I was recently corresponding with a friend who had just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat. Such periodic experiences are a special opportunity to put aside the noise of our normal daily routine and spend a weekend, or particularly a week, in a quiet environment focused on reconnecting with ourselves and with the greater Universe. Regardless of the specific emphasis of such retreats, we cannot help but experience some change in how we think, feel and act from this time well spent. Such was the experience for this friend. But her other observation was that, “I have wanted to continue this silence after coming home, but it has been difficult.” It is a common lament and frustration – after the creative bliss of a dedicated spiritual time, how do we keep that experience going after we are back in “the real world”?
One way is by focusing on the fact of the quiet, of the silence.
If we really seek to pursue this continued state of quiet, we will find
that we actually have more control over our noise than we may like to
admit. All audio and video equipment has
an “off” switch that we can use; it is our choice whether to switch it to
“on.” Do we really have to check our
email, Facebook and Twitter pages every few minutes of the day? Do we really need our cell phones on 24 x 7
and have to answer it the moment it rings at someone else’s convenient
time? (We managed to miss calls for over
one hundred years quite successfully; the inventor of the telephone refused to even
have one in his house!) Do we really
need to watch television shows that educate or entertain us very little, but
simply instead serve to occupy or distract our thinking? At work, do we really need to work through
lunch, versus go out for a few minutes for a quiet walk by ourselves? (The work will always be there no matter how
many hours we put in.) When we drive our
car, do we listen to the radio or listen to our thoughts? Like anything else in our external
environment, we can be the victim of our circumstances or the determiner. We may not have complete control over our
time and schedule, but we have more than we like to admit. It is all about our choices and commitments.
But there is another kind of quiet that we experience at our spiritual
retreats. It is not the fact of the
quiet that surrounds us there. It is the
spirit of the quiet that comes to
reside in our heart and mind. The quiet
of the retreat allows us to infuse our thinking with an unfamiliar pause. A pause to reflect about our thinking, a
pause to consider our actions. A moment
to re-identify what we are truly about, what God wishes for us, and what we
wish to be with God. It is a quiet of
mind and spirit that enables us to act from a thoughtful decision rather than
making a reflexive action.
That is the quiet we truly seek at our retreats. The external quiet nurtures us, but it is not
really why we are there. It only helps
us practice for the spiritual quiet that
we truly seek; the quiet of spiritually listening to often unheard voices. We can do much towards turning the outside
noise switch to “off” and getting some measure of emulated quiet. But when we take a moment to stop and hear
and consider before we act, seeking to act in God’s way, that is when we truly
“keep the silence” of the retreatant.