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Source: (consider it) Thread: 8D - Quiet Zone: Your journey with silence
Nenya
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# 16427

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How did you come to engage with silence, meditation, contemplative prayer/practice? Is it something you've always done, have done for many years, or have come to more recently?

Also, which books or other resources have helped you on your way? I nearly called this thread "Into the silent land" which, as well as being a phrase from Christina Georgina Rossetti's poem "Remember", is also the title of a book by Martin Laird. This, along with its companion volume "A Sunlit Absence", has been one of the best books I've read on the subject. (I've just discovered that my copy of it has gone missing so I'm trying to keep calm. [Eek!] )

[ 19. March 2017, 14:37: Message edited by: RuthW ]

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They told me I was delusional. I nearly fell off my unicorn.

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Ariel
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I don't really know when it started. Having formerly lived in a house that was quite prone to a deep kind of silence may well have set the pattern. Either way, once I'd left and started living in a series of bedsits, it became a rare pleasure to be able to open the door to a place and not hear the bass beat of someone else's taste in music, or the complete song played over and over again, constant reminders of a stranger's presence, an intrusion into my own space, and having to snatch quiet time where I could and adjust to living to their pattern, not my own. (I can remember one place I lived where mostly I was unable to watch television for it being drowned out by music from the neighbours on three sides.)

To compensate I sought out silence. Churches, wild places, anywhere there was no music, no thumping, intrusive bass beat (by now it was giving me panic attacks). I found them restorative and I looked for that quality generally.

I'd also been interested in meditation and active contemplation for years, ever since I was a teenager. I used to do New Age ones where you visualize yourself in a scene and become part of it, and that transferred quite easily to Christianity and Gospel scenes. Also meditating on symbols. Just sitting in the interior of a church can be very fruitful in that respect once you get the knack.

"The Big Silence" was broadcast on television at a time when I was in a spiritual desert and had been for a long time, and I can only say it reinforced the idea that this was something I wanted to seek out, because by then I'd discovered that silence can be dynamic, living and powerful. Briefly, it featured five participants from quite busy backgrounds who were up for spending a period of time in a monastery to see if they could get some inner calm and perspective. It was a fascinating journey to watch with some twists in it.

Sara Maitland's book "Silence" is a very interesting and accessible read that covers quite a lot of topics. I'd also recommend Rowan William's "Silence and Honey Cakes" in which he discusses the desert fathers and how they coped with isolation, hermitage and all the rest of it.

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Miffy

Ship's elephant
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My journey began in my forties whilst I was struggling to settle back into life in the Uk after many year's time abroad. Throwing myself into church life was an important part of this, though looking back, the signs that I was searching for that 'something more' than could then be found in that particular theology and churchman ship were there even then.

The catalyst for change proved to be the influence of a church staff member who introduced us to a contemplative way of praying and being, a way that sadly wasn't to the fore in the church just then. I also discovered the works of Gerard Hughes ( ' O God, Why?' 'God of Surprises,' and 'God in All Things' around the same time. Folk like Margaret Silf and Margaret Guenther have also played an important role in my journey into silence.

Not long after this, I discovered spiritual direction (Thanks to The Ship for this!)

Thriygh a prayer day at another local church, I met a religious sister who pointed me towards the Retreat Association; I began to try retreats and Quiet Days, and the rest- as they say- is history.

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"I don't feel like smiling." "You're English dear; fake it!" (Colin Firth "Easy Virtue")
Growing Greenpatches

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kingsfold

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Like Ariel, I don’t really know when the journey truly started, but I looking back I can see some of the markers and lines in the sand. That’s probably twenty years ago when I was living with someone who always had the TV on as background noise and it drove me mad. When I moved out, the sense of personal space and silence came as a huge relief.

