- Stop talking.
- Find a quiet place.
- Quiet your body.
- Slow your thoughts.
The following excerpt is from a sermon shared at the December 9, 2012 worship service at Chalice Unitarian Universalist Congregation.
There are many components to finding silence, yes? First is to stop talking yourself. I want to share that my own experience is that this can be quite difficult. My partner, Peter, and I went on a silent retreat one weekend at a retreat center, but we stayed in the same room. I couldn’t stop myself from talking with Peter when it was just the two of us. I had paid money to come to the silent retreat! But the yearning to connect through words, so conventional, was too much for me. I can stop talking for 15 minutes, no problem, but for hours? With my loved one right next to me? Not so easy.
So that’s the first challenge. Stop talking.
Next is to remove oneself from other sources of sound or noise. Again, this can be difficult. Of course, there’s going to be some ambient noise anywhere. But we want to be away from loud noise and aggravating noise, unwelcome sounds. Many of us here don’t always have the luxury of solitude or privacy. Finding real silence might require a babysitter or a drive to a park or lake. Even 15 minutes can be a real challenge.
Next is to quiet the body, to be still. This too can be difficult, creating its own anxiety. To be still and quiet is to be DOING NOTHING, and most of us feel that we’re supposed to be DOING. To be still is to give ourselves permission to just BE.
And then…how to quiet the mind. THAT’S the real chatterbox in our lives. Buddhists calls the chatterbox mind, MONKEY mind because our thoughts leap about, restless like a monkey. I imagine that many of us here have tried some kind of meditation, that practice of trying to empty the mind. Here’s what I want you to know about that: while I think silent meditation is a wonderful practice to attempt and work on, it was meaningful to ME to learn that meditation was originally considered such elevated spiritual work in the Buddhist tradition, that it was the purview of monks ONLY. It was never something that lay people would attempt. So know that the attempt to empty the mind is very ADVANCED spiritual work.
Much more do-able for me is to try and slow the mind, to observe my thoughts as they arrive and then to let them go. There are many different techniques for this kind of meditation: you can envision your thoughts on ticker tape moving through your mind, or your thoughts passing by as a waterfall or as a parade. You can focus on your breath to give your mind something to do, and call yourself back to the breath whenever your mind wanders.
We may not be able to bring our monkey mind to silence, but with practice, we can slow our thoughts, give them rest….
What we are finally left with in our silence…is listening. Martha Beck writes “What our souls hear, when we finally surrender to the great silence, is…truth.” What happens when we stop talking, stop engaging with noise, still our bodies, and slow our thoughts…sometimes when we do all that, we create space in our lives for that from which we have been hiding. Pain. Sorrow. Discomfort. Uncertainty. Questions we do not want to answer. Is my relationship okay? Am I happy at my job? Does my life have meaning? Should I see a doctor? Is someone I love dying?
These are the questions we bury with noise and activity. These questions of the soul: we ignore them, talk OVER them, steamroll them, and the more questions we cannot face, the more talking and DOING we invite into our lives to keep the provocative and disturbing questions of the soul unexpressed.
The soul needs silence. The soul needs silence to make itself heard. The soul—that part of us that needs grounding, nurturing, cries out to be held—the soul needs silence to bathe in, for cleansing, silence as a place to rest and relax. Once the questions and concerns of the soul can emerge through the silence, THEN we can begin to rest more deeply. The soul clamors to be heard, won’t rest until it’s HEARD. It’s a paradox: the soul clamors to be heard but requires silence to end the clamor. But once the soul is HEARD, then we can truly begin to rest, even as we wrestle with uncomfortable truths. “What our souls hear, when we finally surrender to the great silence, is…truth.”