Tuesday, June 30, 2020


April 19, Sparkill.

The Redwing blackbirds are singing outside my window. The Piermont marsh has a relatively large flock of them—in the thousands, to be sure. They have a habit of moving out of the marsh en masse just as the sun breaks the horizon. They do this by a form of consensus: in the minutes just before dawn, they exchange in a fluidly raucous chorus that gets louder and louder as sunrise approaches.

Astonishingly, there is a single moment where suddenly the entire flock becomes silent, as if by complete agreement with one another. This happens every morning – it isn't a coincidence, like the rare times in a filled room where suddenly, by accident, the whole room become silent. There is an intelligible intention behind their silence.

They are silent for just a moment. Then, suddenly, the quietly explosive sound of thousands of wings beating the air erupts, and the entire flock begins to take flight. It's a breathtaking moment; I've been in the marsh time many times to observe it.

Those who know me well know I write a lot about metaphysics and spirituality. Some of it is quite complicated; and yet there is nothing truly complicated about true practice of Being. The birds are engaged in it; and we can learn from it.

The word intelligent means, in Latin, understanding. That word in turn is constructed from two Latin roots, -inter, between, and -legere, to choose. So we discover – and perhaps we shouldn't be surprised, if we ponder it for a moment – that intelligence consists of making a choice between two things, that is, discrimination. This is one of the essential functions of awareness; and in the case of the birds, we see that both as individuals and as a community, they have a moment at the beginning of their day – just a moment – where they all choose to be silent together. Perhaps it's just an instant; but it is an essential instant. A moment of recognition before action.

This moment of silence before action is a valuable practice; and it's what I engage in each morning, what I often write about here.

Kasyapa, one of the Vedic masters, said the following:

Undisturbed am I, undisturbed is my soul,
Undisturbed mine eye, undisturbed mine ear,
Undisturbed is mine in-breathing, undisturbed mine out-breathing,
Undisturbed my diffusive breath, undisturbed the whole of me.

This is the moment of life-before-life, the moment of awareness that contains life inwardly but has not yet admitted it outwardly. It is an eternal moment with in our awareness: it's always there in us, preceding the arrival of our outside impressions.

This awareness of Being is an exquisitely fine and soft clay into which the outward world impresses itself, leaving a mark. The difference between this clay and a potter’s clay, however, is that this clay is eternally new and capable of receiving the impressions of the outer world over and over again. We could liken it to an endless series of Babylonian cuneiform tablets, inscribed with a stylus: all within our Being, a huge library of impressions.

Life-before-life awaits; it awaits in silence, it awaits in stillness. It's free of opinions and beliefs. It is available to discriminate. It is available to choose.

Part of what is available to be chosen is the newness of life as it is, rather than the previously inscribed version of it. If I inhabit myself undisturbed, I have the option of receiving this newness of life.

This is a tricky thing, but there is a way to inhabit the undisturbed life of the soul and receive life while participating very actively in it. Stillness and action are part of the same world. What needs to be recognized is that action, while vital, does not effectively inform (inwardly form) stillness.

Stillness, however, can perpetually lie at the root of action and inform it—because it is already inwardly formed.

In this way, the inner can inform the outer, but the outer does not truly inform the inner. This is because what is inward is forever the origin of Being; and the outer is what forever follows it.

So, today, as every day, I search for this undisturbed moment in me which is always available. My intelligence, my discrimination, my ability to choose begins here.

How will this life be today?

I'm prepared to see it.

May your heart be close to God, 
and God close to your heart.


Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.

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