Around eight or so years later, I’d done a couple of retreats in everyday life, and was beginning to think I needed to explore spiritual direction. A series called “The Monastery” was broadcast on BBC TV, when a group of men went a lived alongside the monks at Worth for a month. The series had a big impact on me and at some deep, inner level there was an attraction that I couldn’t quite get a handle on. And I very gradually became aware that when life got busy, what I craved was inner space and silence. Exterior silence wasn’t difficult – I lived alone and my neighbours weren’t generally noisy. Meanwhile I’d followed up on the spiritual direction and was beginning to more consciously meditate and reflect. I also visited a local(ish) Benedictine House for a couple of retreats.

It all went quiet for a while when I moved to Scotland – it was a pretty big upheaval and it took a long time to settle. But the yearning for inner space and silence never went… well, silent. And then the TV series “The Big Silence” , which again had a big impact. Some folk from my church were inspired to say “we need to try and do something like this” and decided to do a trial run of an hour shared silence one Sunday night to see how it might work. They let me gate-crash their session, and it was somehow like coming home. And the journey into silence has continued ever since.

In retrospect, I think the call to silence has existed for quite some time but it has taken me a while to hear and respond. Coincidentally, I was reflecting on this very recently with my current spiritual director, who has encouraged me on the contemplative road. Life generally is pretty busy, but I find more and more that it needs to be lived out of a place of silence. It is in the silence that I find encounter with God, renewal and restoration, and that gives me the strength to live the rest of my life. At this point, it feels like this the road I should follow and which helps me to be most really me.

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I came to Jesus and I found in him my star, my sun.
And in that light of life I'll walk 'til travelling days are done


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Jengie jon

Semper Reformanda
# 273

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I come from a childhood home where silence was the norm. TV was not banned but in the coldest room. The radio on for the news only and music listening was something you did in a focused way. I am hyperacusis and I suspect it is genetic with one or both of my parents (as well as my nephew) having it.

By the age of four (I could have been three) I sought out silence and the break from interacting with other humans. From late primary school my parents deliberately gave me access to my father's study a room where the silence was more intense. So the evidence is I have always not just been used to it but also sought it.

What is more, noisy surroundings are toxic to me to such an extent that works allows an adaptation in my working environment (it was a choice between me being in work or off about 50% of the time).

The question, therefore is not when I started seeking silence but when I started connecting with the prayer traditions that are associated with it.

The connecting with faith and nature perhaps was first as it is for many kids brought up in URCs. You are dragged on church walks, hostelling holidays and otherwise activities that build together faith community and connection with the natural world. I have yet to come across a URC that does not have a walking group in some form. If you are wondering about connection between YHA, Ramblers Association and many other active groups then look no further than T A Leonard and think how his Christian tradition both formed it and picked it up. By late teens I was well and truly indoctrinated.

The first formal times were when I was at University. In my first year, I went to Iona. It was a week that blew me away but it took me nine years before I dared to go back. One thing that happened that week was a spell of communal silence. I just used it as an opportunity to read through a book of the Bible but in the common space. It was surprising how people behaved. People who were extrovert in behaviour were not imprisoned into self-containment by the silence. In my third year, I took part in a retreat in life. I should say that my father went on silent retreats in my childhood but I was only vaguely aware of them but retreats were not new..

I suppose the next stage was moving in my flat alone and getting used to my own silence. It was at that stage that I began differentiating contemplative prayer as something that I was interested in exploring. However, with this background it was very much a solitary meander directed my mood.

Taking it more seriously and trying to deliberately build it came after I was initially diagnosed with depression. I think it was a way to create space to recuperate. It was at this stage that I started reading. So my journey with silence started with the experience and then moved to the theory.

I try to limit the silence not because I do not like it. Rather silence is my retreat from life and because of that I will use it when life is overwhelming. It is, if you like, my default state. So, not surprisingly, I will use short-term voluntary mutism; as that limits the noise in those situations in the only way I can. So there is part of me that suspect I could enter it and not return.

Jengie

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"To violate a persons ability to distinguish fact from fantasy is the epistemological equivalent of rape." Noretta Koertge

Walking 18 miles to help Refugees get an education.

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Nenya
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I was for a long time drawn to the ideas of retreat and silence, and around nine years ago we had a life coach do some sessions at a work conference. He encouraged us to have a silent coffee break, which I found amazing and was my first taste of the power of silence.

