flowing, a fall.
tence, and selfishness, and sensuality, and sluggishness of soul; lift off thought after thought, passion after passion, till he reaches the inmost deep of all; remember how short a time, and he was not at all; how short a time again, and he will not be here; open his window and look upon the night, how still its breath, how solemn its march, how deep its perspective, how ancient its forms of light; and think how little he knows except the perpetuity of God, and the mysteriousness of life; and it will be strange if he does not feel the ' Eternal Presence as close upon his soul, as the breeze upon his brow.
Silence is, in truth, the attribute of God; and those who seek him from that side invariably learn that meditation is not the dream, but the reality of life; not its illusion, but its truth; not its weakness, but its strength. Such act of the mind is quite needful, in order to rectify the estimates of the senses and the lower understanding, to shake off the drowsy order of perceptions, in which, with the eyes of the soul half closed, we are apt to doze away existence here. Neglecting it now, we shall wake into it hereafter, and find that we have been walking in our sleep.
It is necessary even to preserve the consistency of our practical life. It is always the tendency of action to fall into routine, and become mechanical; to become less and less dependent on the living forces of the will; and to continue itself, by mere momentum, in the direction it has once assumed. When conscience, and not passion, presides over life, this tendency is not abated, but confirmed; for conscience is essentially systematic, subdues every thing to a fixed order, and then is troubled or content, according as this is violated or observed.
But the inner spirit of the mind, which all outward action should express, is not naturally thus inflexible; it drifts away from its old anchorages, and gets afloat upon new tides of thought; as experience deepens, existence ceases to be the
Passion, eagerness of desire, often so powerful as to overmaster the intellect. — Sensuality, devotedness to the gratification of bodily appetites : ity, 102. – Perpetuity, endless duration, state of being perpetual: ity, 102
same, and the proportions in which things lie within our affections are materially changed; as the ascent of time is made, life is seen from a higher point, and fresh fields of truth and duty spread before our view.
Habit being conservative, faith and feeling being progressive, unless their mutual relation be constantly re-adjusted by meditation, ceasing to correspond, they will become miserably divergent; our action will not be true, our thought will not be real; both will be weak and dead; both distrustful as a culprit; both relying on hollow credit, and empty of solid wealth ; and our whole life, begun perhaps in the order of conscience, and moving on externally the same, may become a semblance and a cheat. Bare moral principle, unless holding of something more divine, affords but an unsafe tenure of the wisdom and the strength of life.
And even when the right is clearly seen, meditation is needed to collect our powers to do it. It is the great store. house of our spiritual dynamics, where divine energies lie hid for any enterprise, and the hero is strengthened for his field.
All great things are born of silence. The fury, indeed, of destructive passion may start up in the hot conflict of life, and go forth with tumultuous desolation. But all beneficent and creative power gathers itself together in silence, ere it issues out in might. Force itself indeed is naturally silent, and only makes itself heard, if at all, when it strikes upon some obstruction. The very hurricane that roars over land and ocean, flits noiselessly through spaces where nothing meets it.
The blessed sunshine says nothing, as it warms the vernal earth, tempts out the tender grass, and decks the field and forest in their glory. Silence came before creation, and the heavens were spread without word. No where can you find
any beautiful work, any noble design, any durable endeavor, that was not matured in long and patient silence,
Conserrative, opposed to change, keeping together : con, 20. — Progressire, moving onward, improving : pro, 46; ive, 103. – Corresponul, to adgwer to, to agree : cor, 20; re, 48. — Divergent, receding from each other, disagreeing: di, 25; ent, 83
ere it spake out in its accomplishment. There it is that we accumulate the inward power which we distribute and spend in action, put the smallest duty before us in dignified and holy aspects, and gather that strength of self-denial which can meet the severest hardships.
.There it is that the soul, enlarging all its dimensions at once, acquires a greater and more vigorous being, and gathers up its collective forces to bear down upon the piecemeal difficulties of life, and scatter them to dust. There alone can we enter into that spirit of self-abandonment, by which we take up the cross of duty, however heavy, with feet however worn and bleeding they may be. And thither shall we return again, only into higher peace and more triumphant power, when the labor is over and the victory won, and we are called by death into God's loftiest watchtower of Contemplation.
10. Injudicious Haste in Study.
The eagerness and strong bent of the mind after knowledge, if not warily regulated, is often a hinderance to it. It still presses into further discoveries and new objects, and catches at the variety of knowledge, and therefore often stays not long enough on what is before it, to look into it as it should, through haste to pursue what is out of sight.
He that rides post through a country may be able, from the transient view, to tell in general how the parts lie, and may be able to give some description of here a mountain and there a plain, here a morass and there a river; woodland in one part and savannas in another. Such superficial
ideas and observations as these he may collect in galloping . over it; but the more useful observations of the soil, plants,
animals, and inhabitants, with their several sorts and properties, must necessarily escape him ; and it is seldoin men erer discover the rich mines without some digging.
Nature commonly lodges her treasures and jewels in rocky ground. If the matter is knotty, and the sense lies deep, the mind must stop and buckle to it, and stick upon it with labor, and thought, and close contemplation, and not leave it until it has mastered the difficulty and got possession of truth. But here care must be taken to avoid the other extreme; a man must not stick at every nicety, and expect mysteries of science in every trivial question or scruple that he may raise. He that will stand to pick up and examine every pebble that comes in his way, is as unlikely to return enriched and laden with jewels, as the other, that travelled at full speed.
Truths are not the better nor the worse for their obviousness or difficulty ; but their value is to be measured by their usefulness and tendency. Insignificant observations should not take up any of our minutes; and those that enlarge our view, and give light towards further and useful discoveries, should not be neglected, though they stop our course and spend some of our time in a fixed attention.
There is another haste, that does often, and will, mislead the mind, if it be left to itself and its own conduct. The understanding is naturally forward, not only to learn its knowledge by variety, (which makes it skip over one to get speedily to another part of knowledge,) but also eager to enlarge its views by running too fast into general observations and conclusions, without a due examination of particulars enough whereon to found those general axioms. This seems to enlarge its stock, but it is of fancies, not realities. Theories, built upon such narrow foundations, stand but weakly, and if they fall not themselves, are at least with difficulty supported against the assaults of opposition. And thus men, being too hasty to erect to themselves general notions and ill-grounded theories, find themselves deceived in their stock of knowledge, when they come to examine their hastily-assumed maxims themselves, or to have them attacked by others.
General observations, drawn from particulars, are the