Mind Matters — Silence, Sacred Space, and a Prayer for Boredom

Every now and then, a friend enjoins me to go with her and her meditation group to Holy Cross Abbey, a Trappist Monastery in Virginia to spend a weekend there. When I mention this to people, they are sometimes taken aback, perhaps considering sacrificial austerity and horsehair shirts. It is not that.

But it is this: a place where silence is honored and respected. And in the silence there can be relief. No droning TV’s, radios—not even meal time chatter or loud carrying on in the halls of the guest house where we stay. Just enough quiet to no longer be able to escape into busyness and noisiness and away from the inner voices of your own inner longing.

The last time we travelled there, I drove through some heavy D.C. traffic. Upon arrival, I fell onto the bed, breathing out the tension I felt in my body after a long week of work and a stressful drive. After several hours, I could feel myself slowly settling into the rhythm of the monks’ routine.

If you (and you are not required to) attend any prayer services (3:30AM is first of the day), you discover that the chanting and the scriptural readings are not rushed. Even without attending any services, the solitude and quiet is a palpable respite.

We live in such a world of noise—noise pollution is a fact. (Light pollution and our lack of dark, yet brilliantly lit, starry skies is also a problem—which I’ll not address here.) How can we hear our own still voice within if we are being hammered incessantly by media news blitzes, “radio-crity”, cell phones, iPods, electronic games ad infinitum.

I don’t espouse to be a Luddite. What is our vice can also be our virtue. The media and our electronics, all have their place. What we do need to recognize as part of our own stress reduction and healthy self-care is that we need a time for silence.

Silence and solitude are not to be confused with loneliness or isolation. We can feel isolated in a crowd, and feel quite connected to the universe, when we experience silence and solitude. Ronald Rolheiser, theologian and author reminds us, “Silence is a special language that is not in opposition to words. Silence and words need each other. There are things we can only know through silence, just as there are things we can only know through conversation.”

In our hectic, busy lives, we all need to find time for some silence. Of course, we can’t haul off to the mountain top or to the monastery forever (if at all). So how do we find the sacred space for silence in the everyday moments of our lives?

Some possibilities to consider:

More on silence: