No Time for Silence

Some of us are better at being quiet than others.  Me?  I love to talk.  Give me a crowd and I become energized.

Yet, for a long time I’ve been aware of a part of me that yearns for silence.  When I was a boy I sought out quiet places, often in nature, to rest and reflect.  I remember finding refuge under a large Blue Spruce during a snow fall.  The flakes were large and quickly carpeted the boughs of the tree and floor of the forest.  Sound became muffled and I felt safe and fortunate to be in such a place at such a moment.

It has been a long time since I was that boy but I still remember the sound of silence.

Such is the tension I find within myself.  This enjoyment of conversation and being active…while an inner voice invites me to slow down and simply be.

Yesterday I arrived late to an organizing meeting of multi faith leaders in my community.  We were a mix of Buddhist, Jewish and Christian. We spent time exploring our purpose which took us down many paths.  As this was the early stage of our coming together we spent much of our meeting ‘muddling’ moving from topic to topic.

In the end we ran out of time and set another meeting to continue our search for clarity.

Our Buddhist host invited us to sit with her in silence.  Most had other items on their calendar and needed to move on.  I had items on my check list too but to my surprise decided to stay.

‘How long can you sit’, she asked? ‘I have ten minutes’, I replied.

So we sat.  In silence.  Facing the wall to minimize distractions.  She rang the Buddhist prayer bowl and we became quiet.


Ten minutes is nothing to a Zen Buddhist.  But for me this busy extroverted Baptist it was everything.  Those ten minutes of shared silence were like oxygen.

I felt my blood pressure drop and my breathing deepen.  When the bowl rang at the end of ten minutes I wanted, needed ten more.

Something happens in silence that doesn’t happen otherwise.  Ancient spiritual paths know this to be true:

‘Listen and your soul will live’. ~ Isaiah the prophet

‘Silence is a source of great strength.’ ~ Lao Tzu

‘The Creator’s first language is silence’. ~ Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and mystic

Perhaps by temperament you are naturally drawn to silence.  Perhaps like me you’re not.  But I know too that ones comfort with silence can be nurtured, cultivated.  In so doing we may find ourselves gradually going deeper and deeper, to hear a voice that paradoxically is silence itself.


Sound of Silence

Some years ago I was kayaking in the Tongass Wilderness in southeastern Alaska.   The Tongass is a temperate rainforest of several million acres largely untouched by human beings.  The Tlingit’s who lived here for thousands of years left few traces, a burial mound, indentations from  long ago villages and a few totems that eventually return to the earth.   It is a sacred land whose neighbors include wolf, bear, salmon, humpback and the occasional human.

My trip consisted of 10 kayakers led by Kurt Hoelting of Inside Passages  The purpose of our trip in part was to immerse ourselves in the beauty, to slow down and become quiet so as to see and hear what the Tongass had to offer.

Each morning and evening we entered into a Zen practice…where we would seek to quiet our mind and spirit so as to be present to that which was going on within and around us.   One evening we heard a rhythmic “Whoosh”, the sound of a humpback exhaling as the whale broke the ocean surface.   So unmistakable and loud was the sound that we who were seated in the forest several yards off the beach were certain that the whale must be very close.

No longer able to contain ourselves our meditation leader broke our practice and invited us to greet our neighbor the whale.   Walking to the beach we saw that the humpbacks were actually a mile out in the bay.  It was the stillness of that evening and the stillness of our minds that allowed us to hear their call.  The sound of silence.