Around this time four years ago I was reeling from the death of my mum, following the death of one of my elder brothers nine months previously. I will never, in this life at least, understand why my 91 year old mum, who was bedridden and had been "asking the Lord to take me" for a number of years, had to know the anguish of the loss of a child in the last months of her life. I was grieving, angry, lost, and a lot of other things besides. A friend invited me to go on retreat with her, the theme was on the writings of Anthony de Mello. There I was introduced to a new kind of spirituality around awareness, silence, contemplation, and I knew it was the way forward for me.

I've been helped on the journey by Rowan Williams' "Silence and Honey Cakes" as has been mentioned and Henri Nouen, Eckhart Tolle, Margaret Silf, Thomas Keating, Martin Laird (still haven't located my copy of "Into the Silent Land" [Frown] ), Ian Adams, Laurence Freeman, Kim Nataraja and most recently Richard Rohr.

That list demonstrates that I'm better at reading about it than actually doing it. [Biased]

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They told me I was delusional. I nearly fell off my unicorn.

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Fineline
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I've always sought silence, from my childhood, and I guess it was always linked to faith in some ways for me, as I grew up with the expression 'quiet time' to indicate time spent in prayer and spiritual reading. As an adult I became aware of silence in monastic traditions and read a lot about it, and have been pursuing silence in this more specific way. To me silence is linked with solitude and simplicity, and I always make time for silence and solitude each week. It's something I need.
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ThunderBunk

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# 15579

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For many years, silence has been both a sought retreat and a curse. A sought retreat, because I have a strong introvert side and the world is designed for extroverts. Silence - or at least stillness - gives me time to perceive life from the introvert perspective which does not otherwise see the light of day, or experience the connection/expression which, paradoxically, it rather craves. Depression, however, and the desire for oblivion which that brings, means that for years I nodded off every time I attempted to sit and listen to the silence.

On the other hand, when imposed it underlines my loneliness, the absence of that intimate company which I equally crave. Avoiding this state of unwelcome awareness has led me to waste years (cumulatively) consuming unproductive forms of media.

Only in the last few (well, six or seven) years have I learned what productive silence can actually achieve, even without the music or words which had previously always filled my silence as a means of calming the flow of negativity. That flow has, mostly, slowed down significantly and again allowed me to appreciate the silence which has been essential to the process of calming.

These days it is not essential to my appreciation of silence, but Centering Prayer has been enormously important to that process, with its acceptance of disturbance and refusal either to give up or to condemn the kangaroo brain. I have always struggled to persuade my consciousness to slow down, but this appears to have worked.

Shared silence has also been a huge part of my life over the last few years. It has allowed me to build friendships I would not otherwise have and given them a dimension which is precious, whilst also paradoxical in that it is very difficult to talk about but gives our interaction a hugely important dimension.

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Currently mostly furious, and occasionally foolish. Normal service may resume eventually. Or it may not. And remember children, "feiern ist wichtig".

Foolish, potentially deranged witterings

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Ariel
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# 58

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quote:
Originally posted by ThunderBunk:
Shared silence has also been a huge part of my life over the last few years. It has allowed me to build friendships I would not otherwise have and given them a dimension which is precious, whilst also paradoxical in that it is very difficult to talk about but gives our interaction a hugely important dimension.

How does that work?

I went to a mindfulness session recently with a group of people. There's a whole spectrum of different approaches, and this particular approach was to sit quietly with eyes closed, breathing deeply and mentally reciting short positive affirmations.

At first I felt quite uncomfortable with trying this out in a room with a bunch of people I didn't know. I was intensely aware of them and it took a conscious effort to shut this out which really only worked about halfway through the exercise. For me this wasn't at all a relaxing setting and I didn't want to get too into it with other people around.

It did sort of work but then I started thinking that I wasn't inclined to want to pay money to spend an hour sitting in a room full of strangers staring silently at the ground. If that was what was involved I could do that at home by myself for free.

