I’ve been slowly working my way through Fr. Jean-Marie Dechánet’s book Christian Yoga. One of the reasons why I’m slow is that it’s an old book and I’m savoring that old book smell, you know? Originally published in French in 1956, the book’s first English edition came out in 1960.
So Dechánet–a Benedictine monk, mind you–wrote this book in the early 1950s. Before traveling by plane was considered common. Before the Internet. Before the age of constant communication. Here’s the first line of his Introduction:
We do not have to look about us very far or for very long to realize the disastrous effects produced on the inner life of man by this age of noise.
In the 1950s! Television had just dawned on the world. Dechánet had no idea how much noisier the world was going to become.
Here’s the rest of this paragraph:
Spun about in the whirl of business, enslaved to countless technical inventions [!], man is severed from God and from the world of the spirit. Non in commotione Deus: God does not dwell in turbulence. To find him, there must be calm within; certain senses must be hushed. Tossed around as we are, if God wishes to speak to us, his voice, small and still, will be lost in the hubbub of our daily lives; the rackets and noise drowning our minds will prevent his penetration into that seclusion we call “heart”–the living witness of that life in us which is most sacred and most true: the life we call “inner” or “spiritual.” (23)
Dechánet goes on to write about the mental noise that keeps us from fully participating in church services. And he’s quick to point out that just because he’s a monk doesn’t mean he’s got any more internal silence than the rest of us–monasteries are loud too.
As I write this, a tree company is working on the yard across the street from my house. They are LOUD. To withstand their noise, I’ve got a Patty Griffin Pandora station playing inside my house. That’s just the physical noise. For mental noise, I’ve got a car inspection to schedule (gotta keep that technical invention running smooth!), dentist appointments to schedule (so they can use their technology to keep my teeth safe), emails to return, etc. etc.
You’ve got urgent and loud noise too, I’m sure.
The other day, the power to my house cut out. No warning. It was a sunny day–no lightning in sight. Just gone. Out.
My computer technology is old and the battery life is short, so I shut the computer. I took PAPER and PEN to the porch and wrote an article LONGHAND. That’s what they call handwriting these days–long hand.
I’m not going to say it was more brilliant than writing on the computer, because it wasn’t. I could have just as easily written it on the computer too–but I bet I would have checked my email fourteen times while writing. Probably Facebook too.
What I enjoyed was the silence. Silence in the neighborhood and silence in my heart. My husband had the car, and I couldn’t go anywhere. I was home without power. I couldn’t return emails. Couldn’t vacuum. Couldn’t should on myself on anything rather than what I was doing: writing.
Sometimes, when I go to the mat, my internal noise is so loud I have a hard time quieting it down long enough to practice. And today, I’m enjoying this somewhat prophetic reminder from Dechánet: yoga is an essential antidote to the busyness of technological culture–it helps us cultivate the internal stillness necessary to hear God.