Ah, Facebook, my old friend. You bring up my memories. Thomas Merton was my spiritual kick start. In the late 50s I was on a diesel-electric submarine in the Atlantic reading Thomas Merton, asking the question: where did Thomas go? Why did he, a promising academic intellectual, leave the world for a Trappist monastery and take a vow of silence? Where did he dive too?
That question started my quest. Of course, I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I can see that was the first ringing call: Dive, Dive, Dive…Run Silent, run deep.
(Transposed here is my conversation that activated the talk. Facebook dialogue can be creative)
David Rizzo He kickstarted me too, only in the late 70’s early 80’s. I discovered on some shelf in the high school library a volume of The Sign of Jonas. I loved it. When I went to college the next year I saw a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain and devoured it. I…See more
- Ed Conley Yes, it was Seven Story that I first read. I recall that it was Merton’s mystical understanding of the Catholic Mass that was my first inkling of metaphor, myth and meaning that I later explored in Joseph Campbell.
- I had been taken to protestant churches by my mother, as my father was at sea when I was growing up, and, even though he was raised Irish Catholic, he never expressed any religion heart. And so my journeys into church, as kind of a duty on my mother’s part, like her having me learn piano, was kind of a dry wafer and grape juice. But Merton was real bread and wine.Bill Ja I just reread Seven Story Mountain. It’s a great read. I had forgotten how much he was influenced by pre-Vatican II theology, and yet saw beyond it,
- Ed Conley Bill Ja Merton’s influence was the Catholic mystics of the Middle Ages, St. John of the Cross, etc. And it was this connecting bridge that led him East and to Buddhism. All moths fly to the flame.Ed Conley With the Reformation, Protestants threw this mystical baby out the window with the bath water. By becoming the rational religion, Protestantism became irrational.
- Bill Ja Ed Conley Sadly so, except for the revival movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries that led to the women’s vote and other social issues, and individual schism groups like the Quakers and others. Think George Fox.
- Ed Conley Bill Ja Yes…but these were not mystical movements, but secular movements, rational movements.Bill Ja And reading through the Seven Story Mountain, although I agree, he continually refers to the mystic traditions, his acceptance of Pre-Vatican II theology, that he eventually challenges, is highly rationalistic. Scholastic theology growing out of Aquina…See moreEd Conley I studied (or read) ACIM for a few years, and that, in my mind is the revival of Gnosticism, which is the yearning for direct knowledge or union with God minus the mediator. But then I moved on to Buddhism and Zen and then beyond that…beyond the beyond.
- Ed Conley Bill Ja I no longer have a path. They were all dead ends.
Dive, Dive, Dive is my living metaphor of the Heart Sutra’s mantra: Gate, gate, parasite, parasamgate: Bodhi Svaha! (Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone beyond beyond: oh what an awakening.
Dive, dive, dive below dive, dive below below: Oh, what and awakening!
I joined the navy and the Silent Service in 1956 to find out what I wanted to do with my life, having just dropped out of UVA because I didn’t know what I was doing there. After four years in the navy, I discovered that I wanted to get out of the navy. It’s like Zen: you have to practice and make an effort in order to find out that you don’t need to make an effort to know who you are.
I did extend for another year, making it five years in the navy, as I got married and during that last year helped my wife finish her college, after which she was going to teach English, and I decided I would do that also. We would be a team.
After three years of teaching HS English, I discovered I didn’t want to spend my life on that ship either. I had to teach in the institution to discover that I didn’t want to teach in the institution. But where could I go that the institution was not? I had to find out.
But it is not easy to leave the safety of the fleet and submerge alone in the great ocean. As a Sonarman, I would listen to the dolphins play with our steel fish. And I would strain to hear the distant screws of the surface destroyers searching for us, to kill us. (all war games, to be sure)
A submarine is an ambiguous fish. It is born to be both the wolf and the prey. The moment you attack, you become the attacked. The Sub is the attacker/attacked. Your strength becomes your weakness. Such was the nature of the diesel-electric boats. The nuclear boats are not ambiguous. They attack without revealing themselves. There is no wisdom in the nuclear boats.
I’m trying to keep control of the topic here and carry out the metaphor of the Silent Service. Carry out the metaphor…I remember when I was writing for the local paper about the bridge parties Blackstone use to have decades ago, and the hostess paid great attention to “carrying out the color scheme.” I was told that was very important in setting the tables.
So it is important when you get a good working metaphor in your life, to extend the metaphor, milk it for every last drop. In this way, the cow is never empty. You metaphor gives birth to revelation, to insights into the transcendent meaning of your life. I say transcendent because meaning is never fixed; meaning must always be discovered.
Meditation, the practice and intention to meditate every day no matter what the ocean is doing is the Silent Service. The service is silent because it cannot describe what it’s like beneath the wave to a surface ship. Submerged, there are no more words because the rising and falling of thought waves is left on the surface. A hurricane could be brewing on the surface, and your coffee cup would not be stirred.
My first night on the Cubera knocked me out. When you were new on a boat, you hot-bunked until you got your own bunk, and the bunks were zipped up in thick vinyl, so you never used the owner’s sheets. My bunk was the upper bunk in a dark after batter sleeping area, right beneath the diving alarm. The boat dived during my sleep, a sat straight up, my head hitting a pipe, and I fell back to sleep. Looking back my three years on the sub was like a dream.
Life on the surface on a submarine made me nauseous. I got on the USS Cubera at the Charleston shipyard, and we had to traverse Cape Hatteras to get back to Norfolk where the boat was stationed. My first duty was to assist (or watch) the helmsman in the conning tower beneath the open hatch where ocean water poured as the sub dived and dipped into the Hatteras seas. The helmsman had a coffee can hanging around his neck, and I asked what that was for. He smiled like a Zen master and said I would find out.
When we were in port for an extended time, I would have to find my “sea legs” all over again. In the sub here was no open deck over which you could hang, or fresh air to clear your head. If you were lucky you had a watch on the bridge where you could look up at the tops of great waves that tried to engulf you. In really rough weather, the watch on the bridge would be tethered to the bridge so if the bridge took on green water, you would not be washed overboard. You held your nose and trusted the boat would pop up again. I may be exaggerating a wee bit, but these old boats had to ride out a storm because it was dangerous to submerge in a storm as a wave could capsize you when your ballast was in transition from a surface ship to an undersea boat.
When the Cubera was going to sea for a week or so, we would get Sea Rations of cigarettes. You could by cigs for a dollar a carton, and you’d get a case and let your wife take it home, as you couldn’t store that much on the boat. Everyone smoked then, and it was only during certain times, like diving and surfacing, that the Smoking Lamp was out. The Cubera ran on coffee and cigarettes.
One reason I decided to not stay in the navy was that I noticed that old sailors had permanently deformed coffee cup fingers. I would never be able to pick my nose again.