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The Silent Church


I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. —Ralph Waldo Emerson


Boy, did it take me a long time to come around to this piece of wisdom. I consumed teachings about self-improvement, spiritual development, emotional healing, self-realization, enlightenment, and everything similar like a person stranded for days in a desert who comes upon an oasis. I saw the teachings as my lifeline, the path to freedom from the weight of old stories, judgments, self-consciousness, doubts, wounds, unhelpful patterns, disappointments, fears, and all the rest that I carried in my mind and body for my whole life. The teachings were uplifting and inspiring. They made me feel that true peace and contentment in life was possible.


But ultimately, what Emerson observes turns out to be true. The teachings serve a valuable purpose, but they cannot produce the results they promise. The only way to attain the promise is to do the practices. Reading about, studying, and going to workshops on the practices and what they can produce was extremely helpful in focusing my efforts to find a better life, leading me to many forms of yoga, energy healing, and of course meditation. I needed the framework the teachings provided in order to generate and sustain the motivation to practice, though not everybody does. After some time, I actually came to see the teachings as interfering with my practice: I realized that I was so certain of how the process unfolds and where it leads that I was evaluating everything I experienced in my practice against what I knew of the teachings, instead of just being present in my practice as it was from moment to moment. Since I finally let go of the teachings, my practice has accelerated dramatically. I’m pretty sure if I try to match up my experiences with the path as described by old and new teachers, it will line up nicely, but I am not paying attention to that at all anymore—I’m just doing the practice and trusting that it will lead me where I need to go. And it’s working!


So whether you are as attracted by the vision of a life of freedom as I was, or whether you’re drawn to a more down-to-earth, practical goal, like reducing stress or healing from trauma, the only way to actually get there is by doing the work. The silence of Emerson’s church before the service is the doorway to his deepest desires, while the preaching to come is little more than an inspirational poster hanging on the wall beside the doorway, even as compelling as the preaching may be.

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