I had an opportunity to visit a monastery many years ago. It lay long the coastline of California. The property was extremely remote. A gas powered generator supplied their electricity. Without the generator, everything was dark. I really mean DARK.
As the eyes adjusted, it was amazing how much one could actually see. Shades and shadows of charcoal grays permeated the area. The nearby ocean glowed eerily as the waves rolled calmly to shore.
And the stars shone through the pitch black sky. There were no city lights to block them. I had never seen so many stars! For the first time since I was little, I saw the Milky Way. I could see the hidden constellations that the city lights had dimmed.
The night skies had become dimmed by the light from cities. It subtly grew brighter as the cityscape grew.
To a city dweller living in fear of crime, darkness no longer held its appeal. The beauty of the night sky became hidden from view.
The peacefulness of creation become cloaked in the pollution of light.
How much of our world today has concealed such breathtaking beauty from the human eye? Has the joy of encountering nature using our other senses been removed from us as well?
Did you ever sit still in the middle of the woods or a meadow of flowers and listened to the sounds around you? Really listen?
Did your mind often wander back to the business of the day? Perhaps thoughts flashed by on what you needed to do today. Or maybe how someone might have slighted you. It could be of a million other thoughts that found their way into your mind.
The mind is seldom quiet. It takes great effort to silence the rampant thoughts that will not let go.
Those thought come from the sounds we hear every day. The voice of our boss telling us things continues to ring in our heads. A cacophony of noise from rambunctious children in our homes fills our ears. The honks of car horns and crowded streets outside our windows provides endless clatter.
We seldom get to experience silence.
Mother Angelica, foundress of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Alabama, had to go out of her cloister to buy shoes. The noise outside her quiet convent walls shocked her.
Look around you. Do you see the people? How many are not listening to something?
Have you notice the number of cars that are surrounding you on the streets that have their radios or music players tuned into something (usually music), often loud enough for everyone around them to hear?
Sound constantly buffets us, even while shopping. Subtle white noise from piped in music drowns out the noises of other people and moving product. Televisions accosted us, silent or not. They surround us in restaurants. All are playing some broadcast we didn’t ask to see.
Silence is golden, but rarely heard.
Noise constantly overwhelms the human mind. We have become so accustomed to it that we have learned to tune it out.
Noise does not abate, even when a person tries to meditate for just 5 minutes. The exposure has engrained itself into us through our ears, and our minds no longer can be still.
Quietness becomes an elusive commodity.
I came across a movie long ago entitled, “Into Great Silence”. It was about the lives of the men who live in one of the most remote, austere Carthusian monasteries in the world, “La Grande Chartreuse”. St. Bruno founded the monastery in 1084. Environmental disasters, burned eight times, and the residents ousted from the monastery by military plagued the monastery throughout its existence.
Yet the monastery still survives.
And so does the silence…
The men live in complete silence, spending the majority of their time praying. The community comes together to eat in silence as well. Only the singing of the Divine Office breaks the silence.
The movie’s rare footage shows that silence surrounds this place. Watching it, engulfing your senses into this community triggers a longing deep within. We are seeking that kind of silence.
Stillness fills the monastery. The only sounds are the audible noises from nature that surrounds the building. It is impressive.
Practice for a few minutes listening to the hushed stillness of winter snow falling, or the intonation of birds calling in the Spring blossoms. It is difficult when the practice of surrounding ourselves with nothing but noise has gone unabated.
After the experience with the few days in total community with nature at the California monastery, it was appealing to try to surround myself with silence.
So I stepped out back and into our woods behind the house.
The sound of the wind rustling through the trees was peaceful. There were few birds chirping and a woodpecker or two hammering out their songs on the oaks. A squirrel skittered across the dead leaves covering the forest floor in search for his stash of nuts.
The world of nature was muted, like the colors of a soft sunset.
Suddenly, I noticed a car racing down the highway not far from our home. It was followed by another car as it zoomed by. Soon a noisy pickup truck and a few semi-trucks rumbled down the road as well.
The stillness of nature was broken.
The city invaded the silence.
Man longs for peace. He will never find it inside himself. Not without exposure to his natural environment.
Anyone who has visited a cloistered convent or monastery can never leave those silent places untouched. An other-worldly feel surrounds them. This feeling appeals to our inner being. Deep inside, there is a longing for solitude.
It is different that being forced into solitary confinement. This life of silence is a chosen one. The peacefulness is broken when necessary, but it is broken rarely.
In the words of Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (RSVCE version)
Modern man is replete with words. The mind is never allowed to rest. And the multitude of unnecessary words is profound.
As human beings, we need rest. We naturally crave our sleep, and sometimes a much needed nap. Work is wearying on the body. Sleep is the antigen that helps it to heal.
We tend to ignore the needs of the mind and spirit. They, too, are a part of being human. If they are not refreshed, they will become sick just like the body does.
The mind craves silence. In our busy world, it is pressed to work harder than it was designed. Businesses today required their employees to constantly multi-task. They are often required to juggle three or four problems all at once. No excuses are allowed.
The mind grows tired, just as a body that is worked hard.
And, like the body, the weary mind must get it’s rest.
“Relaxing” in front of a movie is considered the modern solution to stop the mind from dwelling on the business of the day. The movie continues to fill it with unending noise. The mind does not have the chance to calm down.
It seeks ways to resolve the overwhelm. It will cry out in the middle of the night with solutions to unfinished problems.
Neither the body nor the mind will rest.
The mind needs respite. The condition of the mind affects the spirit. If the mind is not at rest, the inner turmoil of the person will remain. No amount of movies or video games will relieve that condition.
A person is created to live in peace. It cannot be found in the noise pollution of our world today.
Turn off the news and social media. Put down the phone and lock it away in a safe spot somewhere. Let go of the video controller.
Now is the time to begin the journey to healing and peace.
Go for a walk. Take off your shoes and feel the dirt between your toes. Find a quiet spot. Seek a quiet trail, or a park filled with the antics of the animals in the area. Listen to the laughter of the children on a playground. Hear the wind blowing in the trees. Feel the rain on your skin. Let the sun beat down on your face. Reconnect with your natural environment. Say nothing.
Listen to all you have been tuning out that surrounds you.
Once you find that place of peace, then pray. Seek what you are looking for.
Then wait for a reply. In silence. You will soon hear a still small voice. It speaks plainly in unutterable words within your soul. No amount of effort of your part will make that happen.
Except by entering into the stillness of the Great Silence.
Words fail to express what walking in silence truly means. Experience alone, forced or by choice, is the only way.
Encountering silence makes a profound affect on a person. That experience changes them forever.
But, respite gained is fragile. Transitioning too quickly again into your former lifestyle, will quickly be shatter that inner peace you won.
Your cloister of silence is within. Seek if often. Find your peace.