IN PRAISE of SILENCE

by Richard B. Patterson

To those who would seek a spiritual path, there is one requirement that for many is daunting and turns them away. That requirement is silence. The capacity to sit quietly, to avoid the distraction of television or laptop or cell phone is becoming a rare ability. Perhaps we bore easily. Or perhaps we are afraid.

Some years ago I went on a retreat. I'd requested a room alone so that I could immerse myself in silence. I arrived at my room to notice the absence of TV and radio. The first thing I wanted to do was -- drink! I was assaulted with a desire to drink. Alcohol had long been my escape from myself and so, when faced with the reality of encountering myself, I wanted to run. I was afraid.

When we are silent, we don't always become peaceful. Sometimes old hurts well up. Sometimes we are faced with grief we've been avoiding. Or perhaps we become aware of those dark corners of ourselves that we don't like to admit. Yet such confrontations are an integral facet of a spiritual journey. They tend not to show themselves until we are quiet.

Try silence for a moment after you've finished your web surfing. Turn off the computer, the TV, your cell phone and anything else that may intrude. Then simply sit and listen. What do you hear? Open your journal and write down what comes to you during those moments.

The sounds of silence are not always terrifying. Perhaps we will tap a new level of creativity. Perhaps we will deepen an understanding. Or perhaps we will simply hear the song of a bird we'd not noticed before. Then we might better understand the joy of silence celebrated by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Elected silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

08/17/00

Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.

 

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