It says something that afterwards most of the class were keen to come back the following week and are still staying the course, so I guess it worked for them.

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Nenya
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I'm delighted to report that my copy of "Into the Silent Land" has turned up. [Big Grin]

I've recently finished Richard Rohr's latest book "The Divine Dance" and Cynthia Bourgeault's "The Wisdom Jesus" in which she writes really helpfully about how contemplative practice can work alongside reading the Bible. (Reading the Bible is something I haven't been able to do with any concentration, appetite or enthusiasm for some years.) "...As you work with these texts, particularly if you've been raised in a fundamentalist tradition, you may need to allow the deeper silence of your contemplation to do a little deconditioning. There is a marked difference between hearing [them] as articles of dogma and morality rammed down your throat and hearing them as windows into mystical truth."

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They told me I was delusional. I nearly fell off my unicorn.

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Stercus Tauri
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I've been mulling this over for a while. I seek out and cherish silence, but I can still deal easily with necessary noise. I've spent most of my working life in engineering offices where there is always something going on - open conversations, laughter, arguments, and there used to be typewriters clattering too. None of this bothered me very much. But then the draughtsmen started using headphones to listen to music while they worked, separating them from the rest of us, making it hard to communicated and cutting off the easy interaction that used to help the work along. At my last place there was background music on for much of the time and I couldn't handle that at all. I had to find an empty office, and in the end, often just went home to work. It was a relief when that ended. I'm not good at concentrating at the best of times, and after a cancer treatment that went bad it is much harder. I work at home now, but always in silence. I did try listening to some favourite Mozart once, but within a few minutes was sitting back in a chair, focused on the sublime music, which is what you are supposed to do with it. No more background music now, or even talk radio. If it wasn't around zero degrees right now I'd have the windows open for the birds and river sounds, but I'm settling for silence indoors while I work.

Our church is a lively, noisy place from beginning to end of a service, which I mostly enjoy. Noisy fellowship is not a bad thing, but there's still a need for a contemplative time, and I no longer find it in church.

Perhaps the key phrase for me is 'necessary noise'. It's part of life, but the rest, I can do without.

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Thay haif said. Quhat say thay, Lat thame say (George Keith, 5th Earl Marischal)

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ThunderBunk

Stone cold idiot
# 15579

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In answer to Ariel's question, I have no way of accounting for the effect of sharing silence, especially with the same people over a long period. I would say that at least four of the five members of the group are empaths, and that the group ethic we have established allows for a profound relaxation of defences, which may well intensify the overall group atmosphere established.

This is getting into the territory of telepathy and other things I would regard with a sceptical eye. But I know it has worked for others as well, so I can't dismiss it entirely.

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Currently mostly furious, and occasionally foolish. Normal service may resume eventually. Or it may not. And remember children, "feiern ist wichtig".

Foolish, potentially deranged witterings

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RuthW

liberal "peace first" hankie squeezer
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A few months ago I joined a small meditation group that meets at my church, and I was reminded of how different meditation feels to me when I'm sitting silently with others as opposed to sitting silently by myself at home. I don't know why, but it's definitely different.

As to the original question in the OP: I started meditating when Ken Kaisch (author of Finding God: A Handbook of Christian Meditation gave a short series of workshops on Christian meditation at a nearby church. I took to it immediately, and sustained a somewhat regular practice of meditation that was petering out when my tinnitus became permanent, and I let the tinnitus kill it off - sitting and listening to the whine in my ears just pissed me off.

But I'm back at it now, though attendance at the weekly group is a lot easier to manage than daily meditation on my own.

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Nenya
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quote:
Originally posted by RuthW:
...how different meditation feels to me when I'm sitting silently with others as opposed to sitting silently by myself at home. I don't know why, but it's definitely different.

Yes, I agree that it is although it would be hard to explain why. Something to do with the energy of other people in the room, even though everyone's sitting quietly, perhaps.

I go to a weekly Julian Meeting as well as doing silent sitting alone at home. If I had to give one up it would be the Julian Meeting - not because it's harder; the sitting alone is harder. But the sitting alone feels more essential.

