Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keeping The Silence

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.

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