I’m trying to make sense of what it looks like to be silent in a politically noisy world. There is, of course, physical silence which we all love from time to time, and then there is the chatter in our heads that is not silent. But today I’m thinking about the silence of truth telling. Hmm, maybe I made that up, maybe I stretching too far, but when I think of silence as something peaceful, lies seem to generate noise. Words of truth, on the other hand, offer a peaceful silence even when said out loud.
Do you remember the childhood story of the farmer who claimed his kids were making too much noise in the farmhouse. To solve this problem, he was told to bring all the barnyard animals into the house, which of course made it more noisy than ever. Then he was told to take each animal out of the house, one by one, and send them back to the barn. With that task completed, the farmer sat back in his rocking chair and enjoyed the peace and quiet of his many children.
I was reminded to this story when a friend told me about house sitting for a neighbor’s cat. She doesn’t mind helping out, and admits that the cat is easy. Nevertheless, when it’s time for the cat to go home, my friend experiences silence, solitude and simplicity with renewed intensity. I feel the same way after grandpet sitting or when company leaves. Then things settle back to normal and I’m ready for action again.
A quiet day. The visiting family has taken the T to Boston, to the Kennedy Library and Faneuil Hall. It is the hottest day of the season, but there is a breeze. I’m very grateful for the family that is here and for the family not here; for the humid weather that is part of the seasons of New England; for our grandpet; for the solitude that is never lonely.
Once again I have allowed watching the news to worm its way into my daily schedule. I know what’s going on; I don’t need the salacious details. The News Hour is enough; I don’t need breaking news from the other channels. Thankfully I don’t watch much regular TV, but I can get hooked on the Red Sox.
In the most obvious way, turning on the TV breaks into silence. And don’t forget solitude and simplicity!
Here’s what Thomas Merton said about TV in New Seeds of Contemplation, published in 1962.
I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watched it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement among men whose judgment I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious, and absurd. Certainly, it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a subnatural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
After letting go of my writing project yesterday, I found myself letting go of a bunch of papers stacked on my desk. There must be a correlation between the two. I need neither project nor papers. If pressed, most of us would say we want a simpler life. But this feels like a major step, not a cliché.
Although getting rid of papers simplifies the stuff in my house, releasing the writing project simplifies my life. On a practical level, it frees up time; the physical writing time, but more importantly, the psychological time consumed by thinking, fretting, delaying, and so on. I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but I feel free, I have my life back.
Hmm, having my life back is no small obsession. When things are amiss, we lose our essence. Our purpose is out of sync, we are out of touch with our mission, our meaning, with how we are to spend the precious time we have been given.
Today, at this moment I am in sync. Knitting, visiting, sitting in the silence is feeding my simple soul. I am full. It is enough.
There are so many ways of thinking about silence. There’s the silence when we are alone. At home we can turn off our machines--the TV, dishwasher, and even the radio. We can go off in the woods or walk along the beach, where at least there are fewer city type noises. Turning off the chatter in our heads is another challenge, one that I’ve written about often.
Today I’ve been thinking about being silent when I’m ‘talking’ with someone else. Sounds like an oxymoron. To be silent with someone involves not paying attention to those external physical noises or to that chatter in my head so I can listen. By listening, I mean being very quiet, saying very little, and offering ‘wait time’ to allow the other person to formulate and express fully what he or she wants to say.
It is amazing when I wait in silence, when I don’t fill the void. The person goes deeper, expresses more truthfully, and speaks freely; my listening becomes more profound, honest, and open.
The men are here again at the middle table at the café. At one end they are joined by a woman who is holding forth. At the other end a young girl, accompanied by an older man, is writing. They don’t seem to be aware that they are in the midst of this sacred space. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
Yesterday I took Bus 7 to Fiesole and walked up the hill to the Monastery of St. Francis. It is one of my quiet places when I come to Florence, as the Feltrinelli Café RED is one of my noisy places. The monk’s dormitory is my favorite here at the monastery. Up the stairs and there there are the their cells, eight of them. It is all I need, except for heat in the winter.
I dream of living there, as another person in another era, but also as me, transported, leaving everything behind, without a care in the world. This dream, like all dreams, can catapult me toward finding my bliss, discovering my NOW. The easy step to articulate, but difficult to carry out, is that I must leave my stuff behind. Not much will fit into my cell at the monastery. Without the stuff there would be less to do, less cleaning and straightening, less projects to choose from. Leaving obligations behind is more complicated. Would I really want day after day filled with silence, solitude and simplicity? For now this monastery overlooking the Arno valley and the Duomo is my muse.
There are definitely times when I wish I were deaf—when passing a leaf blower, when the TV is blaring violence, when someone is talking on and on and on and on. You know the instances. Silence is about having the choice to hear what I want to hear and turn off what I don’t.
This morning I had my hearing tested at Mass Eye and Ear in Concord. In the three years since my previous checkup, my hearing has not deteriorate at all. “Come back in two to three years,” I was told.
Today I am grateful that I am not deaf. I like hearing the silence.
After taking a look at the debates last night, it came to me that my call is to be peaceful and positive in thought, word, and deed. Maybe one of the most important gift we older people offer to the world is to live our life with a peaceful mind, few words, and carefully selected deeds.
Of course this is not way of politicians. And then there is the age problem. Many standing there on the stage were old (will be the same for the Democrats). Many would be celebrating their 70th birthday in the White House. 70 isn’t old for some things, but I think it is for a president.
I understand politicians have to talk, but do wish they could ponder the quote by Robert Benchley from www.gratefulness.org that I put on this blog yesterday.
“Drawing on my fine command of the language, I said nothing.”
Enough. I will say nothing more.
Have you ever made up (as in your imagination) something that wasn’t true at all? Made up how someone was reacting to something you’ve said or done? And then, upon reflection realized you have no basis for the story you fabricated? You just made it up, just created an imaginary tale about what was going on in someone else’s head.
I assume you can answer ‘yes’. It’s very human thing to do, but one that we can work to eradicate. For me, it’s part of the challenge to live in silence, the silence of no gossip, no judgments, no rumors. We can start by being honest and intentional about what we do. That, in and of itself eliminates much worry about what others might be thinking, and from there we can come to understand that we are not responsible for other people’s worries.
Case in point. The other day I started making up someone’s response to Very Grateful, the book I wrote about my mom and me. Why? Because I didn’t hear from them when I thought I ‘should’. This got me considering my intention and honesty in writing the book. Yes, I wrote with honest intention; over a period of time I prayerfully and carefully considered what I was writing and how it would be received by others. When I did hear from the person, I realized I had been entirely wrong in those original imaginings. But more than that, I was grateful for the opportunity to separate what I had written with how someone else might respond to it.
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4/30/15 Finishing up VG.