Most people are taught to meditate at least once a day, preferably twice: in the morning and in the evening. For very busy folk such times set aside are essential. But there is also an important lesson to be learned from Etty Hillesum, who along with thousands of other Dutch Jews was transported from Amsterdam by the Nazis, and died at the age of 29, in Auschwitz in 1943.
Etty came to the practice of meditation quite spontaneously. Slowly, through listening inwardly, she discovered something within herself. Her faith was from the start rooted in her own immediate and personal experience. ‘Not thinking but listening to what is going on inside you,’ she wrote in her journal. ‘If you do that for a while every morning you acquire a kind of calm that illumines the whole day.’ She began to call what she found deepest and best in her by the name of ‘God’. As she was later to observe, ‘God is our greatest and most continuous inner adventure. There is really a deep well inside me and in it dwells God.’
She also went on to discover that there is more to meditation than set times. ‘I listen all day to what is within me, and even when I am with others I am able to draw strength from the most deeply hidden source in myself.’
This process of inner listening throughout the day enables us to hear the sub-text in conversations, to intuit what is un-said by another, and to respond to people’s needs at a deeper level. True meditation makes us more aware of others, deepening our compassion for all sentient beings. As the Buddha taught, a cat, a dog, a bird, even a flower, can ‘speak’ to us. We become more aware of our one-ness in nature. We become like instrumentalists in a silent orchestra.