Listening to Silence
“Sit in silence for five minutes and write down everything you hear.” That’s what the professor said to our freshman survey course, a course that had nothing to do with stillness or meditation. It’s about all I remember from that class.
I took a Field Trip on Sunday. Two friends have recently became Friends, I’ve long been intrigued by the Quakers, and my calling didn’t need me this week. So I signed my own permission slip and trotted off to a silent meeting. And it was silent. Only one person was moved to speak – a brief message on the expanding universe and patience with the “Lord’s time.” For the remaining hour and 14 minutes, fifty people sat on hard wooden benches facing one another, heads bowed. Silent. I tried to listen.
Here’s what I heard in the silence:
1) My loud LOUD thoughts. Do I always bellow so vociferously?
2) My anxious prayers. Quakers query. They sit with questions. Great idea, I think — so I flood God with lots of BIG QUESTIONS to fill the silence. Ouch. My fragile peace decelerates with each shrill worry. No “living and vital holy hush” (Bill 21). Except a thought does emerge: Start simple. Pay attention to your body.
3) OK, so what does my body say? I’m sore, it says. My back hurts, hamstrings hurt, jaw hurts. As I sit in stillness, my body begins to correct its posture, to release sore muscles until the only discomfort left is my stomach. Huh? I don’t have a stomachache. But it feels anxious. I let it go, pop it out a little – my own Buddha belly that I unconsciously “suck-in” at all times. I trained myself to do this in high school. Great for the stomach muscles, not so good for the body image muscles. I feel sheepish that this “popping out” felt like an act of courage.
4) It is nicer to sit quietly with others than to sit quietly alone, I think. I have stacks of unopened yoga videos, discarded mantras, and Windham Hill CDs. I am bad bad bad at meditating in private. It feels much warmer to sit quietly in a group. My spiritually a-religious husband asks, “Why a church?” For whatever reason, I worship better in community.
5) A gut-worry emerges about an upcoming meeting at work. I ask myself, “What’s so scary? It’s an ordinary event that you’ve managed a hundred times before? It’s just . . you hate to disappoint people – you live in dread of disappointing people. Old story. So why did you try to guilt your husband this weekend with intimations of “disappointment?’” That’s a practical insight for my marriage.
6) Silence. For at least a minute, all I heard was . . . nothing. Soft silence. Something I haven’t heard in a long time; something I hope to find again during the sacrament next week.
Ever wonder what the silence would say to you?
Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality, J. Brent Bill, 2005.