Sunday, May 14, 2006

sweet and deep silence

In our meeting we have something called "afterthoughts," where if someone didn't get up the guts or wasn't sure something was really a strong enough leading to break the silence with they can share what they're thinking about right after meeting. It's a cool tradition, a good way to make sure everyone gets one last chance to be prompted by the Spirit, and also to give a space for people to share things they really want to share but that aren't necessarily Spirit-led.

So today during "afterthoughts," a member shared that he felt the silence of the meeting today (only one Friend shared) was sweeter than usual, had an unusual sense of depth. It's interesting how silence can feel full or empty, comfortable or scary, and how it can be a communal experience.

I love practicing silence. It draws me closer to God, and also to others present. I also like that it's so counter-cultural. It's opposite of our culture to just sit in a room with a bunch of other people and be still. I've been talking with my family about that lately, how for so many Americans it's normal to always have noise going: my sister's housemates always have the TV on, so many people at the coffee shop I work at come in wearing their iPods, and most people have music going as they drive and as they're at home. What's wrong with silence, I wonder? What makes it so scary to people?

I'm grateful to have been raised Quaker and to be comfortable and aware in the silence. I think it gives me heightened awareness of myself and those around me. It's vulnerable., and even if you're not really centered it still is a time of soul-searching, having to get in touch with where you're at in yourself. So I appreciate the silence, when it's deep and sweet like today, and even when it seems empty and distracted.


Paul said...

I’ve thought about silence the way people have said Eskimos think of snow. It seems that Eskimos have lots of different names for snow, depending on the condition of the snow. I wonder about different names or at least the different conditions of silence. Here are some silences I think I’ve experienced:
• Awkward silence
• Bored silence
• Stunned silence
• Anticipatory silence
• Heavy silence
• Peaceful silence
• Guilty silence
• Awed silence
• And of course…Gathered silence

There are others that can no doubt be named, but suffice it to say that for a person who is attentive to the experience of silence, these subtle, qualitative differences become apparent. So I really resonate and appreciate what your friend said after meeting concerning the quality of silence. I’ve experienced being in meeting for worship when no one spoke and the silence seemed shallow and maybe agitated. Then other meetings have also been without a spoken message, but the silence has seemed alive, gathered and deep. What is it that gives us these senses of the meeting? I find it hard to explain to folks why the silence felt one way or another.

QuakerK said...

I've been reading Rex Ambler's Experiment with Light, and I was struck by a comment he makes in there, to the effect that modern individuals can't use silence, we always have to be manipulating something, always have to have something in our heads. I know I tend to put on music or news when I'm home cooking, or on the computer, or driving in the car. Recently I've tried just having silence. I think the effect builds up over time--you learn to "listen to silence" better if you have more silence in your life.



Meredith said...

I, too, know the taste of sweet and deep silence. It is delicious. Recently I was considering how other traditions encourage a certain practice,for example to focus on the breath, in silence. While instructions such as these may help one begin to Be-in silence, the instructions interfere with the natural process that happens in simple silence, where all one needs to do is to sit quietly and notice. A friend of mine calls this "Open Source Meditation" when you just let whatever happens in silence happen, without manipulation. Quakers have been sitting in "open source" since our beginnings. The beauty of our silence is that Spirit is shared so fully, so sweetly, so expressly, and we only need to stay Awake to realize it.

Thank you, Cherice.

cherice said...

Thanks for all your comments on silence! It's amazing how it can be such a profound experience, and I like Paul's thoughts about Quakers being able to name different kinds of silence like Eskimos can name different kinds of snow. What an amazing gift, to be able to share in the practice of silence together--just for the sake of be-ing. How cool is it that we learn from it too?!