The Gifts of Silence

What arises in you with the word silence?

For some, it is a place of discomfort.  For some, it is a place of refuge.

I believe that silence can provide three incredible gifts in our lives if we allow it to.  Recently I felt muddled, overwhelmed, and confused about some decisions before me. I felt pressure to make decisions, but I wasn’t clear in myself what those decisions needed to be.  I was grateful for the rhythms of silence in my life that invited me to stop.  Breathe.  Wait. Listen, and trust that the understanding would come.

Over the past twenty-five years, I have come to respect silence as a deep friend in my life.  It has become the place of not only rest, but of deep and profound wisdom.  Last weekend I spent a few days at the hermitage on Bowen Island and was able to sink into the rich gift of silence.  Here are some thoughts of what silence means to me and how it has helped me on this path of life.

  1. The Mirror.  Silence is a mirror.  There is nowhere to hide when one drops into a truly silent space.  What is happening internally or externally is no longer hidden by talking, distraction, or avoidance.  Silence reveals, exposes, illuminates.

When silence reveals what is happening externally or internally, we may want to look away and not notice.  There is a great old story called Bluebeard, where the maiden opens a forbidden door to see the skeletons of all the former wives that her new husband had killed!  What a scene.  She has a choice – to either shut the door or really look at what is before her and face the truth of her situation. Silence is like the opening of that door, an opportunity to really look.

When we have the courage to look, really look, it can open one of the greatest opportunities of our life, to befriend our own lives.  Most of us are disconnected from our own hearts, our passion, our hidden places.  We live on the surface of our lives and keep all closet doors firmly shut.  If we keep these doors shut, we not only miss the opportunity to heal our pain, we miss the opportunity to find the hidden treasure.  I do believe we each have something precious within, the sacredness of our soul.

Parker Palmer talks about our soul being like a wild animal within, waiting for us to be still enough to notice it.  In the book, Let Your Life Speak, he says:  “ the soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy.  If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out.  But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.”[1]

In my own notes beside this quote in the book I wrote these words, “the fruit of silence is a glimpse of the soul.”  The gift of silence is a glimpse of something precious in us, but we need to slow down, to breathe, to listen underneath the noise, and wait.

When we enter this kind of silence, a welcoming and kind silence, the preciousness of our lives may appear.  I find here that many of us can be harsh critics, judging and criticizing the self.  It is a practice to learn to be a kind and safe space for our own being; welcoming and loving, compassionate and tender.  When we learn to be kind to ourselves, the silence opens a space for what I would call friendship with the soul.  This kind of loving friendship within is life-changing as the soul is wise and the place of communion with the Divine, our Source, Loving Presence.

It is here that we receive the second gift of silence.

  1. The Tuning  As a musician, I am aware of the power of tuning an instrument.  Even a slight adjustment can create a richer tone and vibrancy in the music an instrument can create.  When one has opened an interior space, opened with kindness to the soul, and offered a welcoming listening posture within, there is an opportunity for an alignment, a tuning to the truth of one’s being.

I believe it is here that one can listen to a deep wisdom.  Silence, a beautiful silence, offers a sense of music from another source.  Instead of listening to the inner critic, the pressures of social media, the expectations of others, the demands of the work environment, one is listening to the soul.

How does one express how to listen to the soul?  How does one express how to listen to the Divine?  These things are difficult to say.  However, I believe we can test something by the fruit of it over time.  If the soul is the place of great beauty, the place of the Spirit within, the fruit of it will be as the scriptures say;

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.[2]

Could it be that through silence, through stillness, we become aware of the voice of the Spirit within? The Wisdom of the soul?  In my work with retreats and spiritual direction, I witness the countenance of people shifts as they align with this inner place of Love.  It is hard to describe, to put my finger, but it is powerful to see.  There is a rest, a calm, a radiance that emerges on the face when one lets go of the inner critic, outer expectations, and drops down into the welcoming grace that the soul offers.  This is the place of being tuned to the truth of our being.  It is here that I believe the third invitation of silence arises.

  1. The Dream  One of the teachers in my life (Mary Morrisey) said, “the Infinite is infinite with possibility”.  This was a powerful statement that I have meditated on a great deal.  This statement opens my heart and mind to listen and receive possibilities that I am invited to dream.  Another mentor/teacher (Doreen Kostynuik) has spoken of “the dream of God dreaming us”.  What if we are created in love, as the yearning of the Divine, with the potential of being and creating great and beautiful things?  What is our potential when we open to the vastness and true goodness of our being?

One of my great curiosities is to ask what our potential of being is.  What is the potential of our mind when we devote ourselves to align with the truth of our being?  What is the potential of our hearts when we align with the graciousness of Love?  What is the potential of our lives when we open to the possibilities yearning to flow through us?

When I allow times of deep silence in my life, I have the opportunity to let go of my small-mindedness and open to dream of what may be possible.  I open to dreaming about what different scenarios.  For example, I might consider a difficult situation and ask the question:  What might be the most loving situation that could unfold that I could imagine?  In the silence, I am able to open up to possibilities I may not have ever considered.  I have come to expect that there are so many possibilities that are loving, healing, restorative, generative, and beautiful – if we will open to them.

Recently, I returned to Bowen Island where I have gone for over twenty years in rhythms of silence.  The gift of being in silence with the beauty of the forest surrounding one is quiet incredible.  I woke up on morning, looked out the window and saw two deer looking at me in the silence.  The stars, the moon, the evergreens all rest in silence.  When I move in the silence of the forest, I join a whole community of nature that is quiet and yet alive with a powerful beauty.  Nature has so much to teach us through its gentle knowing, quiet dignity, and silent rootedness.

May silence touch you with grace.  May silence teach you wisdom.  My silence support your life.  May silence become a friend and fill you a beautiful dream.

[1] Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer, p8

[2] Galatians 5:22, NIV translation

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