Why Bother To Cultivate Silence?

Why Bother To Cultivate Silence?

I am fortunate. I have a habit of waking up at 3:00 a.m. without an alarm clock. This early hour is my favorite time of day. Everything is still and relatively quiet in my neighborhood. Even the birds are silent. They don’t start singing their songs until around 3:30 in the morning. This practice of waking up early and peeling myself out of bed in order to sit in quiet, ensures a noiseless beginning to my day. And when I begin the day calmly and quietly, I am more likely to stay that way, even as the hours give way to the momentum of business and noise.  

Exposure to Quiet 

Years ago, I was introduced to the actual practice of sitting in silence when I attended a silent retreat with a friend at a monastery. Pulling into the parking lot of the abbey, and then stepping out of the car, silence greeted and welcomed me. It was everywhere. It permeated the air, surrounding, surprising and delighting me all at once. It only took a few days for me to become hooked, so to speak, on the beauty and power of silence. I noticed how the sisters at the monastery not only practiced quiet contemplation, but talked, walked and ate in a quiet and composed manner. They laughed, watched television and had occasional squabbles too, all the while maintaining even-temperedness, peace, and a self-controlled presence.  

After my first visit to the monastery, I went back as often as possible. I didn’t wait for an official retreat; instead, I scheduled times to get away and be silent with myself. At first, my husband worried I might be tempted to join the cloister. I assured him that I liked being married and that I knew celibacy was not my calling. I just needed to go to the abbey so I could practice how to live more quietly. Now though, I don’t have to go away to find that quiet. Instead, I just have to peel myself out of bed at an early hour each day and sit.  

Sitting in silence, like any other discipline, takes regular practice. And the more it is practiced, the more beneficial it becomes. While sitting in silence, everything inside of me has a chance to slow down. Sitting still, I can focus on breathing deeper breaths. 

Being quiet calms the mind. In those soundless ten to twenty minutes that I sit, my awareness increases so that I can hear myself think. In the early hour of 3:00 a.m. when cars, trains, planes and even the neighborhood dogs are mute, it is almost easy to let the unnecessary thoughts drop by the wayside. Without noise, natural restoration takes place. Then, as the hours of any day give way to the momentum of business and clamor, my body and mind can recall and tap into that even-temperedness, peace, and self-control that I started with.   

Why bother to cultivate silence? It is worth the practice because then it becomes a habit.

Why Bother To Reset?

Why Bother To Reset?

I am not too savvy when it comes to computer maintenance. As a matter of fact, I’d rather not have to dilly dally around with any machine when something goes wrong with it. But I own a computer and five days a week I use one at work, so when something goes haywire, I have to try and fix the problem, even if it means making a phone call to a technician. 

Computer technicians have a language all their own, and like Latin or Greek, I don’t understand it. More often than not, I have to ask them to repeat their directions and when they do, I hear a long sigh before they try again to explain. 

Once, a technician told me to try unplugging all the cords to my computer and then plugging them all back in again. That sounded like an easy solution until I crawled under my desk and looked at the tangle of cords. But ever since then, that is exactly what I do before calling for any help. And sometimes that is all that is needed to reset whatever needed resetting.   

Unplugging Myself

I discovered that like a computer, I too need to unplug to set things right again within myself. Even though I am a minimalist; not owning more than I need, maintaining healthy habits, and living within my financial boundaries, I’m not immune to getting overloaded with emails, deadlines and demands. 

I first started unplugging in order to reset my inner rhythm when my three sons were young, small and needy. I’d leave my husband in charge and take walks all by myself on Sunday afternoons.  After sixty minutes of no one calling me “Mom,” I felt a renewed sense of self and recharged, ready to face my duties with a smile. 

Later, as the kids got older and more independent, I could take myself away for a whole afternoon. Mounting my bike, I’d ride to the water’s edge, sit and stare out at the landscape and listen to waves wash against the sandy shore. It took a little commitment on my part to spend an afternoon away, but it made a big difference in the long run for everybody else, including myself. 

Now, with sons grown and gone, I have the luxury of taking more than an hour, and more than an afternoon to reboot. And I have found a special place to retreat to; a poustinia house, the Russian word for “desert.” It is a room where one can go to be alone to fast and to pray and recently, I went to do just that. 

In the absence of having to prepare any meals, I sat with a cup of hot tea in the chilly spring air listening to the only sound around me; wind blowing through the branches of the old pine trees in the woods. In the absence of my to-do list, I sat and watched deer nibble at new grass shoots in a meadow. Without a computer screen, I scratched out poems and prayers using pen and paper. In the silence and solitude I relaxed and rested giving myself over to as many naps as needed. After twenty-four hours of my unplugged state, I drove home and resumed the regular routine I’d left behind, but with a restored, renewed and a little slower rhythm.

Why bother to reset? It is worth the small effort it takes to unplug, but the results are large enough for you to notice.

Why Bother To Be Quiet?


Why Bother To Be Quiet?

There once was a popular song that often played on the radio of my mom’s Volkswagen, the car I’d borrow and drive around the city streets as a teenager. One of the lines from that song still sticks in my  head, “silence is golden.” But those words did not take on any meaning for me until I married a man of few words.

I’d grown up in a household with a lot of noise and not much silence unless everyone was asleep or Mom was mad at you. When angered, Mom went into silent mode. You never knew who had been the one to cross her since she’d apply the silent treatment to the whole household. She’d ignore all of us for a good while and we’d tip toe cautiously round her until she was no longer angry. Then she’d resume acting like her regular self, as though she’d never been upset in the first place. Her  behavior always left us feeling wobbly about our relationship with her. We never knew what we’d done wrong, so it was hard to know what we needed to do right. 

On the other hand, the way my brothers’ handled their anger was a much more productive method. One would wrestle the other to the ground and then pound on him until they apologized for their wrong doing. The offender then swore to never do it again. After that, there were no hard feelings lingering in the air. Unlike the silent treatment method that could last for days and make one wonder what they’d done wrong, wrestling and pounding on someone got the offense out in the open and an apology was always delivered.  

Silence Does Not Equate Anger

But with my husband, silence did not equate anger, which at first threw me off. His silence only meant that he had a different way of sorting through his thoughts. His way was quieter, something I was not used to, something I’d not seen while growing up. 

What had attracted me to my husband in the first place was his calm, quiet demeanor. He kept his cool all the time, never forcing anyone to apologize when they’d wronged him. But that same quality that had attracted me to him also caused some turmoil in our relationship until I learned how to talk less and listen more. 

Early in our marriage when I’d ask him a question, his answer never came quick enough to satisfy me. If I wanted an argument to clear the air, he’d refuse to argue. If I gave him the silent treatment, his silence outlasted mine. In exasperation, it finally dawned on me that I was the one who needed to change. If I wanted to hear him, I had to be quiet. If I valued his perspective, I had to give him ample time to share it. I had to let him process in his way; alone and quietly before hearing any answers from him.  Now I know that silence is golden. It does not signal anger or danger. It’s just the signal of a man, my husband, who is in the process of thinking things through, quietly and alone.

Why bother to be quiet? It is worth it to be quiet so that the ones who are otherwise silent can be heard.