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.