Yesterday I was taking a trapped mouse to the drop off point at the power line a mile and half from the family house, at a rough parking area, over the town line in North Yarmouth. The mouse population is now exploding in North Yarmouth thanks to us. I was dropping it off at moonrise, having that the moon was supposed to be beautiful. As I drove in the parking area, a blood red moon was rising over the treetops; and a hunter, orange garb, gun slung on his shoulder, was coming out of another trail as he walked down to the road to his PT cruiser also parked there. As I took the trap out, I wondered what a hunter was going to think about me releasing a mouse, but he came up and made an agreeable comment, and then said, “It’s a beautiful moon,” And I agreed and we enjoyed a silent appreciation of the moon, a simple human connection as the crimson moon slowly faded to faint gold.
And then later, there is the mouse hanging from the end of the Havahart trap, trying to climb back in. I take them out to the overgrown open area, and these mice aren’t exactly excited about leaving the trap. Shocked maybe, they sit in the trap looking out, and it seems as if they have become comfortable in the trap and don’t seem too interested in this wild world in front of them. The next night, my wife Abby got out to release one, and she was waited for a minute, tipped the trap, and the mouse seemed to have settled in. So she tipped the trap up and up, raised it slightly and there was the mouse, tail dangling down from the vertical trap, feet scrambling to get back in the trap. So much for wanting to be free.
The mouse is us. We have constructed our own trap of ideas, self-concepts, beliefs about how the world works, other’s opinions of us, and each belief is a wire in the cage. “Don’t seek to know the truth,” proclaims Seng-stan, an early founder of Zen, “only cease to cherish opinions.” We think we want freedom and yet when confronted with it, the wideness, the openness, we stay in our cage.
We are locked behind a wall of words, and we don’t want to leave it for the larger silence, an incredible background of silence in which everything happens. Maybe silence is the experiential correlate of emptiness, that we hear about in the buddhist sutras. “Be still and know that I am God,” in the Bible.
When you are in deep woods, in a stand of tall firs, the silence can feel like it’s a cathedral—a deep silence because there isn’t the distractions of words and sounds and noise. However, even in the city that background of silence is there like a container, like a frame in a picture. There may be jackhammers, horns, sirens, engines dumbing, shouts; but it is there. When we have silence of mind, it helps us perceive it; but at any moment we can just be there. In an instant one can cut through all of the b.s. and become alert to everything around you. We’re there.
As we pay attention, there is a certain depth, an alive quality. The universe is a large gong ringing and if one is quiet one can feel the vibration. There is tremendous energy there in the silence; and poetry, music, dance, art of all kinds, emerges from the silence and stillness. The silence is always there and we dance with it; we move into it, out of it and around it but it is always there.