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.
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."
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.