In the months before his untimely death in 1968, Christian monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, began to focus his energy and attention on his place in the natural world. His journal entries of those last months often sound like they could have been written by Henry David Thoreau, and they were very reminiscent of the heavy influence Buddhism had upon his own Christian spirituality.
Merton would sit alone in silence in a meadow or in a forest outside his hermitage and he would just listen to it all. He would listen, not with his ears but with his heart and soul, and there he would experience what he called the "hidden wholeness" of it all. The many parts in perfect harmony with one another - trees and sky, earth, wind, water, all living creatures, all humanity, all part of an "enchanted universe in which everything and everyone all belong to one another."
Yesterday I had one of those "Merton moments," a mindful awareness of "hidden wholeness."
I have been waiting all summer long for these glorious days of autumn out here in the desert where I live. It was an absolutely "perfect" day yesterday as I walked with my wife and our two dogs along a wilderness trail - crystal clear sky, temperatures in the low 70's, a gentle breeze slightly rustling the desert trees and bushes, the towering mountains glowing in the distance. It all felt so perfectly "pristine" - unspoiled natural beauty, and we all belonged to one another in a "hidden wholeness."
Later in the day, I happened to be listening to a Bach symphony. It struck me that I wasn't listening to the discrete sounds of brass or strings or organ or timpani. I was, in fact, listening to the "whole" - all the parts in harmony together make the music so powerful, so able to lift the spirit and inspire the soul. Listening to that Bach symphony was just like walking in the desert on a pristine autumn day- all part of this "enchanted universe in which everything and everyone belong to one another."
I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from Herman Hesse's celebrated book, Siddartha. In the book, the young protagonist, Siddhartha, searches for the meaning of life. He explores everything - power, wealth, lust, ambition; but he is left empty, nothing fulfilling to him. Then one day Siddhartha sat silently beside a flowing river and he listened to it all - and in his listening he discovered what he was looking for.
Siddhartha listened. He was now nothing but a listener, completely concentrating on listening, completely empty.
He heard many voices in the river but he couldn't tell them apart - the happy ones, the weeping ones, the lamentations of yearning, the laughter of the knowledgeable one, the scream of rage, the moaning of the dying one, they all belonged together, everything was one, intertwined and interconnected, entangled a thousand times.
And everything together, all voices, all goals, all yearning, all suffering, all pleasure, all that was good and evil, all of it together was the music of life.
And when he heard them all together, perceived the whole, the oneness, the great song of a thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was "OM": the perfection.
The music of life strikes one chord, it is the sound of "OM." Another name for "OM" is "GOD"- the perfect sound of hidden wholeness.