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They told me I was delusional. I nearly fell off my unicorn.

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MaryLouise
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For some years I did Advent eight-day retreats at an ecumenical retreat centre in the countryside and sat reflecting on the poetry of St John of the Cross. (His Feast Day falls on 14 December.) I didn’t have a spiritual director and had only read the commentaries and guides of the Carmelite writer Ruth Burrows on John of the Cross, but I loved the poetry and the silence around me. I found the presence of others supportive and a current of empathy seemed to run between us as we sat in the chapel or gardens together. At the end of the retreat we talked together just briefly but as if we were old friends, or companions who had made a difficult but moving journey together. We exchanged contact details and I still hear from two people whom I met on those retreats. I also felt ‘accompanied’ by St John of the Cross, and his ardent, inspired lines gave me something to hope for as I sat in meditation each day.

From John of the Cross’s poem The Dark Night,the first stanza:

One dark night,
Fired with love’s urgent longings
— Ah, the sheer grace! —
I went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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Ariel
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# 58

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Thanks for all the explanations and experiences of shared silence. I was interested to read what you had to say.

Thinking about it some more I think that for me the reasons why it didn't work were:

It was in a lunch hour, which felt like working to a strict deadline to achieve a result and some pressure to succeed within the given time frame.

It was with a group of people I didn't know. I don't feel comfortable closing my eyes and entering into a potentially vulnerable state with strangers in the room. It was unlikely that any of them would have done anything anti-social but there was a kind of enforced intimacy about this that I didn't feel easy with.

I was, as I mentioned, very aware of the other people there and caught up in wondering if they were all right with this, getting anything out of it or watching the rest of us.

I'm not sure how to get past the initial feelings of discomfort and time pressure in a group but I guess people do.

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Fineline
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I find a big difference between shared silence with people I know and people I don't know. Even if I've just got to know them a little - if we've worked together, and communicated our friendliness towards and acceptance of each other in some small way, it makes a big difference. You feel you are in the company of people who accept you as one of them. But if you are all random people coming together in a silent retreat, it is different. It feels more disparate. Not everyone has a naturally friendly face - I remember on a silent retreat there was one woman who had a kind of snooty look, and if we happened to encounter each other in the gardens, she looked positive affronted! But on the last day, when we all could talk, she seemed friendly and just rather shy and self-contained. Maybe she felt the same about me too - my facial expression and body language are not very revealing! If we'd had chance to get to know each other a little beforehand, it would definitely have helped.
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MaryLouise
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Just thinking about what Ariel said about 'entering into a potentially vulnerable state' and meditating with strangers. I've experienced something like that too.

Some years ago, returning from the UK, I decided on impulse to do a Buddhist vipassana retreat in winter on the edge of the South African Karoo. It was very cold and the retreat centre quite primitive, no extra bedding, thin mattresses,few meals. Meditations ran from 4am until after 10pm at night.

Because of the cold I was sleepless and after a fall on the muddy road outside the meditation hall, I found I couldn't sit still for the length of time needed in meditation. Most of the others seemed to me to have far more experience and I was convinced my fidgeting and getting up to leave disturbed and annoyed them, especially those seated in rows behind me. The spiritual director had limited English and seemed unsympathetic when I said I wasn't doing well. I could only sit on the zazen cushion for about 20 minutes and then had to creep out. Towards the end of the retreat, I was more explicit and told the director about my back hurting: she was immediately kind and concerned, gave me permission to sit with my back against the wall or to use a chair. My focus on the breath improved at once and I could participate more.

On the last day we could talk to one another and I found that most of the other retreatants were indeed far more experienced and were doing an advanced course (in my ignorance I hadn't understood this when I applied). They had noticed my discomfort and had worried about me, wished they could have spoken to me and offered support. In retrospect, much of my discomfort arose from my own projections and unvoiced discomfort, but it was a lesson in preparing more thoroughly beforehand and asking questions at the start.

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“As regards plots I find real life no help at all. Real life seems to have no plots.”

-- Ivy Compton-Burnett

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