The Power of Silence: In Conversation, In Contemplation, In Being

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I sometimes think that when I get sick, it’s because I’ve forgotten to listen. I’ve forgotten to listen internally, to my body. I’ve let it get too noisy and not gotten still enough to hear what’s going on. After a cold sets in, I realize that the chatter in my brain has gotten to excessively noisy levels, and my “push” meter is much higher than my “pull back, rest up a bit,” meter. Inside of all of this is a desire for silence: to quiet the noisy chatter, to steady the mind, to harness the body, to pause and take stock of what’s happening.

Sleep is a period of silence for us each day. With friends, the beauty inside of a conversation is in the stillness of the pauses. Silence is a period of reflection and contemplation. It is a place for depth.

And so today, in the thickness of my morning slumber, I begged for silence, and stumbled across this beautiful poem by Gunilla Norris (found via the On Being column by Parker Palmer). As Palmer so eloquently captures, “I find it compelling because it names the importance of both personal and shared silence.” I agree.

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.

In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.

The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children’s children.
Let us practice for life’s sake.”

I look to the space in between the words to define the words. I long for shared community gatherings that embrace not just conversation, but connection — and stillness — as modes of being. I cherish the lulls in between songs when sitting outside by a campfire in a circle as the night grows darker. I want to plan more periods of stillness and reflection amidst an organization’s crazy quest for more meetings. Silence gives us enough space to hear what’s actually happening, and act — not react — accordingly.


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