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Lean back in your chair

for ten minutes

and listen . . .

We are so used to noise and distraction that we may have forgotten what silence means.

Just lean back in your chair for ten minutes (check it by your watch), close your eyes and listen to the many sounds coming to your ears.

If we try this, we will observe some remarkable reactions in ourself.

First, we take note of many sounds we were not even aware of. Some are soft, some amazingly loud. Traffic in the distance. Music drifting in from across the road. A curtain rustling in the draft. The beating of our heart . . .

Then we may become distracted. We are conscious of thoughts and words flooding our mind, obliterating the external sounds.

This is internal 'noise'.

It is the noise we create ourselves.

At this point we may feel like getting up and doing something . . . It is as if the silence oppresses us, frightens us.

Why is it so?

Addiction to noise?

Why is it that we seek noise, want noise? Why do some of us become almost physically unwell when we are exposed to silence?

While in the dentists's waiting room, we will frantically look for some reading matter. Going out for a picnic, we will carry a transistor radio with us. Many of us go through a whole day, from morning till night, being talked to, or whenever not, incessantly talking to ourselves. It does not cross our minds to halt this flow even for a few minutes, simply to enjoy silence, to observe things around us, to look and listen.

Psychologists point to existential fear as the root cause of our clinging to inner noise. Existential fear means anxiety about being what we are. In our subconscious we harbour painful and unpleasant realities. We feel inadequate or personally insecure. We nurture unresolved conflicts with people at home or at work. We are afraid of suffering and death. Since we dare not face these realities, we suppress them. We drown them in noise.

Or noise may simply have become a habit of life, an addiction, a practice we hang on to because we have forgotten how sweet and liberating silence can be. Like always insisting on strong tea because we have lost the taste for a delicious glass of pure water.

But if we want to attain a deeper awareness of reality, if we want to free ourselves from self-imposed taboos, if we want to transcend the flow of trivialities, if we want to understand the things that really matter, we have to learn to withdraw in silence.

Silence actually has a beauty all its own. It is pure like fresh air in the mountains, like crystal drops in a spring. All religious traditions stress this need of withdrawal, of facing ourselves and Reality in silence.





Why am I afraid
of silence?
Why don't I seek
the hush
of quiet places
where alone and
I can be myself?

Where in the stillness all around me
peace within me
I can hear
the whisper
of truth that lasts?

If I can listen
I will be a different kind of person.
I will need no speech.
I will face the Real in silence.
I will meet the Other.

John Wijngaards

Creating time for silence

It is essential, therefore, that we find time in our daily schedule for silence.

In practice this could mean two things.

First, why spoil the natural moments of silence that come our way? We may be waiting for a bus. We may be washing up. We may be walking home from shopping or from work. We should savour these opportunities of silent concentration, even when performing routine actions.

Second, why not set aside, at least once a day, a fixed period of time for explicit withdrawal in 'inner, silent prayer'? This could be fifteen minutes, or half an hour. Some people find the morning best, before going to work; others prefer the evening. Whatever time it is, we should make sure that it is a time when we can switch off all outer and inner noise. Once we have acquired the habit, we will find it so rewarding that we will not like to miss it on any day.

'If you love truth, be a lover of silence.
In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent;

but then something is born that draws us to silence.

May God give you experience of this "something" that is born of silence.'

St. Isaac of Niniveh, Syrian mystic 670 AD

Silence has now become both a physical and a spiritual necessity for me.
Originally, it was taken to relieve the sense of pressure. Then I wanted time for writing. But after I had practised silence for some time, I saw the spiritual value of it. It suddenly flashed across my mind that this was the time when I could best hold communion with God And now I feel as though I was naturally built for silence . . .
I have sought silence for communion even during my noisiest time. I have had recourse to sea voyages for the purpose, though, of course, the radio has now robbed even a sea voyage of the privilege of silence one used to enjoy on the boat.
But silent prayer is not a monologue. God speaks to us only when we are silently ready to listen to him . . .
Believe me. When we rid our mind of all conscious thought, when we allow it to be flooded with the spirit of the invisible God, it brings us unspeakable rest and peace. It unites our deepest self with the Eternal . . .

Mahatma Gandhi (India 1869-1948)

I have the everlasting conviction
that any human being,
however devoid of natural gifts,
can penetrate to the kingdom of truth
reserved for genius,
if only he or she longs for truth
and is willing to concentrate all attention.
Attention consists of suspending our thought,
leaving it detached,
ready to be penetrated by the thing
or person we face.

It means holding in our minds,
within reach of this thought
but on a lower level and not in contact with it,
the knowledge we have acquired
about that thing or person.

Our way of thinking
is like a woman on a mountain who,
as she looks forward,
sees also below her,
without actually looking at them,
a great many forests and plains.

In this way our thought should be silent,
not seeking anything,
but ready to receive in its naked truth
the thing or the person we face.

Simone Weil, French mystic (1909 - 1943)

What you should do

  1. Before going to the next lesson, practice silence for at least a week. This means that you spend at least 15 minutes a day in silence. Later we will give you more suggestions of what you could do during this period of silence. In the beginning just spend the quarter of an hour relaxing and making everything calm and quiet inside you.
  2. Once or twice during the week you could return to this lesson. View the video once more, read the text and reflect on the meaning of silence in your life.

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For the video clip from "The Seven Circles of Prayer" we obtained permission from the copyright owner Housetop. The text was taken from "Stepping into the Seven Circles of Prayer" by John Wijngaards who is also the author of this course; illustrations are by Alison Conti.

This is the sequence of all the lessons.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Silence Space Seeing Suffering Touching Listening Encounter