Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Power of Silence

Because my office is in a downtown church, various groups use the building during the week. On several occasions, space has been rented to a group that is training people to be mediators. Someone asked me the other day if I was leading that group. This person had misread the sign and thought it was meditation training, not mediation training! I half-jokingly said that maybe if more people meditated, there would be less need for mediation!

The discipline of silence is both underappreciated and transformative. Most people want to do something for a spiritual discipline. They would rather fast, serve or study than to be silent. Silence and stillness doesn’t feel like anything, until you actually try to be still and silent. Then you realize that outward movement and quiet may happen, but inward silence and stillness is a whole different story!

I am facilitating a study of a book by Esther de Waal entitled Lost in Wonder. In the chapter on silence, she says, “Listen to the silence, let it enfold you, like a piece of music, like bird-watching.” I like the idea of letting silence enfold me. It sounds more like submitting to what is already present rather than exerting my effort to be silent and still.

Like weeds, the noise around us crowds out the silence that has been present in the world since the world was created. It takes practice for us to uncrowd our hearts enough to let the enfolding silence soak deeply into us. Constant noise and chatter, both outward and inward, stunts our spiritual growth. We may think out noisy minds are thinking, but deep thinking does not happen in chatter but in quiet.

Most of what goes through our minds is not thinking at all but is unthinking. It is why we react emotionally, saying and doing things without consideration. A noisy mind is the birthplace of hurtful words, judgment, wrongheaded assumptions and emotionally charged reactions—all symptoms of violence. This happens because we substitute unthinking for true reality, which is God.

Those who regularly practice silence are able to detach from the noise of unthinking, detach from the emotionally charged assumptions and judgments. Detachment doesn’t denote uncaring. Rather, detachment allows one to view situations from a place of quiet and calm, cultivated by a regular discipline of silence and stillness. Silence and stillness may be the most powerful force for change in the world, because real change begins within each one of us.