Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday's Reflection: Reclaiming Silence

In recent months I have been in exile. My favorite warm weather location at our home is the front porch.  I read there, write there, nap there, eat there. But these past months sitting on the front porch has not provided the sanctuary and serenity I desire. 

The Absence of Silence
 My neighborhood is a construction zone with several very large homes being built on the ridge across from our home, and quiet has been in short supply. Instead, I feel battered by noise. Lots of noise. LOUD noise. Intermittent, but frequently repeated noise. Sustained noise. Pounding. Booming. Sawing. Think dentist drill at exaggerated decibels. Think oil rig or lumber mill. 

Unfortunately, yesterday I added to the noise level of the neighborhood when our front porch floor was sanded in preparation for repainting.  The sound penetrated the tightly shut windows, and the air conditioning's white noise. 

By the end of a typical day I feel exhausted, as if I were the one pounding, drilling, sawing. 

Desire for Silence
I yearn for silence or at least the kind of quiet when the only sound is bird song or the occasional car going down the street or two people chatting as they stroll past our house while walking their dog. Thomas Merton said, "Living requires silence," and I agree, for it is in silence that I can hear my inner voice. It is in silence I am able to listen to the whispers of Spirit. It is in silence I soothe and sort through the mixed messages vibrating in my mind and heart. 

I am aware, however, that my inability to ignore the outer noise is a signal of even louder inner noise. At those times it is imperative to create my own silence.

The Practice of Silence
 Anne D. LeClaire in her book Listening Below the Noise, A Meditation on the Practice of Silence moves into total silence on the first and third Mondays of every month. No speaking on those days since 1991. That may seem radical and totally impractical, but she shows us that making room for silence in our lives is not impossible. 

Here are some of her suggestions: 
* Turn off the radio in the car. (Hard to do, for those of us who are NPR junkies!)
* Wake an hour early and spend that hour in deliberate stillness or end the day that way.
* Take five minutes and close your eyes wherever you are. 
* Have a meal alone. Without distractions. Without a book or magazine. (Another tough one for me. I never want to lose a chance to read.)
* When you are part of a group, experiment with just listening to the conversation, staying silent yourself. Observe your own inner dialogue. 

Often I begin a spiritual direction session in silence as a way to settle into each other's presence and to erase the noise we carry with us. In silence we allow what needs to be recognized to rise into awareness and in silence we clarify what needs to be known. In silence we remember that we are not alone and that Spirit sits with us.

 Merton encourages us to hear the "sound of life inside your skin," but that can only happen it seems to me if we adopt a practice of being silent. I know I am restored when I empty myself, remove myself from noise. When I choose to sit and meditate. When I turn off the television, the radio, the phone. When I close my eyes and take deep breaths until I turn down the rush and reach a slower, more deliberate rhythm. When silence envelops me and offers me a nurturing hand. 

The "Wet Paint" sign means I can't sit on the porch today, but still, STILL, I can listen below both the outer and the inner noise and practice silence, for as LeClaire says, "The garden of silence is always there for us."  

An Invitation
How comfortable are you with silence? What is your experience of being silent? In what ways do you currently practice silence? What are the possibilities for practicing silence in your life? I welcome your comments. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tuesday Morning's Reflection: Packed Up--Again

I don't like to pack. Actually, what I don't like is making decisions about what to pack. 

Because this has been an unpredictable summer,  I am never sure I will have the right clothes for the current temperature. True, since I drive the Madison to St Paul route, I can fill the car with as much as I want, but the excellent laundry facility in the apartment building makes such overpacking unnecessary.  
Plus, I tend to wear solid color pants, often black, along with white blouses--I have a closet full of white blouses--and that "uniform" should make the whole process easier, too. For some reason, however, it doesn't. I had an easier time packing for two weeks in Paris using only a carry-on bag than I do for a week in St Paul! 

Then there is the books and writing materials problem. That's even harder. Some people are afraid of speaking in public or of snakes. My fear is I won't have the "right" book when I finish whatever I am currently reading. (Ok, I'm afraid of snakes, too.) Now this is truly a ridiculous fear, for the book shelf in the apartment holds several titles I have not yet read and know I will enjoy AND there are good bookstores close by, including Garrison Keillor's Common Good Books. 

The writing materials issue makes a little more sense to me. What will I have time to work on? What will I need in order to work on it? If I write a blog post on a certain topic, what materials from my library at home would help me do that? On and on the indecisiveness stretches. 

Ultimately, I fill a bag or two with far more than what I will need or have time to use. 

Big vs Little Decisions
So what is this all about anyway? It isn't just about not having the right necklace or the book with the right quote for a blog post. 
Is this decreasing ability to make a decision an age thing? Have you discovered yourself having a harder time making decisions? 
What kinds of decisions?

I think I am still decisive about the bigger things. All of a sudden it was clear--take the house off the market now! I have not vacillated about my father's care, for example. This is what is needed--do it. I didn't spend hours wondering which painter to hire to redo the front porch, for example. Instead, I declared, "When can you get started?" 

Nope, not the bigger things, but the little things. What to fix for dinner or choose at a restaurant. "What do you want to do today?" my husband says. "I don't know," I often reply, feeling genuine distress as I say it. 

Decision-Making and Spiritual Practice
I suspect my current difficulty about making small decisions has to do with a general feeling of unsettledness. Not only "what next?", but "when?" and even "how?" Making the "right"  little decision is a way to exercise some control, false as that may be. I wonder if it isn't also a way to slow down the swirl I feel around me, an unpredictable swoosh of future time, but at the same time a way to fill the emptiness of waiting. Of responding to what feels like slow-motion steps towards fulfillment of our plans. A paradox, the hallmark of later life. 

What to do? 

Well, I do the best I can. I pack more white blouses than I will wear. My bags full of books and notebooks become part of my weight lifting program, as I lug them from place to place. 

And I stop. 

I close my eyes and I breathe. I ask for self-awareness for when I most need to be gentle with myself. I ask for lightness of spirit to replace the self-designated heaviness of each little decision. Finally, and most importantly, I give thanks for all the gifts of my life, including the luxury of choices. 

An Invitation
I welcome comments from you about the role of decision-making in your life. What decisions are easy for you to make? Which ones are not so easy, and has that changed since you have gotten older? What are your strategies for making decisions, big and small? 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Labyrinth Surprises #2

A friend sent these photos taken from a downtown Chicago condo on the 49th floor. The church is on Huron, a block off N. Michigan Ave. Just imagine being able to see this labyrinth from your window. You could walk it in your mind.  Thanks, Annette, for these pictures. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Labyrinth Surprises, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I walked a labyrinth today. 

A labyrinth is an ancient sacred design with a simple pathway leading to and from a center on a single path. Unlike a maze, in which you can get lost, there are no tricks and no short cuts in a labyrinth. The way in is the way out. 

The Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool
The spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth allows the mind to relax and become aware. By meditatively walking a labyrinth we can be led to ourselves and therefore, to a deeper relationship with God, the Sacred, the Divine. Walking a labyrinth can create balance and calm within or can mend your heart and help you find wholeness and healing. As you experience a labyrinth, you are invited to discover the sacred in everyday life. 

Choosing to Walk a  Labyrinth Today
As preparation for retirement, my husband and I have a plan: sell our home here in Madison and instead, rent an apartment here until he retires fully. At the same time we intend to buy a home in St Paul where the majority of our friends and family, including my 90 year old father, live.  A clear plan, but apparently, not so easy to accomplish. 

Our home has been on the market for well over a year. We have had more showings than I care to acknowledge. We have lowered the price more than once. We have had many people express interest, but the magic has not happened, and we are weary and discouraged. We need a break. 

Along with this ongoing stress, my father has had two surgeries recently, and we are in the process of moving him from his home of 40 plus years to a senior living apartment. He is willing and eager to do that, but all of you who have had this experience know the challenges. I repeat, we are weary and discouraged and we need a break! 

Today we took our house off the market. 

Today seemed a good day to walk a labyrinth.

Today's Labyrinth Experience

Madison Christian Community, located not far from our home, has an outdoor labyrinth, and that's where I headed. I must admit I didn't expect to see a labyrinth that appeared so untended and bare, but I mused that the state of the labyrinth might match my inner spirit at the moment. I stood on a slight hill above the labyrinth and thought about how easy it is to lose one's way, and I prayed I could find my center once again. 

Before walking the labyrinth, I sat on a nearby bench and thought about what I hoped to gain or learn as I walked. How marvelous it would be if the labyrinth were a fortune-teller gazing into a crystal ball. "My dear, I see a new house in your future. You will sell your home soon, very soon. Trust me." Instead, I prayed that this quiet time would help me restore some spiritual balance in my life. That I could find my own rhythm again. That this symbolic pilgrimage would help me build strength and energy for the months ahead. That I could be assured that our hopes and dreams, our plan, will be fulfilled. A lot to ask, and then I wrote in my journal one more request:

                       To be surprised. 

More than One Surprise.  

 Usually, when I walk a labyrinth it takes time to find my own rhythm and not feel wobbly on the narrow path. Normally, one is advised to walk the labyrinth slowly and deliberately, and that can take some focus and concentration. This time, however, I was surprised at how fully at ease I felt on the path. My arms hung easily and naturally at my sides, and I just walked as if I were strolling along my familiar neighborhood sidewalks. That was surprise #1.

Surprise #2 was discovering the clarity of this path. From a distance I had wondered if I would be able to find my way, for it looked so overgrown. Would I be able to see where to turn, for example? I was relieved to see how clear and distinct the path really was in spite of the weeds. I noted, however, my desire to tend the path, remove the dandelions, neaten the way. No surprise there!

Surprise #3 was how quickly I arrived at the approach to the center of the labyrinth. In past experiences I have been astounded by how long it seems to take to reach the center. I usually wonder if I have lost my way and may even have repeated part of the path. Often, when it seems I am almost there, the path swings further away from the center, and I begin to feel as if the center will never be attained. That was not true this time. I was so surprised when I arrived at the center before I expected to be there. 

 Entering the inner circle, I heard words whispered within, "Be prepared to be surprised." Being prepared and being surprised seem like opposites, but at the same time being prepared can mean being open to whatever surprises occur on the path. 

 As I walked out of the labyrinth, retracing the way in, I gave myself credit for being more balanced than I had been feeling, and I felt more energized and stronger than when I had started. I reminded myself to experience fully the path beneath my feet right now and to remember that what is worthwhile is not necessarily neat and well-tended. I rejoiced in the surprise.  

An Invitation
If you have walked a labyrinth, I would love to know your experience. I invite you to leave a comment. 

If you have not walked a labyrinth and would like to do so, here is how you can locate a labyrinth near you. Labyrinth Locator

I have written about previous labyrinth experiences before on my blogs. You may want to read Walking the Labyrinth at Chartres and Take Your Soul for a Walk.