UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Not-so-silent meditation

By Gary Saunders

For 48 years, my wife and I have lived in an old Nova Scotia farmhouse near the Bay of Fundy. Our windows look out on a quilt of woodlot, field and salt marsh rich in legend and history: Glooscap, Champlain, Evangeline, the New England Planters of 1760.

Tourists gawk at our monster tides and take photos of cows grazing on pastures impossibly green. “What a lovely spot you have!” visitors always say. “So peaceful.”

I thought so too — until I tried to meditate.

The word “meditate” literally means to “middle” or centre oneself. This never interested me much until 1993, when I visited a Montreal retreat centre founded 16 years earlier by the late John Main, a Benedictine monk who revived the lost tradition of Christian meditation.

That weekend, kneeling with others in the peaceful meditation hall on Mount Royal’s leafy shoulder, I vowed to take his peace home with me. All you had to do was sit still in a quiet place twice a day and mentally chant your word, your mantra, for 20 to 30 minutes. No problem: I’m an early riser; the kids had flown; our place is very quiet. Or so I imagined.

Back home, it’s a fine June morning during my first year of meditation. A waning sickle moon hangs in my open east-facing window as I sit comfortably erect, muscles relaxed, eyes closed. The only sound is my breathing. Inhale. Exhale.

Silently, I begin to recite the simple word that quells all distracting thoughts: Maranatha. Slowly the mind’s chatter subsides, the heart’s drumbeat slows. A tide of peace creeps in —

“Cawww!” A lone crow on its minaret announces the sun. Answering calls float up from the forest, a chorus of robins, whitethroats and warblers. With effort, I resume my mantra.

Moments later, our dog, Sidney, descends stiffly from his creaky chair, pads across the porch floor and laps water. Say your mantra.

Then comes the purr of the fridge compressor cutting in, followed by the furnace fan. Warm dry air brushes my cheek. Say the mantra.

A housefly, warmed by the rising sun, revs its motor and blunders about between curtain and sash. A whiff of new-mown hay tickles my nose. Never mind; say your word.

Around 7 a.m., the first car speeds along our gravel road. That would be Glenn, who works flex-time at the sign shop in town. Under his tires, the newly graded gravel sounds like corn flakes being crushed. Say your —

Sidney woofs under the kitchen door. Sid is nearly 11, and his bladder isn’t what it used to be. A larger racket heralds the passage of a manure tanker lugging 5,000 litres of slush to a holding pond. Never mind; try again.

But it’s no use. The commotion will only escalate. Maybe monks in hilltop retreats can do it; I can’t. My stomach growling, I rise, go downstairs, let Sid out, feed the cats, light the fire, fill the kettle, take a shower, start the day.

I did struggle on for another two years. Now I pray a different prayer. Not to Nature, who cares not a fig for human piety or wisdom, but to the God beyond. Though for all we know, the morning conversation of crows may contain more wisdom than all the mantras of Kathmandu.

Gary L. Saunders is a non-fiction author and retired forester who lives near Truro, N.S. This story originally appeared in Nature Canada, which ceased publication in 2000.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!


(Photo: cuatrok77/Flickr via Creative Commons)

Cormorants aren't the devil

by Douglas Hunter

Ontario's proposed new measures amount to a slaughter of an entire native bird species for no scientifically compelling reason, says this writer

Promotional Image


The United Church Observer's editor and publisher, Jocelyn Bell. (Photo: Lindsay Palmer)

The new name of 'The Observer' revealed!

by Jocelyn Bell

"United Church" will no longer be on the cover, but our commitment to sharing denominational news and perspectives remains the same

Promotional Image


Meet beloved church cats Mable and Mouse

by Observer Staff

They're a fixture of Kirk United Church Centre in Edmonton.

Promotional Image


February 2019

Marriage problems: Is the ancient tradition worth saving?

by Pieta Woolley

Bitterness and boredom seem to define many mid-life marriages, but we might not have to settle for apathy ever after


February 2019

A Yukon artist and a Tlingit trapper create this stunning jewelry

by Amy van den Berg

The fur jewelry in Whitehorse boutique store V. Ægirsdóttir is creating a new possibility for future partnerships with the region's trappers


February 2019

Why white people need to stop asking, 'where are you from?'

by Mike Sholars

"...For all intents and purposes, Canada is the only home I really recognize or remember. But none of that matters if I look like I don’t belong, and that single question makes that abundantly clear every single time."

Promotional Image