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Explaining Silence

As we were packing up to leave after my last quiet day retreat, one of my regular participants commented on how he wished people understood these retreats better and felt the room would be packed if they did. He mentioned how he believes that many people wonder how they could possibly fill five or six hours of their day in silence when there is so much to accomplish each day. He said he wondered that too at one time, until he experienced it for himself.

I started thinking about this idea of explaining silence to others. Silence is one of the greatest tools of my life, but I realized that it’s difficult to explain the power of silence to someone who hasn’t experienced it. I don’t mean angry silence or monkey brain silence or scrolling through Facebook silence. I mean contemplative silence, the kind of silence where you truly allow yourself to be in the present moment, without an agenda, without anything to accomplish, just to be.

One thing I do really well is to be in silence. There are countless things I don’t do well (such as multi-tasking and backing my car up without hitting a telephone pole), but silence is not one of them. I wish I had an encouraging story about how I struggled with silence and then, lo and behold, I overcame it. But the truth is the first time I attended a quiet day retreat, I dove right in, as if I had been waiting for years for a pond of silence to open up so I could swim in it. I realize it’s not that easy for everyone. Maybe I am not the most qualified person to explain its power since it comes so natural to me, but I will attempt it anyway.

Why would anyone want to spend hours in silence when there is so much to accomplish? The first idea that came to me was the Zen proverb, which states, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day-unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Who in our current culture is not too busy? Why silence? Because we are living in a world where silence is harder and harder to come by, where there is constant chatter and noise. Silence has too much competition. But our soul craves silence in order to be heard more deeply.

John O’Donohue said, “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it’s very easy to miss it.” When we are quiet, we connect with our inner voice; we connect with the Divine; we connect with our authentic self and why we came to this earth.

For me silence is the great resting place where I am strengthened to deal with the challenging realities of this life. It is the place where my anxious heart overwhelmed with lack and fear transforms into a calm heart overwhelmed with gratitude and joy, where I suddenly feel that what I have and who I am is enough.

Silence is where my creativity is born, where new ideas bubble up to the surface of my mind, ideas I know did not come from me. I understand what Rumi means when he says, “When I am silent, I have thunder hidden inside.” There is so much hidden beneath the noise and chatter that needs silence to be revealed. I’m sure silence is different for everyone but I believe there are gifts in it for anyone.

You can come to my next quiet day retreat…or not. What I do hope for you is that you will find your own brand of silence, whether it’s traditional meditation or walking a labyrinth or solitude hiking or sitting on your back porch listening to the rain. I pray what ever it is, it will be a regular part of your life. You will be amazed at the riches it will bring.

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