Thursday, May 31


I'm surprised this post has been so long in coming as it has its origins in a colloquium discussion on the Quakers just after spring break.

As nearly as I can remember, the progression went like this. In the Quaker service my friends attended, there was an extended period of quiet prayer, maybe 20 minutes long, broken only if someone felt the spririt move them to say something. There might have been a specific name for this, but I have since forgotten. To give us all a sense of it, the class as a whole was invited to participate in this. No one quaked or felt compelled by the spirit to say anything during our foray into Quaker prayer. After sometime it was ended, and we were asked to share our experiences and thoughts on it.

I eventually raised my hand and questioned what exactly we meant by quiet and silence. True silence, in that there is nothing to be heard, is an awfully artificial quality. In nature there is always animal life or wind to play upon the ears. And people frequently complain of the constant din of city life. The only way I know of to find it is through a purely human initiated sound-proof chamber.

I left my question at that, and a few people offered their suggestions. The only one I remember involved a person saying that they felt at peace in nature, even if there wasn't complete silence.

I've had some time since that presentation and would now like to offer my own answer to it. What I believe we are truly searching for when we say we are looking for silence, short of a retreat to that sound-proof chamber, is better described as stillness, being aware of and acknowledging all that audible information and accepting it. It doesn't shock us or distract us. It is simply there, alongside us, not to be resisted or understood as an irritation because we cannot control it. In this way, stillness can be found anywhere. Absorption into a forest or on the shores of some lake is not an atypical occurrence as one falls into their respective rhythms. Similarly, one can eventually fall into the pulse of the city as well. A friend of mine once told me a story about his younger brother. Their family had moved from a major city to the outskirts of my small town. That first night, the brother woke his parents and complaining that the crickets were too loud. I find it difficult to imagine that the crickets were truly louder than passing traffic, but their rhythm was different from what he was used to. Thus his personal stillness was broken. Some settings, though, are certainly more conducive to stillness. A piped truck can pass by one's home and disrupt any calm, and if one is in a state of fear because of an unfamiliar location, every sound indicates a possible threat and prevents any possibility for becoming still.

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