A Thousand Ways to Be Silent

What do you hear when you are silent?

Take a moment, or two - or several minutes - and spend it in silence, and note what you "hear..."

For a while now, I have been observing what I've come to refer to as "Sabbath Sundays" and "Silent Tuesdays." 

On Sundays, for most of the day, I try and unplug from all things technological, including all my devices. In fact, I was describing this recently to someone I know, explaining how I literally place a shroud over my iMac, by covering it with a beautiful lace veil a dear friend made for me. The friend I was talking to, knowing my cultural origins, completely understood the metaphor and exclaimed, 

"Oh! It's a mantilla for your iMac!"

On Tuesdays, I have been taking a day of silence. Generally I sleep in, then sit in meditation with no fixed ending time, just letting the practice bring itself gently to conclusion. I try not to run errands of any sort, and often do not speak until my husband arrives later in the evening. If he is traveling, I generally take the silence into the next morning.

On my silent days, I do not play any music, or watch TV. I do not speak. I do not answer the phone. I will answer email and write, however, but avoid texting because I generally find it intrusive. What I do instead, is lot of listening...

At this time of year, my windows are open, and just before dawn I begin to slowly stir into waking consciousness by the animated chatter of birds outside my window. Some will perch themselves on the Crape Mrytle right outside that window, and then sing ever so sweetly to me, or so I like to think!

After meditation, I often go for a walk, and listen to more birds, the hissing of the overgrown lawn swaying in the fields, the gentle rush of the swollen creeks I encounter on my route - the creaking of the wooden bridge I cross, suspended above the wetlands below it. And these are just minuscule examples of the infinite audible sounds I am capable of observing!

In his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Mark Nepo explains how he began to listen so much more profoundly as he began to lose his hearing. Here are some of his words taken from his introduction:

"... Listening is a personal pilgrimage that takes time and a willingness to circle back...

...The practice of listening is one of the most mysterious, luminous, and challenging art forms on Earth... 

In real ways we are invited each day to slow down and listen... 

Listening stitches the world together. Because listening is the doorway to everything that matters... 

We listen to awaken the heart...

This is the work of reverence: to stay vital and alive by listening deeply."

In order to listen, we must be willing to be engaged by silence...

A few years ago, a documentary movie was released called, "Into Great Silence," about Carthusian monks, which is one of the most cloistered orders in existence. The movie itself, depicts the lives of these monks, lived out nearly in total silence. So the only sounds you hear in this two hour movie, are those of nature, of feet shuffling, of monks cooking in the kitchen, of farm animals being attended to, of the monks working at their various jobs - and that of prayer - most especially the silent kind. Needless to say, it is not a movie most people can watch.

I have been reflecting a lot lately, on how little I am silent. How I often have a need to fill silent spaces with others with meaningless or repetitive chatter - something that has been brought to my attention in the past. Recently, I was upset with myself because I felt I talked too much about my own experiences at my weekly prayer group and realized that these women do a wonderful job of modeling listening - and that I must work better at doing the same for them.

When we are silent, particularly in deep prayer, we are able to hear the blood coursing through the inner highways of our bodies, and we can also listen to the distinctive beating of our hearts. Mine "skips" beats, so it is very interesting to "listen" to the pause between the beats, wondering how long it will last! Sometimes it feels like the silence within that pause is infinite...

"Sacred is the pause that brings us into stillness."
~ Macrina Wiederkehr

We can easily hear the sound our breath makes. As we listen more deeply, we become more aware of the myriad of symphonies being exquisitely played in our bodies and the dissonant cacophony, that often dominates our thinking.

In silence, creativity gestates and gives birth to incredible ideas and insights.

But most importantly, we commune with the Divine and our deepest Essence in silence. It is there that we most vividly experience our oneness with all things.

When you commit to silence and you go out into the world, you often find it jarring. Everywhere you go - every store - every restaurant - seems to pipe in noise of some sort. It is unsettling to me and vexing to my spirit. It is loud! No wonder people are also losing their hearing!

To decide to be silent - even for a while is no easy task. It might even be frightening. But I promise you, its rewards are deep.

The more we strive for silence, the more deeply we will be able to listen. And the more we unplug, the more time we reclaim back for ourselves. Only then, will we truly be free.

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