Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My Rule of Life: Embrace Silence (Part 1)

Image: Public domain
At Launde Abbey, where I spend a large part of my working life these days, we have two half hour periods of silence every day. Communal silence shared in the ancient chapel, where quiet is really quiet. You can hear people breathing right across the room.

I'm finding that hour of silence increasingly important. Embrace Silence is the fourth commitment in my Rule of Life, and as well as being very important to me spiritually it contributes a great deal to my mental and psychological wellbeing.

It's important spiritually because it's in silence that I learn to be attentive to God, to listen. It seems to be a common experience for many people that, as the life of prayer matures, we find ourselves becoming less wordy, less talkative, and more ready to sit and listen to God, to receive, to hear his word. And later still, even that desire to listen is superseded by a longing simply to be present to God, to keep company with him, without either of us needing to say anything for the prayer to be complete. Of course, even those I've known who are deeply immersed in this contemplative prayer will also speak to God and listen for his voice - you never outgrow that. It's not maturity in a relationship to have stopped talking altogether! But over time the talking becomes less and less necessary. It's the companionship that matters.

I also find the silence to be tremendously helpful psychologically. There are times when I wonder whether my brain has been overclocked. It just seems to run at a tremendous rate, racing from one idea to another at great speed, holding multiple unrelated thoughts in place all at once, always discovering new and unexpected connections between the unlikeliest ideas and images. It can be fun sometimes - it's really helped me as a speaker and teacher to be able to think rapidly on my feet, and it's helped me be more creative and imaginative sometimes. But it can also be a burden. It's hard to switch off, day or night. It makes it harder to listen to people properly. And sometimes it seems to run almost out of control, my head buzzing with more than I can cope with. I've noticed that this "overheating" often coincides with the development of a migraine, which is no fun at all.

Silence slows it all down. Helps me find myself again, and pace myself through the rest of the day. Helps me listen more fully to God and others. It introduces a stillness into my mind and heart. And that effect is cumulative - that is, the more frequently I come back to the exterior silence, the deeper it seems to become in my soul.

I find silence hard work. It's certainly a discipline. And it can be hard to enter into it away from the peaceful environment of the Abbey here! But I've learned to love it greatly.

What's been your experience of silence? How do you create it in your life? How has it helped you - or does it not help at all?

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